Ask The Doctor: Urinary Tract Infections

I keep getting urinary tract infections. What can I do to treat these naturally and keep them from coming back?
By Holly Lucille, ND, a naturopath who practices in Los Angeles.

In less worldly times, urinary tract infections (UTIs)—common in young, sexually active women—used to be called “the bride’s disease” or “honeymoon cystitis,” because they occurred so often just after marriage. But rookies aren’t the only sufferers. Some women who use spermicide and a diaphragm seem to get infections more often; others do during pregnancy, menopause, or when taking the Pill due to hormonal fluctuations that can make the body more susceptible to UTIs.

The bacterium E. coli, which normally lives in the bowel, causes about 90 percent of all UTIs, which is why doctors often prescribe antibiotics for the problem. But you can prevent and treat most UTIs naturally, if you catch them early enough. In a healthy woman, a UTI usually lasts less than a week, but women with urinary-tract abnormalities, diabetes, or HIV may develop more serious and chronic UTIs that could lead to bladder and kidney infections. If you experience fever, fatigue, or back pain over the kidney area, go to your doctor for immediate treatment.

60 ounces of prevention
Start by drinking plenty of water (or your favorite caffeine-free herbal tea) to flush out the bacteria. You need about half your weight in ounces each day, so if you weigh 120 pounds, you would need to drink 60 ounces of water (about eight glasses).
Pee as soon as you have the urge—and always following intercourse—to get rid of any bacteria that may have collected in the urethra.
Always wipe front to back, and wear cotton undies, which offer a less welcoming environment for bacteria than nylon. If you still get UTIs in spite of these prevention tips, consider choosing a different contraceptive method.

Food that heals
Probiotic-containing fermented products such as kefir and yogurt increase immunity-boosting bacteria and should be a staple of your anti-UTI diet.
Eat more garlic and onions for their antimicrobial activity, as well as foods that promote overall digestive health like complex carbs, fiber-rich foods, and healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
Avoid sugar in excess and steer clear of foods that you know you are sensitive to so you don’t burden your
immune system, leaving it less able to fight off infections.

Natural bacteria fighters
As soon as you notice UTI symptoms—an overwhelming urge to urinate followed by a sharp pain or burning in the urethra—start taking one or more of these super supplements:
Cranberries. The antimicrobial hippuric acid in cranberries and cranberry juice effectively helps women fight off active urinary tract infections. Cranberries also decrease the ability of E. coli to adhere to the lining of the bladder and urethra, preventing infection. If you don’t like the taste of unsweetened cranberry juice, I’d recommend cranberry supplements—look for either chewable whole-fruit extract or standardized extract at a dose of 400 mg three times a day.
Vitamin C. Besides maintaining the health of the bladder and urethra, this antioxidant has an acidifying effect on the urine, generating large amounts of nitric oxide that inhibit the growth of the organisms responsible for UTIs. For an acute infection, take 1,000 mg vitamin C every two hours for two days then 1,000 mg three times daily for five to 10 days. If the vitamin upsets your stomach, look for gentler Ester-C.
Probiotics. In addition to eating more yogurt, take a probiotic supplement to re-establish good gut bacteria. For UTIs, I recommend Lactobacilli (predominant in the vagina and urinary tract). Look for supplements with at least 1 billion CFU (colony-forming unit) and take two supps a day for 30 days.
Healing herbs. The antiseptic, antibacterial, and astringent properties of uva ursi work well against UTIs. A dose of 300 mg every three hours for two days, followed by 300 mg daily for seven days, should do the trick. For an extra antibacterial edge against E. coli, take 500 to 1,000 mg daily of both goldenseal and Oregon grape root for five days. To soothe inflammation, supplement with horsetail, which is rich in silica, a nutrient with antiseptic qualities and an apparent affinity for the urinary tract. Take 300 mg three times a day for seven days.