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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common. It is estimated that just over 10 percent of women have this type of infection each year. It is also estimated that over half of women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime. What is even more serious are about 10 percent of women over the age of 70 will have chronic problems with UTIs. The reason I focus on women in this article is because other than infant children, the majority of UTIs occur in women. Of these women, most are middle-aged (whatever that is) and sexually active. When we get older, the incidence of UTIs is about equal regardless of what sex you are.

To better understand what a UTI is and how it may be treated or prevented you need to know what makes up your Urinary Tract. The urinary tract is the system in the body that carries urine out of the body. It is comprised of the kidneys, bladder and the tubes that connect everything. Most UTIs occur in the bladder and are called bladder infections. Bladder infections are usually not serious, but can be if left untreated or occur chronically. If the infection makes its way to your kidneys, your situation is more serious and permanent damage can be done.

Symptoms of UTIs vary depending on your threshold for pain and the severity and location of the infection. I always advise people to consult with their health care provider when there is any question or symptom. The following is a brief list of some of the more common symptoms:

  • You feel pain or burning when you urinate.
  • You feel like you have to go often, but not much urine comes out when you do.
  • Your belly feels tender or heavy.
  • Your urine is cloudy or smells bad.
  • You have pain on one side of your back under your ribs. This is where your kidneys are.
  • You have fever and chills.
  • You have nausea and vomiting.

What causes these infections?

In most cases bacteria get into your system through your urethra-the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside of your body. These bacteria often originate in your large intestine and are found in your stool. (the reason good hygiene is needed when using the bathroom) If these same bacteria make their way up the urethra, they can cause you to have either a bladder or kidney infection. One of the reasons women tend to get more bladder infections than men is because women have shorter urethras. The bacteria have much less distance to go before entering the bladder. Regretfully, sexual activity can make it easier for these little buggers to get into your urethra too.

Other contributing factors can be not drinking enough fluids, being pregnant or certain health challenges like diabetes, prostate enlargement and kidney stones.

So what can you do?

There are several easy steps to prevent ever getting a UTI. Many of these may seem like common sense, but I have learned that there are a ton of smart people who still don’t have any common sense.

  • Drink lots of water or herbal teas (no sugar or honey)
  • Urinate frequently (don’t hold it)
  • Wipe good (proper hygene goes a long way)
  • Avoid being constipated (see my past articles on digestion)
  • Avoid allergic/sensitive foods (dairy, gluten etc.)
  • Avoid sugar and other refined “white” foods

Besides those helpful preventative tips, the following supplement recommendations can be used either as a way to address a UTI if you have one or as a preventative course. One of the most popular supplements for UTI’s (even modern medicine recommends this) is the use of Cranberry. The belief is that cranberry inhibits the bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall and therefore preventing the spread. Sad to say, most of the cranberry products buy are in the grocery store and contain little to no real cranberry and tons of sugar. To really get the benefits, I recommend using a cranberry extract called Cran-Max. Scientific studies have shown us that regular consumption of cranberry extract (not juice) can help decrease the amount of UTIs. I personally recommend a specific extract of cranberry called Cran-Max. Cran-Max has been studied head to head with low dose antibiotics for reoccurring infections and shown to hold it’s own. Just one 500mg capsule per day did the trick. Don’t rely on juices or cocktails, get the extract with the science to show it works.

Other herbs like asparagus, birch, nettle and parsley have shown to be helpful. The fact that these herbs increase urine production may be there mechanism of action. This in-turn will increase your need to urinate and help flush your Urinary tract more regularly. The herb Uva Ursi is another popular herb for UTIs. Uva Ursi is used around the world for the treatment of bladder infections. An active compound found in this herb can be converted in the body into a natural antibiotic-specific to the Urinary Tract. As with any and all natural health programs, please consult with your health care provider prior to committing to your program.

Boosting immune function short term for the acute UTI or supporting it for the chronic cases is another great idea. Even though herbs mentioned above are more urinary tract specific. Using supplements like Esberitox, vitamin C, Echinacea, etc. can boost immune function quickly to help the body fight off infection. For long term use, I prefer the medicinal mushrooms like Maitake Reishi, AHCC or Beta-glucan (Wellmune). These supplements support the immune system over are considered safe and effective for extended use.

Taking a probiotic daily can go a long way for most women.  Getting a healthy balance of these good bacteria can help eliminate the bacteria that are linked to causing UTIs from your digestive system (a major contributor to UTIs in women and infants).

Finally, because a majority of UTIs are caused by bacteria that get into the urinary tract system from the large intestine (improper hygiene) I recommend using a probiotic. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that I have found useful for those concerned with UTIs.