Bladder Infections - How to treat a UTI naturally!
Today’s topic is focused on women’s health. Bladder infections (often referred to as a UTI) are a common occurrence among women of all ages. Unfortunately for many women, bladder infections often times become chronic and are then referred to as chronic cystitis. Chronis cystitis is more complicated than just a standard bacterial bladder infection.
But with all of the antibiotic therapy available to us today, how is it a simple bladder infection often caused by the E. coli bacteria, is able to evade multiple courses of antibiotics and re-infect us month after month? Today we will go over what exactly a bladder infection or UTI is and why I feel modern medicine is failing in treating them.
I will also offer suggestions gathered from research, my background in Chinese herbalism, and my own personal struggles with this issue, as to how to treat bladder infections naturally and for once and for all break the cycle of chronic cystitis.
What exactly is a Bladder Infection?
First off let’s talk about what a bladder infection actually is. According to webmd 85% of UTI conditions are caused by the E. coli bacteria. E. coli naturally live in our large colon and doesn’t cause us any harm there. However there are numerous ways that the bacteria can migrate up the urethra and find a nice happy home in the bladder. The reason bladder infection are so hard to treat even with antibiotic use is because the bacteria are very clever and they don’t just hang out on the surface of the bladder wall where antibiotics could easily reach and kill it. E. coli likes to create a biofilm.
This is a fancy way for scientists to say that the bacterium clump together in the tissues to protect itself from outside attack. Biofilms are notoriously hard to break and treat. There are many different types of bacteria that infect the body and create biofilms in tissues such as the lungs and intestines for example. It’s just another fabulous way the bacteria over the millennia have evolved to outsmart us. But the fun doesn’t stop there. The E. coli bacteria also like to burrow deep into the lining of the tissue where they remain protected from harsh agents such as antibiotics that can kill them.
This is why many people take a round of antibiotics, they feel better for a bit but then as soon as conditions become ripe again i.e. stress, diet, lack of fluids, alcohol or sugar consumption, decreased immunity from colds etc. all of the sudden they have a new infection. But how could this be if you killed the infection off the month before and you know you were super careful about hygiene? It’s because you didn’t actually kill all of the bacteria in the bladder.
The antibiotics, assuming that the strain of E. coli you have isn’t antibiotic resistant, were able to kill the over growth of bacteria that has surfaced in the bladder tissue, but there is no way that the antibiotic can reach and kill the E. coli that have burrowed deeper to protect themselves.
They still live on and once the antibiotic course is over, they being to proliferate and before you know it you’ve got another infection. It’s an incredibly frustrating process and many women eventually break down and agree to low level daily antibiotic therapy as a last resort. After so many rounds of drugs and numerous infections, the tissue lining the bladder becomes chronically inflamed and damaged, this is what doctors call chronic cystitis.
If this sounds like you or someone that you know, this next part will be of great interest to you. As a woman who suffered from chronic bladder infections for 2 years, I can personally attest to the difficulty and frustration involved in treating a chronic UTI. Like almost all women, I started out with multiple trips to the GP and repeated rounds of antibiotics. At one point I was getting a UTI monthly.
I remember I had a really strong reaction to one of the antibiotics prescribed. I felt as if I had the flu after taking the prescription drugs, but I didn’t actually have the flu. The side effects of the antibiotics were making me feel achy all over and exhausted. This didn’t seem right to me. How could this be helping? So with the help of some of my teachers at the time who are master herbalists I was able to put together a natural program of bladder infection remedies and get rid of my chronic infections once and for all.
So where can I start?
To start I was instructed to consume d-mannose every day ongoing. D-mannose is actually a “sugar” somewhat like xylitol. It is tasteless, odourless, and colourless. It mixes easily in your water bottle and it’s perfect to sip on all day. However the body does not recognize it as food so once it is consumed it gets filtered out and goes straight through the kidney’s to the bladder within 30-45 minutes after consumption. It is calorie free and does not raise blood sugar levels. D-mannose is important in the fight against bladder infections for a few reasons.
First the E. coli bacteria generally feed on sugar and they do think that d-mannose is food, so they un-attach themselves from the bladder wall and then re-attach onto the d-mannose molecule when it’s present in the urine. Now that the bacteria are free floating in the urine attached to d-mannose they then flush out every time you empty your bladder. All of the bacteria are not cleared by one dose in one day though.
The bacteria burrow deep and protect themselves in a biofilm, but when d-mannose taken daily the numbers of bacteria present in the urine begin to reduce. A long period of exposure, usually 9-12 months, is what is recommended for people who suffer chronically from UTI’s. At New Zealand Health Food Co. we sell “Bladder Support” by Clinicians. It is pure d-mannose powder that is easy and convenient to use daily.
The next two bladder infection remedies I recommend are “Cranberry 50,000” and “Cranbiotic” both made by NutraLife. Cranberry has long been known to help maintain good bladder health. Cranberry has been shown in research to reduce the ability of the bacteria in the bladder to adhere to the bladder lining. Cranberry also helps to maintain the proper pH balance of the bladder. But if bacteria feed off sugar then it’s safe to assume that sugary cranberry juice would be counterproductive.
Cranberry extract taken in supplement form is free of sugar, easy to take and far more concentrated than juice from the store. Cranberry 50,000 is made of 2 types of cranberry and is a high strength extract formula. Cranbiotic contains one type of cranberry extract as well as beneficial probiotic’s to help restore the natural balance of the bladder that is often damaged by repeated antibiotic use. It is not necessary to take both Cranbiotic and Cranberry 50,000 together. But either product can and should be taken in conjunction with Clinicians Bladder Support daily.
If you decide that you want to take the higher strength Cranberry 50,000 but still find yourself wanting to supplement with a probiotic specific to urogenital health, then try out “Flora Restore” also by Clinicians. It is a daily probiotic supplement with strains found in research to specifically support urogenital health.
Lastly there are a few herbal products that we carry here at New Zealand Health Food Co. that are beneficial in boosting the immune system to help fight infection and keep UTI’s at bay. "Olive Leaf Extract" by Comvita is a powerful immune booster and antioxidant. In addition to helping fight colds and flu, olive leaf helps to raise overall immune function which is necessary to keep bladder infections in check. Echinacea is also an excellent herb to boost immune function and help the body to make more white blood cells to help fight off various bacteria and viruses.
We carry two other bladder infection remedies. NZHF Echinacea + Vit C come in a capsule and for those who prefer liquid we also carry Echinature by KiwiHERB. I personally recommend taking olive leaf or Echinacea in courses. Meaning, take it for 3 months with 1 month off. The body responds best to these herbs if it is given periodic breaks from taking them.
All of these products can be taken alongside antibiotics. If you are currently taking a course of antibiotics you should begin taking these supplements along with the antibiotics and continue daily use after you have finished all of your medication. If you are on daily antibiotic therapy I would recommend that you begin taking the above listed supplement regime for 2-4 weeks alongside the antibiotics and then after 2-4 weeks, when you feel comfortable, stop taking the antibiotics and continue the supplement regime daily.
If you do develop a bladder infection or feel one coming on while taking the supplements it is safe and recommended to increase your d-mannose intake a substantial amount. Directions are on the bottle. If you detect blood in the urine, obviously a trip to the GP is necessary to protect the infection from traveling to the kidneys. But if you’re feeling brave and you detect a UTI and you want to try to stop your dependence on antibiotics once and for all plus there is not blood present, I suggest continue taking your supplements and make and emergency appointment with a local qualified herbalist.
A qualified herbalist can prescribe and acute formula to take in addition to d-mannose, cranberry etc. to help treat an acute UTI. You may be delightfully surprised that your body was able to fight off the infection only using natural products and without antibiotics! But try to remember that diet and lifestyle are very important when regaining your health. Avoid things that irritate the bladder until you have got your situation under control. Alcohol, caffeine, coffee, sugar, and junk food all make it harder for your body to fight off UTI’s. So be kind to yourself and drink plenty of water.