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URINARY TRACT INFECTIONSby Dave Foreman
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common and the majority of them occur in sexually active, middle-aged women. It is estimated that just over ten 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 ten percent of women over the age of 70 will have chronic problems with UTIs.
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, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most UTIs occur in the bladder and are called bladder infections. Bladder infections are usually not serious, but if left untreated or occur chronically can become dangerous. 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:
• Pain or burning when you urinate
What causes these infections?
In most cases bacteria gets 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 (hence the reason that good hygiene is needed when using the bathroom). If these same bacteria make their way up the urethra, they can cause you to have 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 a much shorter 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 include not drinking enough fluids, being pregnant, and health challenges like diabetes, enlarged prostate, low estrogen levels and kidney stones. Using spermicides, diaphragms and scented feminine hygiene products can also increase your risk of developing a UTI.
So how do you treat a UTI?
Here are a few simple things you can do to reduce the likelihood of 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
Can supplements help?
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.
Cranberry – the main line of defense One of the most popular supplements for UTIs (even modern medicine recommends this) is the use of cranberry. A great one to try is Vitamin Shoppe brand Cranberry with D-Mannose, a blend of CranRich™ cranberry extract, and D-mannose (a plant-derived, low-glycemic simple sugar that helps to support healthy blood sugar within the normal range, and also promotes a healthy urinary tract.
What makes cranberry work?
Cranberries are full of many beneficial nutrients such as anthocyanidins (antioxidants), tannins, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, glutathione, alpha-tocopherol, etc. The belief is that cranberry inhibits the bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall. If these bacteria cannot cling to your bladder wall, they won’t be able to multiply and cause an infection. In addtion to preventing bacteria from clinging to your urinary tract system, the nutrients found in cranberries also provide immune support benefits. Sort of a one-two punch.
What about cranberry cocktail and other grocery store juices? In my opinion, using these juices is not as effective and in some cases may lead to more problems. The sugar content found in most store juices will negatively impact your immune system (the system you need to be functioning optimally when you have an infection). If you purchase a sugar-free version, you then expose your body to artificial sweeteners and other toxins.
Other herbs like asparagus, birch, nettle and parsley have been shown to be helpful. The fact that these herbs increase urine production may be their mechanism of action. This in turn will increase your need to urinate, which will help flush your urinary tract more regularly. Uva ursi is another popular herb that 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 regimen. Boosting immune function short term for an acute UTI, or supporting it for the chronic cases is another great idea. You can learn more about immune health supplements in my past newsletters. Using supplements like elderberry, 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 (Maitake D-fraction) or Reishi because these supplements support the immune system and are considered safe and effective for extended use.
Finally, because a majority of UTIs are caused by bacteria that get into the urinary tract system from the large intestine (this typically happens in cases of improper hygiene) I recommend using a probiotic. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that I have found useful for those concerned with UTIs.