Urinary tract infections: These 6 herbs that can provide much-needed relief

Urinary tract infections are bad enough the first time around, but for many women the first time isnt the last. And each time it comes back, it gets worse. This is especially true of cystitis, an infection of the urinary bladder which causes distressing symptoms such as pain in the lower abdomen, a feeling of needing to pass urine frequently or urgently, a burning sensation when passing urine and/or blood in the urine.

Because cystitis is a bacterial infection, doctors typically treat it with antibiotics. But its common for some of the bacteria to survive the antibiotic treatment, which can lead to repeated infections. Worse still, antibiotics can cause many unpleasant side effects, including thrush, allergic skin reactions (rash and itchiness), vomiting and diarrhoea.

Any number of factors can activate the dormant bacteria menopause, diabetes, sexual intercourse, the use of spermicides, or imbalance in the vaginal microbial ecosystem the acid-forming bacteria in the vagina that make life difficult for other organisms (Williams DH, Schaeffer AJ. Current concepts in urinary tract infections. Minerva Urol Nefrol 2004; 56:15-31). This leads to a cycle of recurrent acute infections. But the right combination of herbs can put an end to that cycle or even prevent it from starting in the first place.

Studies show that cranberries can keep urinary tract infections at bay

One of the most successful plants against cystitis is cranberry. The bacteria that cause cystitis, such as E. coli, have tiny projections that allow them to cling to the bladder wall the first step in infection taking hold. But cranberry is especially powerful against recurrent cystitis because it prevents the bacteria from clinging to the bladder wall in the first place. By eliminating the chronic presence of bacteria, it eliminates the source of recurring infection.

Cranberries are also thought to help improve the overall health of your bladder and urethra, as they contain antioxidant plant chemicals which prevent chronic damage to the urinary tract from occurring (Reid et al. Spinal Cord 2001;39(1):26-30).

You need to consume at least 40 mL per day (around 1.5 oz) of pure cranberry juice (available at all good health food stores) in order for it to be effective. Make sure you dont purchase one of the commercial brands which line supermarket shelves as they are usually loaded with sugar and can make the problem worse.

These herbs can bring relief and help you break free of the antibiotic trap once and for all

There are a number of herbs that exert an antibacterial effect in the urine, including juniper (Juniperus communis) and buchu (Barosma betulina) (Mills S, Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh 2000; 310-312).

Then theres bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), which contains the phytochemical arbutin. This can be converted by bacteria in the urine into hydro-quinone, a highly potent bacteria killer (ibid., pp. 280-285). So in a sense, bearberry causes the bacteria to create their own toxin. Take 3 grams per day of bearberry during acute cystitis and about half that for recurrent cystitis.

Boost your immunity and prevent future attacks

Whenever you have an infection, its always a good idea to support your immune system. For cystitis you can use either Echinacea root or the Ayurvedic herb Andrographis paniculata to do the job. In a clinical trial Andrographis prevented the typical development of urinary tract infections in patients undergoing shock wave therapy for kidney stones (ibid., pp. 262-268).

To treat acute cystitis, you should take about 6 grams of Andrographis per day. To prevent it from recurring, take about 3 grams per day of Echinacea root. Whenever youre taking these herbs, be sure to drink copious amounts of water in order to flush your bladder as much as possible.

Daily Recommendations For Treating Recurrent Cystitis

Pure cranberry juice 40 mL (1.5 oz)
Echinacea 3 grams for prevention
Juniper 3 grams for acute cystits
Buchu 3 grams for acute cystits, 3 grams for prevention

Put an end to the cycle of recurrent cystitis

Even when the symptoms of cystitis go away, its important to continue taking these herbs for at least three to four months to ensure that there arent any remaining bacteria lying dormant in your bladder. After that time period, the herbal treatment can be reduced and eventually discontinued if you dont develop any more infections.
Even then its still important to abide by certain dietary measures: Maintain a high cranberry intake and drink at least eight glasses of water a day to help rid your urinary tract of harmful bugs.

Its important to lower your consumption of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, as they can cause sugar to accumulate in your urine. This makes it far easier for infections to develop by providing nourishment to the bugs that cause urinary tract infections. An example is candida (thrush), which thrives in high sugar environments.

To lower your risk of urinary tract infections like cystitis, eat more green vegetables and high protein foods such as oily fish (mackerel, sardines and haddock) all of which boost your immune system and help it fight the infection more effectively.

In addition, try to wear loose underwear and choose cotton material, which is far less irritating. Having a bath makes it much easier for bacteria to reach your urethra from your anus, so opt for showers instead.

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