The Low Down on UTIs
Ladies (and men), if you suffer from chronic or reoccurring UTI’s this post is for you. Did you know there are solutions, many solutions? I am a huge advocate from empowerment through education and when it comes to health- especially for us women it’s paramount to get curious, to question conventional treatments and to know that there are more options out there. Medicine should never be a one size fits all approach, so if you have been prescribed countless rounds of antibiotics, are anxious over day to day activities in fear of getting a UTI or this sounds like someone you know, read and share and let’s take a step forward to empowered healthcare.
What is a UTI
Urinary tract infections occur when there is an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the urinary system. They can occur in both males and females, although the prevalence is higher in females due to a shorter urethra. This basically means that the bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to reach the bladder in females and thus women are more prone to UTIs. All UTIs are caused by bacteria. 80-90% of infections are caused by E.coli, and the remaining 10-20% are caused by gram positive bacteria (we’ll dive into this a little later). The hallmark symptoms of UTIs are painful urination, urinary urgency, nausea, urinary frequency and sometimes bloody urine. When not addressed UTIs can migrate and cause kidney infections which are more severe and have more unfavourable consequences- therefore it always advisable to treat UTIs at the first sign. The conventional treatment is an assortment of antibiotics, which are likely contributing to the reoccurring nature of UTIs and are rendered pretty ineffective at getting rid of stubborn UTIs.
The problem with antibiotics
There are a couple problems with the use of antibiotics for UTIs. When antibiotics are prescribed for chronic and reoccurring UTIs two things happen. First and foremost, the E.coli become resistant. This makes them harder to kill and can leave traces of bacteria In the urinary system as well as throughout the gut that will then proliferate when the conditions are right (stress, sweat, sex, sugar can all trigger E.coli proliferation). The second unfavorable consequence of antibiotic use is the destruction of the good microbes that populate the gut. Antibiotics are broad-spectrum, meaning they kill both good and bacteria. The problem with this? Good bacteria are part of our immune system- in fact they are a large part of the immune system. Therefore- antibiotics directly suppress the immune system leaving you susceptible to future infections. To sum it up- antibiotics are contributing to reoccurring and chronic UTIs.
When antibiotics are prescribed for reoccurring UTIs the root causes are not being looked at and as we have just seen, it is, in fact harmful. Aside from the antibiotics role in suppressing the immune system- recurrent infections of any sort are a symptom of an under functioning immune system. When there is a reoccurrence of UTIs, supporting the immune system is a key component that cannot be overlooked. The immune system can be suppressed by a lot of things- stress, diet, lifestyle, other infections, food intolerances, environment etc.… but it can also be modulated easily through the use of herbs, diet and natural medicine tricks. When dealing with a chronic UTIs, it is important to work with a practitioner who will address the role of the immune system.
Did you know, just the like gut- the vagina has its own unique microbiome? There are specific strains of bacteria that need to populate this area for optimal health. When there is a lack of these strains and a poor diversity of microbes, an ideal environment is created for bad bacteria, such as E.coli to proliferate and thrive. On top of contributing to UTIs, an imbalanced vaginal microbiome can contribute to yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis (BV). Lifestyle and dietary modifications can go a long way in restoring the health of the vaginal microbiome. Antibiotics, sugar, processed foods and stress all compound to disrupt the flora of the vaginal canal. A therapeutic probiotic with targeted strains is never a bad idea to start the reinoculation process and help curb and prevent UTI’s.
Now for the good news, there is SO MUCH you can do to reduce or eliminate the occurrence of UTIs. First, you need to deal with the bacteria- without antibiotics. How you ask? Using nature of course. Cranberry juice is a well-known tool to help combat UTIs, and with some merit. There is a compound found in cranberry’s called D-mannose. This is the key to eliminating E. coli. D-mannose attaches itself to the binding site on E. coli, which means it cannot adhere to the bladder wall and is then excreted through the urine. D-mannose does not kill the bacteria, but cleaves it from the body for elimination- this is important because with the use of d-mannose it is impossible to have resistant E. coli strains and it does not kill them, nor does it kill any bacteria (not even the good guys). The caveat with using d-mannose, is that you need it in supplemental form, you would need to drink liters and liters of cranberry juice to the point of irritation to be able to get the proper dose.
Now- what about the infections caused by the other bacteria? For those D-mannose will not work because it is specific to E. coli. For the other type of infection, you need a different compound- one that breaks up the biofilm that usually surrounds these bacteria. That, however is getting a little more complicated and is a post for another day- but do know there are options for both types of UTIs. Cranberry extract without D-mannose is helpful in both cases as the antioxidants in cranberry have an affinity to the urinary system and can be used as a supportive therapy to repair and prevent damage to the bladder.
When UTIs are reoccurring, it is a symptom of something larger going on in the body... it's a clue that something needs just a little attention so the second step is to uncover the root cause, look at lifestyle and dietary factors that may be contributing to the onset. Address the immune system, and subsequently the vaginal microbiome.
Enjoy your UTI free life
Here is a little reminder that I am not a doctor, and while this information is based on both research and my clinical experience with clients- this article is not a substitute for medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only. Always be sure to book an appointment with your health care practitioner before beginning a new protocol, going off medications or trying new supplements- and remember, stay curious about your health, question your prescriptions and get a second opinion if things don’t feel right or are not improving.