Urinary tract infections (UTI) are a common bacterial infection involving the urinary tract. UTIs are more prevalent in women (approximately 60% of women will experience a UTI at some stage of their life), but can affect men too.
Most UTIs affect the urethra or in some cases, the bladder. Even though UTIs aren’t considered life threatening, they can cause painful symptoms such as a burning sensation with urination, the urge to urinate frequently, blood in the urine, strong odour in urine, lower abdominal cramping and pain and recurrent infections are incredibly common.
UTIs can be caused by:
· Sexual intercourse or changes in partners.
· Wiping from back to front after going to the toilet and hence, contaminating the vagina with bacteria that is suitable for the bowel but not the vagina.
· A decrease in oestrogen (which can be due to peri-menopause, menopause, thyroid conditions and autoimmune disease).
· Poor hygiene
· Oral contraceptive pill
· Irritating chemicals, soaps and clothing that can result in changes of the pH of the vagina.
UTIs equate to approximately 8 million visits to the doctor annually and are a huge driver for the prescription of antibiotics, which although can help treat the UTI, may increase the likelihood of antibiotic resistance if taken regularly or over a long period of time, particularly because recurrence within the first three months of initial infection is common.
Although antibiotics are usually necessary to help treat the infection, over time they can have a negative impact on the healthy microbiome that lives within the body. The human microbiome is the sum of all resident microbiota, the nonhuman life that colonizes the body. Through years of research, it has become clear that the human body harbours distinct microbial populations within different anatomical niches. Different parts and organs of the body have differing ecosystems with organ specific pH, temperatures and chemical structures. Interestingly enough the environment of the vagina acts as a protective ecosystems for the urinary tract. Studies are suggesting that the vaginal microbiome supports the urinary tract by acting as a reservoir for protective commensal species. A healthy vaginal microbiota is mainly dominated by Lactobacillus species. These lactobacillus species secrete lactic acid which modulate the chemical environment on the vagina which acts as a preventative for keeping E.coli out. These commensal bacteria also produce immune‑regulatory factors that further strengthen this affect.
To help decrease your risk of UTIs you can:
· Engage in a healthy, active lifestyle with a nutritious, well balanced diet that includes plenty of water, is low in sugar and highly processed foods and high in vitamin C.
· When using the toilet, wipe from front to back to reduce contamination from the anus to the vagina and urethra.
· Urinate before and after intercourse, to reduce the amount of unwanted bacteria.
· Ensure you fully empty your bladder when peeing.
· Don’t “hold it”. When you need to go to the bathroom: go. (Urine creates an ideal environment for unwanted microbes to grow).
· Avoid feminine hygiene fragrances, cleaners and soaps that upset the pH of the vagina.
· Use organic cotton or bamboo sanitary products.
· Talk to a naturopath about taking an appropriate prebiotic, specific to UTI prevention.
· Choose natural fibre underwear (like cotton or bamboo) that is loose fitting and breathable.
· Drinking green tea or parsley tea has been shown to help fight off UTIs.
· Juices such as cranberry, blueberry and huckleberry juice contain D-mannose and anthocyanin that helps to fight bacterial infections
These simple changes can aid in reducing reoccurrence and move towards prevention of UTIs in women. Understanding how the natural environment of the vaginal is protective for the urinary tract may empower more women to take charge of their health. With aims to reduce need for antibiotics, we are reducing rates of antibiotic resistance at the same time. Prevention is the best medicine.
Go Vita Ballarat always has a naturopath available in store to discuss general concerns and provide general advice. We can also arrange a private consultation for more complex issues.