5 Natural Ways to Prevent Painful UTIs (That Don’t Involve Cranberry Juice)

April 26, 2016
by Michelle Pellizzon for Thrive Market
5 Natural Ways to Prevent Painful UTIs (That Don’t Involve Cranberry Juice)

Being a woman is awesome.

We literally create life, have higher IQs on average, and Beyonce is on our team.

But one on the really not fun things about being a woman? Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, which 50 percent of the female population will experience at least once in their lives (versus only about 20 percent of males).

Unfortunately, UTIs can become chronic. Lots of women discover that after their first diagnosis, they’re more likely to get UTIs in the future. If you’ve ever experienced one firsthand—burning whenever you use the restroom, the need to pee constantly, lower-back pain, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness are just a few of the delightful side effects—you’ll do just about anything to avoid future infections. Start with these five simple, all-natural prevention tactics.

Know the basics

Start at square one. UTIs happen when bacteria gets pushed into the urethra, or when bacteria in the bladder multiplies to excessive levels. (Yeah, kinda gross.) Ninety percent of infections are bacterial, which is why doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic for treatment. But there are a few easy ways to prevent bacteria from becoming a problem in the first place: wipe from front to back, always urinate after sex, use the bathroom often, and don’t hold it when you really have to go. Holding it in means urine stagnates, making it easier for bacteria to grow.

Stay hydrated

More on that “no holding it” topic—drink more water. Pretty much everyone knows that the more you drink, the more diluted your urine becomes. That’s key for preventing the buildup of bacteria in the bladder. Using the bathroom regularly also discourages bacteria from growing in the urethra. There’s no scientific evidence that drinking eight glasses of water a day is actually better for you, but it certainly can’t hurt. In general, listen to your own thirst and pay attention to how your body feels, as sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger, or fatigue for dehydration. If you want a reminder to down more H2O, invest in a reusable water bottle (we’re partial to this one) so you can track just how much you’ve had to drink every day.

Pick up some vitamin C

If you start to recognize the familiar pangs of a UTI, grab the vitamin C. Studies show that supplementing with the immune-boosting vitamin actually makes urine more acidic, which makes it less hospitable for unwelcome bacteria. Regular vitamin C supplementation can not only reduce the risk of the infection developing into something worse, but also help lower the risk of recurrent UTIs. And because C is water-soluble, it’s really difficult to take too much—your body will just eliminate any extra. Most adults should be fine taking about 90 milligrams daily.

Support the good kind of bacteria

Despite the fact that some cause pesky UTIs, bacteria aren’t all bad. In fact, researchers have found that supplementation with Lactobacilli can protect your bod from urinary tract pathogens.  And probiotic bacteria, like the type found in fermented foods or kombucha, supports healthy overall bacterial levels in the body. Most probiotic supplements contain Lactobacilli along with a few other strains of beneficial bacteria, so if you’re plagued by recurrent issues, it might be a good idea to start taking one regularly. If you need help picking the right probiotic, read this.

Try fruit other than cranberries

Sipping on cranberry juice is a classic home remedy for treating infections. It works for two reasons—it’s hydrating, which helps flush bacteria out of your system, and it contains a type of sugar called D-mannose, which is similar to glucose and found in cranberries, apples, and blueberries. D-mannose works by attaching itself to E. coli, which in turn causes the bacteria to clump together; this prevents it from sticking to the inner walls of the urinary tract and makes it easier for the body to eliminate bacteria during urination. It’s best to take this supplement when you feel a UTI coming on or during a time where you know you might be more susceptible to infection. The typical dose is 500 mg every two to three hours until symptoms diminish. D-mannose is safe and it’s difficult to take too much, but it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen.

If you’re super-prone to infections, it’s also smart to wear breathable undergarments made of natural materials like cotton, avoid baths (which can force bacteria to go exactly where you don’t want it to), and change out of sweaty clothes as soon as possible after a tough workout.

Illustration by Karley Koenig

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  • Amy Howell

    I am a research scientist at the Marucci Blueberry Cranberry Research Center at Rutgers University. I’d like to clarify your statements about D-mannose as being the active compound in cranberry. There have been very few studies on mannose, and very little evidence to support its use in UTI prevention. In fact, since it is a sugar, consuming large daily doses may lead to a pre-diabetic condition. In 1998, my lab published our discovery in The New England Journal of Medicine that proanthocyanidins (PACs) are active components in cranberries that prevent certain uropathogenic E. coli from adhering to bladder cells. Since that time, we have published a number of studies on these compounds, including structural characterization, levels in cranberry products, and dose-response for anti-adhesion activity in the urine following consumption of cranberry. Cranberry juice cocktail drinks sold to consumers are normally formulated to contain about 27% cranberry juice. There are, in fact, PACs in cranberry juice, about 36 mg in a 10-ounce glass of cranberry juice drink. And this is the amount that has been shown to be effective in clinical trials. The PACs are present in both juice and dried supplements (and even in the dried cranberries), with target dosages at one or two servings per day of the products. The PACs survive the cooking process so sauces also have bioactive PACs. Products containing juice or juice-based supplements with about 36 mg of PACs have elicited bacterial anti-adhesion activity in urine. The encapsulated supplements that are made from juice can be more expensive but appear to work faster than the ones made from the cranberry skins (which are generally cheaper).

    Three recent UTI clinical studies indicated significant benefits of cranberry consumption in children, with the participants experiencing as much as a 65% reduction in UTIs and subsequent use of antibiotics. In the July 9, 2012 publication of the Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists reviewed thirteen cranberry and urinary tract health trials with 1,616 subjects and concluded that cranberry-containing products are associated with protective effects against UTIs. In addition, the Journal of Infection and Chemotherapy published a randomized clinical trial involving female patients with UTIs suffering from multiple relapses and the impact of cranberry juice. The results showed that cranberry juice prevented the recurrence of UTIs in a subgroup of this female population with 24-week intake of the beverage. This is another indication of the positive attributes of cranberries with respect to the urinary tract health. For more information, there is a review in cranberry which explains the UTI results and also highlights the additional health benefits of cranberry including reducing risk factors for heart disease: http://advances.nutrition.org/content/4/6/618.full.pdf+html.