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.
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