Urinary tract infections, or UTIs: They’re uncomfortable, embarrassing, and often misunderstood. And yet, almost 60 percent of women will experience them at one time or another. While there is a myriad of wives tales out there telling you how to deal with them, there isn’t as much information out there about how to recognize when you have one. A UTI is defined as an infection in any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, uterus, bladder, or urethra – or a combination of more than one. While women are more likely to get UTIs, men can, as well, and can experience some of the same symptoms.
Symptoms of UTIs
UTIs are marked by pain, itching, and burning in your nether regions, as well as the need to urinate frequently. They can scare many women at first because of the symptoms’ similarities to STIs or other, more serious problems in the bladder or urinary tract. It is important to note that, while normally UTIs are not dangerous, they can quickly become life-threatening if left untreated. If you notice any of the following, you could have a UTI:
- itching near your urethra
- pain when urinating
- burning when urinating
- pain in the back (kidneys)
- frequently feeling the need to urinate (though nothing is coming out)
It’s important to note that if you’re frequently urinating due to a full bladder, the reason for this is not a marked sign of a UTI, but rather hydration. UTIs are associated with frequent urination mainly when not much is coming out.
What causes them
UTIs are usually caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli (or E. coli) which is usually found in the digestive system – i.e. in your feces. UTIs can happen whenever this bacteria comes into contact with your urethra, traveling upward into other parts of the urinary tract. This contact can happen through incorrect wiping (like back to front instead of front to back,) sexual contact, and more. While factors such as stress cannot make these bacteria appear, it can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to infection of the urinary tract.
How to treat UTIs
As aforementioned, there are many opinions on how to treat UTIs – from cranberry juice to water flushes. Usually, doctors will prescribe antibiotics to treat E. coli, especially if the infection has progressed to a level where there are more urgent symptoms such as blood in the urine from the kidneys. But what about the level of truth behind the more natural methods of treating UTIs, such as cranberry juice or capsules?
All About The Cranberry
While the drinking of cranberry juice to treat UTIs is considered a wives tale, it’s not entirely wrong. As Courtenay Moore, MD, says, ““There is an active ingredient in cranberries that can prevent adherence of bacteria to the bladder wall, particularly E. coli, but most of the studies have shown that juice and supplements don’t have enough of this active ingredient, A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs), to prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract.” Other research cites that the reason for this is that cranberries, though sugary, increase the acidity of the urine, making it harder for E. coli to stick and survive.
Also, other studies have found that cranberry juice does prevent recurring UTIs in women who get them more often than every twelve months, or one year, but are not sure yet whether cranberry juice can cure a UTI.
Cranberry capsules, while they may be helpful, are not as helpful as consuming cranberry juice, or cranberry and antioxidant mix, which help you stay hydrated to flush your system of the bacteria in addition to increasing the acidity of your urine.
In short, though there is no way to say with absolute certainty whether cranberry can prevent UTIs, it’s worth a shot, and has other health benefits, too.
Cranberry has many other health benefits besides possible UTI prevention, including improved heart health, protection against stomach ulcers, cancer protection, healthier teeth, better immunity, and better blood sugar control. Cranberry helps lower your risk of heart disease through the increase of “good” HDL cholesterol it brings, which reduces inflammation. Cranberry prevents stomach ulcers by eliminating H. pylori infections in the stomach, which are known to cause painful stomach ulcers. It protects against cancer by slowing the growth of tumors and protects teeth and gums by preventing the overgrowth of oral bacteria, reducing the chance of cavities and gum disease, keeping your pearly whites shining and clean. Cranberry has been found by several small studies to boost immunity and diminish flu symptoms. Lastly, cranberry has been found to significantly reduce blood sugar levels in people who have been diagnosed with diabetes.
Urinary tract infections, though common and painful, can be prevented. In addition to the use of cranberry capsules (up to 1,500 mg per day are safe for most,) cranberry juice, or antioxidant mixes, which may help prevent UTIs (especially in women who are prone,) taking basic hygienic measures such as wiping front to back and ensuring you never touch (or let a partner touch) your privates with dirty, unwashed hands, can help greatly in preventing UTIs. Also, staying hydrated, managing stress, and addressing other illnesses promptly to help your immune system stay boosted to fight potential E. coli bacteria before it causes an infection in your urinary tract.
In short, staying healthy in other ways and maintaining hygiene by bathing frequently can do wonders for preventing UTIs, in addition to supplementing these methods with vitamins and antioxidants. While none of these methods may guarantee no more UTIs, they can help keep them rare and less intense when they do happen.
Have you ever experienced a UTI? If so, comment down below with your best tricks for managing and preventing them. Have you tried using cranberry as a supplement? Has it made a difference? Comment down below with your thoughts to potentially help out another woman!