Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are among the most common bacterial infections affecting women, and more than 40% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime. (source) UTIs tend to recur.
The most common treatment for a UTI is antibiotics, but because the bacteria that cause UTI are becoming increasingly antibiotic-resistant, recurring infections are a big concern. Fortunately it is possible to use natural remedies that are very effective for urinary tract infections . Here are my top natural suggestions to address UTI; plus, let’s review causes and preventive measures for recurrent UTI.
NOTE: you’ll often hear bladder infection and UTI used interchangeably. Bladder infection is a type of UTI, but not all urinary tract infections are bladder infections. A UTI is defined as an infection in one or more places in the urinary tract: the ureters, kidneys, urethra, and/or bladder. A bladder infection is a UTI that’s only located in the bladder. For the purposes of this post, I am discussing UTI, but these remedies can be used for bladder infection also.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
As mentioned, urinary tract infections are extremely common, especially among sexually active women ages 18 to 24. UTIs happen when certain bacteria migrate from your back end to your front end, where they crawl up into and attach themselves to the lining of the urinary tract and inhabit the urethra, bladder and kidneys. The most common culprits are Escherichia coli (E. coli), which causes 90% of UTI, (source) and Staphylococcus saprophyticus. (source) Staphylococcus epidermidis and Klebsiella pneumonia can be causes too. (source)
These bacteria are found in your digestive tract, so if they’re migrating to your urinary tract where they don’t belong, you could have an overgrowth of these specific strains. Poor bathroom and sex hygiene can also deposit the bacteria where they don’t belong.
UTI Symptoms include the following:
- increased frequency and urgency of urination, but often not much comes out
- pain or burning when you pee
- stinky urine (smells very unusual or not like your typical output)
- change in color: cloudy, murky, or bloody
- pressure or cramping in lower abdomen/groin area
- low grade fever
It’s important to note that in the later stages of a UTI, the bacteria can spread to your kidneys, and you will need antibiotics if this is the case. It’s too late for natural remedies at that point. Kidney infection is serious, and you must consult with a doctor. This usually happens if you don’t know you have a UTI or if you’ve waited too long to treat it.
If the UTI has spread to your kidneys, you may experience
- backache or pain in one side
- high fever
For an ‘uncomplicated UTI,’ meaning the infection is in the lower urinary tract, symptoms usually clear in about 3 days. But if symptoms persist or you experience symptoms of UTI spreading to your kidneys, that is considered a ‘complicated UTI’, and you need to see a doctor immediately.
I had my first UTI at age 19ish. I didn’t even know I had one until my boyfriend at the time pointed it out to me (his prior girlfriend had recurrent UTIs, and he knew the signs). My main symptom was smelly urine (it smelled “infected”) followed by pain and the typical constant urge to pee. I took antibiotics and it went away.
It was smooth sailing for a couple years after that until I got another one. Treated with Cipro (a strong antibiotic that carries serious side effects). Then I got another one. Treated with Cipro. Then I started having pretty constant UTI symptoms and was put on several different antibiotics over the course of the next couple years. This also left me with candida and changed the entire terrain of my digestive tract. Even one round of antibiotics can severely alter your gut flora, and this was way before I knew how to mitigate the damage caused by a round of antibiotics. (read how to do so here)
I was also taking hormonal birth control at the time, and that can make a woman more prone to candida. Even though studies have shown that birth control pills don’t increase your risk of developing a UTI, the pill does alter your vaginal flora.
It would take many years before I stopped taking hormonal birth control, addressed candida and dysbiosis, and the UTIs stopped.
What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection?
The main cause is certain strains of bacteria that belong in your gut migrate from there (via rectum) to your urinary tract, where they attach and inhabit the urethra, bladder, or kidneys. This is why it’s so important to wipe from front to back and to urinate before and after sex to flush bad bacteria away from the urethra. Infrequent urination (in general but also after sex) and dehydration can be causes of UTI.
Recurrent UTIs are mainly caused by reinfection by the same pathogen. With each UTI, the risk that a woman will continue having recurring infections increases. Research suggests that following an initial UTI, one in five women will develop another UTI within six months. (source) That was certainly the case for me.
Antibiotic-resistant UTIs are increasing. As the New York Times reported, one in three simple UTIs is now considered resistant to one of the most common antibiotics used to treat them, Bactrim. One in five is considered resistant to other commonly prescribed antibiotics.
Risk factors for UTI include the following:
- sexual intercourse
- new sexual partner
- spermicide use
- the use of a catheter
- diaphragm use
- catheter use
- women who are pregnant
- women who are postmenopausal
- people with suppressed immune systems
- people with diabetes
Natural Remedies for Urinary Tract Infection
If you are prone to UTIs, keep all these products on hand so you can start the protocol ASAP at the very first sign of any symptoms.
The conventional treatment for UTI is antibiotics, but you didn’t come to this post to learn that. Antibiotics are absolutely necessary in certain cases (like a complicated UTI), but if you catch it early enough, these remedies are very effective to knock out an uncomplicated UTI quickly. Antibiotics, and especially frequent use, contribute to candida and decimate your beneficial gut bacteria, so using natural options when available and applicable is a good option. I fortunately no longer get UTIs, but every time I used this protocol it would knock out a UTI super quickly.
The old wisdom is to chug a bunch of cranberry juice when you fist start to notice UTI symptoms. While unsweetened cranberry juice is very effective, don’t buy sugar laden Ocean Spray. The sugar can aggravate your symptoms.
First off, stay very well hydrated. Drink lots of water, hot water with lemon, pau d’arco tea which kills yeast and bad bacteria, and avoid coffee, which can irritate the urinary tract. Make sure you urinate often, as holding it increases your risk for UTI and makes a UTI worse. Avoid sugary beverages and foods.
At the first sign of UTI, hit the cranberry. Studies show that cranberry pills are more effective than unsweetened juice. My top rec is these chewable tablets which contain cranberry and d mannose. You’ll need to take 4 per day.
Alternatively, you can do these softgels, 2 three times per day until your symptoms clear up. I used to buy Knudsen’s unsweetened cranberry juice and drink the entire bottle in a day (diluted with water). Still a bit of naturally occurring sugar in there (but no added sugar), and it did the job. Cranberry works by inhibiting the growth and colonization of bacteria that cause infection (including e coli). The tablets or softgels are a better option though.
Secondly, start d mannose. If you’re prone to UTI, keep these cranberry mannose chewables on hand to take at the first sign of a UTI. D mannose is a type of sugar that can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. I’ve found it to be extremely effective when taken in the right dose. It can also be used as a preventive after sex. You can also buy d mannose separately if you don’t have the chewables on hand.
Use garlic AKA allicillin. It’s extremely anti-pathogenic. Allicillin has been found to exhibit antibacterial activity against a wide range of bacteria, including multi-drug-resistant strains of E. coli. (source)
If you have vitamin C on hand, take that also. It boosts your immune system, and you are fighting an infection after all. Vitamin C makes urine more acidic, thereby inhibiting the growth of E. coli. I use this vitamin C powder.
Finally, take oil of oregano. Researchers found that oregano was active against all of the clinical strains of bacteria that were tested, and it successfully inhibited the growth of E. coli, the bacteria most commonly seen in UTIs. (source) Oil of oregano is a very strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial remedy that may work as well as antibiotics without the risk of antibiotic resistance. Do not take it longer than 3-4 weeks at a time.
You can also use this product for urinary pain relief while you do the protocol.
Here is the protocol to get rid of Urinary Tract Infection
Keep these products on hand if you are prone to UTI. At first sign if symptoms, do the following:
- Take 4 of these chewables daily (in divided doses) when you first notice symptoms. They contain cranberry and d mannose, so 2 birds with one stone. If you don’t have those, you can probably find these cranberry softgels at the drugstore in a pinch, and you’ll need to take d mannose separately.
- Allicillin, like this one, 1-2 gels three times per day
- Oil of oregano, 2 gel caps three times per day
- Vitamin C
- You can use this for urinary pain as needed
- Drink plenty of water and avoid coffee, alcohol, and added sugars.
How Can I Prevent Urinary Tract Infection?
If you are prone to UTI, see the section below this. You likely have e coli overgrowth or other dysbiotic bacteria that are causing the recurrent infections. But there are day to day hygiene practices to keep in mind also.
For UTI prevention, consider the following:
- Drink plenty of water daily. For best results, avoid alcohol.
- Make sure to urinate often; eg don’t hold it.
- Wipe front to back.
- Pee after sex (and maybe even before)
- Avoid spermicides
- Take a probiotic, especially this one which is very effective against UTI bacteria.
- Consider drinking a glass of unsweetened cranberry juice daily. It prevents bacteria from adhering to bladder walls and inside the urinary tract.
- This supplement supports urinary tract health and kidney function.
- Avoid vegetables high in oxalic acid, like spinach, beets, beet greens. Over consumption of high oxalic acid foods and the inability of the body to degrade them causes a buildup of oxalate, which are like sharp crystals in the ureter that can cause UTIs.
Help for Chronic Urinary Tract Infections
You may be able to prevent UTI recurrence by fixing the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut. I found this to be true for me, and I have helped many of my clients with recurrent UTI also.
Certain women are just more prone to UTIs, and they tend to recur (as we’ve established) due to antibiotic resistance and overgrowth of certain bacterial species. I always recommend stool testing in the case of chronic UTI to check for e coli overgrowth or any other strains of bacteria present in the large intestine that are growing out of range and migrating into the urinary tract. I recommend the GI MAP, which you can order from this test menu. It screens for e coli overgrowth, klebsiella, and staph strains.
Then you can use certain anti-microbial herbs to knock back the bad bacteria, then repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria (make sure to use this probiotic in the reinoculation phase) that keep the bad guys in check. Similar to the protocol I outline in this post.
I can tell you from personal experience that taking countless rounds of antibiotics in my 20s absolutely ruined my gut health and gave me candida. Once I addressed the candida and dysbiosis, the recurrent UTIs stopped. I have maybe gotten a UTI twice over the past 20+ years since I had recurrent UTIs, and this natural protocol knocked it out in a few days every time. I haven’t had to take antibiotics (for this or any reason) in over 20 years.
Let me know how it works for you!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.