By Katherine Bagley for YouBeauty.com
Have you ever experienced painful, burning urination, exhaustion and discomfort? You're not alone. Urinary tract infections are responsible for nearly 8.3 million doctor visits every year, making them the second most common type of infection in the body.
They occur when bacteria and other tiny organisms, often from the digestive tract, grab hold of the walls of the urethra and multiply. If you wait long enough to treat the infection, the bacteria can travel up the urinary tract to the bladder and kidneys. Although more common in women, UTIs can also happen in men.
Unfortunately, busy schedules can keep people from obtaining antibiotics for a few days, allowing the infection to worsen. In addition, the CDC estimated in early 2010 that nearly 60 million Americans lack health insurance, meaning that even though UTIs can be fought with widely available antibiotics, the infections can be expensive to cure because of uncovered doctor visits and prescription costs. Home remedies abound when it comes to preventing and treating UTIs, but it is often hard to separate the scientific fact from fiction. Here's a guide to the everyday, affordable materials that have been scientifically proven to prevent and shorten these painful infections.
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Cranberries have been recommended for the prevention and treatment of UTIs for more than a century, but until the past few decades, the claim had no scientific basis. In 1994, a clinical study published in JAMA showed that cranberry juice may in fact help prevent UTIs. Later studies showed the effect is due to compounds found in cranberries -- including proanthocyanidins -- which prevent E. coli from grabbing onto the walls of the urethra, thereby inhibiting the build up of bacteria that cause UTIs.
Since then, numerous studies have supported cranberry's ability to thwart infections and cranberry-based supplements, such as Ellura, have been developed for people with recurrent UTIs.
Research has also hinted that 100 percent cranberry juice can shorten the length of, and possibly treat, non-aggressive infections. "Overall, cranberry is a superstar in terms of how it affects the bladder system," says YouBeauty Integrative Health Expert Jim Nicolai, M.D., the medical director of the Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval.
Earlier this year, however, scientists at the University of Michigan published findings that cranberry juice fails to prevent recurrent UTIs -- throwing the medical and scientific communities back into a debate about the berry’s benefits.
Uva-ursi, a shrub found in mountainous areas of North America, contains several chemicals with antiseptic properties, including arbutoside, which becomes a form of hydroquinone as it passes through the bladder system and helps fight infection, a fact that Native Americans realized centuries ago. On the down side, however, uva-ursi can be toxic. Hydroquinone is potentially carcinogenic and has been shown to cause liver damage in large quantities and as a result, doctors are cautious in suggesting the herb for extended use.
While perhaps most popular for the rumor that it can mask drug use during urine tests (and the research is inconclusive on that), this herb contains the compound berberine, which can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of urethra, similar to the proanthocyanidins in cranberries. Scientists and doctors agree, however, that more research needs to be done before the plant can be deemed a verified UTI preventive measure or treatment.
Some of the most popular alternative choices to the treatments discussed above include:
- Echinacea, an immune system stimulant with antibiotic and antioxidant effects that may help fight early UTIs
- Baking soda taken with water, which can supposedly neutralize acidic urine and ease pain and symptoms, though evidence is limited
- Vitamin C, which acidifies the urine and inhibits the growth of bacteria.
Nicolai also says that simple measures such as limiting coffee, alcohol and white flour intake, as well as staying well hydrated and urinating before and after intercourse to cleanse the urethra of bacteria can keep your bladder system healthy, lowering any chance of a UTI to begin with.