Many of us are all too familiar with the particular burning sensation of a urinary tract infection (UTI). Saying UTIs are not very pleasant to deal with is an understatement. But, they happen, so what’s a gal to do?
I used to think urinary tract infections were inevitable: a romp in the begonias while dehydrated, an overly amorous vacation, or sometimes just because, and voila! A urinary tract infection, a trip to the doctor, and a round of antibiotics.
But, the truth is that UTIs don’t need to be part of your experience as a woman. Afterall, something that has the potential to infect and damage your kidneys shouldn’t be considered “normal,” right?
What is a urinary tract infection (UTI) and what causes it, anyway?
UTIs occur when bacteria infects the bladder, typically resulting in a burning sensation and a frequent urge to urinate. Intercourse can increase the likelihood of a UTI by introducing additional bacteria to the area. Being dehydrated can also contribute to a UTI as your body is less capable of flushing out the bad bacteria. Women who have experienced one UTI are more likely to have another. Having a compromised immune system or weak microbiome, in which your natural bacteria are not diverse, or “bad bugs” outnumber the good ones, also makes you much more prone to infection.
Treating a UTI
If you suspect you have a urinary tract infection it is best to see your doctor. As mentioned above, if left untreated, a UTI can spread to your kidneys, so it’s best to seek medical attention. Your doctor will also be able to rule out a yeast infection, which sometimes mimics the symptoms of a UTI. For recurrent UTIs, your doctor can test for interstitial cystitis.
Once your doctor confirms that it is a UTI, the typical course of treatment consists of antibiotics. The good news is that antibiotics typically provide near-immediate relief. The bad news is, they may make your more prone to UTIs in the future if you do not take steps to heal your microbiome afterwards.
There is some evidence that a more diverse microbiome can help to combat UTIs, and my hunch is that more and more studies will confirm this hypothesis. In this study, a positive correlation was found between bladder microbiome diversity and prevention of UTIs in an older test population. This study found that probiotic treatment did not cure “acute cystitis” (medical speak for a UTI), but that when administered afterwards, may play a role in preventing further occurrences. It also found that UTI treatments that do not damage the microbiome may help to prevent future UTIs.
This means that if you take an antibiotic you should also be sure to eat probiotic rich foods like fermented vegetables and yogurt, as well as supplement with a good probiotic. While taking the antibiotic, be sure to take your probiotic and eat probiotic-rich foods at a separate time.
Treating a UTI without antibiotics
You may have been told to drink cranberry juice to help prevent or alleviate a UTI – and it turns out that there is some truth to this method! D-mannose, one of the sugars in cranberry juice helps to dislodge E.coli, the bacterium responsible for most UTIs, from the bladder’s walls. The therapeutic dose for D-mannose is 500 mg every 2-3 hours for two days. The best part is there are no side effects to D-mannose, and it won’t compromise your microbiome.
Be sure to keep taking the D-mannose for the full two days, even as your symptoms begin to abate. You can also take a low dose of D-mannose as a preventative measure around high-risk times, like your honeymoon…or the weekend.
If your UTI does not respond to D-mannose, then it is possible it is an infection by a different bacterial strain. Only 10% of UTIs are not caused by E.Coli, and if you find your UTI does not respond to D-mannose, you can go to your doctor to have your urine tested to determine the strain.
Kick UTIs for good
Build up a healthy microbiome.
Eat both prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods. Take a probiotic supplement. You may even find that vaginal probiotic suppositories are helpful. If possible, avoid things that harm the microbiome such as antibiotics, conventional meat, and the birth control pill. (Read more about building up your microbiome here.)
My recommended probiotic: Dr. Ohhira’s Original Formula*
Strengthen your immune system.
You can only fight off infection as well as your immune system! Address any issues such as candida overgrowth and be aware of times when immune function is suppressed such as pregnancy.
Be mindful of your birth control method.
As mentioned above, the birth control pill compromises your microbiome, so it’s definitely worth getting off of it if you’re experiencing recurrent UTIs. That said, other forms of contraception (condoms, the vaginal sponge, etc) can also contribute to UTI risk. Experiment with different forms of contraception, make that you’re fully lubricated (or get some help in that area!), and pay attention to what works best for you. Additional tip: try to urinate both before and after sex to flush out bacteria.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat water-rich foods like produce. Be extra mindful when consuming alcohol or caffeine to make up for the hydration deficit.
Use D-mannose preventatively.
You can take a low dose of D-mannose on the days you have intercourse as a preventative measure. Also, remember that the supplement will work faster and be more effective if you take it at the first sign of a UTI.
My recommended D-mannose: Solaray D-mannose with Cranactin*
*When you use these Amazon affiliate links you are supporting Kara and helping her continue her work in women’s health.
Kara DeDonato is a fertility health expert who works with women to troubleshoot their monthly cycles and digestion so that they can feel their best and be their best selves. Read her full bio here.