By: CLIFFORD SONNIE, M.D., M.P.H.
Did you know that the most common cause of bacterial infections in the U.S. today is urinary tract infections (UTI)? In fact, about 1/3 of all women will have at least one UTI before their 24th birthday and once a woman contracts a UTI the chance of getting it again is 1 in 5. The frequency of a man contracting a UTI is much, much less. (Listen, it’s not a guy’s fault. God made us this way). The symptoms are the same however. Painful urination, sometimes back pain, strong odor in the urine, a change in the color of the urine and occasional blood in the urine are the usual symptoms. Let’s stop here for one second. Even though blood in the urine can be a symptom of a simple UTI, anytime you see blood, whether a man or a woman, you will see your doctor or urologist. Not negotiable.
First, some science in the form of anatomy. (Oh goody!) The kidney filters the blood and produces urine. It is transported from each kidney by way of a ureter. Each ureter connects to a holding sac called a bladder. From the bladder the urine is expelled out through a urethra. Now here’s the difference between men and women (Good God, not the only one). The urethra in a woman is only a couple of inches long where in a man it is several times longer, so you can see that since the bacteria which causes a UTI comes from the outside it is a lot easier for it to get to a woman’s bladder rather than a man’s. (More on this later).
Anyway, the main bacterium that causes a UTI is called E.Coli. It comes from the intestinal tract and as you can see doesn’t have very far to go to infect the bladder of a woman. Now, don’t get insulted. It can have nothing what so ever to do with hygiene. In fact, it usually doesn’t. Common perspiration can help migrate those little buggers up the urethra. Likewise, “trauma” can expedite its movement. I will leave that to your imagination, but it is often called “honeymoon cystitis” (cystitis is the medical term for UTI).
Now traditionally, UTIs are treated with all kinds of antibiotics and they work. But as I’ve often said, everything comes at a price and the use of antibiotics is no different. Overgrowth of yeast in the intestine can cause yeast infections in any number of places on a woman. Likewise, there is the inevitable nausea or stomach upset which accompanies them. I won’t even get into the possibility of resistant organisms due to the overuse of antibiotics. Now, don’t get me wrong. Antibiotics have their place and I write prescriptions for them. The last thing you want is for the infection to take hold in the bladder then make its way up the ureters to the kidney. That folks is not good and will probably buy you an admission to the hospital where all kinds of antibiotics will be given IV (and I would agree with that treatment if it did get that far). So, let’s do something naturally to not let it get that far.
Prevention is the best method but whether as a preventative or if you’ve already got a UTI, here are some ideas. Drink plenty of fluids. Remember ½ your body weight in ounces of water a day. Yes, it may take some time to get up to that point but it is worth it. It will help detoxify the body as well as rinsing the bladder often. Second, make sure you urinate after relations or after excessive perspiration. Next cranberries are the best natural prevention. Originally, it was thought that cranberries made the urine acidic which prevents UTIs. Cranberries do have a lot of benzoic acid in them, and the body turns benzoic acid into hippuric acid. Well, recent studies have proven that even though these acids exist in the bladder, the pH (a measure of how acidic something is) is really unchanged. So how does it work? Cranberries contain something called proanthocyanidins (PAC) which prevent any bacteria from attaching to the wall of the bladder. If bacteria can’t attach to anything, it can’t reproduce. This gives your body a chance to urinate it out. There are also glycol-nutrients (especially mannose) in the cranberries. Now glycol-nutrients are 8 sugars that the body does not use for fuel. Instead they attach to cells and are needed for cells to “talk” to each other. Now, how they work is the topic for another article but, think of it essentially doing the same thing as the PACs. Both stop the growth and allow the body to “flush” the bacteria out. The amount one should take if you have UTI symptoms is about 400-500 milligrams of cranberry extract. To prevent UTIs usually 200mg a day does the trick. (Along with lots of water!!!). Now lastly there is something called extract of hibiscus. This has been used in Africa and Asia for the treatment of UTIs and has an added feature over cranberries and glycol-nutrients. It actually kills the bacteria. In fact, it works as well as many of the commonly used antibiotics. Now this is pretty recent and my question is still what about the good bacteria. Are they protected? Yes, I would like to use something natural over something synthetic to kill the bacteria but I need to know more. I’ll let you all know when I figure it out.
In the meantime, if you have any symptoms of a UTI, see your doctor. But also consider the additional use of cranberries as well as increasing your fluids to help as well as prevent future UTIs. If you do start an antibiotic remember to use probiotics as well (no, yogurt does not count) but clear this with your family MD or DO. You can always stop in to see us and we can show you some ways to help treat and prevent UTIs. As always, a smart healthcare consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D. is the Medical Director of the Balance of Life Clinic