By: Dr. Marianne Marchese, NMD
Ten to twenty percent of all women have some kind of urinary discomfort or infection at least once a year. Acute uncomplicated cystitis and recurrent cystitis are two important categories of urinary tract infections in adults. A narrow spectrum of bacteria causes infections in young women with cystitis: Escherichia coli in 80 percent, Staphylococcus saprophyticus in 5 to 15 percent, and occasionally klebsiella species, Proteus mirabilis, or on occasion other microorganisms. Sexual intercourse, diaphragm use and a spermicide, possibly spermicide used alone, delayed post-coital urination, and a history of a recent urinary tract infection, all increase the risk of infection.
Women who present with painful urination usually have either acute cystitis; acute urethritis due to Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhea, or herpes simplex virus; or vaginitis due to candida or trichomonas. These problems can usually be differentiated on the basis of presenting symptoms, physical exam and urinalysis. A urine culture, vaginal culture and Chlamydia testing may be needed.
Postmenopausal women may also have frequent infections and are often due to residual urine after voiding or the lack of estrogen causing marked changes in the vaginal microflora including loss of lactobacilli and increased colonization by E. coli. These women often benefit from the use of vaginal estrogen cream.
For most bladder infections, a naturopathic approach is usually very effective and the infection resolves quickly and without recurrence or complications. The primary goals are to:
1. Enhance internal defenses against the infection by providing immune support.
2. Restore vaginal microflora
3. Promote a proper pH
4. Prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder epithelium.
Increasing the urinary flow is important and easily accomplished by increasing the quantity of liquids. Water and herbal teas related to the treatment goals are the most logical choices. 64 ounces is the common recommendation.
No natural approach to cystitis would be complete without mention of cranberry. Cranberry juice has been frequently used as a home remedy by women for decades. Several studies have shown that cranberries and cranberry juice are effective in women with active urinary tract infections. In one study, 16 ounces of cranberry juice daily was effective in 73% of individuals with an active infection. Many people still think that the action of cranberry juice is due to acidifying the urine. However, recent studies have shown that cranberry juice reduces the ability of E. coli to adhere to the lining of the bladder and urethra.
One of the most useful herbs for bladder infection is uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), also known as bearberry or upland cranberry. The antiseptic, antibacterial and astringent activity of uva ursi is largely due to its arbutin content. Uva ursi is especially active against E. coli as well as having diuretic properties. Uva ursi has also been used with recurrent bladder infections and was very effective in a double-blind study of 57 women. After one year, five of twenty seven women had a recurrence in the placebo group while none of thirty women had a recurrence in the uva ursi group.
Pipsissewa, a Native remedy of the Pacific Northwest, is a traditional remedy for urinary infections. The mildly antimicrobial effects have been attributed to its arbutin content. Other naturopathic remedies include the use of D-Manose, buchu leaf and homeopathy. There are over 20 different homeopathic remedies for UTI’s and need to be individualized to the woman’s symptoms. The most common homeopathic UTI remedy is staphysagria.
Naturopathic treatments for urinary tract infections in women are very safe and effective once other causes of UTI symptoms are ruled out. If treated early and appropriately a urinary tract infection resolves quickly and without complications.
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