What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections
If you are a woman, chances are high that you have had a urinary tract infection at least once in your life.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) affect more women than men—approximately 60% of women have had at least one. (1)
In the United States, this means that roughly 13 million women a year are visiting their doctor for the classic symptoms of an infection: pain while urinating and an urgency to frequently run to the restroom.
Urinary tract infections are painful. They interfere with work. And a severe infection can move through the bladder and up into the kidneys. The best course of action is direct. Physicians and their patients often agree that antibiotics are the recommended therapy.
Unfortunately, while antibiotic therapy may work, its success is often short-lived.
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Are a Cry for Help
When you have recurrent UTIs, there is a tendency to have two or more infections within six months or three or more infections within 12 months. (2)
60% of women have had a urinary tract infection at least once. UTIs are commonly treated with antibiotics, which may only provide short-term relief.
Factors that increase your risk of infection are (3):
- Sexual activity
- Use of contraceptives
- Estrogen deficiency
Research tells us that re-infection after antibiotic therapy is common. (4)(5) In fact, over half of all recurrent infections are caused by the same strain of bacteria as the initial infection—even with appropriate antibiotic therapy. (6)
One problem is that the bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections are growing resistant to antibiotic therapy. (7) In other words, they are genetically adapting to the drugs that are designed to kill them.
Besides resistance, antibiotics are not a sustainable choice—except in dire circumstances. Antibiotics destroy both the good and the bad bacteria in the body.
Antibiotics devastate the inner ecosystems of your gut and your urogenital (urinary and genital) system. Your immune and defense system—which is tucked away into mucosal tissue—relies on good bacteria. Without hearty communities of good bacteria, the body is vulnerable to repeated infection.
What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection is cause by bacteria colonizing the urinary organs, like the urethra (the opening to the urinary tract) and bladder. The infected area becomes inflamed and swollen. Signs of a urinary tract infection include pain when urinating, fever, and the frequent urge to urinate. (8)
Escherichia coli is the bacterium that is largely responsible for urinary tract infections. (9) And as it turns out, the exact same strains of E. coli that are responsible for urinary tract infections are also found in the gut. (10)
E. coli is normally found in the colon of even healthy adults. However, its overgrowth is kept in check by other beneficial bacteria.
Specific strains of E. coli are especially noxious and responsible for urinary tract infections. These strains of E. coli often come from the stool. They can easily colonize the area surrounding the urethra and—in women—the vaginal opening.
A new study found that women with a history of recurring urinary tract infections may carry a particularly hearty strain of E. coli. This strain flourishes in both the gut and the bladder. Worse—it can also migrate back and forth, despite repeated treatments with antibiotic therapy. (11)
Normally, lactobacillus bacteria protect a woman’s birth canal from infection, yeast overgrowth, and unfriendly bacteria. (12) Lactobacillus bacteria are beneficial. They excrete a substance that kills offensive bacteria, and they also keep the birth canal at a healthy, slightly acidic pH.
When there are not enough lactobacillus bacteria, there is an increased risk of urinary tract infection. (13)
What the Urinary Tract and the Gut Have in Common
The urinary tract is made up of mucosal tissue. The gut is made up of mucosal tissue. The lungs are made up of mucosal tissue.
As it so happens, all this mucosal tissue responds to the same biochemical signals. If you trigger inflammation in one area of mucosal tissue (the lungs, for example), a very distant area will also respond (like the vaginal mucosa).
How do we know this?
When researchers studied the effects of vaccines, they found that—depending on the route a vaccine was administered—it could affect distant groups of mucosal tissue. (14) Still other studies point out that breastfeeding protects against urinary tract infections in infants. (15)
While researchers know that breastfeeding can benefit the gut and the respiratory tract of an infant, the urinary system seems “remote.” However, what unites all these systems is mucosal tissue.
This means the immune system is complex and layered. Its signals can be systemic. And when it comes to urinary tract infections, it is essential to maintain health in all mucosal tissue.
How to Protect Against Recurring Urinary Tract Infections
What your doctor probably won’t tell you about urinary tract infections is that you can do several things to try to prevent them:
1. Diet: Switching from the standard American diet to a probiotic-rich diet that supports a healthy inner ecosystem, like the Body Ecology Diet, is one of the best ways to ward off urinary tract infections. For example, a 2013 study published in Gut found that a typical western diet shifted the bacteria in the inner ecosystem of the gut, leading to leaky gut and greater numbers of E. coli. (16)
2. Support Good Bacteria: A large body of research spells it out pretty clearly—good bacteria reduce your risk of developing urinary tract infections. (17) A 2002 study published in Neonatology found that probiotics could prevent urinary tract infections in preterm babies. (18) Body Ecology probiotic beverages and cultured vegetables are the best tools to replenish living beneficial bacteria in the gut.
3. Cranberry Juice: You may have heard it from your mother, your girlfriends, or your grandmother. And you’re hearing it here: Cranberry juice is effective against E. coli. It prevents the bacteria from sticking to the mucosal tissue of the urinary tract. (19)(20)
If you struggle with recurrent urinary tract infections, we suggest that you try this delicious cranberry beverage!
What To Remember Most About This Article:
13 million women experience urinary tract infection symptoms each year. UTIs can be painful and uncomfortable; doctors are likely to prescribe antibiotics as a quick-fix treatment. But if you suffer from recurrent urinary tract infections, your body may be crying out for help. Antibiotics destroy the healthy inner ecosystem of the gut and urogenital system.
The risk of urinary tract infection increases as numbers of beneficial bacteria drop.
You can naturally protect yourself against recurring UTIs with 3 helpful tips:
- Reconsider the standard American diet. The probiotic-rich Body Ecology Diet can naturally fight off urinary tract infections by encouraging a healthy inner ecosystem.
- Support beneficial bacteria. Probiotic beverages and cultured vegetables can replenish friendly bacteria in the gut to reduce the risk of developing a UTI, plain and simple.
- Don’t forget cranberry juice. Cranberry juice is a popular UTI remedy that actually works. Cranberry juice prevents harmful bacteria from clinging to urinary tract mucosal tissue.
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- Scholes, D., Hooton, T. M., Roberts, P. L., Stapleton, A. E., Gupta, K., & Stamm, W. E. (2000). Risk factors for recurrent urinary tract infection in young women. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 182(4), 1177-1182.
- Harrington, R. D., & Hooton, T. M. (2000). Urinary tract infection risk factors and gender. The journal of gender-specific medicine: JGSM: the official journal of the Partnership for Women’s Health at Columbia, 3(8), 27.
- Ikaheimo R, Siitonen A, Heiskanen T, Karkkainen U, Kuosmanen P, et al. (1996) Recurrence of urinary tract infection in a primary care setting: analysis of a 1-year follow-up of 179 women. Clin Infect Dis 22: 91–99.
- Foxman B, Zhang L, Tallman P, Palin K, Rode C, et al. (1995) Virulence characteristics of Escherichia coli causing first urinary tract infection predict risk of second infection. J Infect Dis 172: 1536–1541.
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- Smith RD, Yago M, Millar M, Coast J (2006) A macroeconomic approach to evaluating policies to contain antimicrobial resistance: a case study of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Appl Health Econ Health Pol 5:55–65.
- Strus M, Kucharska A, Kukl G, Brzychczy-Wloch M, Maresz K, Heczko PB (2005) The in vitro activity of vaginal Lactobacillus with probiotic properties against Candida. Infect Dis Obstetr Gynecol 13(2):69–75.
- Samra KSS, Cenk S, Horu GMG, Beril O (2005) Increasing antimicrobial resistance of Escherichia coli isolates from community acquired UTI during 1998–2003. Manisa Turkey Japan. J Infect Dis 58:159–161.
- Mahjoub-Messai, F., Bidet, P., Caro, V., Diancourt, L., Biran, V., Aujard, Y., … & Bonacorsi, S. (2011). Escherichia coli isolates causing bacteremia via gut translocation and urinary tract infection in young infants exhibit different virulence genotypes. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 203(12), 1844-1849.
- Chen, S. L., Wu, M., Henderson, J. P., Hooton, T. M., Hibbing, M. E., Hultgren, S. J., & Gordon, J. I. (2013). Genomic Diversity and Fitness of E. coli Strains Recovered from the Intestinal and Urinary Tracts of Women with Recurrent Urinary Tract Infection. Science translational medicine, 5(184), 184ra60-184ra60.
- Kaewnopparat S, Kaewnopparat N (2009) Formulation and evaluation of vaginal suppositories containing Lactobacillus. World Acad Sci Eng Technol 55:640–643.
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- Holmgren, J., & Czerkinsky, C. (2005). Mucosal immunity and vaccines. Nature medicine, 11, S45-S53.
- Hanson, L. (2004), Protective effects of breastfeeding against urinary tract infection. Acta Paediatrica, 93: 154–156.
- Martinez-Medina, M., Denizot, J., Dreux, N., Robin, F., Billard, E., Bonnet, R., … & Barnich, N. (2013). Western diet induces dysbiosis with increased E coli in CEABAC10 mice, alters host barrier function favouring AIEC colonisation. Gut.
- Reid, G. (2008). Probiotic Lactobacilli for urogenital health in women. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 42, S234-S236.
- Dani, C., Biadaioli, R., Bertini, G., Martelli, E., & Rubaltelli, F. F. (2002). Probiotics feeding in prevention of urinary tract infection, bacterial sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants. Neonatology, 82(2), 103-108.
- Kontiokari, T., Sundqvist, K., Nuutinen, M., Pokka, T., Koskela, M., & Uhari, M. (2001). Randomised trial of cranberry-lingonberry juice and Lactobacillus GG drink for the prevention of urinary tract infections in women. Bmj, 322(7302), 1571.
- Howell, A. B., & Foxman, B. (2002). Cranberry juice and adhesion of antibiotic-resistant uropathogens. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association, 287(23), 3082-3083.