If you’ve been around for a while, you know I love natural remedies as a first step to fighting common ailments. One ailment that affects women (and moms in general) fairly often is urinary tract infections. Whether caused by pregnancy, intimacy, or nothing at all, many women suffer from them and are looking for a solution that doesn’t include antibiotics. Here are my best tips for dealing with UTIs naturally.
What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract (typically through the urethra) and multiplies. The urinary tract consists of the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Any part of the urinary tract can become infected, but UTIs typically start in the urethra or bladder. If left untreated, the infection can move up into the kidneys.
Research published in 2013 suggests that most UTIs are caused by E. coli, although other bacteria, viruses, and fungi can also lead to an infection. E. coli is a bacteria naturally found in both human and animal intestines but in large amounts can cause food poisoning and other kinds of infection.
How Can You Get a UTI?
Gender is the greatest risk factor for getting a UTI. The same study mentioned above showed that women are eight times more likely to contract a UTI than men. One theory is that because women have a shorter urethra, bacteria have an easier time reaching the bladder.
Other risk factors that can lead to a urinary tract infection include:
- Frequent Sexual Intercourse – Sexual activity can transport bacteria from the anus and genitals into the urinary tract. If you notice that sexual activity leads to UTIs, be sure to urinate after sex to immediately flush out the bladder. Also, give Uqora (mentioned below) a try.
- Using Spermicides – A 2019 study in the Therapeutic Advances in Urology Journal suggests that spermicides can change the pH balance of the vagina. This change in pH can change the bacterial profile of the vagina too (some bacteria grow better or worse in certain pH levels).
- Using Barrier Methods of Birth Control – Diaphragms, condoms, and other barrier methods lead to a greater risk of contracting a UTI, as this study from 2011 reports. Women who don’t want to use hormonal birth control and use these methods may be at risk.
- Using Catheters – Catheters can also lead to UTIs. The 2019 study (mentioned above) suggests that catheter use can also increase the risk of developing UTIs and lead to other complications.
- Being Pregnant – Many women have experienced their first UTI (or more frequent UTIs) during pregnancy. The reason is that the risk of bacteria reaching the kidneys increases during pregnancy (due to changes in the pelvis and urethra), according to an article published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine. UTIs can present serious problems for both the mother and baby so it’s important to prevent them if possible or get treatment quickly.
- Being Post-Menopausal – The 2019 study mentioned earlier explains that a woman’s body creates less estrogen following menopause which can cause the vaginal walls to become thin and dry. This change in the vagina can make inflammation and infection occur more easily. (This post on vaginal atrophy explains more in-depth.)
- Immune System Issues and Disease – Preexisting conditions and immune dysfunction can cause more frequent UTIs. According to a 2013 review, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disease are two disease that can have this affect. It makes sense that an immune system that is not working well can cause more infections in general, but, on the othr hand, some research published in 2010 found that the normal immune response to a UTI can damage the bladder and lead to more infections.
- Having Poor Hygiene Habits – This is a big one for kids and adults. Teach young girls (and remember yourself) to always wipe from front to back to prevent spreading bacteria toward the vaginal opening. Also, drink plenty of water and use the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to go. Both of these things will prevent bacteria from building up in the bladder.
Just because you have risk factors doesn’t mean you’re destined to suffer from UTIs though. There are many things you can do to prevent, and even stop, a UTI.
Signs and Symptoms of a UTI
If you’ve experienced the pain and discomfort of a urinary tract infection, you are probably intimately aware of the symptoms. Many women who experience multiple UTIs over the course of their lives know the early signs of a UTI.
But if you’re not sure, knowing the signs and symptoms to look out for will help you catch an infection in the early stages of its development.
The most common symptoms include:
- Pain or a burning sensation in the vagina when urinating
- A frequent need to urinate (often feeling you have to go, but only a small amount of urine comes out)
- Pain and discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Cloudy, dark or foul-smelling urine
- Pink or reddish colored urine – signaling blood in the urine (many women find this is a symptom that signals a more serious infection)
Catching a UTI early increases your chances of avoiding the doctor’s office (and antibiotics) and successfully treating it with a natural home remedy.
Conventional Treatment for UTI
If you head to the doctor at the first signs of a UTI, you may be prescribed antibiotics. Given what I know about antibiotics, however, I do my best to avoid them whenever possible.
Just a few of the negative side effects of antibiotics include:
- Upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea
- Rash and skin irritation
- Joint and muscle pain
- Elimination of “good and bad” bacteria in the gut
- Increased antibiotic resistance
Doing what’s best for you (or a family member) means weighing the benefits and risks of any treatment. Sometimes UTIs can be tricky to treat at home and require antibiotics. That’s okay.
If antibiotics are necessary, there are some things you can do to support the body. Chris Kresser recommends following these suggestions to support your body while taking them:
- Take prebiotics and probiotics
- Eat a variety of fermented foods
- Eat foods high in glycine (unsweetened grass-fed gelatin, meats, bone broth, etc.)
If urinary tract infections are a recurring problem, consider working with a naturopath or functional medicine doctor to determine the root cause. They may help you make changes in your diet or lifestyle that will minimize the need for antibiotics in the future.
Natural Remedies for a Urinary Tract Infection
If you’re experiencing a UTI (or think you might be), there are many home remedies that can help relieve discomfort and prevent reoccurrence. Use these tips to prevent and naturally treat a UTI at home.
A foundation of a healthy diet is usually a good first step for improving health. Studies suggest that diet (along with other factors) can influence the health of our urinary tract specifically. Of course, if you already have the beginnings of a UTI, changing your diet may not be enough to reverse it. But these diet tips can help prevent infections (and improve overall health!):
Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Sugar is inflammatory which only makes infections worse. If you easily get UTIs, eliminating sugary foods and drinks is a good first step. You may even need to cut down on natural sugars like fruit (bacteria don’t care what kind of sugar you eat — they love it all!).
Eliminate Processed Foods
Processed foods provide very little (if any) nutrients. They are mostly just fillers that ward off hunger (and don’t do a great job at that either!). Processed foods are also usually high in sugar and carbohydrates which feed bad bacteria.
Eat a Variety of Fermented and Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Probiotics play an important role in the health of the urinary tract. They supply the body with good bacteria that will keep the bad bacteria in check. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, organic whole milk yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and kombucha naturally contain probiotics.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking water will help the body flush toxins out of the system. I keep a reusable water bottle with me at all times to make sure I stay hydrated.
Avoid Acidic Foods When Treating a UTI
Sometimes even healthy foods need to be left alone when treating a UTI. Eating or drinking anything that will increase the acidity of your urine will make a UTI more difficult to treat, and often more painful. I avoid caffeine, chocolate, tomatoes, and citrus foods during a UTI.
Diet can have such a huge effect on overall health and can help with specific ailments as well. When the body is properly supported it can often rebalance itself (perhaps with a little additional support).
Probiotics and Supplements
I always recommend getting nutrients from food first, but sometimes supplements are necessary. When something is off in the body (like during an infection) additional nutrients and combinations of nutrients can help support the body in getting back in balance.
The human body has billions of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that help fight bad bacteria. Increasing these good bacteria has promising benefits for women who experience recurrent infections. Probiotics do not contribute to antibiotic resistance (like antibiotics do), and they offer additional health benefits, too. (But make sure it is a quality spore-based supplement or it may not be doing anything!)
This product has changed the UTI game for me. It naturally encourages the body to rid itself of harmful bacteria (while strengthening good bacteria numbers). Uqora comes in three forms that help UTIs in different ways:
- Target – Binds to bacteria, increases urinary flow to flush bacteria out, alkalizes the urine, making it more difficult for bacteria to grow, and boosts the immune system.
- Control – Contains D-Mannose and attacks biofilm (a film that protects bacteria) and makes it easier to flush bacteria out.
- Promote – Helps support probiotic growth, especially Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri, which are the only two strains proven to help restore the vaginal microbiome.
I love that this supplement is an all-in-one natural remedy so I don’t have to spend time and energy finding the right combination of remedies for my needs.
I always keep D-mannose on hand for UTIs. A 2016 article in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Science showed that D-mannose can help to manage recurrent UTIs. This simple sugar can be added to water or taken in a pill form. It works by making it difficult for bacteria to stick to the walls of the bladder, and easier for them to be flushed from the body through urination. When I feel a UTI coming on, I reach for the D-mannose and put one tablespoon in a glass of water three times a day for at least two days.
Although naturally occurring in many foods (like kale, kiwis, broccoli, and lemons), vitamin C can be taken as a supplement to prevent UTIs. A Scandinavian study shows that vitamin C lowered the prevalence of UTIs in pregnant women.
Probiotics and supplements aren’t magic pills to take in place of a healthy diet. However, they can provide relief for those who struggle with chronic UTIs.
I love using herbal remedies to treat a UTI. There are many herbs thought to have soothing properties to help heal a urinary infection. These are a few of my favorites:
Cranberry is probably the most traditional home remedy for UTIs. A 2019 article published in Current Developments in Nutrition suggests that cranberry does reduce the risk of contracting a UTI in healthy women. Most people reach for cranberry juice for UTIs. Read your labels, though. Straight cranberry juice won’t have added sugars (it can be quite bitter). Some prefer a capsule instead.
Parsley tea is another one of my go-to remedies for UTIs. It has detoxifying properties and is a diuretic (increases urine flow). I feel I’m doing something extra nourishing for my body when I drink parsley tea. You can buy parsley tea, or steep 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley in 1 cup boiling water for about 5 minutes. (Most of the sources I checked recommended no more than 1 cup a day.)
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. I drink turmeric tea when I’m experiencing the classic UTI burning sensation. The pain associated with a UTI can be so distracting, but with just a small amount of turmeric tea, I notice the pain subsides.
Dandelion Marshmallow Root Blend
Dandelion root has a variety of medicinal benefits, but it can be beneficial during UTIs because of its diuretic and cleansing properties. I often mix dandelion and marshmallow root together. Marshmallow root is a demulcent, meaning it soothes irritated tissue by creating a protective barrier around it.
When to Get More Help
Urinary tract infections can interfere with everyday life in a variety of ways. So, many people prefer to treat them at home. But sometimes medical intervention is needed.
Seek your doctor’s advice if you:
- are pregnant
- have tried home remedies, but continue to experience symptoms for more than 72 hours
- are experiencing low-back pain, fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting (the infection may have spread to the kidneys)
- are unsure if your UTI needs additional treatment
Treating a urinary tract infection at home sounds so much better than messing with doctors and prescriptions. But, in some cases, professional medical help is required. When in doubt, I check with my SteadyMD doc and decide whether any of these natural urinary tract infection remedies could help.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Betsy Greenleaf, the first board certified female urogynecologist in the United States. She is double board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What is your go-to treatment for UTIs?
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- Chris Kresser. (2019, June 04). What to Do If You Need to Take Antibiotics. Retrieved from https://chriskresser.com/what-to-do-if-you-need-to-take-antibiotics/
- Aragón, I. M., Herrera-Imbroda, B., Queipo-Ortuño, M. I., Castillo, E., Moral, J. S., Gómez-Millán, J., . . . Lara, M. F. (2018). The Urinary Tract Microbiome in Health and Disease. European Urology Focus, 4(1), 128-138. doi:10.1016/j.euf.2016.11.001
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- Domenici, L., Monti, M., Bracchi, C., Giorgini, M., Colagiovanni, V., Muzii, L., & Panici, P. B. (july 20, 2016). D-mannose: A promising support for acute urinary tract infections in women. A pilot study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27424995.
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