Urinary tract infections are among the most common diseases, affecting more than half of all women at some point in life and repeatedly, 25 percent of them. The idea that the urinary tract is a sterile environment has been successfully challenged with the help of technological advances, including culture-independent techniques (qPCR). We now know that urine is not sterile, even in the absence of a clinically relevant infection, and that the entire urinary tract is home to microorganisms, with each unique urinary microbial community.
The female microbiome in the gut, bladder and vagina is a key factor in women’s health. A substantial amount of research supports the idea that, similar to microorganisms in other areas of the body, some bacteria in the urinary microbiome help maintain health and determine, to some extent, which pathogens can colonize the urinary tract.
Twenty to 40% of women treated for urinary tract infections have at least one relapse in six months. These recurrences are often caused by the same bacterial colony that was responsible for the initial infection, suggesting that uro-pathogens are able to evade host defense and antibiotic treatment.
A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria enter and multiply in the urinary tract (usually through the urethra). The urinary tract consists of the urethra, bladder, ureters and kidneys. Any part of the urinary tract can be infected, but these infections usually start in the urethra or bladder. If left untreated, the infection can reach the kidneys.
Most urinary tract infections are caused by E. coli, a bacterium that is found naturally in the human gut and can migrate into the urinary tract. However, the rest of the urinary tract infections can be caused by other bacteria such as Proteus mirabilis, S. saprophyticus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterococcus faecalis and Klebsiella.
The most common symptoms include:
- Pain or burning sensation in the vagina when urinating
- A frequent need to urinate
- Pain and discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Cloudy, dark or unpleasant smelling urine
- Pink or reddish urine – a sign that there is blood in the urine
Causes of Urinary Tract Infections.
These infections can be caused by poor hygiene, poor immune function, dysbiosis of the intestinal and vaginal microbiome, excessive use of antibiotics, use of spermicides (which can change the pH balance of the vagina) and intercourse. Women are eight times more likely to develop a urinary tract infection than men; having a shorter urethra, bacteria can reach the bladder more easily.
A low level of estrogen (such as in pre- and menopause) has a direct effect on the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside); this causes the opening to the bladder to be less tight and thus allow leakage. Also, without enough or bioavailable estrogen, the vaginal walls can become thin and dry, the protective barrier lowers and inflammation and infections develop easier. In my previous article here, you can learn more about vaginal microbiome and health.
Many women developed their first urinary tract infection during pregnancy. The reason is that the risk of bacteria reaching the kidneys increases during pregnancy (due to changes in the pelvis and urethra).
How Can You Heal Urinary Tract Infections Naturally, Effectively and Long Term?
Consume a proper diet for your metabolic type, without processed foods and sugars and add a variety of fibers and polyphenols with prebiotic effect, as well as fermented foods. These will improve the amount and type of bacteria in your digestive system and will also have an effect on the vaginal microbiome. However, if you suffer from candidiasis, which often co-exists with urinary tract infections, fermented foods are contraindicated during the acute period of the infection.
Consume enough water and nettle tea to help eliminate pathogenic bacteria from the urinary system faster. Eliminate caffeine, chocolate, tomatoes, citrus fruits and acidic foods during infection.
The standard treatment for urinary tract infections consists of antibiotics. However, they are not successful in 25% to 35% of people, can cause resistance, can alter the intestinal microbial flora and the function of the immune system. The low success rate of this treatment may be due to the fact that synthetic antibiotics are ineffective for microbes that hide in the bladder wall. From a functional perspective, the use of synthetic antibiotics does not provide the necessary support for such infections and therefore does not help solve the risk of long-term infections and / or recurrence.
From clinical trials it can be concluded that probiotics can play an important role in preventing urinary tract infections, but considering that although probiotic bacteria can colonize the intestine and vagina, they cannot colonize the bladder. Due to the anatomical and microbial links between the gut – vagina – bladder ecosystems, probiotics have the best effect when working simultaneously at these three levels.
The mechanism of action of these probiotics refers to: co-aggregation with pathogens, lactic acid production, immunomodulation – by reducing the pro-inflammatory response and increasing the number of lactobacilli.
The intestinal microbiome protects us from infections in many ways and even trains our immune cells! It also plays a very important role in regulating inflammation and how our immune system works. A healthy intestinal microbiome provides protection against colonization and overcrowding with pathogens in the body.
D-mannose is one of the most effective nutrients for both the treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections. Similar to glucose, D-mannose is a sugar that is found naturally in fruits such as apples, blueberries and cranberries. It is allowed for both diabetics and those who avoid sugar, because it’s differently metabolized compared to other sugars. D-mannose is effective because it attaches to E. coli bacteria, causing them to stick together and preventing them from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. Bacteria can then be easily eliminated from the body during urination.
In case of more persistent infections, I recommend to my clients a combination of the following plants, which are very potent in the fight against urinary tract infections caused by E.coli but also by other pathogens: cryptolepis, coptis chinensis, uva ursi, juniper berry, bidens pilosa, propolis.
Monolaurin is also another beneficial extract, with a broad spectrum and especially useful for infections caused by other gram-positive (and not gram-negative) bacteria such as E.coli. It works by disrupting the integrity of the bacterial cell membrane, blocking replication and helping the immune system to destroy the pathogen. It’s also a very potent antifungal.
It’s important to note that especially in the case of more persistent infections, an action against biofilm – an accumulation of microorganisms and their extracellular products that form structured communities attached to a surface, such as the mucosa of the urogenital tract, is recommended. The development of a biofilm can make infections extremely difficult to treat. There are specific natural enzymes, such as nattokinase, that can disrupt the biofilm matrix where the pathogens are hidden.
To support the function of the immune system in the process of eliminating the infection, I often recommend immunoglobulin therapy and / or colostrum consumption. It helps the body eliminate bacteria, viruses and other antigens. Colostrum is also rich in lactoferrin, which reduces inflammation, binds to endotoxins, acts as a prebiotic and stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the gut, acts to stimulate immune T cells and increases natural white blood cells.
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