For centuries herbal medicine has provided effective treatment and reliable protection from urinary tract infections or cystitis. Today, more and more women are turning back to simple herbal therapy as a mean of overcoming recurrent urinary tract infections.
Urinary tract infection (UTI) is common in women who have a 30% chance of suffering cystitis at some stage in their lives; 10 – 20% of women have urinary tract (urethral) discomfort at least once a year. UTIs are uncommon in heterosexual men, except those with prostate disease. The prevalence of UTIs increase with age (in both women and men) and a large proportion of postmenopausal women experience at least one UTI each year.
The word cystitis means bladder inflammation. In most cases this inflammation is caused by bacterial infection, especially Escherichia coli (E coli) from faecal contamination of vaginal secretions. The healthy bladder is safeguarded from bacterial infections by a protective membranous lining and regular flushing of the urethra (tube from the bladder), by sterile urine. Ways in which bacteria can infect the urethra and bladder include sexual activity, tampons, toilet hygiene, contraceptives, perfumed toiletries, low fluid intake, pregnancy, menopause and anatomical problems.
Signs and symptoms of UTI include a frequent urge to pass urine coupled with a burning sensation and difficulty passing urine. These are sometimes associated with lower back pain, strong smelling and cloudy urine, blood in the urine and painful intercourse. Conditions other than cystitis can cause similar symptoms, including vaginal infection, gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, irritable bladder and kidney infection. Also, bladder inflammation without infection can cause severe bladder pain and could be interstitial cystitis (IC). IC can involve bladder ulceration and is frequently associated with food allergies.
It is very important to treat cystitis at the earliest signs or symptoms. If significant discomfort persist beyond 24 – 48 hours it is advisable to see a doctor. Fever, chills, nausea and vomiting and pain in the mid back may indicate a kidney infection. The drinking of a urinary alkalizer (readily available from a health food store or chemist) together with appropriate herbs can effectively overcome most UTIs within this time. Also it is wise to avoid caffeine, acid foods (especially nuts, cereals, dairy products and meats), spices, tomatoes, citrus fruit, alcohol and chocolate.
Numerous studies demonstrate that drinking 300 mL of cranberry and/or blueberry juice each day reduces the risk of developing a UTI by more than half and helps clear an already present UTI by inhibiting detrimental bacteria, especially E coli.
Certain factors can increase the risk of bacterial infection of the urinary tract causing a UTI, especially in susceptible individuals. These include the use of tampons, inappropriate toilet hygiene (wiping back to front), perfumed toiletries, certain contraceptives (such as cervical cap, coil, diaphragm and spermicides), sexual activity (especially after long abstinence), anal sex, tight clothing (especially nylon panty hose) and low fluid intake (less than 1 litre per day).
Apart from drinking 1.5 to 2 litres per day as a means of minimising recurrent cystitis, numerous studies demonstrate that drinking 300 mL of cranberry and/or blueberry juice each day reduces the risk of developing a UTI by more than half and helps clear an already present UTI by inhibiting detrimental bacteria, especially E coli.
When experiencing the earliest signs or symptoms of cystitis, i.e. a frequent urge to urinate coupled with a burning sensation and difficulty passing urine, it is advisable to take a urinary alkalizer a couple of times a day to reduce the acidity of the urine. Alkalizing the urine also inhibits bacterial growth and provides the ideal medium to activate the antibacterial affects of certain herbs.
For example, the leaves of an herb called Uva-Ursi or bearberry contains 7 – 9% arbutin, a metabolite of which is a powerful urinary antiseptic, especially against E coli (the major causative bacteria of UTIs). This metabolite called hydroquinone is more effective in alkaline urine. Interestingly, a strong tea or extract made from Uva-Ursi works better than the isolated chemical, arbutin.
Another herb that works better in alkaline urine is Goldenseal. It contains berberine that is a very effective antimicrobial agent against common causative bacteria like E coli, Klebsiella, Staphylococcus species and Streptococcus species.
An effective herbal treatment combines Uva-Ursi and Goldenseal with Buchu (another urinary antiseptic), Horsetail (anti-inflammatory and inhibits bleeding), Couchgrass (soothing diuretic) and Corn Silk (anti-inflammatory and diuretic). This formulation can be drunk as a strong tea (2 teaspoonsful steeped in a cup of boiling water for 20 minutes) or as an extract combination up to 5 times a day for fast action.
The appropriate proportions are as follows: –
Uva-Ursi – 20%
Goldenseal – 10%
Buchu – 15%
Horsetail – 15%
Couchgrass – 20%
Corn Silk – 20%
This treatment is readily available from your local herbal dispensary.