A Functional Approach to UTIs: Nutrition, Supplements + Lifestyle Support
Everything You Need To Know About UTIs
UTIs are one of the most common types of infection; over 50% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime, and 20% of those women will have them recur, causing a huge amount of discomfort and emotional stress. A weakened immune system, diabetes, pregnancy, as well as having kidney stones or a catheter can increase our susceptibility to UTIs. In addition, different forms of contraception, like spermicides and oral contraceptives, can also influence our susceptibility to infection through their influence on the vaginal microbiome.
Whilst both women and men can get UTIs, they're more common in women because bacteria can reach the urinary tract more easily; the urethra is physiologically shorter and is positioned closer to the anus than in men. What happens in a UTI? They occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract from the urethra, causing an infection in any part of the urinary tract. Although UTIs can have a variety of causes (including viral or fungal), the majority of infections are caused by the bacteria E.coli and Staphylococcus saprophyticus.
Today we're diving in to the ways you can support yourself naturally, whether you are looking to recover from a UTI, prevent recurrence, or try to fend them off in the first place.
Symptoms + Treatment
Symptoms of a UTI are usually quite obvious and can include a burning sensation or pain when urinating, dark or cloudy urine which can have a strong odour, blood in urine, a change in vaginal discharge, increased frequency of urination, pelvic pressure, and a sudden urge to urinate even if the bladder is empty. Different parts of the urinary tract can be affected, so if the infection is affecting your kidneys, you can also expect back and side pain, fever, shaking, shills, and nausea or vomiting. It’s really important to see your doctor if you think you have a UTI, and symptoms that require urgent attention include a high fever, chills, blood in urine, severe pain and confusion.
UTI’s sometimes resolve on their own, but usually require medical attention. Typical treatment is a course of antibiotics, and for recurrent infections, antibiotics can be prescribed for upwards of 6 months, wreaking havoc on gut health, mood, and the microbiome. Studies have reported that long term use of antibiotics can increase risk of recurrent infections, digestive symptoms, antibiotic resistance and more. So although antibiotics are often a necessary evil with UTIs, and proper treatment is essential, taking a functional approach to prevent infection and strengthen immunity is an essential part of UTI management and recovery.
Where to start? Holistic management of UTI’s focuses on three factors to help reduce the likelihood of infection and recurrence: the microbiome, nutrition, and lifestyle.
Just like in our gut microbiome, the balance and composition of our vaginal microbiome is an important part of our immune system and is an essential aspect of women’s health, which is why Probiotics have a promising use in the management of urinary health. The lactobacilli family – particularly L. rhamnosus, L crispatus, and L. reuteri - have been shown to be supportive in various studies because of their influence on the vaginal microbiome. In a double blind, randomised clinical trial, women with recurrent UTIs were given a combination of L. rhamnosus + L. reuteri or prophylactic (long-term) antibiotics. The results? Both the antibiotic group and probiotic group halved the number of UTIs experienced, but there was a clear benefit to using probiotics; not only were the probiotics as effective as the antibiotics at reducing infections, they didn't have the same negative consequences as the antibiotic group, who experienced a sharp increase in antibiotic resistance (source: PMID 22782199).
Targeted nutrition can help reduce inflammation, support immunity, and help you avoid bladder irritating foods, like caffeine, spicy foods, artificial sweeteners and alcohol. A whole food, phytonutrient rich diet will generally support the gut and immune system, and it’s also worth avoiding known food sensitivities. Whilst these won’t necessarily cause an infection, an overloaded immune system can definitely make us more vulnerable. Opt for foods that are rich in probiotics, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and focus on fibre - at least 35g/day. In terms of functional foods, garlic reigns supreme; it’s a powerful prebiotic and natural antibiotic.
Perhaps the most studied functional foods for UTIs are cranberries because they’re a rich source of proanthocyanidins, or PACs, a type of flavonoid polyphenol that has been studied in relation to UTI prevention. Cranberry PAC’s have been shown to reduce the adhesion of pathogenic bacteria in the urethra, and less build-up of bacteria means less chance of infection. We love a food first approach, but in this case, taking a supplemental form of cranberry that is standardised to a specific PAC content is preferred over juice; it’s a great way to skip the sugar (which can suppress immunity and irritate the bladder) and it ensures you’re getting a targeted dose of active ingredients.
Enhanced Probiotic features the key probiotic strains that may be supportive for UTIs as well as a good dose of standardised cranberry extract to provide a significant dose of PACs. For additional immune support, particularly if you feel like your immune system is under attack, consider Cellular Defence, which contains an array of immune bolstering compounds such as vitamin C, medicinal mushrooms, quercetin and zinc.
Finally, green tea is quickly emerging as a UTI must have - studies have shown that certain polyphenols in green tea has anti-bacterial action against E.Coli and anti-inflammatory properties, making it something to consider as a part of your regime.
Adopt Urinary Tract Friendly Lifestyle Habits
To help look after this delicate area of the body - avoid using products that contain perfumes or other chemical ingredients. Instead, opt for natural products, free from synthetic fragrances and plastics, and steer towards organic cotton underwear.
There’s also the basics of UTI hygiene to consider, like urinating before and after sex (to decrease the likelihood of developing a UTI by flushing out any bacteria that might have entered the urinary tract) and hydration (to keep flushing out bacteria, irritants and inflammatory compounds).
Lastly, since chronic stress has been shown to suppress our immunity, reduce microbial diversity, and increase the likelihood of succumbing to infections like UTIs - it’s essential to implement stress-management strategies such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, exercise, and when possible - good quality sleep. Stress management can also come in the form of a supplements; consider Enhanced Nootropics after you've added in Enhanced Probiotic support, which is the priority when it comes to support because of its inclusion of cranberry PACs.
The key to managing UTIs lies in trying to identify a possible root cause, incorporating beneficial nutrients and strategies that focus on reducing exposure to bacteria, increasing our microbial diversity, and strengthening the immune health to prevent UTI recurrence. Suffering with recurrent UTIs can be incredibly stressful and anxiety-provoking, especially because of its effect on sexual health and confidence, so whilst implementing some of the above measures to help will be a supportive part of the journey, it's also important to focus on emotional wellbeing and getting support from friends and family to help along the way.
This article is for educational purposes only and the implementation of the theories and practices discussed is at the sole discretion of the individual. All advice given is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns about your health, you should speak with your physician.