There is nothing like a urinary tract infection to put the damper on an otherwise enjoyable traveling experience. If you are prone to urinary tract infections (also known simply as bladder infections) or if you are presently on vacation and have developed one, then before you head to the local clinic, emergency room or even pharmacy for over-the-counter relief, look no further than the refrigerator for a bottle of cranberry juice. Read on.
Urinary tract infections (UTI’s) are one of the most common types of bacterial infections diagnosed in doctors’ offices across the United States every year. The only type of infections that are more common are respiratory infections (strep throat in particular). It is estimated that as many as “50 million cases of urinary tract infections” are treated on a yearly basis. Aside from antibiotics, there are other natural alternatives in the form of herbs that both serve to prevent as well as help treat urinary tract infections.
UTI’s can be broken down into three categories- urethritis, cystitis and pyelonephritis. Urethritis is an infection of the urethra which is the canal that moves urine from the bladder. In men the urethra is also the genital duct. This form of a urinary tract infection is most often caused by viruses that are spread during sexual intercourse. Discomfort or pain is experienced with urethritis and it is sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation. Unfortunately cranberry juice as well as other herbs is not effective at preventing or treating this UTI because it is viral, not bacterial.
The next two categories of UTI’s can be helped by consuming cranberry juice because they are brought on by a bacterium known as Escherichia coli (E. coli). Cystitis is the most common of the three types and it is an infection that occurs in the bladder which is the storage unit for urine. Cystitis causes pain and/or discomfort in the abdominal area and sometimes a frequent need to urinate. The most serious type of the three is pyelonephritis. This is an infection that works its way up from the bladder to the kidneys and once there, the bacteria multiples. The most common symptoms of this UTI are chills, fever, severe back pain and nausea.
The Magic Touch of Cranberry
As far back as the 1840s research has looked at a link between urinary tract conditions and cranberries. Researchers in Germany discovered that a chemical known as hippuric acid was found in the urine of test subjects who ate cranberries on a regular basis. The research continued over the years and in the last decade it has focused on the unique ability of cranberries to prevent bacteria from clinging to the walls of the bladder. It was hypothesized that high levels of benzoic acid in cranberry juice made this possible.
Researchers at the Weber State University in Utah in 1994 ran a series of tests that yielded successful results in regards to the use of cranberries in fighting urinary tract infections. The results of their studies found that cranberry juice does inhibit the ability of E. coli bacteria to attach itself to both the walls of the bladder as well as its individual cells. The two components are believed to be fructose and a group of polymeric proanthocyanidins.
Cranberry Juice and Bacteria Formation
Both men’s and women’s bodies come equipped with natural ways to guard against UTI’s but these barriers are often not enough. The urethra of a man is up to ten inches long and is made with natural bends which helps prevent bacteria from entering the bladder. Unfortunately females are not so lucky. The perineum of a woman does its best to prevent bacteria from getting into the urethra but it is not always enough to prevent problems. As well the perineum can easily become irritated or damaged by way of intercourse, tight clothing, bubble baths and even rough or insufficient hygiene. Women are also at another disadvantage because their urethra are made straight and are only two inches long, making the entrance of bacteria so much easier.
An Ounce of Cranberry Prevention
Cranberry (vaccinium macrocarpon) that is used in the prevention and/or treatment of UTI’s is generally taken in the form of cranberry juice but for those who don’t enjoy the taste, cranberry capsules can be purchased in the alternative medicine section of a grocery store or pharmacy.
Some doctors who diagnose acute cystitis will find it necessary to prescribe a dose of antibiotics but also strongly recommend to their patients one pill of a concentrated cranberry capsule two times a day for a month’s time to help further heal the bladder and prevent a second flare up of the infection. Short-term doses of all natural remedies such as goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis), queen of the meadow (Filipendula ulmaria) and thyme (Thymus spp.) are sometimes prescribed as an accompaniment to antibiotics or as an alternative.
To prevent the reoccurrence of an unpleasant bladder infection it is recommended that an individual drink a few glasses of cranberry juice a week or even as much as two to three glasses a day consistently. Most brands of cranberry juice or cranberry cocktails are made up of ten to twenty percent cranberry which is an effective amount to fight bacteria in the bladder. Cranberry juice has sugar in it so if the sugar content is a problem for you (especially if you are a diabetic) then consider buying sugar free cranberry juice which is available in most grocery stores. If cranberry juice is not to your liking then there is the option of cranberry capsules. Be aware that the capsules have a higher concentration of cranberry than does the juice.
Other Herbs that Fight UTI’s
Other herbs that help prevent and/or fight the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections include burdock, dill, and uva ursi.
Burdock (Arctium lappa) is also sometimes referred to as Great Burdock and is part of the thistle family. The leaves, roots and seeds can all be consumed for help with a UTI. The root can be cooked and then eaten while the young leaves and raw stems can be added to salads and soups. Burdock Root is also rich in vitamins A, B complex, C, E and P but should be taken with caution by pregnant women.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a member of the Umbelliferae family and is a very popular herb in both parts of Europe as well as Scandinavia. It is very simple to grow and can grow up to a height of three feet. Both the leaves and seeds of the dill plant can be eaten. Add the herb to stews, casseroles, fish dishes, salads, potatoes, vegetables, soups, eggs, etc.
Uva Ursi (Arctoptaphylos uva-ursi) is a perennial herb that comes from Latin and stands for “bear’s grape.” Another name for uva ursi is bearberry. Uva ursi is a plant with pretty pink flowers that can grow up to approximately sixteen inches in height. The leaves of uva ursi need to be consumed in order to prevent bladder problems. This herb should not be consumed by anyone with a kidney disease nor in large quantities by anyone pregnant.