When it’s painful to urinate, you keep getting the urge to pee, and your urine looks cloudy or pinkish, these are all symptoms of a urinary tract infection. While it’s advisable to get a diagnosis from your healthcare provider before diving into a treatment plan, it’s also good to know there are several berries and herbs that can help you beat this all-too-common health challenge. Natural remedies can go a long way toward alleviating symptoms associated with urinary tract infections or preventing recurrence. Along with the three symptoms already mentioned, both men and women (although women are four times more likely to get an infection than men) include the following:
- Feeling of pressure or pain in the lower abdomen
- Urine with an intense odor
- Lower back pain
- Nausea and vomiting (usually occurs if the infection has moved on to the kidneys, which is a more serious condition)
- Fever (indication the infection is in the kidneys)
Urinary tract infections are a recurring problem, especially in women. Although antibiotics are the conventional approach, they are associated with numerous problems, including contribution to antibiotic resistance and loss of beneficial bacterial flora. Berry and herbal remedies are an alternative, although be sure to consult your healthcare provider if symptoms persist for a week or more or they get worse.
These rosy berries have been popular for decades for helping to prevent urinary tract infections, but scientists are still trying to determine how much these berries can really do. Since women represent the majority of those affected by UTIs, the research has largely focused on them. One question is, when are cranberries effective? Are they best for the prevention of urinary tract infections or only for women who experience recurrent infections? Despite the numerous studies conducted, this question still lingers. What appears to be more certain is that cranberries can be helpful in some people who experience these infections.
One factor that is important is the form of the cranberries used. The findings of the latest of a series of reviews of cranberry products and urinary tract infections indicate that cranberry juice “cannot currently be recommended for the prevention of UTIs.” A primary reason is that women in the studies objected to having to consume the juice (which contains considerable calories) for a long period of time, which led to low compliance. Cranberry supplements, however, in the form of capsules, powders, or pills, don’t prevent a calorie problem and the active ingredients can be better standardized. Two recent studies in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology and Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces reported that cranberry powder was effective against a bacterium (Proteum mirabilis) commonly present in complicated urinary tract infections.
Sweetened dried cranberries may be another option. The authors of a recent study proposed that dried cranberries may contain different plant nutrients than the juice, and that they may be effective in reducing the incidence of urinary tract infections in susceptible women. Well, they appear to be right. Twenty women who experience recurrent UTIs consumed one serving of sweetened dried cranberries daily for two weeks. More than half of the women did not have a UTI within six months of eating the cranberries, and the overall average rate of infections per six months declined significantly.
Doses of cranberry for the prevention of urinary tract infection varies widely. WebMD notes that a suggested range is 800 to 1,500 mg when taking supplements, using products with standardized proanthocyanidins (OPCs).
2. Juniper Berries
Juniper berries are another natural choice, as they possess diuretic properties as well as antibacterial and antifungal benefits. The volatile oils in juniper reportedly increase the kidney filtration rate, which then helps clear the infection out of the body.
The best way to use juniper berries for urinary tract issues is by taking the supplement or drinking the tea. If you choose the supplements, you have two main options: One is a supplement that contains juniper berries only; another is a supplement that contains complementary herbs such as uva ursi, bucha, cleavers, parsley, dandelion, and goldenrod. Combination products are said to be more effective at alleviating symptoms than the juniper berries alone. Juniper berry tea can be made by adding one tablespoon of berries to 8 ounces of boiled water. Allow the brew to steep for about 20 minutes and enjoy two cups per day.
Juniper berries are potent, so do not use this natural remedy for longer than four weeks. Some people experience some stomach upset when taking juniper. Juniper should not be used by pregnant women, anyone who has kidney disease, or lithium users. Because juniper has been shown to lower blood sugar levels, be cautious if you have diabetes. Follow product instructions when dosing or ask your healthcare provider.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is an herb that has been valued in traditional medicine for its diuretic properties, which makes it helpful in managing urinary tract infections. Little research has been done in this area, however, so much of the information is anecdotal. The herb’s diuretic abilities have been noted in research concerning individuals who had kidney stones. In that case, the herb helped eliminate excess fluid from the body.
If you want to try horsetail, it is available as a capsule and tincture. The typical dose for adults is 300 mg three times a day for the capsule and 1 to 4 milliliters three times a day for the tincture. Stay well hydrated when taking horsetail.
4. Uva Ursi
Use of uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi) for urinary tract infections goes back centuries. In fact, it was a standard of care before the introduction of antibiotics and sulfa drugs. Today we know that the infection-fighting components in the herb are arbutin and hydroquinone, the latter of which can be toxic if consumed in excess.
Research suggests uva ursi works best when it is taken at the first sign of infection since the acid in the urine of a person with a UTI can stop the herb’s antibacterial benefits. Studies of uva ursi in humans are lacking, but suggested doses for adults have been identified as 2 to 4 grams daily of capsules standardized to 400 to 800 mg arbutin. Do not take uva ursi for longer than five days.
[Editor's note: Always consult your primary care physician before using herbs for an infection. And never discontinue use of antibiotics or other prescriptions without physician's approval.]
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