If you've ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI) — and, really, what woman hasn't? — you know the tell-tale signs. Maybe your UTI manifested as this niggling urge to urinate that wouldn't go away, and when you tried to pee, just a little bit came out. Or maybe you could urinate plenty... it just burned like the dickens when you did. Or maybe your UTI made itself known via a sharp pelvic pain. There are many different symptoms — including cloudy urine — and every woman's UTI is just a little bit different. Luckily, there are study-proven UTI prevention supplements and natural remedies that can help most women dodge and/or resolve an infection without a trip to the doctor.
The most common causes of UTIs
Urinary tract infections are caused by “bacteria that enter the body through the urethra, move up the urinary system to the bladder, and then cause inflammation and infection,” explains Christi Pramudji, MD, a female urologist and urogynecologist. They're incredibly common. Indeed, UTI is the most common bacterial infection, accounting for more than 8 million office visits and 1 million emergency department visits each year in the United States alone. And UTIs are twice as common in women as in men.
Why menopause raises the risk of UTIs
Menopause-related changes in hormones unfortunately make the infections more common in women as we age. “The body produces less estrogen, which may result in fewer healthy bacteria in the urinary system,” explains Dr. Pramudji. “It is simpler for bacteria to enter the urinary tract and create an infection as a result of the decline in helpful bacteria.”
What's more, declining estrogen levels can weaken pelvic floor muscles that support your bladder. This can lead to urinary incontinence, which makes it easier for bacteria to linger and find its way into the urethra. And once you've had a UTI, Washington University School of Medicine research suggests your odds of having another increase. In fact, about 25% of women who get a UTI will experience another within six months.
So it comes as no surprise that research in the Journal of Molecular Biology found that recurrent urinary tract infections are 53% more likely in women over age 50. (Click through to our sister publication to discover other female bladder problems that occur after menopause — and the easy ways to fix them.)
And while the antibiotics often used to treat UTIs are effective, some women will need repeated courses of the medication to clear up infections. “That can lead to antibiotic resistance and candida overgrowth, so other options are preferable,” says internist Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of the bestselling book From Fatigue to Fantastic. That's where natural UTI prevention supplements come in.
The best natural UTI prevention supplements
When it comes to warding off urinary tract infections curbing your risk of recurrent infections, there are a few natural remedies that can help.
Cranberries prevent bacteria from sticking to the urethra
There’s a reason cranberry juice is one of the most well-known ways to block UTIs — it works. Sipping just 8 oz. of the sweet-tart juice daily cuts UTI risk nearly 40%, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found. Cranberries are rich in proanthocyanidins (PACs), potent compounds that prevent infection-causing bacteria from sticking to the urethra and bladder.
But store-bought juice is often loaded with sugar to balance the natural tart flavor of the berries. That's a problem, since sugar may trigger an overgrowth of candida and worsen UTIs long term, says Dr. Teitelbaum. A better alternative: A cranberry supplement made from the fruit juice instead of the kind made from whole cranberries. Research in the journal Gynecology reveals these supplements lower UTI risk 50%. And a separate study out of Rutgers University found supplements made with cranberry juice also help you absorb 240% more bladder-healing compounds (soluble PACs) than the whole fruit variety. One to ty: Gaia Cranberry Concentrate (Buy from Amazon.com, $25.31)
Vitamin C makes urine more acidic
Boosting your levels of vitamin C can also slash your risk of UTIs. Research shows that just increasing your intake by 100 mg. daily can lower risk for UTIs by 57%. How does it work? The vitamin makes your urine more acidic, which thwarts the growth of bacteria such as E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus saprophyticus that trigger UTIs. An easy way to up your level is by supplementing or enjoying more vitamin C-rich foods like strawberries, kiwis, bell peppers and broccoli.
Probiotics crowd out bad bacteria in the urinary tract
Supplementing with the beneficial bacterial strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 daily slashes recurrent UTI episodes by 51%, according to findings JAMA Internal Medicine. “A healthy microbiome is essential to prevent urinary tract infections,” shares Dr. Pramudji. And study authors say these specific strains keep infection-causing Enterobacteriaceae from colonizing the vagina and invading the urinary tract. A supplement that delivers the study-backed strains: Integrative Therapeutics Pro-Flora Women's Probiotic (Buy from Amazon, $31.35).
The best natural UTI curative supplements
Already dealing with a urinary tract infection? These UTI prevention supplements pull double duty: They can speed your recovery, plus prevent future recurrences.
D-mannose blocks bacteria from attaching to the bladder
Supplementing with a simple fruit sugar called D-Mannose can both prevent and treat UTIs. How? “It functions by blocking the bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall receptors,” says Dr. Pramudji. “This makes it more difficult for the infection to take up residence in the bladder.” In fact, researchers publishing in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology say that D-Mannose may be as effective at preventing UTIs as antibiotics given to women who frequently experience the infections.
And a separate study in the journal Antibiotics suggests D-mannose may work as well as antibiotics at clearing up an existing urinary tract infection. Meanwhile, research in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences found more than 70% of women saw major improvement in UTI symptoms after taking 1.5 grams of D-mannose twice daily for three days. And 90% were UTI-free when tested two weeks later. One to try: NOW Foods D-Mannose (Buy from Amazon.com, $28.51).
Garlic stops the growth of infection-causing bacteria
Another smart bet when it comes to UTI prevention supplements: garlic. Antimicrobial compounds known as allicin and ajoene found in garlic may as well as antibiotics to treat UTIs. In one study, garlic extracts suppressed 82% of infection-causing bacteria found in the urinary tracts of repeat UTI sufferers. The Rx: Experts advise taking 600 mg. of aged garlic extract twice a day. Or aim for one to two cloves of fresh garlic daily. Note: Garlic supplements have a blood thinning effect, so check with your doctor before adding it to your daily regimen. (Click through to our sister publication to learn how to maximize the health benefits of garlic in 10 minutes.)
Hibiscus flushes out troublemaking bacteria
Whether you sip it hot or iced, hibiscus tea keeps your bladder free of infection-causing bacteria. Research in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found drinking the equivalent of two tall glasses (about 4 cups) of hibiscus tea each day can trim three days off your recovery time when you have a UTI. Plus keep it from returning! When hibiscus’s anthocyanins are excreted through urine, they wipe out infectious bacteria in the bladder and urinary tract. One to try: Solaray Hibiscus Flower Extract (Buy from Solaray.com, $11.91) (Click through to discover more health benefits of hibiscus tea.)
More natural ways to prevent urinary tract infections
For women especially prone to infection, these smart tricks can hep keep trouble at bay.
Pour yourself another glass of H2O
Drink an 8-oz glass of water first thing when you wake up and you’ll cut your risk of recurrent UTIs as much as 58%, suggests Oxford research. The reason: Respiration and perspiration as you sleep deplete hydration, blocking your body from eliminating bacteria responsible for recurrent UTIS. But replenishing lost hydration with a single glass of H2O first thing daily (and continuing to sip at least 6 to 8 cups of water throughout the day) may be all it takes stay UTI-free. (Click through to our sister publication to learn how a motivational water bottle can help you keep your fluid levels up.)
Tip: Research shows that adding a touch of baking soda to your water can help alkalize your urine, making it more difficult for bacteria to grow. In one study in the International Urogynecology Journal , the strategy helped women reduce symptoms like frequent bathroom trips, urgency and middle-of-the-night wakeups to urinate.
Cook meat thoroughly before eating
Surprisingly, eating meat that harbors E. coli bacteria is a culprit behind more than half a million UTIs per year, a study out of George Washington University estimates. The bacteria gains access to the urinary tract from the digestive system. To minimize risk, experts advise keeping other foods separate from raw meats and poultry during preparation and washing hands after handling. Also key: Cooking meat, chicken and turkey thoroughly.You can view the U.S. Department of Agricultures “Is It Done Yet?” brochure for more information on properly cooking meat.
Read on for more ways to outsmart some of the most common bladder bothers:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman's World.
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