How to get rid of a UTI without antibiotics
Nearly half of all women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lifetime. Accounting for 7 to 10 million doctor visits each year, UTIs are the second most common infectious complaint seen by outpatient physicians, costing around $2 billion annually. Having had my fair share of UTIs, I thought I’d share some info that I’ve gathered about the topic (and give some insights into how I deal with UTIs).
What are UTIs?
Urinary tract infections are a result of an overgrowth of bacteria in the urinary tract – the most common culprit is E. coli, which accounts for over 90% of UTIs. E. coli can cause infection when your body’s natural defenses fail; they start multiplying and sticking to the walls of your urinary tract. The stickiness of the E. coli is what can make UTIs tricky to deal with (which is why, in most cases, the E. coli don’t just get washed away when you pee). UTIs can affect any part of the urinary tract – the urethra, bladder, ureter, and, in severe cases, even the kidneys. Bladder infections are the most common types of UTIs.
Common symptoms of a bladder infection include:
- Burning/pain while peeing
- Cloudy urine
- Weird smelling urine
- Stronger and more frequent urge to pee
- Feeling like you need to pee, but not much comes out
If a bladder infection goes untreated (or if treatment doesn’t work), the infection can spread to the kidneys.
Signs that infection may have spread to the kidneys include:
- Pain where your kidneys are located (on your back, below your ribs, on either side of your spine)
Kidney infections can be very serious and require an immediate visit to a doctor for treatment. If a kidney infection isn’t treated, irreversible kidney damage can occur.
UTIs are diagnosed by a urine test – this can be done at a doctor’s office. You can also use an at-home test for UTIs – AZO test strips are a popular at-home UTI test (make sure you test your urine first thing in the morning and read the results at the right times).
Why women get UTIs
Women are more prone than men to get UTIs because of our anatomy, mainly thanks to our good friend, the urethra. The urethra is a tiny tube that is located near the vagina (on the front wall, below the clitoris, but just above the vaginal opening) – the urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of your body. The length of the urethra in women is much shorter than it is in men, so bacteria don’t have to travel as far in women to reach the bladder and cause infections. Women also have the misfortune of having the vaginal opening located just around the corner from the bum, so it’s easy for bacteria from stool to migrate over to the vagina/urethra and cause infection.
Other common contributors to UTIs:
- Sexy time
- Insufficient lubrication during vaginal sex, causing too much friction/irritation to the urethra
- Bacteria being introduced by your partner’s penis (or by a penetrating toy) OR bacteria in/near your vaginal opening that is “shoved” into the area of the urethra during penetration (UTIs can be avoided when both parties practice proper hygiene techniques; it can also help to pee before and after sex to flush out unfriendly organisms around the urethra/vagina before they have a chance to proliferate)
- Having an excessively warm and moist environment in the nether regions (creates an environment that unfriendly organisms love)
- Not allowing the vagina to “breath” with things like tight-fitting pants, non-breathable undies, wearing panty liners/pads all the time, etc.
- Sitting around in a wet bathing suit or wet clothes
- Wearing thongs
- “Holding it” – not peeing when you first feel the urge
- Chronic dehydration – not peeing frequently enough to flush out unfriendly organisms
- Some type of abnormality in your urinary tract (such as an obstruction) that prevents you from completely emptying your bladder
- Using products that can irritate the vagina (such as douches, sprays, perfumes, harsh soaps)
- Feminine products for that time of the month – it’s been my personal experience that tampons and pads can lead to UTIs, whether it’s a result of the material that’s used or the environment that’s created when these products are used (I’ve recently started exploring alternatives to traditional tampons and pads, which can help with this problem)
- *** UPDATE: I haven’t experienced another UTI since switching to a menstrual cup in 2015 (yay!), so, for me, tampons/pads were a major contributor to my UTIs ***
- The use of catheters (UTIs are common during longer hospital stays)
So, you have a UTI. Now what?
Most conventional doctors will prescribe antibiotics to treat UTIs. Antibiotics definitely have their drawbacks – they disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut (the good guys get wiped out along with the bad, allowing room for other pathogens, such as candida albicans, to take over), they can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria (which are much harder to get rid of), and some have reported other adverse health affects (such as nerve damage, joint pain, insomnia, impaired kidney function, and others).
I, personally, prefer to avoid antibiotics unless they’re absolutely necessary. Because of this, I have found other ways that I can nip a UTI in the bud without having to rely on antibiotics, as long as I tackle it early. The methods that I use don’t work for everybody and there are cases where antibiotics are truly needed (such as when the infection spreads to the kidneys).
How I get rid of UTIs
Here is what I do to get rid of UTIs without the use of antibiotics. I would not recommend these methods for complicated cases of UTIs (and kiddos should definitely see a doctor for UTIs, since these cases are usually a lot more complicated to treat). This is not intended to act as medical advice; this is simply an insight as to what I do when I have a UTI.
One of the most effective things that I’ve found to nip a UTI in the bud is D-mannose powder. D-mannose is a type of sugar (related to glucose) and only small amounts of it is actually used by the body – the rest gets expelled through the urine. D-mannose works by sticking to the E. coli, which prevents the E. coli from sticking to you! When you pee, it’s bye-bye bacteria.
I’ve found that it takes several doses of the D-mannose to be effective; I dissolve 1 teaspoon of the D-mannose powder in some water and drink it up – I usually do this every 2 to 3 hours at the first sign of a UTI. When I do this, I’ve noticed that symptoms start to improve after a couple hours or so, and my symptoms are usually gone after a day or two. After symptoms are gone, I then gradually reduce the frequency that I take the D-mannose powder (usually cut it down to 4-5 times per day, then 3-4 times per day, and so on). I generally end up taking the D-mannose powder for a total of 5 to 7 days (give or take).
During the time that I’m taking the D-mannose, I also make sure I hydrate like crazy – I aim to drink at least 8 ounces of water every hour while I’m awake (note: it’s not good to have too much water in a very short time-frame, though – this can cause water toxicity, which can be deadly; it’s usually best to spread out your water evenly throughout the day). The more you pee, the less chances the bacteria have to attach to the walls of your urinary tract, and the quicker you send those nasty buggers on a one-way trip to the porcelain throne. I also take a probiotic that is aimed at supporting urinary health – the good bacteria in the probiotics will also help kick the bad guys to the curb. Renew Life Ultimate Flora Vaginal Formula is one probiotic that I like for urinary/vaginal support.
A couple things that I’d like to note:
- D-mannose, when used properly, is relatively safe for those already in good health, with the most common side effects being diarrhea and bloating, though some resources warn that it could harm the kidneys in large doses. D-mannose is generally not recommended for those with diabetes or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding (definitely check with your doctor if you fall into one of those categories). There also aren’t many studies on the use of D-mannose, so effective/safe dosing hasn’t been studied extensively – just something to keep in mind. (By the way, when I looked for D-mannose at my local stores, it was easily double the cost of what I paid here. When I’m running low, I just re-order it to have on hand – it has a pretty decent shelf life.)
- I don’t like to use pain relieving products when I have a UTI. For me, I would much rather deal with the irritation (which usually only lasts for a couple of hours as long as I tackle it right away) than to have a false sense of security about the state of the infection. It’s easy to under-treat the infection when you don’t feel symptoms, which means that the infection could easily spread to the kidneys. I’ve had UTIs spread to my kidneys twice (not a good time – a lot of nausea and projectile vomiting was involved), which required a serious course of antibiotics to treat. (By the way, both times that my kidneys were infected I had been on antibiotics to treat the initial UTI. Don’t assume that antibiotics will always tackle a UTI – they didn’t in my case.) Something to be mindful of.
Other methods out there
Some swear by using cranberry juice to help with UTIs – this has a lot of mixed results, though. Some studies have suggested that cranberry juice can help as a preventative measure, some have suggested that it may decrease the duration of the UTI, and some have suggested that there are no benefits to using it at all for UTIs. D-mannose is actually a component of cranberries, but it may not be in large enough doses in cranberries/cranberry juice to be effective for many (which is why I just go straight for the D-mannose powder). Another component of cranberries that may help with UTIs is proanthocyanidin (a fancy name for a type of antioxidant). If you try the cranberry juice route, make sure it’s unsweetened and organic, with minimal additives.
I use D-mannose powder during an active infection, but some who are more prone to recurrent UTIs use D-mannose prophylactically (on a regular basis to prevent a UTI from reoccurring).
One study included 308 women who had an active UTI and a history of recurrent UTIs (recurrent was defined as having 2 or more UTIs every 6 months or 3 or more UTIs per year). All study participants were initially treated with antibiotics for the acute infection, then they were divided into 3 groups – 1 group was treated prophylactically with D-mannose, 1 group was treated prophylactically with low-dose antibiotics, and 1 group received no prophylactic treatment; each group was evaluated over 6 months.
During the 6 month period, 98 (32%) participants had a recurrent UTI; 60% of those cases were those who received no prophylactic treatment, 20% were those who received prophylactic antibiotics, and only 15% were those who received prophylactic D-mannose. Those in the D-mannose group were also noted to have far fewer side effects than those in the antibiotic group; the only noted side effect of D-mannose was diarrhea (8% of the D-mannose group experienced this), but it wasn’t severe enough to require discontinuation of the D-mannose.
Regardless of which method you try to rid yourself of a UTI, it’s important to make sure that the infection is actually gone – you can have your doctor check your urine before and after treatment, or you can check yourself with at-home UTI test strips.
Prevention is the best medicine.
Here are some things you can do to prevent UTIs:
- Drink plenty of water (signs of dehydration include dark yellow urine, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, lower back pain, dry lips, and constipation – if you experience these, drink up!)
- Always wipe front to back when going to the bathroom (or, better yet, use a bidet)
- Don’t “hold it” – pee when you feel the urge
- Pee before and after sex and use good hygiene practices
- Avoid douches, perfumes, sprays, or harsh soaps in/around your vagina – these can irritate your urethra and throw off your pH balance, potentially leading to an infection
- Let your lady parts breath – avoid clothes/products that make your vagina excessively warm and moist
- Explore the possibility of using alternative forms of feminine products that time of the month if you’re prone to getting UTIs around that time
- Support your immune system (so your body’s better equipped to fight off the bad guys) – make sure your vitamin D levels are in the optimal range (vitamin D plays an important role in immune health), eat plenty of whole and organic foods, and include some probiotics (in food form and in supplement form).
- If you’re a chronic UTI-er despite following the tips above, there’s a chance that food sensitivities could be playing a role in your UTIs (especially if you’re dealing with other symptoms/health issues) – click here if you think you might fall into this category.
- Long-term impacts of antibiotic exposure on the human intestinal microbiota
- Antibiotics can lead to crippling side effects and mental disorders
- Antibiotics Could be to Blame for Skyrocketing Mental Illness Rates
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) – MedicineNet.com
- D Mannose in Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections (study)
- Use of d-mannose in prophylaxis or recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women (study)
- Urinary Tract Infections: A Primer for Clinicians
- How Cranberry Products Prevent Urinary Tract Infections