Q: I get a lot of urinary tract infections, especially after having sex. How common are they in women, what causes them, and what are the typical symptoms? Most importantly, is there anything that natural medicine can do to help prevent them?
A: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common reasons women seek out medical care. In the United States they account for four million doctor visits each year. Statistics from the Natural Institutes of Health show that nearly 20% of women who get a UTI will get another one, and 30% of those women will be prone to yet another infection.
UTIs occur when bacteria invade your urethra and bladder. Symptoms of a UTI can include pain with urination, urgency to urinate, increased urinary frequency, and blood in the urine.
You may be surprised to know that the most common type of bacteria that causes UTIs, E. Coli, is something that you are exposed to every day. So why would bacteria that you normally fight off cause the infection? It is most likely because of the state of your immune system, and increased susceptibility due to stress, dehydration, and tissue irritation at your urethra or vagina.
There is a lot that natural medicine can do to help you prevent UTIs. For starters, you can incorporate the following into your lifestyle:
-Find ways to better manage stress. When under chronic stress, you are more vulnerable to illness and infection.
-Drink plenty of water. Take your body weight and divide it in half. That is the number of ounces you want to drink each day.
-Decrease the possibility of tissue irritation by treating vaginal infections right away, using a lubricant during sex (for example, Emerita Natural Lubricant with Vitamin E at www.emerita.com), and avoiding the use of soap directly on your urethra. Soap can change the pH of your vulvar tissue, cause irritation, and possibly allow unwanted bacteria to thrive.
-Urinate after having sex. This is also important because it helps to flush bacteria out of your urethra.
If you are prone to frequent UTIs, drink marshmallow root tea three times a day to help rebuild and soothe the mucous membranes of your bladder and urethra. You can also drink one teaspoon of D-mannose (a natural sugar found in pineapples and cranberries) dissolved in water before and after sex to help remove bacteria from your urethra and bladder.
If you get a UTI, be sure to have a urine test done by your naturopathic physician or medical doctor. Always treat a UTI as quickly as possible. A UTI that is not treated promptly can turn into a kidney infection.
Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new #1 best-selling book Natural Choices for Women’s Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at www.drsteelsmith.com This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.