I hate to even bring this up, but it's important to talk about urinary tract infections (UTIs). You know the dreaded burning, have-to-pee-right-now feeling that means frequent, frustrating trips to the bathroom even when very little urine comes out. I hesitate to imply that there is any “good news” when it comes to UTIs, but the not-totally-sucky news is that there are home remedies for UTIs that actually work.
Aside from being annoying and inconvenient (long car trips are out of the question when you have a UTI, unless you wanna be that person who says "I need to stop" six times), UTIs can cause pelvic pain, a burning sensation when peeing, cloudy, red, or strong-smelling urine, and a host of other discomforts including fevers or chills if the infection reaches your kidneys, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A 2017 study published by the journal Translational Andrology and Urology found that “25–42 percent of uncomplicated UTIs in women resolve spontaneously,” which means without the use of antibiotics. The same study found that one-third of women will experience a UTI by the age of 24, and almost 50 percent of women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.
Before you make an appointment to see your doctor for antibiotics (which may be necessary at times, but can also cause side effects, as Healthline explains) you may want to reach for the cranberry juice or try one of these other home remedies for curing a UTI.
Probiotics are touted as a bit of a miracle worker for gut and immune health, and even for glowing skin. Turns out these live microorganisms (sounds grosser than it is) may also help prevent recurrent UTIs. This is especially true if the probiotic contains lactobacilli, which can help to regulate the vaginal flora, according to a 2018 study done by The Turkish Journal of Urology.
I'm sure you've heard countless times that urine is sterile; it's one of those weird facts that people like to throw out at random. A UTI occurs when bacteria, often E. coli from the digestive tract, gets into the urethra, so the right bacteria from probiotics can help balance the "bad" bacteria.
The same study cited probability of a UTI recurrence in healthy 18 to 29 year-old women at 24 percent. That seems... cruel, but a probiotic with lactobacilli (like this Gut Instinct from Hum) may be able to correct a bacteria imbalance, thereby making it less likely that a UTI comes back. Because if there’s one thing that's more annoying than having a UTI, it’s having a UTI again.
2. Cranberry Juice
Call me a skeptic, but I always kind of thought my mom was full of it when she told me to drink cranberry juice at the first sign of a UTI. Like most things she told me, later in life I realized she may have actually been, you know, actually offering sound advice. According to the Cleveland Clinic, cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) which prevent bacteria, most notably E.coli, from sticking to the wall of the bladder, but the jury’s still out on whether there are enough PACs in the juice to make a difference. Deena Blumenfeld, doula, prenatal yoga instructor, and author told Romper that "drinking cranberry juice can help," though there is "limited data to support its consumption."
It couldn't hurt to give the juice a try, just make sure it's pure, unsweetened cranberry juice (it should taste tart enough to make your mouth pucker), as opposed to cranberry juice cocktail, which is probably why all the Cape Codders I drank in college did absolutely zero for my health.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C offers a slew of health benefits including a stronger immune system (hello Emergen-C before every flight) and protection against free radicals, according to a 2010 study done by The Pharmacognosy Review.
As it turns out, the powerhouse vitamin may also aid in naturally treating UTIs. According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, “large amounts of vitamin C limit the growth of some bacteria by acidifying the urine. Vitamin C supplements have the same effect.” Foods high in vitamin C include Kakadu plums, kiwis, and chili peppers, according to Healthline. Certain fruit juices and vitamin supplements are also an easy way to up your intake.
4. Dietary Changes
Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer, but some of your favorite food and drinks may be worsening your UTI symptoms. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages including tea and soda can aggravate bladder and UTI symptoms. A 2016 study done by the Journal of Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing found that reducing coffee, tea, alcohol, carbonated, and artificially sweetened beverages improved lower urinary tract symptoms; however, the women in the study found it difficult to eliminate the beverages all together. Sounds… relatable. Spicy foods and highly acidic fruit (citrus) may also worsen bladder infections or UTIs.
The one piece of advice I read and heard over and over again was that hydration may help prevent UTIs, and I mean with water so put the iced coffee down.
“Some UTIs can be taken care of at home," says Blumenfeld. "Drinking more water is the best thing to do to flush the infection.” You’ll know you’re well-hydrated when your urine appears almost clear. A 2005 study done by the International Life Sciences Institute found that increasing hydration provided a series of health benefits including a reduction in UTIs, so splurge on that cute water bottle if it’ll get you to drink up.
6. Natural Supplements
Certain natural supplements including garlic extract, bearberry leaf (also known as Uva Ursi), and D-Mannose may help ease UTI symptoms and prevent recurrent infections. Bearberry (named allegedly because bears like to eat the fruit) is said by the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to have the “ability to fight infection... due to several chemicals, including arbutin and hydroquinone. The herb also contains tannins that have astringent effects, helping to shrink and tighten mucous membranes in the body. In turn, that helps reduce inflammation and fight infection.” It can be toxic if taken in too large of a dose, however, so be sure to read the bottle thoroughly or consult with your doctor.
Garlic may help to treat UTIs because of the antimicrobial properties found in garlic’s high levels of sulphur (which we have to thank for garlic breath).
D-Mannose, a type of glucose (sugar) found in fruit including cranberries, applies, and blueberries is said by the Kresser Institute to be “by far the most effective supplement for both treatment and prevention of UTIs.” 500 miligrams of the D-Mannose is usually the sweet spot for the treatment and prevention of UTIs, and if you’re prone to these infections, you may want to take the supplement daily as it has no known adverse side effects.
When To See Your Doctor
Some UTIs will require medical attention. As Blumenfeld says, "if [home] remedies don't work or symptoms worsen, physician care must be sought. Usually antibiotics are the remedy."
You'll want to call your doctor right away if you have pain in your pelvis or back, which could be a sign of a kidney infection, or if there is blood in your urine. Generally, a prescription for a common antibiotic like Amoxicillin will be the answer. Just be sure to finish your dose even if your symptoms have cleared; this will help prevent recurrent UTIs.