Urinary Tract Remedies to the Rescue

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“Dear Pharmacist,

I’m plagued by urinary tract infections (UTIs) and I hate the side effects of the Septra antibiotic that I take daily. I’ve heard that drinking cranberry juice cocktail can help. Should I try that?”
–B.K., New York City

Answer: Chronic UTIs are miserable. You’ve no sooner escorted one out the door, than a new infection rears its ugly itch. It’s hard to believe that something delicious can help prevent such a painfully persistent disease, but cranberries get the job done. Women – and it is mostly women- who experience the itching, burning and pain of recurrent UTIs are motivated to try just about anything to gain comfort and avoid sulfa antibiotics such as “Septra DS” or “Bactrim.”

Studies prove that UTI-causing bacteria adhere easily to the bladder and urinary tract of chronic sufferers. FYI, if you are prone, this could be a sign of diabetes. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) actually helps prevent bacterial adhesion.

Researchers in Australia and Scotland recently reviewed the results of numerous scientific studies and gave cranberry a thumbs-up as a preventive treatment. I think they can help you, but you still may need your antibiotic for a while longer. Please don’t destroy your gut with antibiotics. Protect yourself with a high-quality probiotic to replace the beneficial bacteria that gets killed off by your antibiotic. There are many. I personally take “Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotic” because it helps me grow my own “flora fingerprint,” rather than taking a gazillion organisms that may (or may not) be part of my personal gut microflora. We are all individuals when it comes to gut bugs. See last week’s column for more on that, posted at my website. Eat sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir to help restore probiotics with food.

I read a new study at NutraIngredients.com about cranberries that studied 60 women aged 18 to 40, over 90 days. The participants received either placebo, 500 to 1,000 mg of whole cranberry powder each day.  When the urine was cultured, there was a 25 – 45 percent reduction in E. Coli bacteria after 10 days in the group that took cranberry, and this was maintained for weeks.  The control group should no improvement.

I’m not fond of “cocktails” because they contain sugar which promotes infection. But drinking pure cranberry juice straight is a decidedly mouth-puckering experience.  Try diluting it with sparkling water, or add 2 tablespoons of pure juice to your water bottle each day.  I think supplements are ideal because they contain concentrated amounts of the healing compounds (proanthocyanidins) which offer other health benefits such as lowering cholesterol, controlling weight, reducing H. pylori infections (ulcers) and even preventing gum disease. “D-Mannose” is another cranberry-related supplement that is enormously helpful. Avoid perfumed soaps, stay hydrated, wipe from front to back and wear cotton undies. Drinking stinging nettle tea during infections is important. And finally, a medicine called phenazopyridine (brand names are AZO Standard and Cystex) are sold OTC at pharmacies nationwide; these immediately relieve pain.