by Daina Marshall MNIMH
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an irritating nuisance. When you wake up one morning, go to the toilet to pee and suddenly experience that burning, stingy, fiery feeling of inflammation and infection that causes you to instinctively suck in your breath, grip your knees or the toilet seat and curl your toes, you just know you are in for a miserable few days ahead.
The urinary system
The urinary system is made up of the kidneys and the bladder which are linked by tubes called the ureters and there is another tube called the urethra that links the bladder to the outside. Its job is to produce urine which we pee out, thereby cleansing and removing waste from our bodies. Unfortunately, UTIs are much more common in women than men because of the way we are physically designed. Women have much shorter urethras, the tube from the bladder to the outside, and are more likely to contract a bacterial infection, often originating from the bowel. An infection that affects the urethra can pass to the bladder causing cystitis and from there it can travel up to the kidneys causing further problems.
Sometimes a UTI can be low grade and have few symptoms but other times there is no denying the discomfort experienced. That urge to go to the toilet only to pass a small amount of concentrated acid like urine that may be frothy and cloudy indicating infection or indeed pink demonstrating the presence of blood. A raised temperature, tiredness and an aching tummy may also accompany the misery. An infection can be confirmed by a test but sometimes symptoms happen even when no bacteria are found. Some women may only experience it once or twice in their lives but for others it can be a tiring chronic problem.
The causes of UTI
Drinking too little during the day results in a concentrated urine that irritates the bladder wall and not enough is produced to flush away potential infections. Not fully emptying the bladder when peeing results in the same. For some people soaps, talcs, perfumes, clotheswash or even chlorine from a swimming pool can be the irritating cause. Contraceptive devices, the contraceptive pill, slight bruising from sexual intercourse (honeymoon cystitis) or hormonal changes during menopause may all be reasons for a UTI. Even eating foods that cause the body's pH to change in favour of infecting bacteria can be to blame, as can smoking.
How can herbs help?
At the first sign of a UTI, make a large pot or cafetierre of herbal tea and start drinking lots, at a rate of about half a pint every 20 minutes for 3-4 hours. Lessen this as you feel able. D. Atkinson Uva Ursi tea is perfect - it contains couch grass (Agropyron repens) which eases irritation and inflammation, marshmallow leaf (Althea officinalis) is soothing, bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is antiseptic and tones inflamed tissue, meadowsweet (Fillipendula ulmaria) contains salicylic acid and so has aspirin like effects of pain relief and is anti-inflammatory and corn silk (Zea mays) is a soothing diuretic helping to encourage flushing of the urinary system.
Alongside Uva Ursi tea try our Buchu compound. It's a blend of tinctures made by steeping the herbs in a combination of alcohol and water to extract even more potent active compounds. It contains the herbs couch grass (Agropyron repens), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), buchu (Barosma betulina) and corn silk (Zea mays) which all help to fight infection, calm and soothe the urinary tract.
A useful supplement to take is D-mannose. This is a natural sugar found in birch and beechwood trees which has no action in the body at all but which goes directly to the bladder where it attaches to the walls forming a protective barrier and prevents bacteria from sticking. It is then flushed away taking the bacteria with it.
Taking Echinacea to support your immune system is also a good idea and including plenty of garlic, a natural antibiotic, as food or in capsule form is also helpful.
If your symptoms continue and you begin to experience a high temperature, back pain, and/or blood in the urine then do go and see your GP. In the event you do need to take a course of antibiotics, keep drinking herbal teas, taking tinctures and D-mannose supplements at the same time to support the body in its fight against the infection. They will continue to help soothe the irritation and heal inflammation alongside the antibiotics as they destroy the bugs.
And finally, do remember to replenish your good gut bacteria afterwards by taking a good probiotic every day such as Optibac or Biokult and include plenty of bacteria rich foods such as live organic yogurt, sauerkraut or kombucha.
Hopefully with the help of these herbs and supplements the irritating, burning issue of a UTI can be gently and effectively soothed away.