Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are incredibly common. If you're currently experiencing a burning sensation when you pee, or you feel like you have to urinate, but not much comes out, you could be dealing with a UTI.
But what if it's 6 p.m. on a Friday and you can't get to the doctor until Monday? Or you don't want to take antibiotics unless you absolutely have to? (Smart move for keeping your microbiome top form btw, but keep reading because there are some good reasons you might choose the antibiotic route.)
In this article, we’re discussing some of the top natural remedies for clearing up a UTI — or steering clear of one in the first place — that you can use in the privacy of your own home. But first, let's dig into exactly what a UTI is and how to tell if you have one.
What Is A Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection occurs when a bacterial infection affects your urinary system, causing problems like discomfort during urination, frequent urination, urgency, and other symptoms. The most common culprits causing the problem are the microbes Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus saprophyticus.
Why do Urinary Tract Infections Occur?
These bacteria are commonly found in the digestive tract, which means that if they are causing mayhem for your urinary tract, it's possible they made the way there from your anus. Infrequent urination and dehydration have also been shown to be factors in developing UTIs.
Studies suggest that when women are encouraged to drink more water, they are less likely to develop a UTI.
Practicing good sex hygiene and always wiping from front to back when using the bathroom can help prevent this contamination. Sometimes, even if you're diligent, bacteria can still find its way to where it shouldn't be.
If you're just starting to suspect that you have a UTI, chances are good that it's only affecting your lower urinary tract — that is to say, your bladder and urethra. This is why UTIs are commonly referred to as “bladder infections.” Technically, a bladder infection is a type of UTI, but most women use the term interchangeably.
In the later stages of a more severe UTI infection, the whole urinary system can be compromised, including your kidneys.
If a UTI gets to this point, it's considered a more complex and potentially dangerous situation. If you think you have a UTI and you've got a fever above 99.9, or acute pains in your lower back, side, or groin, it's best to get to a doctor ASAP to see if you need antibiotics. The natural remedies I'm discussing here won't be enough to kick a full-blown case of pyelonephritis (kidney infection) to the curb.
How Do You Know If You Have A Urinary Tract Infection?
Often, UTIs start almost asymptomatic (without symptoms). You may have an urge to urinate, but then when you go to the bathroom, you can't seem to go. Or you can only relieve yourself a tiny bit, and then you're making a beeline for the restroom again just minutes after you've walked out. Maybe you feel a bit of burning or tingling when you pee. A lot of women don't seem to think much of their symptoms at this point.
When these mild symptoms start to happen a few times in a row, women often begin to notice. But sometimes, things progress a little further, and a mild fever or pelvic pain starts to develop before we acknowledge something is wrong.
This could be because you've had symptoms before and had them dismissed by a doctor. A recent study showed that the test commonly used to diagnose UTI isn't always accurate. Researchers discovered that the standard culture missed the presence of pathogenic bacteria almost 20% of the time.
So — if you're experiencing any of these symptoms, don't get a positive result on your bacteria culture test, and your doctor isn’t giving you answers — be sure to seek a second opinion, and you may want to try out the more natural remedies in this article.
Sometimes what feels like a UTI or a painful bladder is because of a condition known as Interstitial Cystitis. Either way, your provider should be working with you to find out the cause of your symptoms.
Bladder Infection Symptoms
The most common symptoms of a mild lower urinary tract infection that's infecting the bladder or urethra include:
- Burning sensation or pain while urinating
- Feeling of pressure in your pelvis or lower abdomen
- Having the urge to urinate frequently
- Being unable to void much urine
- Presence of blood in the urine
- Pelvic pain
- Low-grade fever
- Change in the color of your urine (darker, cloudy, milky)
- Stronger than usual odor to your urine
If the UTI has progressed to the kidneys, the symptoms may include:
- Pain in the side
- High fever
Urinary Tract Infection Treatment
The typical treatment for a UTI is antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. To diagnose a UTI, your doctor may identify your symptoms and prescribe you the appropriate medication.
In other instances, if your symptoms aren't straightforward, or if you've been struggling with recurrent UTIs, your doc may suggest further testing.
More in-depth testing may involve:
- Additional bacteria cultures of a urine sample
- Ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Cystoscopy — using a camera to look inside your urethra and bladder
Urinary tract infection antibiotics
Some of the common antibiotics your doctor may prescribe to treat a UTI include:
- Cephalexin (Keflex®)
- Ceftriaxone (Rocephin®)
- Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Septra®, Bactrim®)
- Nitrofurantoin (Macrobid®, Macrodantin®)
- Fosfomycin (Monurol®)
In certain instances, your doctor may prescribe a less common antibiotic. If you have allergies to certain antibiotics, for example, or your UTI is more severe, you may receive a prescription for a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. These include Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Levaquin (levofloxacin).
A typical course of antibiotics for a mild UTI lasts several days. If you're otherwise feeling fine besides your UTI, your physician may suggest a shortened course of drugs, maybe 1-3 days. Follow your doctor’s direction, though. Stopping an antibiotic too soon could enable your infection to return.
If you are getting frequent, recurring infections, your doctor might suggest a low dose antibiotic regimen over the course of several months.
It's important to note that an estimated 22% of women receiving antibiotic treatment for a UTI develop candida overgrowth soon after. If you have to take antibiotics, be sure to accompany them with a course of probiotics to help to keep candida at bay.
While you may want to avoid antibiotics at any cost to spare your microbiome, it’s important to keep in mind that a UTI can quickly turn into a kidney infection. Because your kidneys are immune privileged, meaning your immune system doesn’t effectively get inside this organ, an infection here can lead to long term kidney damage. If you’re going to take the natural route, it’s strongly recommended that you communicate with your provider and perhaps have them call in an antibiotic prescription in the event that you do need it.
Symptoms like fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, pain in your low back or side is a sign that it’s time to talk to your provider and start that antibiotic. Your microbiome can heal, but your kidneys can’t if an infection is left untreated.
Pain Medication for UTIs
Another treatment your doctor may recommend is an analgesic to numb your urethra and bladder. This can help with painful urination.
Hormone Replacement Therapy as a UTI Treatment
Sometimes, postmenopausal women find vaginal estrogen therapy helpful in preventing bladder infections since the lowered estrogen levels after menopause cause changes to and an overall thinning of the tissues in the urinary tract, making you more susceptible to infection. It appears that estrogen therapy may help strengthen urinary tract tissue and trigger the release of natural antimicrobial proteins found in the bladder.
13 of The Best Natural Remedies for a UTI
The best natural remedy for a UTI is, first and foremost, prevention. As I mentioned earlier, practicing good sex hygiene is essential, and so is wiping from the front to back when using the restroom. Anything you can do to help prevent the spread of bacteria from the anus to the urethra is key.
However, another thing to focus on is keeping your immune system strong at all times.
Here are some of the ways to support your immune system and specifically fight off bladder infections that you can try before resorting to antibiotics or if you've tried medications and they didn't work.
UTI Home Remedies
1. Don't Hold It
When you feel the urge to urinate, go! Holding your pee creates a recipe for disaster when you're trying to avoid or heal from a UTI. When you're not flushing the urine out of your bladder, you're not flushing out the bacteria that are clinging to the urinary tract, which encourages them to multiply. The best way to get rid of those infection-causing microbes is to make sure you use the bathroom, and often. It's also a good idea to pee after you've had sex. This helps get rid of any bacteria that may enter the urethra as a result of intercourse.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Drinking plenty of filtered water (I love my Berkey water filter so, so much) is vital for many aspects of health. Urinary health is no exception. If you're currently fighting or trying to prevent a bladder infection, proper hydration has been shown to decrease UTI incidence. Aim to drink twice your bodyweight in ounces every day, whether you have an infection or not.
3. Cranberry Power
Your grandmother's old recommendation for a bladder infection has some truth to it after all. Drinking unsweetened cranberry juice seems to prevent bacteria from clinging to the urinary tract, especially when used long term for prevention. And cranberry extract, which is readily available and not super expensive, is even more effective than the juice. In one study, it was proven about as effective as antibiotics in treating UTI.
4. Take Probiotics
Probiotics are an excellent tool for supporting your immune system at all times. Probiotics are live and active “friendly” bacteria that help destroy any of the not-so-good ones. You can get them in supplement form (here's the one I recommend to my patients), but you can also get them by eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi.
D-mannose is a monosaccharide that can be rapidly absorbed and excreted by the urinary tract and can prevent the adhesion of bacteria to the urinary tract walls. In one study, women with recurrent UTI were given a D-mannose powder, and their risk of recurrent UTI was significantly reduced.
6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is well known for its support of the immune system. Whenever you're fighting an infection of any sort, it's a good idea to ratchet up the vitamin C intake. Some experts say that vitamin C may help treat a bladder infection by making urine more acidic, which could inhibit bacterial growth. In a study of pregnant women, researchers found 100mg per day of vitamin C to effectively treat a UTI. This is excellent news for pregnant women, as vitamin C is considered safe for use during pregnancy. You’ll find a healthy dose of vitamin C in our Prenatal Plus.
Barberry has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years to help cure a variety of ailments. It's also known as uva-ursi. In one study, researchers found that a formula containing the active ingredients in barberry and dandelion was an effective treatment for recurrent cystitis, which is useful information for anyone looking to find a natural cure for their UTI.
Garlic is a powerful natural antimicrobial and immune supportive food. With antibacterial and antiviral properties, it's a great idea to include it in your diet regularly. If you don't like the flavor, you can find garlic available in capsule form.
9. Urinate After Sex
This is good advice in general, whether you're fighting a UTI or not. Going pee after sex helps wash away any bacteria that may have made its way to your urethra opening during coitus.
10. Keep Dry Down There
One way to make sure you're creating the least hospitable environment for pathogenic bacteria is to keep things dry. Bacteria love moisture. When you get out of the bath or shower, be sure to dry off your lady parts gently with a clean towel. Also — wear clothes that allow your urethra to breathe — cotton underwear and loose-fitting jeans are good ideas. Trapping bacteria with sweat creates conditions that enable them to thrive. After a challenging workout, be sure to ditch the sweaty yoga pants for something drier.
11. Professional Grade Oregano Oil
Some essential oils have powerful antibacterial properties, including oregano oil, which has been shown to kill E. coli, one of the main bacteria that cause UTI. The great thing about oregano oil is that it doesn't cause side effects the way that antibiotics can — and you don't have to worry about antibiotic resistance when taking it either. Oregano oil is taken internally in a capsule form. Be sure to use professional grade only and look for the GMP stamp on the label. This isn’t the same as an essential oil you’d use in a diffuser. And please, do not apply directly to your skin, especially the urethra as it can cause a significant burn.
12. Corn Silk (Zea mays)
Corn silk is originally an indigenous treatment for bladder conditions, including UTIs that has been adopted by western herbalists. It is often combined with other herbs because of its ability to soothe the urinary tract and anti-inflammatory effects. More recently, research has shown that constituents of this plant may in fact prevent E. coli from being able to adhere to the walls of the urinary tract.
13. Avoid Spermicides
As helpful as they may be in preventing pregnancy, spermicides aren't great for vaginas or UTIs. One of the most significant risk factors researchers discovered in young women with UTI is diaphragm with spermicide use. It's best to use another form of birth control if you're trying to clear up or prevent a UTI. Check out my ultimate contraception guide for plenty of other options.
What About Coconut Oil for UTIs?
While coconut oil itself hasn't exactly been studied as a UTI treatment, it has been shown to have bacteria-fighting benefits, especially as a topical treatment for skin infections. There are undoubtedly a ton of ladies who swear by topical coconut oil as a means for preventing or treating mild yeast infections. There's enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that the administration of coconut oil to the urethra opening may help soothe some external itching and burning caused by a bladder infection. But as for a potent enough treatment for a UTI, this one isn’t likely to eliminate an infection.
Will A UTI Go Away On Its Own?
As with any infection, an otherwise healthy woman's body is technically equipped to fight and resolve a UTI on its own. An estimated 25-42% of UTIs resolve without conventional treatment.
The problem arises when the infection becomes too rampant for the immune system to handle. If immunity is compromised in any way, or if the infection has been building for a while, then it's time to bring in some extra help to fight those bad bacteria.
The trouble is, antibiotic-resistant UTIs are increasing. As the New York Times reported, one in three simple UTIs is now considered resistant to one of the most common antibiotics used to treat them, Bactrim. One in five is considered resistant to other commonly prescribed antibiotics.
Why Do I Keep Getting Urinary Tract Infections?
UTIs can be extremely frustrating when they keep coming back. Most of the time, the recurrent infection is caused by the same pathogen as the initial infection. And about 80% of UTIs are reoccurring.
This could be due to the antibiotic resistance of the bacteria. Since we take so many antibiotics, they are becoming less and less effective against many strains of E. coli. It can also be simply physiology — certain women are just more prone to urinary tract infections.
One of the keys is to make sure that you start treating a UTI as soon as you feel even very mild symptoms pop up. The longer the bacteria have a chance to multiply, the harder the infection is to get rid of.
Practicing the natural and preventive measures I've laid out here is a great idea — take a daily probiotic, vitamin C, and drink plenty of water…even if you don't have symptoms right now. These good habits can go a long way towards keeping a UTI from cropping back up.
Looking For More Natural Remedies?
As you may know, I'm extremely passionate about providing women with all the details they need to make informed decisions about their reproductive health.
I'm not in any way against pharmaceuticals when they are necessary and indicated for a particular treatment. Antibiotics have a time and a place in our health. But when other options are safe and effective, I like to offer women choices that include natural options they can administer themselves.
If you're into that sort of balance too, I'd love to send you an email when I post new articles. Hop on my mailing list HERE so I can share my research with you!
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