Natural ways to prevent UTIs

See your doctor if you suspect you have a urinary tract infection as you may need antibiotics. If you get frequent UTIs, there are steps you can take to help prevent them

Natural ways to prevent UTIs

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) start at the end of the urinary tract. The urethra, a tube only about 5 centimetres (2 inches) long, carries urine from your bladder out of the body. The trouble starts when gastrointestinal bacteria, often of the Escherichia coli variety, stick to the walls of the urethra and begin to multiply, leading to an infection. The result is a burning sensation when you urinate, along with the urge to urinate even when you don't need to go. You may also feel pressure above your pubic bone or in the rectum. If the infection moves up the urinary tract into the bladder or even farther, into the kidneys, the condition becomes trickier and more serious, causing pain in the sides and back as well as nausea and fever.

The best way to prevent a UTI is to prevent problem bacteria from clinging to the lining of the urethra. Your doctor will explain that one way to do this to urinate after sex. Some natural remedies can also do the trick.

Cranberry and blueberry juice

Doctors used to think that it was acidity that made cranberries so effective in treating UTIs, but other acidic juices like pineapple don't work. (And increasing the acidity of urine by taking vitamin C supplements also appears to have little or no effect, although the practice became popular in recent years.) Now research hints that an antioxidant compound in cranberries and blueberries called epicatechin may work directly on bacteria like E. coli, affecting the tendrils on their surface. The bacteria essentially become boats without anchors and are no longer able to attach to the lining of the urethra walls. Cranberry compounds also appear to weaken bacteria cells.

A study from Finland involving 150 women prone to UTIs found that those who drank cranberry juice daily for 12 months experienced a 20 percent reduction in infections. In a study in Massachusetts, scientists found that more intense cranberry products like whole cranberries and pure cranberry juice (rather than cranberry juice cocktail) were particularly effective at quashing the bacterial threat.

If you have kidney stones made of oxalate, note that one small study suggests that cranberry extract tablets may contribute to the stones. Also, drinking more than a litre of juice a day over a long period may increase the risk of uric acid kidney stones. Check with your doctor before starting a cranberry regimen.

Aim for: Three 8-ounce (250-mL) glasses of pure unsweetened cranberry or blueberry juice. You can often find this type of juice in the natural foods section of your supermarket. Avoid cranberry juice cocktail, which is loaded with added sugar — something bacteria thrive on! Because the unsweetened stuff is so tart, some people prefer to take cranberry extract tablets.

Helpful hint: Like all acidic juices, cranberry juice can erode tooth enamel. Be sure to brush your teeth after drinking it.


Drinking plenty of water keeps urine diluted so bacteria have less chance to group together and cause problems. It also stimulates you to urinate more often, helping to flush the walls of the urethra, where bacteria may be clinging.

Aim for: At least 8 to 10 eight-ounce (250-mL) glasses of water per day. If you exercise or live in a humid, hot environment, drink even more.

Plain yogurt with active cultures

Yogurts that contain live bacterial cultures help keep up your gut's population of "good" bacteria, which in turn keep "bad" bacteria in check. Studies on whether yogurt and other natural sources of "good" bacteria, like kefir (fermented milk), can help to prevent UTIs have had mixed results. It may be that the abundant added sugar in some yogurts cancels the effect of the probiotic bacteria. But eating some yogurt every day can't hurt, and if you have to take antibiotics for a UTI, it may help you avoid a yeast infection, which antibiotics sometimes trigger. Keep eating yogurt for two weeks following your last dose of antibiotics to keep up with the continued effect of the medication.

Aim for: A cup (250 mL) a day. Stick to plain yogurt with live, active cultures and without the sugar that feeds "bad" bacteria.

Nutritional supplements

Cranberry extract. Although most of the studies that offer evidence to support the power of cranberry in preventing UTIs have been conducted using cranberry juice, a recent study from Finland suggests that cranberry extract tablets work just as well.

Dosage: One 400-mg tablet twice daily.

Probiotics.Acidophilus and bifidobacteria are the two main probiotics ("good" bacteria) that can help support a healthy immune system if you're not eating enough yogurt. They're sometimes combined in supplements.

Dosage: Follow the dosage instructions on the label.

Off the menu

Sugary foods and beverages. Cookies, candy, soda, and other foods and drinks made with refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup create an environment in which bacteria thrive and multiply, making infection more likely. Try to stick to natural sources of sugar like fresh fruits.

Coffee, tea, cola, and alcohol. All of these beverages can irritate the bladder and make a UTI more likely.

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Adapted from Food Cures, Reader's Digest, available in the Best Health store now.

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