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Natural Remedies for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

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Updated April 09, 2014

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that begins in the urinary system. The urinary system includes that bladder, kidneys, ureters (the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder) and the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).

An infection can be limited to the bladder, however, if the infection is not treated promptly or completely, it can spread to the kidneys (called pyelonephritis), causing serious consequences.

Urinary tract infection is the second most common infection after respiratory infection. It is estimated that each year, 8 to 10 million people in the United States get a urinary tract infection, most of them women.

Natural Remedies for a Urinary Tract Infection

Although natural remedies are being studied for urinary tract infection, it is important to seek medical attention and not self-medicate. If improperly treated, a urinary tract infection may spread to the kidneys. This can occur even though a person's symptoms appear to improve.

1) Cranberry

Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon or Vacinnium oxycoccus) has been used for more than a century as a home remedy to prevent and treat urinary tract infection.

Although it was previously thought that cranberry worked by making the urine more acid, more recent evidence suggests that constituents in cranberry called proanthocyanins prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. This is thought to allow urine to wash away the bacteria.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Urology in 2002 compared pure cranberry juice, cranberry extract tablets, and a placebo in 150 women at high risk for infections. Both the juice and tablets both significantly reduced UTI. Of the two, the tablets were the most effective. The National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health recently launched a $2.6 million dollar initiative for research into cranberries.

Cranberry juice should be unsweetened. Unsweetened juice can often be found in health food stores.

More on Cranberry for Urinary Tract Infections.

2) Uva Ursi

Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a herb that is used as a folk remedy for certain types of urinary tract infection. The active component, arbutin, appears to be broken down and then excreted in the kidneys, where it appears to have antiseptic properties.

Uva ursi contains significant amounts of compounds called tannins. Tannins are not believed to be absorbed from the intestines, however, liver damage has occured with people who have taken large doses of tannins. There have been no reports of uva ursi toxicity due to the tannins.

People with kidney or liver disease or pregnant or nursing women or children should not take uva ursi.

Side effects of uva ursi can include brown or green colored urine, nausea, ringing in the ears, or indigestion. Rarely, uva ursi has been associated with retinal damage, seizures, cyanosis, cancer, or even death when taken in large amounts for long periods of time.

3) Other Natural Remedies

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis)
Buchu (Barosma betulina)
Corn silk (Zea mays)
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection

  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Passing small quantities of urine
  • Burning, painful feeling when urinating
  • Urine may look cloudy, milky, or red

If any of the following symptoms are present, it may be a sign that the urinary tract infection has spread to the kidneys:

  • Constant pain or pressure in the abdomen, side, or low back
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills

Immediate treatment with antibiotics is necessary to prevent kidney damage and other serious consequences.

Sources

Quintus J, Kovar KA, Link P, Hamacher H. Urinary excretion of arbutin metabolites after oral administration of bearberry leaf extracts. Planta Med. 71.2 (2005): 147-152.

Schindler G, Patzak U, Brinkhaus B, von Niecieck A, Wittig J, Krahmer N, Glockl I, Veit M. Urinary excretion and metabolism of arbutin after oral administration of Arctostaphylos uvae ursi extract as film-coated tablets and aqueous solution in healthy humans. J Clin Pharmacol. 42.8 (2002): 920-927.

Siegers C, Bodinet C, Ali SS, Siegers CP. Bacterial deconjugation of arbutin by Escherichia coli. Phytomedicine. 10 Suppl 4 (2003): 58-60.
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