It’s literally one of the worst feelings. If you have experienced a urinary tract infection before, you’ll know what I’m talking about: feeling like you gotta go and then not being able to, or maybe even having pain when you urinate, and then noticing the telltale changes in the color or smell of your urine.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be more than uncomfortable, they can also be quite serious. If left untreated they can progress to a kidney infection which can have harsh consequences including kidney failure.
As someone who used to suffer from UTIs pretty frequently, I can tell you that they are a real bummer. I remember hustling out of my apartment in the middle of the night to pick up some drug-store remedy until I could go to urgent care and get a prescription for an antibiotic. Even though these treatments worked well for clearing up the UTI, antibiotics seemed to have a way of making me feel worse overall. Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics are a lifesaver and if your doctor is telling you to take them, you should follow their direction. However, after years of frequent UTIs and the subsequent whole body fall out that would proceed antibiotic usage, I started trying to find ways to avoid using them in all but the most serious situations.
Antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately, meaning they eliminate the good with the bad. When our healthful gut flora is compromised because of an antibiotic regimen our overall health can be negatively impacted. A healthy and diverse microbiome can protect us from pathogenic microorganisms through something referred to as colonization resistance. Antibiotics take down this colonization resistance and creates an opportunity for those pathogenic and inflammatory bacteria, yeast, etc. to gain the upper hand in recolonizing our microbiomes (of which we have many including oral, gut, vaginal, skin microbiome, etc.). Even if we look at rebalancing the microbiome with healthful strains of bacteria that were lost it can take a long, long time. For example, some estimates indicate that it may take over a year of strategic probiotic use to rebuild the gut microbiome after just one week of antibiotics. One common example of an pathogenic bacteria that can move-in once the good bacteria has been killed off is Clostridium difficile (C. diff, for short). C. diff is a very virulent and aggressive strain of bacteria that can infect the gut following even just a single dose of antibiotics. It is one of the most common causes of antibiotic-induced diarrhea and can also be serious enough to cause death.
“Antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately, meaning they eliminate the good with the bad.”
Although there are a lot of other examples of opportunistic bacteria that like to move in following antibiotic treatments, one that many of us gals may be familiar with is the yeast Candida albicans. This is a yeast that is normally present in controlled amounts in our microbiomes, but after antibiotics many people experience an overgrowth. Often this can be seen in the mouth or throat, and it’s not uncommon for women to develop a vaginal yeast infection due to the overgrowth of Candida.
As you can probably tell, antibiotics are not great for our microbiomes. Damaging our bacterial cultures erodes our body’s ability to protect us from pathogens and can even have far reaching implications for our general wellness. Our gut bacteria are involved in many functions including our immune system, hormones, our mood and cognition, as well as our general inflammatory and nutrient status. As such, protecting our microbiome is the cornerstone of health.
In looking for non-drug solutions to my UTIs, I developed a protocol that has worked very well for me. First, I’ll share my practices for preventing UTIs.
Protect the Vaginal Microbiome.
The vaginal microbiome plays an important role in protecting against UTIs. A healthy female urinary system requires the dominant species in the vaginal microbiome to be of the Lactobacilli species (specifically Lactobacillus crispatus and Lactobacillus jensenii). Taking an oral probiotic supplement can be one way of encouraging a healthy vaginal microbiome, but it’s also important to protect these good bacteria and create an environment where they can thrive. To protect my vaginal microbiome I use only organic cotton feminine products (a menstrual cup is also acceptable if that’s something you prefer), wear cotton underwear, and only use mild unscented soaps for cleansing. Another important way to protect your vaginal microbiome is to avoid all commercial douches and anything fragranced in the nether regions. If there is a bad smell coming from your vaginal area, it might be a sign of something being out of balance. You can talk about it with your healthcare provider and try this product which I’ve found works very well.
Drink Plenty of Water.
I like to drink about half my body weight in ounces of water each day, but there isn’t a hard and fast rule here. Listen to your body and be mindful to stay hydrated.
Use the Restroom Frequently, or At Least When You Have to Go.
Even though it can be tempting to avoid using a restroom when there isn’t a good option (like airport bathrooms, or worse, the ones on the plane), holding it seems to increase my chances of getting a UTI.
Always Empty Your Bladder After Intercourse or Being Intimate.
Yes, every single time.
Sometimes, even with all of these prevention strategies at play an infection has still managed to gain a foothold. In my experience, responding as early as possible to signs of a UTI has increased my success with these supplements.
This supplement acts to prevent the bacterial adhesion that leads to infection. When pathogenic bacteria (like E. coli) can’t adhere to the bladder wall, the infection is unable to progress.
This is a blend of enzymes that disrupts biofilms, the protective insulation that bacteria can use to thrive. By breaking the biofilm, it is believed that the bacteria are made more vulnerable to efforts to neutralize them.
This product is derived from the antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal component in coconut oil called lauric acid. The aspect of monolaurin I like the best is that it works specifically against pathogenic bacteria and doesn’t disrupt the beneficial colonies.
In addition to the Lactobacilli probiotics that I take to support the vaginal microbiome, I also take the Primal Blueprint Probiotic daily. This probiotic has several strains of bacteria that may help to promote balance within the microbiome by keeping other strains in check. Perhaps the best part about this probiotic is that I can take it anytime I have to take antibiotics (though, I usually space them out by a few hours) to help get a head start on repopulating the ‘good’ bacteria lost to antibiotic use. It also contains Saccharomyces boulardii which may help reduce the risk of a Candida yeast overgrowth following antibiotic usage.
On top of the oral probiotics, I also like to use probiotic suppositories like this one to help rebalance the vaginal microbiome in a more intensive way.
What about recurrent or frequent UTIs? There are a number of factors that could contribute to recurrent UTIs, including any of the above factors I just discussed. If you find that you get frequent UTIs even while taking steps to prevent them, it may be that there is a hormonal imbalance that is encouraging their onset. Specifically, low estrogen can promote UTIs not only through its influence on the vaginal microbiome (the Lactobacilli strains that we talked about above) but also potentially by causing changes to the actual structure of the urogenital tract.
If you find yourself in this situation, it might be time to explore having your hormones assessed. One test that I love for comprehensive hormone testing is the DUTCH Complete. Its an at-home urine test and the results this test provides give a very in depth look at sex hormones, adrenal health, and methylation. Interested in looking at a sample report? Send me an email and let me know!