Cystitis (Urinary Tract Infection)

Modern science has proved what folk healers have long claimed: these troublesome and potentially serious infections, one of the most common health problems for women, can often be relieved with some of nature's own remedies.

What is it?

Also known as cystitis (bladder inflammation) or a bladder infection, a urinary tract infection (UTI) inflames the bladder or urethra (the tube that transports urine out of the bladder). The problem most frequently affects females; in fact, one in five women suffers from a UTI at least once a year. These infections should be treated promptly – and antibiotics may be necessary – because recurring UTIs can lead to potentially serious kidney infections.

What causes it?

Most UTIs result from a bacterial or yeast infection. Normally, urine is sterile (germ-free) when it is excreted by the kidneys and stored in the bladder, and it washes out the small amount of bacteria in the urethra as it passes to the outside. But sometimes, bacteria in the urinary tract overwhelm the body's immune defences and multiply, causing an infection. Ignoring the urge to urinate may increase the likelihood of UTIs. Poor hygiene may also be a factor, as may pregnancy. (The bladder can be compressed by the fetus so that it is unable to empty completely.)

What are the symptoms?

  • Frequent urge to urinate.
  • Voiding only a small amount of urine despite frequent urges.
  • Burning sensation or searing pain when urinating.
  • Foul-smelling cloudy or unusually dark urine.
  • Cramps or a heavy feeling in the lower abdomen.

Are there any natural therapies?

Take the recommended supplements at the first hint of burning during urination. Start with vitamin C and cranberry. Vitamin C helps to acidify urine, making the bladder a less inviting environment for harmful bacteria to colonise, and also strengthen the body's immune defences. Cranberry also acidifies the urine, but – more importantly – it prevents bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract. Uva ursi is a diuretic and a urinary antiseptic, and works best if the urine is slightly alkaline; for some people, this herb is a very effective alternative to vitamin C and cranberry. Any of these supplements can be used along with various anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting herbal teas made from goldenseal, echinacea and nettle; in addition, the extra fluids help to wash bacteria away.

Because some UTIs can progress to more serious kidney infection, it's important that these natural therapies be tried for only 24-36 hours before you seek professional advice. If an infection is confirmed, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. Unfortunately, antibiotics kill not only harmful bacteria but the healthy bacteria that help to protect the digestive and urinary tracts. Acidophilus (which may be combined with another source of 'friendly' bacteria, bifidus) is helpful for those taking antibiotics because it reintroduces healthy bacteria.

What else can I do?

  • Drink at least one 250 ml glass of water every hour. Lots of water increase urine flow, improving the likelihood that harmful substances will be flushed from your system. If you feel the need to urinate, don't 'hold it in' – go straight away.
  • Keep genital and anal areas clean and dry. Wash before and after intercourse. After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back; wear cotton (breathable) underwear; change into dry clothing immediately after exercising or swimming.

Did you know?

Don't use scented douches and feminine hygiene sprays – they can irritate the urinary tract.