UTIs: Do Home Remedies Really Work?

It seems like Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and cystitis always flare up on a Sunday or when your doctor is on vacation. Anyone who has suffered from that particular sensation akin to a cat climbing up your urethra with it's claws out knows how desperate you can be to find relief—but, balance that against the endless hours of Hell that is the average Emergency Room. Hence the appeal of home remedies, in particular the old standard, cranberry juice.

Before you beg anyone to do a grocery run for some Ocean Spray, there's little data to prove that cranberry juice—or powders or capsules—are an effective treatment. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there's lots of conflicting research. UTIs are generally caused by E. Coli and cranberries do contain a substance called A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) which can prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract. The big "but" is that there probably isn't enough of this active ingredient in most juices or supplements to do the trick.

The typical treatment for UTIs is a course of antibiotics which is usually fast acting and effective. The problem here is that scientists believe that the frequent use of these drugs is contributing to the emergence of antibiotic resistant microbes worldwide. We also know that antibiotics generally mess up the happy balance of beneficial microflora in the GI tract. If you are already suffering from a UTI, discuss the pros and cons of taking antibiotics with your doctor. It's speculated that between 25 and 40 percent of infections will clear up on their own. In addition to antibiotics, your doctor may recommend urinary tract health supplements to support your body's natural defenses. They can also suggest an analgesic for the discomfort associated with UTIs (doctor speak for 'excruciating pain').

Prevention is the key to managing UTIs. Cranberry is also widely believed to be protective, another dicey assertion. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that concentrated cranberry supplements administered to nursing home patients over the course of a year did not reduce the occurence of UTIs at all. In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Dr. Lindsay E. Nicolle, an expert on UTIs at the University of Manitoba, wrote: "Clinicians should not be promoting cranberry use by suggesting that there is proven, or even possible, benefit," and added "it's time to move on from cranberries."

Think twice before relying on the cranberry cure.Joanna Kosinska

What does work? Plain old water. A new clinical trial published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that for women who upped their water intake by 1.5 liters a day (about nine cups) episodes of cystitis were "significantly less frequent" over the course of a year compared to those who did not. It's a compelling reason to stay hydrated. More research needs to be done, including on the ideal total amount of water to drink daily, but such a simple, accessible, and free fix is cause for excitement. *Brought to you buy Evian. Not kidding, the study was sponsored by the water company. But you can just use your tap.

There are other habits you should adopt to stay healthy as well. In essence, you want to discourage bad bacteria from multiplying and entering your urinary tract. Some common sense practices: Wipe from front to back after you use the bathroom. If you wear period pads, change them frequently. In younger women, UTIs are usually associated with sexual activity. The standard advice to pee and wash soon after having sex may help. Consider changing your birth control method. Diaphragms and condoms with spermicides contribute to the growth of bad bacteria. To encourage healthy bacteria, eat probiotic foods like yogurt, tempeh, and kimchi.

And if you love cranberry juice, most doctors say it can't hurt and does count toward your overall hydration. Just look at the label to make sure you aren't drinking primarily sugar water with some red coloring thrown in.

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