Many women will suffer or have, at one point or another, already suffered from urinary tract infections. (I will refer to women in this article because the infections are much more common in women than men, since the male urethra is long and it’s more difficult for bacteria to reach the bladder. However, on occasion men do get UTIs, and those that have will know what I mean.)
They are irritating at best; if left untreated for even a couple of days, they can become excruciating. Most doctors prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat UTIs – but what to do if you’re not the type who runs to antibiotics to fix any problem?
Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms and Causes
UTIs are caused by unwanted bacteria in the bladder. Sexually active women are at risk to get them more frequently, since sexual intercourse might push bacteria up the urethra. The bacteria then multiply, causing an imbalance that leads to the symptoms that we know and hate. If you have never had a UTI before, you might not recognize it, but basically the initial symptoms consist of a discomfort in the lower abdomen, a sensation of heat or burning, and an urge to constantly urinate. This last symptom will continue to get worse, and most of the time when you go to the bathroom, very little liquid will result. The urine that does expel may be cloudy or have an unusual odor.
It’s important to note that urinary tract infections should not be ignored. If they are left untreated, they might back up into the kidneys and cause a worse infection that’s much more difficult to banish. This is called pyelonephritis, and the main symptom (other than the signs of the UTI itself) is a sensitivity or a pain in the kidneys (on both sides of the middle-to-lower back). This pain will continue to get worse, and the infection could eventually result in blood poisoning. It is therefore crucial to take corrective steps right away at the first sign of a symptom.
Treat your UTI naturally
OK, so we’ve covered symptoms and causes. Now, let’s uncover how to treat UTIs without antibiotics. First of all, a diet rich in probiotics will discourage bad bacteria from taking over – so eating yogurt with live cultures or taking a probiotic capsule daily is a good idea as a preventative measure. Many women also take cranberry pills for their benefits in keeping the urinary tract free of invasive bacteria. But sometimes it’s unavoidable or sneaks up on you because you’re tired, stressed, or your immune system is otherwise compromised.
Follow these steps to begin treating your urinary tract infection:
- Drink lots of water. Lots. I’m talking walk around with a glass of water in your hand and drink from it constantly. You will have to use the bathroom frequently, but doing so will help to flush out the bacteria from the bladder.
- Immediately cut out all extra sugar, caffeine, and alcohol – sugar and alcohol (which just metabolizes into sugar) promote bacteria, and caffeine dehydrates you and irritates the bladder.
- Drink cranberry juice – NOT cranberry cocktail, but pure, unsugared cranberry juice. You can get this at some groceries, or in health food stores. It’s very tart, so diluting it with water is a good idea. Drink at least eight ounces throughout the course of the day.
- Take extra vitamin C. This can help to create a hostile environment for bacteria.
Take therapeutic courses of “natural” antibiotics – garlic, fennel, rose hips, parsley, or dandelion. If using parsley, rose hip, or dandelion, make a tea. Use only one of these last three for maximum effect.
Combining these tips will help to clear most infections. However, if symptoms persist, seek the advice of a doctor – preferably a holistic one who will not just give you antibiotics and send you on your way. And for the future, good preventative measures include the following: stay hydrated; avoid synthetic underwear that can help foster bacteria, and opt instead for natural fibers; always urinate after sexual intercourse to push back out any bacteria that might be creeping up.
Maria (Niina) Pollari is a poet, editor, writer and translator. She wrote two chapbooks, Fabulous Essential (2009) and Book Four (2011). Pollari’s writing has been featured in numerous literary journals as well as the Brooklyn Rail and Jezebel.com. She has received her Master’s in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.