Urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are infections anywhere along the urinary tract including the bladder and kidneys, are the second most common type of infection in the United States. (1) These infections can be caused by poor hygiene, impaired immune function, the overuse of antibiotics, the use of spermicides, and sexual intercourse. The most common cause, accounting for about 90 percent of all cases, is the transfer of E. coli bacteria from the intestinal tract to the urinary tract.
For those of you who have experienced a UTI, there isn’t much you wouldn’t do to avoid another one. While I personally have never had a UTI, my patients have told me how the pain, burning, nausea, and even bloody urine can be debilitating, and for those who get chronic UTIs, the fear of infection can be enough to prevent engagement in any activities that could trigger one. And for those who get them frequently, sometimes a specific cause cannot even be pinpointed. This can be frustrating and scary.
Fortunately, there are a few methods of natural treatment and prevention that have worked extremely well for my patients, to the point where they no longer worry about getting a UTI. These treatments don’t require a prescription, are inexpensive, and completely drug-free. While your doctor may not know about them, I hope this article will help you completely avoid UTIs – or at least significantly reduce their frequency and severity.
Doctors typically use antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections, and the type and duration depend on your health condition and the type of bacterium found in your urine. (2) Commonly prescribed antibiotics are Bactrim, Amoxicillin, Ampicilin, and Cipro. These antibiotics are often unnecessary and may cause more problems in the future by destroying the beneficial bacteria that prevents pathogenic bacteria from growing. Long term use of antibiotics can also lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria like E. coli developing in the gut, and a UTI caused by these bacteria will be even more challenging to eliminate and can cause more serious infections like a bladder or kidney infection.
Furthermore, antibiotics do very little to prevent the infection from happening in the first place. So while drugs may be an easy fix for the short term, in the long run you will continue to be susceptible to UTIs, and these infections may be worse than if you had never taken a course of antibiotics in the first place!
Natural Treatment and Prevention
D-Mannose is by far the most effective supplement for both treatment and prevention of UTIs. Similar to glucose in structure, D-mannose is a naturally occurring sugar that is found in a number of fruits, including apples, blueberries, and cranberries. (3) This sugar is the reason that cranberry juice has been commonly recommended as a UTI treatment, though it is far easier to get the recommended dosage from a supplement. D-mannose is effective because it attaches to E. coli bacteria, causing them to stick to each other and preventing them from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. (4) The bacteria can then easily be eliminated from the body during urination.
D-mannose, even in large quantities, does not cause any adverse side effects, and cannot be metabolized the way other sugars can, meaning this supplement is safe for diabetics and others who are avoiding sugar for any reason. This treatment is also safe for children and the elderly. Symptom relief can be seen as quickly as the following day, and most symptoms are generally resolved after 48 hours of treatment. Additionally, taking D-mannose during a time where you feel you are most prone to UTIs, such as prior to intercourse or during prolonged antibiotic treatment, can help prevent a UTI from ever developing in the first place. This is especially helpful for those who are prone to chronic UTIs and want to be able to engage in normal life activities without fear of infection.
The typical dose of D-mannose for UTI treatment is 500 mg, in capsule or powder form, taken in a glass of water or juice every two to three hours for five days. (5) It is a good practice to continue taking the supplement even after symptoms have diminished to ensure complete elimination of the bacteria in the urinary tract. This dose can also be taken as a preventative, or prophylactic, method.
While there have not been any peer reviewed research to support the effectiveness of D-mannose in treating or preventing UTIs, clinical and anecdotal experience suggests it is highly effective for the majority of infections, both acute and chronic. Some of my patients who have used D-mannose as a UTI treatment method have even described its effects as “miraculous” – so it’s definitely worth a shot!
Alternative treatments for chronic UTIs
One caveat with D-mannose is that it is only effective with UTIs caused by E. coli infection. While this accounts for about 90% of cases, there are 10% that will not benefit from this treatment. In this case, supplements that help disrupt biofilms can be useful in treating and preventing UTIs.
Biofilms are an accumulation of microorganisms and their extracellular products forming structured communities attached to a surface such as the lining of the urogenital tract. (6) The development of a biofilm can make infections extremely hard to treat, since they commonly return shortly after treatment is stopped. The antibacterial resistance of pathogenic biofilms is one of the major reasons why those who get a UTI are highly susceptible to getting more in the future – if the biofilm is not completely eliminated, the infection will eventually return at some point.
This is why the use of biofilm disruptors can be helpful for preventing the recurrence of chronic UTIs. (7) The biofilm disruptors that I recommend to my patients are InterFase Plus from Klaire Labs or Biofilm Defense from Kirkman. These contain specialized enzymes to disrupt the biofilm matrix embedding potential of pathogens, and dissolve the sugar and fibrin components of most pathogenic biofilms. By destroying the biofilms, the recurrence of UTIs despite proper hygiene can be reduced. (8)
Lauricidin is another supplement that may be helpful in treating UTIs, particularly those that are caused by bacteria other than E. coli. Lauricidin (a proprietary form of monolaurin) has anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial activity, and is specific against pathogenic bacteria so it won’t disrupt beneficial bacteria in the gut. It is highly effective at combating gram positive bacteria in the families of Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, Listeria, Bacillus, and Clostridium. (9) It works by disturbing the integrity of the bacterial cell membrane, blocking replication and making it easier for the immune system to destroy the pathogen. Lauricidin is only helpful, however, for UTIs not caused by E. coli, which is gram negative and has a different kind of outer cell membrane than gram positive bacteria.
Nattokinase is another enzyme that has been shown to dissolve biofilms. (10) Produced by the bacteria found in the fermented food natto, this enzyme is proteolytic and can help break down the fibrin proteins that maintain the structure of biofilms. Because of its fibrin-breaking ability, it’s important that nattokinase supplements are not taken by people with bleeding disorders, or by people who are taking Coumadin (warfarin), aspirin, or any other drug that influences blood clotting, unless supervised by a physician.
Apolactoferrin (or lactoferrin) is one more supplement that I recommend to my patients with recurring UTIs. This multifunctional protein Lactoferrin is a component of the immune system with antimicrobial activity, and is part of the innate defense, mainly found in secretions and mucosal surfaces. (11) Lactoferrin has been shown to block pathogenic biofilm development by binding to iron and causing the bacteria to “wander” across surfaces instead of forming cell clusters and biofilms. (12, 13) One study found that the amount of E. coli bacteria in the kidneys and bladder of mice was significantly reduced 24 hours later by oral lactoferrin treatment, compared to a control group. (14) More research is necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of lactoferrin in treating UTIs, but I believe it is worth trying, especially if dealing with chronic UTIs.
By Chris Kresser