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If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (or a UTI), then you know that you want relief fast. The burning, urges and pain that come with a UTI can be intense, making it hard to do or concentrate on anything else. Thankfully, eating the right foods can help prevent and manage recurring UTIs. But first, let’s take a look at what causes them in the first place.
UTI Causes and Symptoms
UTIs are mostly caused by bacteria that enters the urinary tract. Two strains of bacteria, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus saprophyticus, are the cause of about 80% of UTIs. An infection most often affects the bladder, but can spread to any part of the urinary tract, including the kidneys, ureters or urethra. It’s important to do something about a UTI the moment you start to have symptoms. Though a very mild UTI may go away on its own after a few days, an untreated infection could get worse and spread to the kidneys, causing long-term complications. Though rare, if the infection spreads further to your blood, causing sepsis, it could be deadly. Symptoms of a UTI can include:
- Persistent urge to urinate, even if only a small amount of urine comes out
- Pain in the abdomen, lower back, around the pubic bone or center of the pelvis
- A burning sensation while urinating
- Urine that is cloudy
- Urine that is pink, red or brown, which is a sign of blood in the urine
- Strong or off-smelling urine
Though women or men can have a UTI, women have them eight times more often. Older people and people who have to use a catheter for extended periods of time also are at higher risk. Because of a woman’s anatomy, it is easier for bacteria to enter a woman’s urinary tract. UTIs account for 25% of all bacterial infections in women, and it’s estimated that 50 to 60% of women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime. Some women are more susceptible to UTIs, and recurrences usually occur within three months of the original infection.
Antibiotics are the main treatment for a UTI, but it helps to take preventative measures whether you’ve never had a UTI or get them often. In addition to some lifestyle changes, what you eat and drink can have an impact on how UTIs are treated and prevented.
What to eat to prevent UTIs
The most important dietary measure you can take to treat and prevent a UTI is to avoid dehydration and drink 6 to 8 glasses (48 to 64 ounces) of water each day. Drinking water will help you urinate more often, which flushes bacteria from your bladder. Plain water is the best option when you are increasing fluid intake and urine output during a UTI. Also during a UTI, avoid coffee, caffeine, alcohol and citrus juices, which can irritate your bladder. Some research shows that herbal tea (which is caffeine free) could have a positive diuretic and antibacterial effect when consumed during a UTI. When in prevention mode (not treatment mode), studies show it may be helpful to also include 8 ounces of cranberry juice or citrus juice as a portion of your daily fluids. Moderate amounts (up to 16 ounces) of coffee or other caffeinated beverages are usually fine to drink when in prevention mode, as well, but prioritize water as your main fluid.
Foods high in vitamin C
During a UTI, your urine has a slightly higher pH than normal. In other words, it becomes more alkaline. Some studies have shown a correlation between higher intakes of vitamin C and lower risk of UTIs. When in prevention mode, eating ample amounts of vitamin C-rich foods, such as red and orange bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwifruit, tomatoes, broccoli and strawberries could help keep urine pH more balanced, preventing a bladder atmosphere where bacteria can multiply quicker.
Eating foods frequently that contain probiotics could be a defense against UTIs by improving your overall immunity, and some probiotic strains have been linked to fewer UTIs when ingested. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and probiotic yogurt (especially those that contain a Lactobacillus strain) could help prevent UTIs when eaten often (several times each week).
Foods to avoid for a UTI
High-sugar foods and drinks
During a UTI it is good practice to avoid foods and drinks that contain high amounts of sugar, which can be irritating to the bladder. The categories of foods and drinks that are highest in sugar include soda and energy drinks, sugar-sweetened coffee and tea, desserts, candy and sweet snacks, and breakfast cereals. Also, diets high in added sugar have been linked to increased risk of UTI.
Several studies have shown that drinking alcohol during a UTI can intensify and prolong symptoms. Also, drinking alcohol while taking an antibiotic can increase harmful side effects or reactions, so it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol completely when experiencing a UTI and while taking an antibiotic.
Some research shows that spicy foods, like hot peppers, can be irritating to the bladder, so it’s good practice to avoid spicy foods when healing from a UTI.
Supplements that can help for a UTI
Additional support from certain supplements could help prevent a UTI. Always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement.
Taking a probiotic soon and regularly after completing a course of antibiotic medication can be helpful at restoring healthy gut bacteria. Research has shown that taking a probiotic can also be beneficial for reducing risk of UTIs in women.
Cranberry extract and cranberry juice capsules have been connected to a lowered prevalence of UTIs in women. Cranberries contain a compound called A-type proanthocyanidin (PAC) that won’t cure a UTI but can make it harder for bacteria to thrive in the bladder, making them a good preventative measure.
This type of simple sugar has been connected to prevention of UTIs when taken for several months, but it has even been used to help treat mild cases. Similar to compounds in cranberries, experts believe D-mannose prevents bacteria from adhering to walls of the urinary tract, which keeps it from thriving there.
Have a UTI? Do this first.
If you suspect you have a UTI, schedule an as-soon-as-possible appointment with your doctor or OBGYN. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and order a urine test to determine if you have a UTI, as well as prescribe any necessary medication, such as an antibiotic and pain treatment. In the meantime, increase your water intake so you will urinate more often, which helps flush bacteria from your urinary tract.
What else to know about UTIs
For people with recurring UTIs, there are some lifestyle factors that can help prevent future infections. Consider the above recommended dietary approaches with the following in mind.
In almost all cases of UTI, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to help kill the offending bacteria in your urinary tract. It’s important to take the full course of prescribed antibiotics, even if you start to feel better before it’s done, to ensure the bacteria is dead. Symptoms almost always subside within 2 to 48 hours after starting an antibiotic, but you may need to take the antibiotic for 1 week or longer.
Frequently holding urine for long periods of time when you feel the urge to go can make you more susceptible to future UTIs.
Most women have bacteria in their urine after intercourse. Having a habit of urinating within minutes after intercourse can help flush the bacteria away from the urinary tract. Also, the use of spermicides, condoms and diaphragms have been connected to increased bacteria entering the urinary tract. If you are susceptible to UTIs and want to prevent pregnancy, consider an alternate form of birth control. Condoms are highly effective at reducing other sexually transmitted infections, however, so using them along with water-based lubricant can decrease the condom-induced friction and skin irritation that can increase UTI-causing bacteria to spread.
The way you wipe after going to the bathroom is an important preventative measure to avoid UTIs, especially for women. Always use separate pieces of toilet paper to wipe your genitals and anus. Also, wipe in a front to back motion (not back to front) to prevent any bacteria from the anus coming close to the urethra.
If you are prone to UTIs, avoid wearing tight underwear, shorts and pants made from non-breathable material. Tight-fitting clothing can increase sweat and moisture on skin, creating an environment where bacteria can flourish.
Some frequent sufferers of UTIs find pain relief from acupuncture that is used to relieve pain and promote urination.
We’ve designed a UTI-prevention meal plan for you, make sure to give it a try.
Also read 6 Foods and 3 Supplements That Prevent UTIs.