Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are painful, disruptive and all too common: More than half of adult women have had a UTI, and many have several recurrences every year. It happens when bacteria travel into the urethra, the duct through which urine passes; women are more susceptible because the urethra is shorter than in men, but guys can get them too. Left untreated, UTIs can have serious complications, including recurrent infections, urethral narrowing and kidney damage. While UTIs may not be completely avoidable, dietary choices can reduce your risk. Focus on anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and immune-boosting meals, drink plenty of water and try these six foods to ward off bacteria and protect your insides.
Cranberry juice may help prevent UTIs by keeping bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract. Though research is mixed, many studies show cranberry juice can decrease the recurrence of UTIs. A recent meta-analysis of seven clinical trials in healthy women found cranberry reduced the risk of developing a UTI by 26%. Because most cranberry juice drinks are loaded with sugar, stick to cranberry concentrates and mix them with water, or use the whole fruit.
Try this: Sweeten cranberry juice concentrate with a little honey or stevia then mix with cherry juice, sparkling water and a squeeze of lime; chop whole cranberries in a food processor then combine with minced red onion, mango cubes, cilantro and a squeeze of lime for a zesty salsa.
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Broccoli is high in vitamin C, which helps make the urine more acidic and hampers the growth of bacteria that cause UTIs. In one study of pregnant women, those who took vitamin C had a significantly lower risk of developing a UTI. And vitamin C boosts immune function overall, helping the body’s resistance to infection. Other foods high in vitamin C: bell peppers, leafy greens, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and oranges.
Try this: Grate broccoli stems and combine with shredded carrots and red cabbage, thinly sliced scallions and a dressing of yogurt, honey and apple cider vinegar; toss broccoli florets with olive oil, garlic and Kalamata olives and roast.
Cinnamon has long been used for its antibacterial properties; it’s rich in compounds that reduce inflammation and hamper the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. Some studies show cinnamon compounds prevent the colonization of E. coli, the bacteria that’s responsible for most UTIs, in the bladder and urethra, and because it’s an anti-inflammatory, it may also ease some of the discomfort associated with UTIs.
Try this: Combine cinnamon sticks, sliced ginger, cardamom pods and vanilla bean in a pot of water, simmer for 10 minutes and strain for caffeine-free chai; mix ground cinnamon into raw honey and coconut oil and use instead of butter on pancakes or toast.
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Papaya, like broccoli, is loaded with vitamin C to support immune function and increase the acidity of urine, hampering bacterial growth. It’s also rich in carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene, antioxidants with powerful immune-boosting properties. Some studies show carotenoids from papaya are three times more bioavailable than carotenoids from carrots or tomatoes. Sweet potatoes, mangos and leafy greens are also high in carotenoids.
Try this: Combine chopped papaya with pineapple, coconut and mint for an easy tropical salad; cook papayas in coconut milk with onions, garlic and curry powder, purée into a creamy soup and top with chopped basil.
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Kefir, a beverage made from fermented milk, is rich in probiotics, beneficial bacteria that may help prevent UTIs by keeping harmful bacteria from growing in the vagina, where they can migrate to the urinary tract and cause infections. Studies suggest probiotics help protect against UTIs and prevent their recurrence; they’ve also been shown to reduce inflammation and support the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Other good sources of probiotics: yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Try this: Purée kefir, papaya, cardamom and honey in a blender for a traditional lassi; combine kefir, quick oats, chia seeds, vanilla and cinnamon and let stand until thick for easy, no-cook oats.
Garlic is high in allicin and other compounds that have antibacterial and antimicrobial activities and enhance immune function. It has been shown to protect against a variety of bacteria, including E. coli, and studies suggest it can be an effective treatment for recurring UTIs. In one study, garlic extract had more antibacterial activity against UTI pathogens than commonly used drugs. Because allicin is easily damaged by heat, raw garlic is the most effective.
Try this: Press whole garlic cloves in a garlic press, add to olive oil and drizzle over cooked vegetables; finely mince garlic and whisk with minced ginger, miso paste, rice vinegar and sesame oil for an easy Asian dressing.
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SUPPLEMENTS TO BEAT UTIs
D-MANNOSE, a sugar that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, may help prevent UTIs. A number of studies have shown that D-mannose can inhibit the adhesion of bacteria to cells in the urinary tract, binding to them and then allowing them to be eliminated via urination. A randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial has shown that 2 grams per day of D-mannose was superior to a placebo and as effective as the antibiotic nitrofurantoin in preventing UTIs. In another study, D-mannose reduced UTI symptoms in women with an active infection and was more effective than antibiotics for preventing infections.
CRANBERRY SUPPLEMENTS, made from powdered cranberry juice, contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), antioxidants that have been shown to inhibit adherence of E. coli, the bacteria most commonly linked to UTIs, to cells lining the urinary tract. Several reviews have found cranberry products significantly reduced the incidence of UTIs after 12 months compared with a placebo in women with recurrent infections, and some studies show cranberry can decrease recurrences by 30 to 40% in premenopausal women with recurrent UTIs. And while some studies show prophylactic antibiotics are slightly more effective than cranberry capsules, they also found antibiotics had more adverse effects, including the risk of antimicrobial resistance and infection from C. difficile or fungi. While dosages varied, most studies used 500 milligrams cranberry fruit powder per day.
PROBIOTICS, beneficial bacteria that prevent the overgrowth of pathogens, may protect against UTIs. Studies suggest certain Lactobacilli strains interfere with the adherence, growth and colonization of pathogenic bacteria and restore healthy bacteria in the urogenital tract. In one study, women who used a vaginal suppository containing Lactobacillus strains had significantly fewer UTIs. Researchers believe oral probiotics also hold promise, since they don’t lead to antibiotic resistance or overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.
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