Herbal and Dietary Help for urinary tract infections

topic posted Sat, November 28, 2009 - 3:25 PM by 
I posted this on a Lyme Disease forum when someone was talking about a urinary tract infection that was resistant to her Lyme antibiotics. People with Lyme sometimes get extremely nasty bladder infections and interstitial cystitis. In normal people who aren't otherwise sick or immune-compromised, this stuff is relatively easy to deal with. I realized that I have a lot of unusual experience with food-based 'tonics' for UTI prevention because of how I was treated for UTI's as a child. If you're prone to them, you may consider adding some basic foods to the diet to help strengthen your kidneys and urinary tract.

Some of these suggestions, like cranberry juice, marshmallow, and uva ursi, are for immediate relief (in my experience, usually something like a day of heavy cranberry use helps the pain, but most of my UTI's haven't been very bad compared to what people with IC experience).

Some of the other suggestions, like adding celery, corn, and parsley (and more water!) to the diet, are more of a long-term 'tonic' to add in order to prevent future infections and to help your urinary system fight the infections better. If you're prone to them, you probably want to add these dietary changes as well as fighting infections when they're active:
Best short-term remedy: drink cranberry juice or take cranberry pills from the health food store (try to get juice that isn't overly sweetened). It'll upset your stomach if you have a lot of it, but you're probably not far from a bathroom anyway. Cranberry and blueberry juice keeps some of the UTI bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder and urinary tract. you should be able to find cranberry pills in even a local drug store or a WalMart, I think - this remedy is quite proven and mainstream, so there are products available that aren't a juice. Please drink extra water if just taking the cranberry pills- the remedy depends on 'flushing' your system, even if it hurts to pee. Regular cranberry 'juice' from the supermarket works too, it's just very sugary.

Also very, very good: an herb called uva ursi really helps in some cases. It might take a few days to help. You basically make a tea of the leaves. there might be a tincture or pill form in the health food stores. it's very common. I only use this in active attacks of UTI's, not every day. It's related to cranberries and blueberries, the leaves look similar to blueberry leaves. It contains antimicrobial agents that are excreted in the urinary tract and are very effective in 'normal' people's cases of UTI. It works better if you also add a mild herbal diuretic such as dandelion tea or corn silk. Drink lots of water with it.

Marshmallow root: is a demulcent that's useful for reducing both urinary and digestive tract inflammation (so if all the other stuff you're doing is causing stomach upset, this might be a good thing to add). I think this is quite safe long-term.

Nettle tea: this is a very useful, low-side-effects herb that is helpful for many conditions and as a source of minerals. It won't help UTI's by itself, but it can help restore mineral balance if you're drinking a lot of water and flushing your body while trying to deal with a UTI, and has a lot of other useful benefits. I think it's one of the herbs Buhner recommends for dealing with kidney stones, too (which is a very different issue than UTI). You can drink nettle tea daily- it's very good with peppermint as a tea, and lots of people swear by it as a good way to deal with poor nutrition. Nutritionally it's basically like eating lots of spinach.

Dandelion leaf tea: this is a diuretic that also happens to contain lots of potassium, which is usually lost when you're taking a pharmaceutical diuretic. It's AWESOME for helping deal with UTI issues. It won't help all on it's own, but as part of an antimicrobial/diuretic/extra water regimen such as cranberry/uva ursi dandelion combo. It's basically a food (you can find commercially cultivated leaves in supermarkets, or pick them yourself if you live rurally and don't use herbicides on your lawn, or buy it dried as a tea from herbal suppliers or at the health food store.

drink LOTS of water. When you're actively suffering from a UTI, drink way, way more than you think you should. I drink water till I nearly have diarrhea when I'm dealing with a UTI- drinking large amounts of water will help flush the bacteria out of the system faster even if it's very unpleasant to deal with this. Get a good book or something and spend the day in the bathroom, you're probably needing to do so due to the frequent urination issue. I've talked to lots of people with UTI's who seem resistant to the idea of drinking extra water because it's so painful to urinate, which is why I stress this issue here. Unfortunately, you really need to flush the urinary tract when you're actively infected so there's no way around drinking and peeing. Really.

eat lots of yogurt, or take probiotics.

There are also several common foods that are very helpful for the urinary tract and kidneys, and help prevent the UTI and similar conditions and help soothe the symptoms while you're actively suffering. One is an "herb" called corn silk- it's literally the threads that you pull off a corn cob when you're husking the cob- and one old remedy is to make a tea with these. you can literally get them off of corn on the cob from the grocery store (I dry them and later can use them as a tea). Right now when I'm writing this, it's not the right season for fresh corn, but you can get corn silk from herbal suppliers (also available as a liquid tincture in a bottle). It's great. It acts as an anti-inflammatory to the kidneys and urinary tract. My grandmother used to make us save the silks when we cooked corn in the summer.

Herbalist Stephen Buhner addresses the issue of UTI's, (ironically, in a book about men's health, even though men don't get UTI's as often as women, although they still have kidney issues and the treatment is similar). He suggests using celery juice (and celery seed, the very common spice), and corn 'juice' (to make corn juice, run some frozen or fresh corn through a juicer or a blender, basically) eaten daily, as a urinary and kidney tonic. I think we all know that corn kernels don't digest well and sometimes just pass through you, so you probably want to do the blender or juicer method rather than just eating corn as is.

avoid coffee while dealing with a UTI!!!!!!!!!!!!!

short term, acute care for serious conditions (with precautions!): juniper berry tea or tincture. I haven't done this myself (although juniper tea is great for lung conditions when you have the flu, and I've used it plenty for that). Buhner suggests taking this short-term if you have a truly stubborn condition. He also said that it is NOT good if you have serious kidney disease. I'm not sure where Lyme patients with mystery IC type conditions fall in all of this. He says to watch the dosage, don't overdo it.

here's his suggestion for juniper use for acute UTI's, from the Vital Man book: 10-20 drops of tincture up to 3 times a day for up to 7 days
swallow the berries whole: 1-3 berries per day for up to 7 days
a tea made from powdered berries- 1 teaspoon of powdered berries in a cup of water, 1-3 times a day, up to 7 days

I had serious UTI's and kidney problems when I was an infant in Russia where healthcare was fairly poor at the time, and one of our child-safe herbal remedies for my serious condition involved near-daily addition of parsley and parsnips to the diet (I think parsnips are a parsley root or a relative of parsley). Many herbalists in the US recommend parsley in various forms too- it's cheap and you really can't overdose on it. You might want to try eating it regularly as tabouli (search for a recipe) or juice it, or put it in a blender with some other juices and drink it as part of a juice or smoothie. Parsnips can be made into a 'mashed potatoes' sort of soup or side dish. Do that regularly for long-term urinary tract support.

non-herbal: there's an over-the-counter pain reliever at the drug store, while you're waiting for slower remedies to work. It's going to stain your urine red, so be careful with these if you have blood in the urine or anything like that. I think there are other side effects possible, so make sure your doctor knows you're taking it if you're dealing with serious or recurring UTI issues. This is probably the best solution to the 'I want to curl up and die and not pee yet again' feeling that keeps you from drinking water while suffering from active UTI.

If you need to order these herbs and can't get them locally, one supplier that is very good is

Some suggestions for 'tonic' (long-term) use:

try to work some of this stuff into your diet. Nettle tea is a great base for soups if you aren't used to drinking herbal tonics daily. Fresh nettles when available are also a good spring 'greens' to use in spinach recipes or other greens recipes. The water from boiling them is eggy tasting and great when added to soups. Dandelion leaves, like nettle, are a vegetable and very good for you because of the high mineral content. You can also add dandelion tea to soups.

Parsley, celery, corn: if you own a juicer and make carrot juice, these are good additions to it. Otherwise, I discovered that 'smoothies' made with vegetable juices like these, along with some fruits thrown in, can be really good. I usually make a banana or frozen mango or frozen berry smoothie and add a little bit of the desired vegetable. It's still sweet like a fruit smoothie but makes the other stuff more interesting.

Puree'd soups like cream of mushroom or cream of potato soup are a great place to hide your parsley/parsnip and celery.
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  • wow, thanks for writing all this up! i only knew about cranberry and uva ursi.
    • there are many more that people have posted about elsewhere in response to this post (I think on the Herbal Medicine tribe here: , and some other non-tribe forums I've posted to). One suggestion was d-mannose= google it, looks like one clinician did a pretty good job of studying his clinic's UTI patients and has a nice writeup about the results with treatment with d-mannose. A number of other herbs work well also.
      • well, ther eis such a thing as overhydrosis.. and it can kill.
        When advising that others drink lots of fluids..please conside rthat people may overdo a good thing. There are documented recent tragedies from this - one from a radio show contest to see who coudl drink the most liquid.
        • drinking sufficuentwater to thirst and comfort for a uti is way different, though, from being told to force fluids and *not urinate* the way the radio case was a stupid and irresponsible thing for the radio station to promote and th poor desperate woman who tried to win a computer game for her children, or herself, was the tragically naive victim. (as were her young children, but that's another matter.) as with anything else, stay attuned to your body when taking water and don't force it beyond your comfort zone. and peeing it out is actually the best thing you can do for yourself when you have stuff irritating your urinary bladder or urethra.

          to quote Joy Gardner from her classic "Healing Yourself" herbal - your kidneys are vital and shouldn't be messed with. there is an intimate and vital relationship between your kidneys and the bloodstream, and the stuff you pee out is what doesn't belong in your blood.
  • Hiya,I've tried D-Mannose before, and it was either that or all of the lemon juice I was adding to my water that helped rid me of a chronic UTI that wasn't going away with antibiotic treatment.That antibiotic managed to majorly screw me up to this day! The last time I went to a doctor, there was no infection at all.Either the D-mannose or lemon juice worked, or I just got lucky.

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