“When it’s your 20th UTI, you start to look for an alternative treatment for chronic UTI rather than another round of antibiotics”, says Dr. Claire Graser. Her clinic often becomes “the last resort” for women who have been suffering from urinary tract infections for a long time.
Dr. Graser practices naturopathic medicine with expertise in women’s health, hormone balancing, holistic detoxification, weight loss, anxiety and stress management at the San Francisco Natural Medicine clinic. I was thrilled to discuss UTI treatment strategies she uses with her clients.
Alternative treatment for chronic UTI
Did your primary care doctor sit down with you to discuss your diet, stress level, and everyday health challenges? Have your physician ordered anything besides a urine culture test? Perhaps, that’s why you are stuck in a recurrent UTI cycle. Or maybe you keep getting UTIs because your treatment plan is yet another round of antibiotics, that depletes your natural microbiome and leaves you even more vulnerable for the next infection?
According to Dr. Graser, too often primary care physicians keep prescribing antibiotics without verifying an active infection is present. Unfortunately for chronic UTI sufferers, their symptoms are not always a sign of bacterial overgrowth. In some cases, UTI-like symptoms are caused by chronic pelvic pain and painful bladder syndrome due to nerve damage and chronic inflammation.
“Chronic UTIs may eventually lead to chronic pelvic pain”, says Dr. Graser.
Natural treatment for the whole body
#1 Wholistic diagnosis
Dr. Graser’s fascination with natural medicine started at a young age: “My grandparents were involved in an international seed exchange and would often take me on the field trips to look for the seeds. I was excited to find wildflowers, berries, learn their names and properties and this was my first introduction to botany. I learned to appreciate plants and their practical use”.
Besides being well skilled with Eastern and Western herbs, Dr. Claire shares the naturopathic medicine philosophy to look at the whole person instead of an isolated organ or a symptom. Therefore, if you present with chronic urinary tract infection symptoms, these are tests that she might order for you:
- A urine culture test to confirm the infection,
- A blood panel test (including vitamin D3 levels, Thyroid panel, and Hemoglobin A1c
- A stool test to evaluate gastrointestinal health since your gut microbiome influences the vaginal flora,
- An adrenal fatigue test to understand if current levels of stress are impacting your immune system.
After performing a thorough examination and looking at your test results, Dr. Graser will discuss your diet, sleep habits and stress management to complete your health assessment and decide on a course for an alternative treatment for chronic UTI.
Natural UTI treatment options
#2 Herbs and supplements
If the tests confirm that acute infection is present, patients may be advised to drink diluted unsweetened cranberry juice, D-Mannose, and take the herbal formula for UTI that consists of soothing herbs like corn silk, antimicrobials like buchu, juniper, uva-ursi, and kava for pain relief.
Once acute symptoms subside, it will be important to take measures to support the immune system, improve daily hydration, promote healthy vaginal and gut flora with potent probiotics and better diet, as well as implement some lifestyle changes (no thongs, loose-fitting cloth, better hygiene etc.).
#3 Stress reduction
Since stress causes hormonal imbalance and negatively affects human microbiome (the beneficial bacteria that inhibit your body and help prevent infections), it’ll be important to manage stress (plants like schizandra, lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm can be prescribed) on a daily basis.
#4 Healing your bladder
In addition, Dr. Graser also recommends adding aloe juice (2-3 times a day) to heal the bladder and to balance your immune system, especially after an acute infection. In a similar fashion, drinking a cold infusion of marshmallow root (at least a cup or two per day) can help heal the bladder lining.
#5 Combating bacterial biofilms
“When it comes to persistent, chronic infections it is important to destroy bacterial biofilms in order to eradicate the infection”, says Dr. Graser.
A “biofilm” is a complex ecosystem that allows bacteria to survive. Moreover, antibiotics are often ineffective because of their slow or incomplete penetration into the deepest layers of biofilms. The biofilm, due to its complex structure, constitutes an effective barrier to the antibiotics used in the treatment of urinary tract infections and therefore renders antibiotic treatment ineffective.
Read more about bacterial biofilms here.
Dr. Graser in her practice uses N-acetylcysteine (NAC), to aid the eradication of mature biofilms and to inhibit new biofilm production.
Health tips for holistic health from Dr. Claire
“Auto-immune problems, chronic pain, and allergies seem more common nowadays than they were a century ago. Stress and environmental toxic burden are probably the biggest contributors to modern illness & diseases. They impact the microbiome that is essential to optimal health and one of the most important factors that modify your immune system response”, says Dr. Graser.
Here are some tips that you can implement today to live a healthier life:
- It’s really helpful to go to bed early (10:30 pm) and get 8 hours of sleep. Don’t take pride in your sleep deprivation, it affects your cardiovascular health and leads to hormonal imbalances.
- For 30 min before bed allow yourself no screen time to quiet down your adrenaline system. Cortisol should be dropping at night and melatonin should increase gradually to allow for a restful night.
- Establish a “sleepy time” routine: make some herbal tea, read a relaxing book. Winding down is important for the quality of sleep!
- Use blackout curtains, noise-canceling earplugs.
- Make sure to eat 20 grams of protein three times a day. Why? Protein-rich breakfast helps to stabilize your blood sugar. In turn, it helps you to decrease your anxiety and stress level throughout the day.
- Choose healthy drinks. Coffee dehydrates you and depletes minerals that your body requires to function well. Get 64 ounces of water daily. Fatigue and constipation are two problems that frequently stem from simple dehydration. Constipation is a known factor that contributes to chronic UTIs.
If you find yourself in a cycle of recurrent urinary tract infections, perhaps it’s time to try an alternative treatment for chronic UTI. Instead of spending five minutes with your primary care doctor to obtain a prescription for antibiotics, see if a holistic approach can work better.
It’s okay if you have never thought about how the aspects of your stressful life could be contributing to your chronic disease; as many naturopathic professionals, Dr. Graser believes that a doctor is, first of all, a teacher. She loves to educate her patients and will spend the time to help you connect the dots and to find the way to your optimal health.