If you’ve been dealing with frequent UTIs and a never-ending cycle of antibiotics, you are probably ready to break away from the hamster wheel and this is when herbal remedies for UTI could come to the rescue.
Herbal remedies use (mostly) plant-based herbs to improve health and prevent and treat illness. They are a great resource for those of us suffering from UTIs.
Humans have used herbal remedies for millennia and therefore, herbs have a much longer track record than all modern medicine’s antibiotics put together! Take a quick look at the ultimate UTI supplement guide for an overview.
Herbs take a well-rounded approach to treating UTIs:
- They prevent UTI causing bacteria from growing (like antibiotics)
- Help flush out the bladder (diuretics/acquaretics)
- Heal the bladder wall (demulcents)
- Decrease pain and inflammation (analgesic/anti-inflammatory)
- And since UTIs are a multi-faceted issue, herbs can provide the required additional healing properties. Often, you can take a combination of herbs to help knock out your UTI from all different sides.
There is a strong tradition of both Eastern and Western herbal medicine (Chughtai, 2016) to treat UTIs. Needless to say, these are a huge topic and we will only scratch the surface. We will go over several common herbal remedies for UTI and the ingredients specifically benefiting UTIs.
Sadly, there is not as much clinical research in the field of herbal medicine but more studies are beginning to look at this.
Important: If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have major medical problems touch base with your doctor before starting any herbal remedy (especially if you want to take the diuretic herbs).
Western Herbal Remedies For UTI
Western herbal medicine has a long tradition and tends to have more medical research behind it than Eastern Herbal Medicine. The herbs are often of European or North American origin, but also include herbs from other parts of the world (Yarnell, 2016).
Herbal remedies for UTIs: Antimicrobials
Juniper (Juniperus sp.): the crown jewel of herbal remedies for UTIs
The female cone (not berry) of the juniper is a common, powerful and well-rounded treatment for UTI (as well as many other conditions such as migraines and asthma).
- An antiseptic and antimicrobial (prevents bacteria and fungi from growing),
- A diuretic
- And an analgesic among other properties.
According to some studies, Juniper is able to kill E. coli (the number one UTI causing bacteria) that is resistant to all antibiotics. Furthermore, it also is high in antioxidants, which slows down or stops aging and damage to our cells.
Even at very high doses, juniper is not toxic to humans. In fact, it protects the kidney from very aggressive medications that tend to damage them.
Juniper is used to treat and prevent UTIs. For an active infection, a tincture should be taken every two to four hours for the first two to three days then decreased to three times daily. (Yarnell, 2016). Juniper species are interchangeable, so you can use the common juniper, Utah juniper or one seed juniper.
Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi): a pop star of herbal remedies for UTIs
The leaf of Uva ursi is another common remedy for UTIs. This wonderful herb has the following properties:
- An antiseptic
- A diuretic
- And decreases inflammation.
The dried leaves contain a compound that converts to hydroquinone, which is strongly antimicrobial.
You can take uva ursi as a tincture or a tea, although the taste of the tea is quite strong. You may have been told to take it for less than two weeks because the hydroquinone can hurt our livers. However, liver problems are rare because our body converts uva ursi into inactive compounds that are not harmful to the liver. (Yarnell, 2016).
A double-blinded randomized clinical trial showed that uva ursi decreases the number of recurring UTIs without any adverse effects.
Like Juniper, take it every two to four hours for the first two or three days of UTI symptoms then cut back to three times daily until symptoms resolve. Beware: it may cause an upset stomach, so take it with food.
Some people also recommend you keep your urine alkaline for uva ursi to work best, so you may not want to take cranberry at the same time.
Other herbs in this group are pointleaf manzanita (A. pungens) and madrone (Arbutus menziesii).
Juniper, Uva ursi, Rosemary
Juniper, Uva Ursi, Goldenrod, Nettle leaf, Dandelion
Corn silk, Couch grass, Marshmallow root
Juniper, Uva ursi, Goldenrod
Adapted from (Yarnell, 2016)
Herbal Remedies for UTI: Diuretics/Aquaretics
Golenorod (E. solidago canadensis), nettle leaf (urtica dioica) and dandelion (taraxacum officinale) leaf are all aquaretics.
Aquaretics flush out the system by removing water while diuretics remove water and important electrolytes. Therefore, you only need to replace water with aquaretics, whereas you must replace lost electrolytes when you take diuretics.
Electrolytes are minerals like salt, calcium, and magnesium that we can lose with water. If you’ve lost electrolytes, good replacements include coconut water, electrolyte waters, or if severe, you can try a home-made rehydration drink. (how do you do this?}
Goldenrod is also anti-inflammatory and tends to work well with ginger (Yarnell, 2016). Take with water and drink at least 4 cups per day. It is a great herb to take for long-term prevention of UTIs.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a diuretic that also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is cool and drying (see Eastern Herbal Medicine section), which helps to relieve severe pain with urination (dysuria).
Buchu (Barosma betulina) is another herbal diuretic that decreases bladder spasms, which are those strong, somewhat painful and very urgent sensation that makes you feel that you need to urinate, even if you don’t. (Yarnell, 2016).
Buchu is not very strong and often has to be taken in combination with other herbs to get a good result.
Herbal remedies for UTIs: Demulcents
Cornsilk (Zea mays), Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) and Couch grass rhizome (Elymus repens) are all cooling and decrease irritation in the bladder’s mucus membranes.
Think of the mucous membranes like the inside of your mouth. UTIs, especially frequent ones, cause a lot of damage to this sensitive layer of the bladder and it’s important to restore and heal it.
Cornsilk is also a diuretic, antiseptic and increases your natural immune response to fight the infection.
Marshmallow root (or leaf)
Marshmallow root tends to be soothing. In addition, it likely decreases bladder pain and can be helpful for chronic bladder pain syndromes.
Couch grass may also be a mild diuretic as well. These herbs are helpful in treating the acute symptoms, especially pain and urgency, of a UTI.
Other natural demulcents
Chondroitin sulfate, aloe vera, and hyaluronic acid also help to protect your bladder’s mucosa. This group specifically heals the glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) layer of the bladder mucosa, which protects, lubricates and produces mucus (which is good!).
Most of the studies on hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate look at intravesical therapies (which means your doctor puts them directly into your bladder via a urinary catheter). This makes it a good option for people with chronic bladder pain syndrome (CBPS) or interstitial cystitis (IC).
If you want a less invasive option, Freeze dried aloe vera is a pill you can take twice a day. Many people, especially with CBPS/IS, say it helps their symptoms, where other medications did not. Be aware that this is a long-term treatment and don’t expect the results in less than a month.
Herbal remedies for UTI: Anti-adhesives
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is a well-known treatment for UTIs because it blocks bacteria from sticking to the mucous membranes of the bladder and starting a UTI.
The key ingredients are proanthocyanidins (PACs), which have a long track record of treating E. coli (still the most common UTI causing bug!). Cranberry can be useful at preventing UTIs or treating them when you just start getting symptoms, but it doesn’t work as well for a full blown and symptomatic UTI.
Unfortunately, recent studies are questioning how effective cranberry is for UTIs.
The jury is out, but as long as you are not drinking sweetened cranberry juice or juice cocktails, it almost certainly does not hurt.
It is noteworthy that you must drink a lot of cranberry juice (16 oz or more a day) to have an effect.
Therefore, it is often more feasible to take pills, which allows you to know exactly how much of the active ingredient you are getting. You should take either 1000 mg three times a day or at least 36 PACs daily.
Cranberry also acidifies the urine, which prevents bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall, but this is only a short-term effect.
Did you know that Blueberries (V. corgymbosum) and evergreen huckleberry (C. parvicolium) work like cranberry? These make a nice alternative if you are a bit tired of cranberries!
Combinational Herbal Products
Since effective herbal remedies for UTI need to combine all important properties, you can buy a ready-made herbal blend.
There are several herbal blends specifically for UTIs that you may find at an herbal or a health store. Check their ingredient list and know that not every herb works for everybody, so you may have to test out a few to get the results you want.
UTI E-Drops and UTI E-Drops NANO
An herbal supplement that has a long track record is the UTI E-drops. UTI E-drops have been used in Europe since the late 1980s and is approved by Health Canada to be used in North America.
There are several versions: the original UTI E-drops, the UTI E-drops plus, used for severe infections like prostatitis, and the newer E-drops nano, which uses nanotechnology to improve our body’s absorption of the active ingredients.
The nano version is not as natural because it uses soy lecithin and other compounds to boost absorption.
UTI E- drops contain juniper, lavender, eucalyptus, and Siberian pine.
The juniper is the workhorse of this formulation, but the others are useful for infections as well.
For example, Lavender is a mild antiseptic and antispasmodic, which helps to decrease pain.
Eucalyptus is an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory herb while Siberian pine is known as the “life-giving” tree and has immune boosting properties.
UTI E- drops are demulcent, antimicrobial and strong diuretics, packing a threefold punch in treating UTIs.
To treat a UTI, it should be taken three times daily until symptoms resolve. For prevention, the tincture can be taken once daily.
While there are no clinical studies supporting its claims, there is a 30-year track record ranging from healthy patients with recurring UTIs to those who have a long-term foley catheter and other urological problems. (personal communication).
Eastern Herbal Medicine And Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Herbal Remedies For UTI
Traditional Chinese Medicine Eastern Herbal Medicine (as this includes Japanese medicine, Kanpo, as well) has at least a 2000 long year history.
A study showed that TCM herbal remedies for UTI are effective in preventing future infections, as well as treating acute UTIs.
More and more research is also showing a benefit of using herbal remedies for UTI in cases when bacteria are resistant to Western antibiotics.
TCM focuses on the theory of yin and yang, namely that there are opposing life forces that must be kept in balance. Yin is dark and deep while yang is light and uplifting and both are needed for harmony. In Japanese medicine, this is known as qi.
There is also a focus on blood stasis or oketsu which is a type of inflammation. Disease, including UTIs arise from an imbalance of yin and yang (or qi).
In TCM, the location of disease, whether it is hot or cold (produces a fever or a chill) and the severity of the symptoms are also very important. Herbal remedies heal when they oppose the disease process and restore balance. (Pickard, 2016).
For UTIs, herbal components are divided based on their benefit for acute versus chronic UTIs. (Pickard, 2016)
TCM For Acute UTIs
Zhu ling tang
Polyporus combination (zhu ling tang): This supports overall bladder health. It “excretes edema without causing dryness,” similar to aquaretics herbs. Fu Ling, one of the diuretic ingredients, is also calming and improves digestion.
Zhu ling tang also contains Hua shi, which is pure talcum and works as a diuretic, while drying and cooling the body. Sheng di huang prevents overdiuresis (the loss of too much water).
Some of the components have been evaluated for their benefit in treating UTIs in the Chinese medical literature.
Take it three times daily for best results when you have UTI symptoms.
Long dan xie gan tang
Gentiana Combination (long dan xie gan tang): this supports the bladder and vaginal health and is used for acute infections.
Due to its potency, it should be used for only 10 days at most. Many of the ingredients are “cool and drying,” which opposes the heat and dampness associated with a UTI.
Ingredients include dang gui and sheng di huang which both support and nourish the blood and cool and dry the body. There are also multiple diuretics. Finally, Gan Cao (licorice) is added for sweetness and harmony and to prevent GI upset.
It is one of the most commonly used herbal remedies in China and is also used for promoting liver health.
TCM For Chronic UTIs
Qing xin lian zi yin
Lotus seed combination (qing xin lian zi yin): This supports the bladder and vaginal health and improves stress.
Its contains Lian zi, or lotus seed, which is calming and decreases burning with urination. It includes multiple diuretics as well as licorice for sweetness.
Take it twice daily for prevention and three times daily if you have current symptoms.
Ba wei di huang wan
Rehmannia 8 (ba wei di huang wan): It is also known as the kidney qi pill.
This blend regulates urination, supports vaginal and bladder health while relaxing the lower belly muscles. An important ingredient is Mu dan pi, which helps with water metabolism, a key component of kidney function.
The ingredients increase body fluid production as well as cause diuresis. It also includes Rou Gui (cinnamon bark) which is anti-inflammatory. It can be taken daily.
Honorable mention for symptomatic treatment
Gosha-jinki-gan (GJG) is a traditional Chinese blended herbal medicine composed of 10 different herbs. It is unique in that is has been studied rather extensively for bladder health.
Most of the studies look primarily at overactive bladder (the “uh-oh gotta go” feeling). While this is not specific for infections, multiple studies show that it improves the sense of urgency and frequency that is often found in UTIs. Be aware that some people notice mild diarrhea and upset stomach with this herb.
A quick word about the role of herbal remedies for UTI and antibiotics
Many herbal remedies for UTI are synergistic with antibiotics, improving the effects of the antibiotics and decrease antibiotic resistance.
For example, uva ursi improves the effect of antibiotics like Keflex.
Rosemary and milk thistle also reduce antibiotic resistance and green tea, with its high levels of antioxidants also blocks a common pathway antibiotics use to gain resistance (Yarnell, 2016). This is very useful for people who have UTIs that are resistant to many different antibiotics.
Of course, always touch base with your doctor if you are taking antibiotics as some herbal remedies, especially at higher doses can interact with modern medicines and cause side effects.
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