For most bladder infections, a natural approach is usually very effective and the infection resolves quickly without recurrence or complications. The primary goals of a natural therapeutics approach are to:
- enhance the individual’s internal defenses against the infection by providing immune support
- restore vaginal and bladder microflora, enhancing the flow of urine
- promote a proper pH
- prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder epithelium
Increasing the urinary flow is easily accomplished by increasing the quantity of liquids. Water and herbal teas related to the treatment goals are the most logical choices. 64 ounces per day is the common recommendation.
No natural approach to cystitis would be complete without mention of cranberry. Women have used cranberry juice as a home remedy for decades. Several studies have shown that cranberries and cranberry juice are effective in women with active urinary tract infections. In one study, 16 ounces of cranberry juice daily was effective in 73% of individuals with an active infection.1 Cranberry has also been shown to reduce the ability of E. coli to adhere to the lining of the bladder and urethra. Many people still think that the action of cranberry juice is due to acidifying the urine. However, recent studies have shown that components in cranberry juice reduce the ability of E. coli to adhere to the lining of the bladder and urethra.
One of the most useful herbs for bladder infection is uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), also known as bearberry or upland cranberry. The antiseptic, antibacterial and astringent activity of uva ursi is largely due to its arbutin content. Uva ursi is especially active against E. coli as well as having diuretic properties. Uva ursi has also been used with recurrent bladder infections and was very effective in a double-blind study of 57 women. After one year, five of twenty-seven women had a recurrence in the placebo group while none of thirty women had a recurrence in the uva ursi group. Pipsissewa, a Native remedy of the Pacific Northwest, is a traditional remedy for urinary infections. It’s mildly antimicrobial effects have been attributed to its arbutin content.
Oregon grape root is another useful herb in bladder infections due to its antimicrobial properties. Specifically, it has demonstrated antibacterial activity against E. Coli and Proteus species. Oregon grape root and Goldenseal are rich sources of one of the most significant plant based antibacterial active constituents, berberine. Berberine is effective against many bacteria and is also able to fight infections by inhibiting the bacteria from adhering to the host cell.
Other botanicals have been traditionally used for bladder infections with positive effect. The water-soluble mucilage herbs are known to be soothing to the irritated uroepithelium and reduce inflammation. These include corn silk for its soothing and cooling effect on the urinary tract; marshmallow root due to its content of mucilage, which can form a protective layer on the lining of the bladder; and even plantain leaf with its high percentage of mucilage and allantoin. Additional antimicrobial herbs for the bladder include bucchu, myrrh, propolis and juniper berry. Numerous immune stimulants may be helpful including echinacea, osha and wild indigo root. Bladder tonics stimulate the flow of blood and nutrients to the urinary tract and may be useful adjunct herbs. These include nettles leaves, goldenrod, kava kava and horsetail. Dandelion leaf, bucchu and parsley root have diuretic effects and increase the flow of urine to help flush the bacteria.
Probiotics, or “live micro-organisms that confer a health benefit for the host” for the prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs) are useful in establishing and maintaining a proper bladder pH and enhancing a normal ecology of the vagina, urethra and bladder. Lactobacilli dominate the urogenital flora of healthy reproductive aged women. Several in vitro and in vivo studies support the therapeutic benefit of several strains of lactobacilli on the restoration of vaginal ecology and flora and the prevention of recurrent bladder infections. Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus fermentum appear to be the most effective.
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