Probiotics, especially ones with strains from the Lactobacilli family, may be helpful in preventing urinary tract infections. Because Lactobacilli are present in healthy, premenopausal women, maintaining a balance of these probiotic bacteria may support the body in fighting off the pathogens that cause UTIs.
Having a urinary tract infection (UTI) is very uncomfortable, and typically also negatively impacts your lifestyle and overall health. The majority of people, especially women, will experience a UTI at some point in their life. Some even suffer from recurrent urinary tract infections.
In this blog post, we will go over what UTIs are, what causes them and how they are treated. In addition, we will share several preventative measures you can take against the onset of a UTI and to help decrease the severity of symptoms.
Probiotics are one of these measures. We’ll dive deeper into the multiple, effective ways a high-quality probiotic supplement can help strengthen the body against a UTI.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A Urinary Tract Infection, commonly known as a UTI, is a bacterial infection that occurs in any part of your urinary system, including your urethra, bladder, ureters and kidneys.
Most often, infection occurs in the bladder and urethra, resulting in a feeling of urgency to urinate, frequent urinations and a burning sensation when urinating.
If left untreated and in severe cases, a UTI can affect the kidneys. The bad bacteria causing the infection can enter the bloodstream and have potentially fatal consequences.
How it Starts
A UTI occurs when bad bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) make their way into the urinary system and have the chance to settle and multiply, causing an infection.
The kinds of harmful bacteria that cause UTIs occur in almost all human beings. In a balanced microbiome – the billions of bacteria and microorganisms that live on our bodies, most prevalent in the gut, reproductive parts, and vagina – these bad bacteria do not have the chance to cause any issues because they’re managed by the good bacteria. If the healthy bacterial balance is thrown off, for example in the gut, then bad bacteria, like E. Coli, have the chance to thrive and travel to the vagina and urinary tract, causing infection.
The two most common types of UTIs occur in the bladder or the urethra. In some, more severe cases, the kidneys can be affected.
A bladder infection (or cystitis) is often caused by the harmful bacteria E. coli. This pathogen commonly lives in the gastrointestinal tract. Given female anatomy and the close proximity between the anus, urethra and bladder, it’s possible that E. coli and other bacteria make their way from the anus into the urethra and up to the bladder.
A UTI can also be caused by bad bacteria finding their way to the bladder and urethra in other ways, including through sexual activity, catheters, kidney stones, and insufficient amounts of estrogen in the lining of a woman’s uterus. To add to those, sexually transmitted diseases, like herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia, can also cause an infection of the urethra since it’s so close to the vagina.
In addition, Infection can occur because of a blockage in the urinary tract. The main job of the urinary system is to filter toxins out of the body via urine. If urine collects in the bladder, this creates a hotspot for bad bacteria to grow. This kind of urine build up can be caused by a descended bladder in women and an enlarged prostate in men.
If a UTI is not treated properly, the bad bacteria can travel into the kidneys and cause infection there. This leads to a much more severe and dangerous case of urinary tract infection. These patients often have to be hospitalized.
Symptoms and Risks
Symptoms range depending on what part of the urinary system is infected.
In the case of a bladder infection, patients typically experience frequent and painful urination sometimes with blood in the urine, discomfort in the lower abdomen and pelvic pressure.
When infection occurs in the urethra, there is typically a burning sensation during urination and vaginal discharge.
And if there is an acute kidney infection, people have upper back and side pain, a high fever with shaking and chills, nausea and vomiting.
It’s important to note that a kidney infection can develop even a few weeks after an initial UTI. If you have recently suffered from a UTI, even one with very mild symptoms, and you start experiencing more severe symptoms, seek out a medical professional immediately.
A kidney infection is not to be taken lightly. The pathogenic bacteria can enter the bloodstream and send your body into sepsis, a toxic and sometimes deadly response.
UTIs are extremely common in women. About 60% of women develop a UTI at some point in their life. Female risk factors include female anatomy, sexual activity, certain types of birth control and menopause.
In women, the distance between the anus, urethra and bladder is very short, making it easier for bad bacteria that live in the GI tract to travel into the urinary system. In addition, women have a shorter urethra compared to men, resulting in a shorter distance that bad bacteria have to travel from the urethra to the bladder.
Sexually active women tend to have more UTIs than less sexually active ones. Having new and various sexual partners also increases risk. When it comes to birth control, using diaphragms and spermicides ups the risk of developing a UTI.
During menopause, women experience a decline in estrogen, which causes changes in the urinary tract and can make it more vulnerable to infection.
As mentioned earlier in this article, risk factors for all individuals include blockages in the urinary tract like a descended bladder, an enlarged prostate and kidney stones. Also, catheter use, genetically determined urinary tract abnormalities, a recent urinary procedure and a suppressed immune system can be risk factors.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A urinary tract infection can be diagnosed with a simple urine test. Doctors often treat UTIs with antibiotics. For some individuals with recurring UTIs, doctors may even prescribe antibiotic treatment for several months.
The issue with frequent, long-term and repetitive antibiotic use is that antibiotics also kill the good bacteria in the body, which are so important for many vital functions, including protecting against the growth and spread of bad bacteria. Therefore, taking antibiotics against UTIs often leads people into a vicious cycle of infection, treatment and re-infection.
Given the negative effects of antibiotic use on the body and an increase in bacteria antibiotic resistance, if you have frequent UTIs, it is highly beneficial to try natural ways to reduce your risk of infection.
Also, make sure to support your body by replenishing the good bacteria in your body during and after antibiotic treatment via a multispecies probiotic supplement. This is highly beneficial to promote your overall, long-term health and fitness.
What You Should Do
If you’re exhibiting symptoms of a UTI, first and foremost, call your doctor. The doctor will advise to do a urine test to determine whether or not you have an acute infection. The sooner you catch and treat a UTI, the better.
In many cases, you will have to take an antibiotic to kill the bacteria that are causing the infection in your urinary tract. If you are suffering from recurrent UTIs, you might want to consider seeing a doctor specializing in urology and/or women’s health, in addition to your regular physician.
However, the best case scenario is staying a step ahead of an acute infection and looking to preventative measures for support. These also will help with the prevention of recurrent urinary tract infection.
- Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water. Drinking a lot of water and non-caffeinated fluids will help flush harmful bacteria out of your system via frequent urination.
- Drinking cranberry juice and adding specific foods to your diet. Cranberries, blueberries and other foods are known to help prevent UTIs.
- Taking probiotics. Scientific research has shown that strengthening the gut microbiome via probiotics has a positive effect on preventing UTIs.
- Wiping from front to back. This will help prevent bad bacteria from spreading from your anus to your vagina and urinary system.
- Urinating after sexual intercourse. This helps excrete any foreign, harmful bacteria from your urinary tract that may have entered during intercourse.
- Avoiding irritating feminine products, including certain birth control methods. Spermicide treated and unlubricated condoms, as well as diaphragms can expose you to bad bacteria and contribute to a harmful bacteria overgrowth.
Can Diet Lower Your UTI Risk?
There are certain foods and supplements that can lower the risk of developing a UTI, help fight an acute infection, and help manage a recurrent UTI. These are:
Cranberries – Cranberries help prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract and with that reduce the risk of UTIs. You can add cranberries to your diet, drink unsweetened cranberry juice and/or take a cranberry extract supplement.
Blueberries – Blueberries also help protect against bad bacteria settling in the lining of the urinary tract. Since blueberries are such a versatile and popular berry, it is very easy to add this superfood to your meals (e.g. into a smoothie, on top of yogurt or with granola, and mixed into a salad).
Cinnamon – With its antibacterial properties, cinnamon can be used to reduce the growth of harmful bacteria. It also has anti-inflammatory effects, which may help lower the symptom severity of an acute UTI.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps keep the urine acidic, making the conditions less hospitable for bad bacteria to survive. It is recommended to take between 500 and 1,000 mg of Vitamin C via a high quality supplement. You can also add Vitamin-C-rich foods to your nutrition (e.g. broccoli, papaya, green peppers and leafy greens).
Probiotics – The good bacteria in your microbiome, referred to as probiotics, are powerful aids to help fight against UTIs. Specific probiotic bacteria have the ability to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria commonly leading to UTIs. Probiotics also help restore and maintain the healthy bacterial balance and diversity in the body, ensuring that bad bacteria have less of an opportunity to survive, grow and potentially cause infection.
Urinary Tract Infections and Probiotics
When we refer to the microbiome, we mean the environment of billions of bacteria and microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. Most prevalent areas of the microbiome are the small and large intestines (gut), the reproductive tract and the skin. These are all interconnected; the make-up of bacteria in the gut will affect the health of the vaginal flora as well as the skin, and to a lesser extent vice versa.
As discussed earlier in this article, UTIs are commonly caused by bad bacteria that live in the gut, like E. Coli, and make their way into the urinary system. In a healthy gut microbiome, bad bacteria are less likely to survive and grow, making it less likely for them to enter the urinary system and causing a UTI.
If the healthy bacterial balance and diversity in the gut is disrupted as a result of external factors (e.g. stress, antibiotic use, unhealthy foods), bad bacteria have an opportunity to thrive and lead to issues all over the body.
These external factors can also affect the vaginal microbiome. This can increase the risk for UTIs or yeast infections. A strong vaginal microbiome, on the other hand, can help to inhibit the entry and growth of harmful bacteria and other pathogens including yeast.
Researchers have investigated the link between the urinary microbiota and gut microbiota, and found a significant difference in the makeup of the gut microbiome in individuals prone to UTIs and healthy individuals.
They also found that supplementation with probiotics is a safe and effective way to help prevent urinary tract infections. Especially adding various lactobacillus strains (in this case, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14), which is one type of probiotic species, seems to be a powerful way to prevent UTIs.
If you are looking to add more probiotics to your body, the most effective way to do so is via a scientifically combined, multispecies probiotic supplement. Not all supplements meet the quality standards that make up a good probiotic, especially one that can address a specific health challenge. Make sure that the probiotic you choose has extensive research and studies backing it up, and is manufactured in a way that you will reap all the benefits.
At OMNi-BiOTiC®, we offer a probiotic supplement, OMNi-BiOTiC® BALANCE, that includes probiotic bacteria with the ability to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria that are commonly associated with UTIs. OMNi-BiOTiC® BALANCE includes six, highly important probiotic strains that settle in all parts of the intestines, promoting optimal gut health, leaving less room for bad bacteria to thrive.
In addition, this probiotic supplement helps to strengthen the immune system (80% of which lives in the gut !) in powerful ways, which has become increasingly important in the time of coronavirus COVID-19.