Up to 60 percent of women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. UTIs are one of the most common reasons why women visit their healthcare professionals and women are 10 times more likely to get a UTI than men. With an estimated 150 million cases in the world each year, the resulting healthcare cost is around $6 billion, not to mention the lost time from work and other normal activities.
Women are 10 times more likely to suffer from urinary tract infections than men.
Sexual activity is one of the most common risk factors in acquiring a UTI and is part of the reason why so many women will experience a recurrence of the infection -- 30-40 percent of women will get another UTI within six months of the first infection. Over time, the conventional treatment, which is almost always antibiotics, stops working as well, requiring stronger or new antibiotics that can cause potentially harmful side effects and make your body more resistant to antibiotics when you really need them.
Signs and symptoms of a UTI include:
- Burning or pain when urinating
- More frequent than normal urination or a sudden, urgent need to urinate
- Lower abdomen pain or cramping
- Blood or pus in your urine or a strong smell to your urine
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Fever, chills, nausea or vomiting
UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body. Your body produces lots of natural agents inside the bladder, which keep urine sterile, but if bacteria enters the urethra, the bladder or urinary tract can get infected. The bacteria can come from a number of sources, but in most cases a UTI is caused by bacteria in fecal matter that travels to the area around the urethra. This bacteria, most commonly E. coli (Escherichia coli), is the infecting agent in 70-75% of UTI cases.
However, there are other risk factors that make you more likely to develop a UTI as well. These include:
- New or multiple sex partners or frequent or intense sexual intercourse
- Irritation from harsh skin cleansers or contraceptives like diaphragms or spermicides
- Taking birth control pills
- Having a history of UTIs, especially if you had more than one in six months
If you suspect you have a UTI, your health care provider will feel your abdomen and the area around your kidneys and will also do a urine test to check for infection. The typical medical treatment for a UTI is a 1-10 day round of antibiotics. However, patients with frequent urinary tract infections may also be placed on a low-grade dose of antibiotics that they take every day as a way to prevent new UTIs from occurring.
The most common antibiotic used for UTIs is trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX, brand names Bactrim, Septra). But, unfortunately, new antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli have begun appearing that don't respond to treatment with TMP-SMX. So health care professionals have begun to try other antibiotics in the penicillin, cephalosporins, or fluoroquinolone families. It is feared that the bacteria may become resistant to these antibiotics as well.
Problems with Conventional Treatment
The first problem with conventional antibiotic treatment of UTIs is that antibiotics often have unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. These can include:
- Stomach upset, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Vaginal itching or discharge
- Allergic reactions
- Headache or dizziness
- Photosensitivity (making it easy to get sunburned)
What Are Probiotics?
In one study of women with nearly constant UTIs, after taking oral probiotics for several days a number of the women had all of their symptoms disappear.
Probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods like yogurt but are also available in supplement form. In some countries, probiotics are considered a normal part of daily nutrition and digestive health.
In the United States, interest in probiotic foods and supplements is on the rise. Some health care professionals have begun recommending probiotics for digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. Research also indicates that probiotics may help prevent and treat UTIs.
Probiotics for UTIs
In the healthy vagina and urogenital area, there are more than 50 different microorganisms. Depending on your age and your exposure to different factors, the composition of these microorganisms changes. When you take antibiotics or use products like spermicide, the balance can be disturbed. The same can happen when E. coli or other bacteria are introduced.
In premenopausal women, a healthy vaginal environment is dominated by a type of microorganism called lactobacilli. When a UTI occurs, tests show that the lactobacilli are greatly depleted. However, probiotics may help keep the population of lactobacilli healthy and strong, which can help prevent bacteria from gaining hold and turning into a UTI.
In one study, lactobacilli probiotics were administered by vaginal suppository to women who had a history of recurrent UTIs. Results showed that 27% of the placebo group had another UTI within 10 weeks, whereas only 15% of the women taking the probiotic had another UTI in the same time period.
In another study, women who douched with a probiotic solution had a significant increase in the time between infections. A second phase of the study showed that the use of probiotic vaginal suppositories reduced the recurrence of UTIs by 79% over a year. Success has also been seen when taking probiotics following treatment with antibiotics. The antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, which means they also kill the lactobacilli. Probiotics help restore the lactobacilli before bacteria can re-infect the urinary tract.
Although vaginal application of lactobacilli seems to have the most impact on preventing or reducing UTIs, oral ingestion of probiotics can help as well. A daily dose of probiotics can travel through the gut, exit the rectum and support the lactobacilli in the vagina.
In a study of women who suffered from nearly constant UTIs, after taking oral probiotics for several days a number of the women had all of their symptoms disappear. The researchers estimate that between 50-90% of women would have healthier levels of vaginal lactobacilli within 1-2 weeks of taking daily probiotics.
Probiotics for General Health
Probiotics have also shown promise in treating certain digestive disorders. The most promising treatments have been seen for infants and children who have infectious diarrhea. With probiotic treatment, studies show a reduction rate of up to 60% as compared to a placebo. Several studies show that probiotics can also help prevent recurrences of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. A healthy digestive tract also promotes a healthier immune system in general.
Some preliminary research shows that probiotics may also:
- Help prevent the development of allergies in children
- Help patients deal with negative antibiotic side effects
- Decrease the risk of certain cancers
- Help prevent cavity-producing bacteria in your mouth
With probiotics, it's all about survival. Probiotic organisms must survive three critical barriers to be of benefit -- the manufacturing process, time on the shelf, and most importantly, transit through the acidic environment of your stomach. Probiotic Synergy™ is formulated to handle all of the above, presented in moisture-resistant BIO-tract Probiospheres® that enhance stability and the ultimate delivery of probiotic organisms to your intestinal tract.
More Natural Help for UTIs
In addition to taking probiotics, there are other natural ways you can help prevent the recurrence of UTIs. Certain lifestyle changes can help, such as:
- Drinking plenty of fluids like water and herbal teas and avoiding caffeinated and high- sugar beverages
- Drinking unsweetened cranberry and blueberry juice
- Urinating before and after sexual intercourse
- Avoiding sex while you are under treatment for a UTI
- Eating antioxidant-rich and high-fiber foods while avoiding refined foods that contain trans fats and sugar
- Ask your health care practitioner about taking daily multivitamins and supplements such as vitamin C, omega-3 fats and L-glutamine. UT Synergy is another promising option, which features UTIrose™, a patented extract of the hibiscus species designed specifically for urinary tract infections that is high in certain organic acids and polyphenols, especially flavonoids and proanthocyanidins.
These compounds give UTIrose™ anti-microbial (especially against E. coli and C. albicans) and bacterial anti-adhesive properties. In an in-vivo study, patients receiving 200mg daily of UTIrose™ experienced a 57% reduction in urinary tract infections after 3 months and a 77% reduction in urinary tract infections after six months of use.
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