Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Urinary tract infection (UTIs) involve the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and/or urethra (the urinary tract). Any portion of the urinary tract can become infected, almost always by bacteria. As a rule, the higher up the infection, the more serious it is. Infection in the upper urinary tract generally affects the kidneys while infection in the lower urinary tract usually affects the bladder (cystitis).
UTIs are common overall, accounting for more than 8 million visits to medical offices and hospitals each year in the United States and are second only to respiratory infection as the most common type of infection. Somewhere around 40 percent of women and 12 percent of men will have a UTI at some point in their lives. Often, a simple course of antibiotics can clear up the infection, but as concerns grow about the overuse of antibiotics and the resulting development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, more and more people are looking for effective, natural ways to treat UTIs. Here are three of the best.
Remedy 1: Soothe UTIs with Shatavari Root
Shatavari root (Asparagus racemosus), a relative of asparagus, is particularly rejuvenating to the female reproductive system and urinary tract. This herb, which contains phytoestrogens, is used as an effective moisturizer for the membranes of the lungs, digestive tract, and, like other asparagus species, the kidneys and urinary tract.
Shatavari is used to strengthen the immune system. Research has also shown that it can reduce the effects of oxidative stress. This triple punch—membrane soothing, immunity, and stress reduction—makes an ideal remedy for an acute UTI.
Shatavari is related to the Western asparagus root, which has similar properties. Women in Asia start shatavari at puberty, and often take
1 to 2 grams per day for long stretches of time. To treat a bladder infection, you may need a higher dose: work up gradually to the dose that is effective, about 7 grams per day. If your symptoms worsen or do not resolve within 24–48 hours, seek medical attention.
Remedy 2: Dissolve UTIs with Cranberry
American cranberry was the first fruit in the world to display a government-approved health claim. The claim, approved by AFSSA (Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments), which applies only to the North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), states that the fruit can “help reduce the adhesion of certain E. coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls.”
To carry the claim, products must contain at least 36 mg of proanthocyanidins, plant compounds that are responsible for inhibiting the adhesion of certain bacteria to cell walls. This is the newest explanation for cranberry’s use in preventing UTIs. Cranberry juice has been shown to reduce the number of symptomatic UTIs over a 6-month period. Cranberry juice also reduces kidney stone formation and periodontal disease.
Related: 5 Amazing Cranberry Benefits
Remedy 3: Kill and Cool with Herbs
I rely on turmeric (Curcuma longa) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), both of which are cooling and anti-inflammatory. Use 1–4 Tbs. per day of powdered turmeric, mixed into something mushy, such as yogurt. Or try an extract with high curcumin content: 97 percent curcumin extract, in capsules, at a dose of about 2 grams per day.
Goldenseal is antibacterial and astringent, so it will heal bladder tissue. A UTI may not involve infection, but if it does, goldenseal will eliminate the bacteria that are usually responsible. Use about 16 grams per day, in capsules, for one week.
Finally, uva-ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a native plant that has an excellent record as a urinary antibacterial. It contains arbutin, which becomes activated in the urine to form an antibacterial called hydroquinone.