A burning sensation, frequent urges to go, or embarrassing leaks are types of urinary tract problems that can be occasional, frequent, or chronic. "Herbs can substantially improve the condition," says Guido Masé, herbalist, educator, and author of The Wild Medicine Solution, "especially if it's chronic or happens five or six times a year."
Infection or Inflammation?
Frequent urges to go, burning, or irritation, may mean bacterial infection (also called a urinary tract infection or UTI) or inflammation in the bladder or urethra. How do you tell the difference?
"Bacterial infections tend to come on quickly, with a vengeance, and get worse during the course of the day," says Masé. Inflammation is less sudden, gentler, and fluctuates in intensity.
For bacterial infection, cranberry doesn't kill bacteria, but stops it from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. Masé recommends 1,000-1,500 mg of cranberry in capsules, 2-3 times daily with plenty of water. You can also drink unsweetened cranberry juice (juice is safe during pregnancy). If you're not pregnant, you can also take an uva ursi extract to help kill bacteria. Start with an initial dose of 1 tsp. mixed in 8 oz. of water, and follow with 1-2 droppers mixed with 8 oz. of water every 1-2 hours. If you're pregnant, substitute an echinacea extract to knock out the bacteria. Mix 1 tsp. in water or tea for an initial dose, and follow with 1 dropper mixed in water or tea every couple of hours. And drink plenty of fluids.
To calm inflammation, brew the following mixture of whole herbs in 1 quart of hot water for 15 minutes: 2 heaping Tbs. each of goldenrod, meadowsweet, and marshmallow root. Strain and drink throughout the day. This herbal tea also soothes the symptoms of a bacterial infection, but it doesn't treat the bacteria.
See a doctor immediately if you experience fever or pain in your back or side (between the rib cage and hips), as this could indicate a kidney infection, which is serious and requires immediate treatment with antibiotics.
We generally think of incontinence as an inability to control the bladder, but it can also mean frequent urges to go to the bathroom. These, says Masé, are some possible causes and herbal remedies:
Lax Muscles-Sphincter muscles can become lax, from pregnancy or age. Herbs with astringent qualities can help restore muscular tone. Masé recommends either of these herbs in extracts or capsules, rather than teas, to avoid taking in too much fluid:
Red Raspberry Leaf: This herb is safe enough to use during pregnancy. It is traditionally used as a tonic during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester to help decrease postpartum hemorrhaging and vaginal tissue stretching. It can also be used by women as a remedy for incontinence.
Lady's Mantle: Another tonic for incontinence and vaginal bleeding, this one is traditionally used after childbirth, but not during pregnancy. Masé recommends it for older women experiencing incontinence.
Stress and Urge Incontinence-Stress incontinence is triggered by movements such as coughing or sneezing. It is best addressed by working with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehabilitation. Urge incontinence is due to contraction of bladder muscles. Take cramp bark to relax bladder muscles.
How to Use Incontinence Remedies
- Red Raspberry Leaf (to tone lax sphincter muscles): Take 1 tsp. liquid extract twice daily, or 1,500 mg in capsules, twice daily. (Safe during pregnancy.)
- Lady's Mantle (to tone lax sphincter muscles): Take 1 tsp. liquid extract twice daily, or 1,500 mg in capsules, twice daily. (Do not take during pregnancy.)
- Cramp Bark (to calm stress-induced incontinence): Take 1/2 tsp. of an extract, 3-4 times daily, or in capsules, 500 mg, 3-4 times daily. An extract works faster than capsules.
Small Berry = Big Benefits
The cranberry has long been typecast in the role of UTI remedy, but this jewel-hued fruit offers health advantages that go well beyond bladder support.
- Healthier gums. In the same way that cranberry deters bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, it can also prevent bacteria from sticking to gums, thereby reducing periodontal disease risk. Look for it in natural toothpaste and mouthwash products (such as Vitacare Multicare Mouthwash in Cool Mint Freshness + Key Lime Extract)
- Stronger heart. Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and anthocyanins, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that protect the heart. Eating the whole berries, as opposed to consuming cranberry juice or extract, may offer greater heart-health benefits, according to research.
- Reduced cancer risk. Several studies have shown that cranberries possess cancer-preventive mechanisms, particularly in the areas of breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers.
- Better digestion. There is some research suggesting that cranberries can help prevent ulcers; the berries appear to work by keeping bacteria from attaching to the stomach lining. Other studies demonstrate that cranberries help establish the optimal balance of bacteria in the gut. -NB
Usnea Uva Ursi Supreme Extract promotes excretion within the kidneys and urinary tract, and maintains a healthy microbial balance within the urinary system.
extract is produced with a process that preserves the active constituents of the plant in the same ratio found in nature.
Cranberry Concentrate capsules are ultra-potent for a more convenient way to get the benefits
of drinking large amounts of juice.
Better Nutrition contributing editor, Vera Tweed is the former editor in chief of GreatLife magazine and the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony and the User's Guide to Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.