Alternative Approaches: Herbal Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections
Herbal Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections
The term urinary tract infections (UTI) is often used interchangeably with cystitis but, technically a urinary tract infection refers to an infection anywhere in the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. The term cystitis literally means an inflammation of the bladder, which is generally the result of a bacterial infection. The term urethritis is used when the condition is limited to the urethra. When both the bladder and urethra are involved, the term cystourethritis is sometimes used. Flare-ups of symptoms associated with sexual related activity are often referred to as "sex-related cystitis". Sometimes a urinalysis will reveal no bacteria in the urine even though there may be intense, cystitis-like symptoms. These cases are sometimes diagnosed as "frequency-dysuria syndrome" or "acute urethral syndrome" or even "interstitial cystitis". These latter cases are different from cystitis and are treated differently. Untreated bladder infections can sometimes travel up into the kidneys and cause severe, even life-threatening infections. This condition is known as pyelonephritis.
We will be using the term cystitis to mean an inflammation of the bladder either with or without the presence of a bacterial infection. The term urinary tract infection will be used as a more inclusive term to include infections of the ureters, bladder, or urethra and kidneys. An infection of the kidneys, pyelonephritis, will not be treated in this article.
Herbal Actions to Help Resolve Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary Support herbs: provide general healing support for the urinary system. Herbs: agrimony, couchgrass, elder flowers, plantain, yarrow, juniper (not with inflammation), horsetail, Lady's mantle, saw palmetto.
Foundation support herbs- provide overall nutritional and adaptogenic support. Herbs: nettles, red clover, super blue-green algae, astragulus, the ginsengs, acidophilus, burdock.
Demulcents- will help soothe and coat irritated, inflamed tissue. Herbs: marshmallow, comfrey, plantain, violet, mullein, cornsilk.
Antispasmodics- assists in helping the body reduce muscular spasms along the urinary tract. Herbs: marshmallow, hops, red raspberry, scullcap, chamomile.
Alkalizing herbs-may help alkalize the urine. Herbs: sarsaparilla, peppermint, marshmallow, comfrey root., plantain, ginger.
Anti-microbials (including urinary antiseptics) - help overcome and destroy pathogenic bacteria and strengthen the immune responses. Herbs: echinacea, goldenseal, myrrh, burdock, garlic, bilberry, uva ursi, feverfew, honeysuckle, barberry, buchu.
Diuretics- help stimulate the kidney and bladder and increase the flow of urine. Herbs: dandelion, cornsilk, sassafras, juniper berry, fennel, cleavers, uva ursi, horsetail, goldenrod, meadowsweet, pipsissewa, plantain, shepherd's purse
Anti-inflammatory- are indicated to lessen the inflammation that may have been caused by bruising or trauma, or from the present infection. They will assist in lessening the pain and discomfort. Herbs: ginger, echinacea, yellow dock, licorice, gotu kola, comfrey, chamomile, marshmallow.
If there is bleeding-Shepherd's Purse is one of the most effective herbs to stop bleeding of all sorts. It is a diuretic and is useful for genitourinary problems especially bladder infections with bleeding and difficult urination. Marshmallow and plantain will also help stop urinary bleeding.
For cystitis with weakness and exhaustion - beth root, horsetail, hydrangea, corn silk, barberry, black haw.
For kidney involvement including kidney stones- gravel root, marshmallow leaf, couchgrass, barberry, stone root, hydrangea, corn silk, uva ursi.
Juniper berry- contains aromatic compounds that increase the flow of urine. It increases the production of digestive fluids which assists in it absorption. Juniper relieves pain and is antiseptic, diuretic, and stimulant. It is useful in cases of chronic cystitis but is best not used when there is acute inflammation as it may result in irritation of the bladder.
Plantain- has cooling diuretic properties that make it beneficial for kidney and urinary bladder infections.
Dandelion root- contains bitter compounds that enhance the efficiency of the body's eliminative and detoxifying functions. These compounds help restore normal liver function, increase the production of digestive fluids and enzymes, particularly bile. It increases the flow of urine and has a laxative effect. It acts as an effective diuretic. Herbal diuretics help to cleanse the system. By promoting the release of fluids from the tissues it helps to relieve the false sensations of urgency characteristic of cystitis.
Chamomile flowers- contain aromatic compounds that increase the production of digestive fluids, reduce muscle spasms and pains, reduce inflammation and are antiseptic. These compounds have a sedative and relaxing effect.
Couch grass- strongly diuretic with a soothing, anti-inflammatory healing effect on the lining of the bladder. Useful when there is mucus discharge from the bladder with painful and frequent urination.
Cleavers- soothing diuretic, which is useful for acute or chronic cystitis with swollen lymph nodes and uterine inflammation.
Nettles- mild diuretic, which is useful if there is a possibility or history of kidney infection. It builds the blood and is a nutrient rich herb.
Buchu- a urinary antiseptic diuretic and that can also be taken after the acute phase of an infection has passed to restore damaged mucosa. Buchu works as a urinary disinfectant. Its volatile oil stimulates urination and is excreted virtually unchanged by the kidneys, rendering the urine slightly antiseptic. Good for use with a bladder infection accompanied by a burning sensation and if there is acidic urine with a constant desire to urinate with no relief from doing so. It should not be used if there is acute inflammation.
Echinacea- improves overall immune responses, stimulates circulation and removes toxins from the blood. It is also an effective anti-inflammatory. Echinacea contains a natural antibiotic (echinacoside), which is comparable to penicillin in its broad spectrum activity. It also strengthens tissues against assault by invading microorganisms. Body tissues contain a chemical (hyaluronic acid) that acts as a shield against germ attack. Many germs produce an enzyme (hyaluronidase) that dissolves this chemical shield, allowing them to penetrate tissues and cause infection. Echinacea contains a substance (echinacein) that counteracts the germs tissue-dissolving enzyme, keeping them out of the body's tissues.
Echinacea also helps stimulate immune responses. It boosts macrophage (big eaters that engulf and digest microorganisms) activity and increases the production of infection-fighting T-cells up to 30 percent. In addition, echinacea may act like the body's own virus-fighting chemical, interferon. Interferon released in the body boosts the cells' ability to resist infection. Untreated cells and cells bathed in an echinacea extract were exposed to two potent viruses, influenza and herpes. Only a small proportion of cells treated with echinacea became infected compared to the untreated cells
Cornsilk- is a soothing, anti-inflammatory diuretic that directly reduces painful symptoms and swelling due to inflammation. It is a diuretic and urinary demulcent. It is especially useful with excessively alkaline urine and for bladder irritation in children.
Hydrangea- good for stimulating the kidneys and flushing them clean. It is useful if there is urinary pain and back pain from kidney involvement . Helpful if there is irritation of the bladder and urethra with quick, sharp pains in the urethra. It works quickly on acute cutting urethral pain and is considered one of the best general urinary anodynes.
Goldenseal- good for bladder infections if there is bleeding. It is an effective antimicrobial and choleretic. Repeated use of goldenseal can destroy the intestinal flora and should not be used on a continual basis. Goldenseal should not be used during pregnancy.
Marshmallow root- increases the acidity of the urine thus inhibiting bacterial growth. It helps to strengthen and cleanse the bladder. It is a demulcent, emollient, and diuretic. Marshmallow is the best source of easily digested vegetable mucilage, which lubricates the body, protecting it against irritation and dryness. It soothes the urinary system and is usually combined with other diuretic herbs to treat kidney and bladder inflammations, difficult or painful urination and kidney stones or gravel. It stops bleeding in the urine.
Yarrow- anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, spasmolytic, diaphoretic, astringent, tonic. It regulates many urination problems and soothes and heals mucous membranes. It clears heat and congestion by aiding elimination via the kidneys through its diuretic effect.
Gravel root- a mild diuretic, stimulant, tonic and urinary anodyne. Helpful in cases in which there is deep-seated backache with cloudy, milky urine, and aching bones. Good for women with uterine prolapse and a tendency to form kidney stones.
Horsetail- is an active diuretic that is used if there is scanty, dark colored urine with an irritable bladder resulting in spastic urge to urinate.
Barberry- the berberine in barberry has remarkable infection fighting properties. Studies show that it kills microorganisms (E. coli, staphylococci) that cause urinary tract infections. (High doses can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, hazardous drops in blood pressure and depression of heart rate and breathing. Those with heart disease or chronic respiratory problems should be careful not to take large doses. Pregnant women should not take barberry.)
Burdock- contains chemicals (polyacetylenes) that kill disease causing bacteria and fungi. It has been used traditionally for urinary tract infections.
Goldenrod- a mildly antiseptic and stimulating diuretic, which is good to use if there is pain in the kidneys and scanty, dark urine.
Consumerlab.com is building a database of natural remedy brands that it tests and rates. Not all are yet available.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration has a program called MEDWATCH for people to report adverse reactions to untested substances, such as herbal remedies and vitamins (800-332-1088).
A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions.
Mary Ann Copson, a Certified Licensed Nutritionist and Wellness and Life Coach is the founder of the Evenstar Mood & Energy Wellness Center for Women. You can visit her online at www.evenstaronline.com or reach her by phone at 434-263-4996.