What foods and/or supplements help UTI’s or cystitis?
Most UTI’s/cystitis result from infection by faecal bacteria transferred from the anus or vagina. The conventional approach to treatment is a course of antibiotics prescribed by the GP, the downside is that antibiotics depletes healthful microbes as well as harmful ones. A natural approach can be effective in addressing infection as it protects the normal healthful bacteria of the bladder and urethra and may be achieved via food and/or supplements. If you have a UTI or cystitis and are looking to find out which foods and/or supplements can help, this article is for you.
What is the goal of a natural approach to helping UTI’s/cystitis?
The primary aim of a natural approach to managing a UTI or cystitis is to promote the natural defence systems in the body against such infections. Specifically, this means:
- enhancing the flow of urine by achieving and maintaining proper hydration
- promoting a urine pH that inhibits the growth of infectious bacteria
- preventing bacterial adhesion to the walls of the bladder and urethra
- enhancing the immune system
- eliminating any food allergens as these can mimic bladder infections
Hydrate! Drink fluids!
Urine flow can be enhanced by drinking plenty of fluids, ideally in the form of pure or steam-distilled water. Increasing hydration helps to cleanse and flush out the kidneys, bladder and urethra. The aim should be to drink at least 1.8-2.4L daily with at least 50% of this being water. You can assess your hydration status by checking the colour of your urine in 2-4 consecutive urinations: pale yellow or colourless is an indication of over-drinking.
Suggested drinks in addition to pure water are herbal teas, fresh fruit and vegetable juices diluted 50:50 with water. Many fruits and vegetables have a very high water content which can contribute to our hydration status such as watermelon and cucumber.
Cranberry or Blueberry Juice
Cranberry juice has been tested extensively for its beneficial effect in UTI’s/cystitis, especially the prevention of recurrence. The main effect is through the action of polyphenols which prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder and urethra. It also increases the acidity of the urine which inhibits bacterial growth. Cranberry also prevents inflammation and promotes healthful bacterial diversity. Blueberries have also been found to exert a similar effect to cranberries.
Drink pure, unsweetened juice, at least 1x250ml daily. You can also purchase cranberry extract capsules to take alongside a large glass of water.
Include diuretic foods in your daily diet
Diuretic foods help to cleanse the system by promoting the release of fluids from tissues. They also help to relieve the false sensations of urgency commonly experienced with cystitis.
Examples of diuretic foods are: celery, watermelon, dandelion extract/tea, parsley, onions, garlic, bell peppers, asparagus, grapes, berries, nigella sativa (black cumin), hibiscus tea.
Eat probiotic foods
Foods such as natural Greek yogurt, kefir, kimchi or sauerkraut contain healthful bacteria that support your gut microbiome, which in turn helps your kidney, bladder and urethra microbiomes. Aim to include a portion of these foods in your daily diet to support your microbiomes. Alternatively, you can take a probiotic supplement, look for one that contains multiple strains especially lactobacillus species and provides at least 10billion CFUs.
Increase the fibre content of your daily diet
Fibre bulks our faeces, reduces constipation and pressure on the bladder, easing the discomfort of a UTI or cystitis. It is recommended that we eat 30g fibre /day. Foods to include are bananas (also a good source of potassium which can be lost during a UTI), lentils, beans, oats, wholegrains, leafy vegetables, nuts or seeds. A portion of lentils/beans/grains is 75g before cooking, 80g of cooked vegetables which is about two heaped tablespoons. A portion of nuts is a handful (about 40g) and seeds is two tablespoons (about 25g). Aim to include at least one of these foods in every meal to improve your fibre intake.
Include garlic and ginger
Garlic and ginger are antimicrobial foods which can help to reduce the harmful bacteria and improve your immune function. Add a clove of garlic or grated ginger to your daily meals for additional flavour and support for your immune system.
Avoid added sugars in foods
Where possible, remove sugar from your diet if you have a UTI or cystitis as sugar encourages the growth of the harmful bacteria that are causing your infection. Added sugar is found in many foods, in particular, sweetened beverages and soft drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, pastries, alcohol (beer, wine and spirits). Artificial sweeteners should also be avoided.
In summary, the above recommendations can help to address UTI/cystitis, although it is important to consult your GP too, especially if you have blood in your urine or are male. Adopting the above recommendations will also help you to prevent a recurrence of the infection, which unfortunately is very common.
For a deeper dive into women's urogenital health, see our article here.
Balch, P.A., 2010a. Bladder infection. In: Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 5th ed. New York: Penguin Group, pp.249–252.
Balch, P.A., 2010b. Kidney disease. In: Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 5th ed. New York: Penguin Group, pp.546–552.