If you’ve ever had a UTI (urinary tract infection), you know that it’s a major pain — literally. With the burning sensation, the constant need to go pee, and sometimes even fever or chills, it’s a truly awful experience. For those of us who get chronic UTIs, this is doubly true. Luckily, with a little bit of knowledge about how to treat and prevent UTI naturally, you can avoid this incredibly unpleasant experience in the future. Read on to learn about the (sometimes surprising) causes of UTIs and chronic UTIs, symptoms to look out for, how to prevent UTI naturally, and natural UTI treatment options to get rid of these pesky and painful infections sans antibiotics.
The Major UTI Causes
Though there are a ton of potential UTI causes, every UTI boils down to the same icky phenomenon: bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra, and then multiplies in the bladder. When the urinary system is working well, it does a very good job of keeping out this unhealthy bacteria, but when its defenses break down and the little invaders make their way in, a full-blown infection is the result.
So why and how does bacteria get in there? There’s a long list of potential reasons:
You’re a woman. Ugh, the patriarchy strikes again! The frustrating truth is that women are way more likely to get UTIs than men — 50-60% of women will get one at some point in their life — and this can be attributed to the fact that women have shorter urethras, so the bacteria has to travel a shorter distance to get to the bladder.
Something is suppressing your immune system. If your immune system (your body’s defense) is compromised, then the bad bacteria has an easier time getting in. So if you have diabetes, mono, the measles, or another immunosuppressive condition (like an active viral infection), you’ll need to be more on guard.
You frequently hold in your pee. If you hold in your pee when you feel the urge to go, bacteria can build up in the stagnant urine, causing inflammation or infection. So if you need to go, go!
You don’t have the right sexual hygiene. It’s true: sex can lead to UTIs. But that doesn’t mean you need to put the kibosh on your love life! It just means you need to practice the right sexual hygiene, which includes peeing immediately after sex and avoiding non-lubricated and spermicidal condoms, which can cause irritation to the vagina and increase your UTI risk (plus who knows what kind of toxic stuff is in spermicide since the definition of the product is literally death to sperm). Even better is to shower (and have your partner shower) before sex, making sure the area around your anus gets super cleaned. It might be an awkward conversation to have with your partner, but it’s worth it to avoid the pain of a UTI. You can also suggest showering together!
You’re taking certain meds. A bunch of different prescription and non-prescription drugs can contribute to UTIs. Over-the-counter medications like antihistamines (such as Benadryl or Claritin), decongestants (such as Sudafed or Afrin), and antipsychotic prescription drugs can cause you to retain urine, which can lead to the stagnant bacteria-infection issue.
You’re a biker. We know! You’re trying to be healthy and save the planet, and so it’s totally not fair that biking can lead to UTIs. But, according to a 2018 study, there is a correlation between the two. Staying hydrated before and after bike rides can help prevent your cycling routine from causing a UTI.
You’re a thong enthusiast. If you tend to wear stringy or tight underwear, your undie choice might be compressing the sensitive tissue down there, as well as facilitating the exchange of bacteria between the rectum (yes, your butt) and urethra (yes, your vagina) — gross, we know, but true.
You get waxes. While a lot of people cite “hygiene” as their reason for getting bikini waxes, turns out waxing can actually cause UTIs. That’s because your pubic hair acts as a defense for your vagina, trapping unhealthy bacteria that’s trying to get in — so without any hair, the bacteria has easy access. Plus, waxing can leave tiny micro-tears (um, ouch) in the skin, which means there are tiny open wounds around your vagina. This is an ideal scenario for allowing bacteria to get in.
So what can you do to prevent UTIs? And if you tend to have chronic UTI’s, what can you do in terms of recurrent UTI prevention? Luckily, the guidance for how to prevent UTI naturally is pretty straightforward and simple to follow:
Stay hydrated. Drinking lots of fluids, especially water, helps keep your urine dilute and allows bacteria to be flushed from your system before an infection can take hold — but make sure it’s filtered (have you seen our Water Filter Guide?)!
Practice good personal hygiene. I mean, this one should go without saying, but it’s especially important to pay attention to if you find yourself with chronic UTIs. This means wiping from front to back after using the bathroom, cleaning your down-there area with gentle soap and water at least once a day (outside of the vagina always, never inside), and cleaning the area around your anus thoroughly. Also, wear clean — not thong! non-synthetic! — undies. If you choose to wear thongs during the day (we get it, panty lines) at least wear non-thong and 100% organic cotton undies to bed and when you’re home.
Up your vitamin C. Studies show that the acidity of vitamin C helps kill off bacteria, preventing infection. Find vitamin C in tons of fresh produce (like parsley, kale, kiwi, and, of course, citrus), or grab a high-quality supplement.
Take a probiotic. Probiotics help keep your sensitive microbiome balanced with good bacteria, which then strengthens your immune system, so it makes sense that they’d have a protective effect against UTIs. They can be especially helpful if you have recurrent UTIs, or if you’re looking to rebalance your gut during and after a round of antibiotics for treating a UTI. Dr. Bhatia advises that “balancing the microbiome using both oral and vaginal probiotics can help prevent UTIs.” Vaginal probiotics are harder to find than oral, so ask your doctor to recommend one.
Yes, cranberry. We’ve all heard the advice that drinking cranberry juice can help prevent or treat UTIs, and turns out there’s some truth there! Cranberries prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract, so it can’t take hold and start an infection. However, most cranberry juice has added sugar in it, which, as we mentioned above, actually feeds the bacteria causing your UTI. This is because cranberries are naturally pretty tart! We recommend grabbing an organic 100% cranberry juice concentrate (no added sugar), and mixing it with sparkling water. It’s delicious, refreshing and medicinal! You can also take a cranberry supplement, but make sure that also is free of added sugar or fillers!
Natural UTI Treatment Options
If preventive tips don’t work and you find yourself dealing with a UTI — whether it’s chronic or not — you’re going to want to treat it, ASAP. Unfortunately, the most common treatment for UTIs are antibiotics. While antibiotics can be (literal) lifesavers in some contexts, we try to avoid them as much as possible due to all the potential negative repercussions.
Most of all, treating chronic UTIs with antibiotics wipes out the good bacteria in your gut, compromising your immune system. That in turn makes you more vulnerable to more UTIs in the future, turning into a vicious cycle. The good news is that there are a number of natural UTI treatment alternatives that can alleviate symptoms and get rid of the infection.
Many of the natural UTI treatment suggestions are similar to the preventative measures: drink lots of water, get lots of vitamin C, take a probiotic, and cranberry juice or supplements. Here are some other natural UTI treatment options to try:
Avoid bladder-irritating food and drink. Cutting out caffeine and alcohol as well as spicy, or acidic food and drink can help reduce your recovery time. All of these items are known bladder irritants, and can make a UTI worse.
Apply heat. Using a warm heating pad on your abdomen or taking a warm bath can help minimize bladder pressure and discomfort.
Use essential oils. Certain essential oils — such as the oil derived from cloves, cinnamon, lavender, and eucalyptus — may be able to kill off UTI-causing bacteria. Depending on the type of oil, you can use it in a diffuser or apply directly to the skin (but never to the vaginal area!).
Cut out sugar. Dr. Aviva Romm recommends nixing all sugar for five days to starve unhealthy bacteria and give your infection the boot.
If your UTI still persists after trying these natural UTI treatment techniques, it’s time to consult a doctor. As always, we recommend seeking out a doctor who incorporates integrative and holistic principles into their practice. This will help protect you against antibiotic overuse (and if you must take them, they can help guide you to the right probiotic and instruct you how to take it and how much) so that you can maintain a healthy immune system and gut, and better fight off that UTI next time!
Conclusion: Your UTI Prevention Cheat Sheet
For many women, getting a UTI can feel like an inevitability. But all it takes is some knowledge and self-awareness to change that. Here’s our at-a-glance summary of all you need to know about these infections and how to prevent UTI naturally:
A UTI occurs when bad bacteria enters the urinary tract and then multiplies in the bladder.
There are a lot of different potential causes of UTI, but some potential triggers are: having a compromised immune system, frequently holding in your pee, having bad sexual hygiene, taking certain OTC medicines, biking frequently, wearing thongs, eating too much sugar, getting bikini waxes, and hormone fluctuations.
If you’re wondering how to prevent UTI naturally, fortunately there are a lot of things you can do. To lower your risk of getting a UTI, you should stay hydrated, practice good personal hygiene, practice good sex hygiene (always go pee right after!!), increase your vitamin C intake, take a probiotic, get your hormones in check, and drink (no-sugar added) cranberry juice or take a high quality cranberry supplement.
In terms of natural UTI treatment, you should follow most of the guidelines for UTI prevention listed above. You should also avoid bladder irritants like caffeine, alcohol, and acidic foods; take a warm bath or use a heating pad on your abdomen; use certain essential oils (clove, cinnamon, lavender, eucalyptus), either in a diffuser or applied to the skin; and cut out sugar from your diet.
You don’t want to get a UTI. And if you do get one, you don’t want to have to take antibiotics and deal with all the negative side effects of that. Fortunately, by knowing how to prevent UTI naturally and being informed about natural UTI treatment, you can avoid both of these outcomes.
Do you have a favorite natural UTI treatment or prevention technique that we didn’t include here? Share in the comments below!