A “urinary tract infection” or “UTI” is a common infection that occurs along the urinary tract, which includes the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra; they are usually caused by bacteria (A.D.A.M. 2011; Hooton 2012; Schollum 2012; Mayo Clinic 2012a; MedlinePlus 2011a). Infections of the lower urinary tract (ie, bladder and urethra) commonly cause urinary urgency, pain during urination, or cloudy, pink, or red-colored urine (Hooton 2012; Mayo Clinic 2012b). Less common and potentially more severe are infections of the upper urinary tract, which comprises the kidneys and ureters; kidney infection (pyelonephritis) is associated with fever, vomiting, and flank pain (Schollum 2012; Gupta 2012; National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Clearinghouse 2012b).
In 2007, UTIs accounted for 8.6 million doctor’s office visits, making them one of the most common bacterial infections encountered by out-patient caregivers; costs associated with UTI management have been estimated to be $1.6 billion annually (Hooton 2012; Foxman 2003). UTIs are considerably more common among women, nearly half of whom will experience a UTI during their lifetime (Schollum 2012; Gupta 2012; Schaeffer 2011a; Hooton 2012).
Doctors routinely prescribe powerful antibiotics to treat UTIs, and individuals with recurrent UTI may be prescribed a longer course of treatment (Hooton 2012; National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse 2012a). This may lead to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, which can cause UTIs that are more serious and difficult to treat (Sanchez 2012; Gupta 2011; Hooton 2012).
Scientific studies suggest natural compounds such as those found in extracts of Hibiscus sabdariffa and cranberry may reduce adherence of bacteria to the urinary tract, thereby reducing UTI recurrence (Mounnissamy 2002; Hess 2008; Bailey 2007; Allaert 2009). In addition, probiotics represent a potential treatment option, as these “good bacteria” may be able to displace pathogenic bacteria and modulate the immune system to help fight infections (Darouiche 2012; Stapleton 2011; Beerepoot 2012).
This protocol will outline the biology and development of UTIs, and explain how they are conventionally treated; some novel and emerging treatment strategies will also be examined. Dietary and lifestyle considerations that may reduce UTI risk will be discussed, as will a number of scientifically-studied natural interventions that may support the health of the urinary tract.