Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common outpatient infection in women, with 50 to 60% experiencing a UTI in their lifetime, many of which are recurrent. (8) While these infections are extremely common in female adults, male adults and children are not immune. It’s estimated that 2.5% of children and 3 in 25 men will develop a UTI in their lifetime, a number that increases with age. (14)
Symptoms of a UTI include some or all of these:
- An urge to urinate frequently with not much coming out
- Bad smelling and/or cloudy urine
- Blood in the urine (more common in younger females)
- Burning or pain during urination
- Confusion, shakiness, fatigue, or weakness (more common in older females)
- Fever, which may indicate the infection has reached the kidneys
- Pressure in the lower abdomen (12)
The painful, rapid onset of recurrent UTIs is also associated with increased anxiety and depression in some patients. (8) Continue reading to learn more about how to prevent UTIs naturally.
A variety of bacterial species can cause a UTI; however, it is estimated that about 80% of community-acquired UTIs are caused by E. coli. (11)
Several factors can increase the risk of recurrent UTIs including:
- Age of first UTI, especially if the first UTI occurred at the age of 15 or younger
- Frequency of sexual intercourse, especially in younger women
- Immunosuppressant medications
- Maternal history of UTIs
- Mechanical and physiologic factors that influence bladder emptying such as incontinence, especially in postmenopausal individuals
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Spermicide use (6)
How to prevent UTIs naturally
Diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplements can play an important role in helping to reduce the risk of developing a UTI.
1. UTI prevention diet
From a dietary standpoint, what we eat and drink can either increase or decrease the risk of UTIs. Research suggests that a vegetarian diet can help prevent UTIs because it reduces exposure to E. coli, which is often found in poultry and pork and is the primary bacteria that cause UTIs. In addition, a diet rich in plant foods increases overall consumption of beneficial nutrients such as phytochemicals which have been shown to exhibit antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. (3)
Another reason a vegetarian diet may help prevent UTIs is that the diet is less acidic, which creates small molecules in the urine that can reduce bacterial growth in the urinary tract. (13)
2. UTI prevention supplements
The two key supplements that can help prevent UTIs are cranberry extracts and probiotics. The research regarding cranberry is so compelling that in 2020, the FDA authorized a health claim stating that cranberry products in the form of juice and dietary supplements can help reduce the risk of developing a UTI in healthy females. (15) According to a 2017 meta-analysis of seven different randomized controlled trials, cranberry reduced the risk of recurrent UTIs by 26%. (4) A larger 2021 systematic review that included 23 different trials found that cranberry supplementation in particular significantly reduced the risk of UTIs in high-risk populations. In that analysis, the relative risk of recurrent UTIs was reduced by 32 to 51%. (16)
While the research regarding probiotics and UTIs is not as robust as it is with cranberry, research does indicate that probiotics may help reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs by influencing and regulating the urinary microbiota. (1) A variety of clinical trials have shown that Lactobacillus in particular can help with the long-term prevention of recurrent UTIs. (5)
3. UTI prevention lifestyle
In addition diet and dietary supplements certain lifestyle behaviors may help reduce the risk of developing a UTI including:
- Avoiding spermicides and douches
- Not holding urine whenever possible
- Using proper genital hygiene practices
- Staying hydrated
- Voiding before and after sexual intercourse (10)
The bottom line
UTIs are a prevalent and painful condition. Fortunately, through a combination of diet, dietary supplements, and lifestyle behaviors, UTIs can be potentially avoided and the risk of recurrent UTIs can be reduced.
If you are interested in using an integrative approach that includes diet, dietary supplements, and lifestyle factors to reduce UTIs, consider consulting with an integrative healthcare practitioner for further guidance on how to prevent UTIs.
- Akgul, T. & Karakan, T. (2018). The role of probiotics in women with recurrent urinary tract infections. Turkish Journal of Urology, 44(5), 377-383.
- Bazzaz, B., Fork, S., Ahmadi, R., & Khameneh, B. (2021). Deep insights into urinary tract infections and effective natural remedies. African Journal of Urology, 27, 6.
- Chen, Y., Chang, C., Chiu, T., Lin, M., & Lin, C. (2020). The risk of urinary tract infection in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: a prospective study. Scientific Reports, 10, 906.
- Fu, Z., Liska, D., Talan, D., & Chung, M. (2017). Cranberry reduces the risk of urinary tract infection recurrence in otherwise healthy women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr, 147(12), 2282-2288.
- Gupta, V., Nag, D., & Garg, P. (2017). Recurrent urinary tract infections in women: how promising is the use of probiotics? Indian Journal of Medical Microbiology, 35(3), 347-354.
- Kodner, C. M., & Gupton, E. K. (2010). Recurrent urinary tract infections in women: diagnosis and management. American Family Physician, 82(6), 638-643.
- Lean, K., Nawaz, R., Jawad, S., & Vincent, C. (2019). Reducing urinary tract infections in care homes by improving hydration. BMJ Open Quality, 8(3).
- Medina, M., & Castillo-Pino, E. (2019). An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections. Ther Adv Urol, 11, 3-7.
- Miller, J. M., Garcia, C. E., Hortsch, S. B., Guo, Y., & Schimpf, M. O. (2017). Does instruction to eliminate coffee, tea, alcohol, carbonated, and artificially sweetened beverages improve lower urinary tract symptoms: a prospective trial. J Would Ostomy Continence Nurs, 43(1), 69-79.
- Mohiuddin, A. (2019). Lifestyle issues and prevention of recurrent UTIs. Biomed J Sci & Tech Res, 21(3).
- Murray, B. O., Flores, C., Williams, C., Flusberg, D. A., Marr, E. E., Kwiatkowska, K. M., Charest, J. L., Isenberg, B. C., & Rohn, J. L. (2021). Recurrent urinary tract infection: a mystery in search of better model systems. Front Cell Infect Microbiol, 11.
- Office on Women’s Health. (2019). Urinary tract infections. US Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/urinary-tract-infections
- Shields-Cutler, R. R., Crowley, J. R., Hung, C. S., Stapleton, A. E., Aldrich, C. C., Marschall, J., & Henderson, J. P. (2015). Human urinary composition controls antibacterial activity of siderocalin. J Biol Chem, 290(26), 15949-15960.
- Urology Care Foundation. (2016). Understanding UTIs across the lifespan. UrologyHealth Extra. https://www.urologyhealth.org/healthy-living/urologyhealth-extra/magazine-archives/summer-2016/understanding-utis-across-the-lifespan
- US Food and Drug Administration. (202)). FDA announces qualified health claim for certain cranberry products and urinary tract infections. https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-announces-qualified-health-claim-certain-cranberry-products-and-urinary-tract-infections
- Xia, J., Yang, C., Xu, D., Xia, H., Yang, L., & Sun, G. (2021). Consumption of cranberry as adjuvant therapy for urinary tract infections in susceptible populations: a systematic review and meta-analysis with trial sequential analysis. PLoS ONE, 16(9).