Let’s start with the fun news: More than 50 percent of women will have at least one urinary tract infection (an infection caused by fungi, viruses, and bacteria in the urinary tract) during their lives. And with each UTI, the risk that you will continue having recurrent infections increases. Some women have three or more UTIs a year. Joy!
Commonly, these delightful infections are treated with a seven- to 10-day course of antibiotics, but there’s a widely held belief among holistic health experts that you can mitigate mild symptoms naturally and avoid a trip to the doctor altogether—or at least feel some relief while you’re in a Uber to the emergency room.
Before you start experimenting with natural home remedies, you first need to work out whether what you have is actually a UTI. This kind of infection can be confirmed only by urine tests at a doctor’s office, but there are some common symptoms that give you a pretty good indication that you’re suffering from a UTI.
Manhattan-based urologist Dr. Philippa Cheetham, MBChB, MRCS, MD, FRCS, explained what you should look for: “Symptoms include burning or stinging pain on urinating, frequency of urination, urgency to urinate, lower abdominal pressure or pain, feeling of incomplete bladder emptying, getting up at night to urinate.” And while there are a bunch of natural remedies you can try at home, they’re obviously not suitable for everyone: “I would advise against home treatment if any of the following occur with a UTI: fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms; blood in the urine; back pain suggesting infection to the kidney; or if you’re pregnant, the symptoms persist beyond 48 hours, or if you have history of recurrent UTIs,” explained Dr. Cheetham.
However if you’re just experiencing run-of-the-mill discomfort, home remedies could be effective. Personally, I’ve had a lot of success by drinking a shot of raw organic apple cider vinegar three times a day when early symptoms set in—possibly thanks to the beneficial bacteria found in sediment that lurks at the bottom of the bottle. That’s not your only option, though—we broke down five recommendations from holistic health experts to treat your UTI at home.
Unsweetened cranberry juice
This is perhaps the most common at-home treatment for urinary tract infections—and with good reason. “Proanthocyanidins found in unsweetened cranberry juice can help prevent the bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall,” explained medicinal herbalist Daniela Turley, adding that “the jury is out” on how effective this is when fighting an acute infection, so you might only see results with mild symptoms.
“Another home urinary antiseptic is thyme,” said Hurley who suggests using the fresh herb to make a strong tea (brew with the lid on) and have a cup every three hours. She also points out that other, less common herbs might do the trick, although they make take effort to find. “Try a urinary antiseptic herb like artostaphylus uva ursi (Bearberry) and barosoma betulina (buchu). I like to recommend them with a diuretic soothing herb like corn silk, which contains compounds that soothe the irritated bladder wall,” she suggested. She also recommends taking immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea and goldenseal.
Holistic nutritionist Lee Holmes recommends drinking a concoction of baking soda and water to alkalize your system. “It helps to neutralize the acidity of your urine and relieve pain and discomfort,” she explained. “All you need to do is mix one teaspoon baking soda with a big glass of water until it dissolves.”
Specifically, you should eat kefir, fermented vegetables, and probiotic yogurts. “The evidence from the available studies suggests that probiotics can be beneficial for preventing recurrent UTIs in women, and they also have a good safety profile,” explained Turley.
After the infection has cleared, Turley suggests kidney tonics to her patients, such as “pellitory of the wall or rehmannia” to stop the UTI coming back. “I find that if you do this last stage, rather than just treat the acute infection, clients who have suffered for years with recurrent UTIs say they never come back again,” she explained.