Urinary tract infections (UTI), also known as “bladder infections” occur when bacteria enter the urinary system and infect the surrounding bladder tissue, causing symptoms of pain, burning, fever and increased urination. If not treated immediately, a UTI can lead to permanent kidney damage. 

Urinary tract infections are very common in females, about 70% of women will have one urinary tract infection within their lifetime, while only 12% of men will experience one within their lifetime[1]. Some factors that contribute to this increased risk include: holding in urine, a naturally short urethra (a normal occurrence in the female urinary system), contamination during wiping, use of diaphragm or spermicidal contraceptives, sex, and pH changes within the vaginal and urinary regions.

The most common treatment for urinary tract infections are antibiotics, however overuse of such medications can lead to bacterial resistance which is a much bigger problem. Imagine having so many bladder infections and using multiple antibiotic treatments over time that one day, they no longer work – all of them! This means your treatment options are severely restricted, putting you at risk of UTI complications such as kidney damage.

Over the past 10 years, most heath care providers have shifted their approach from treatment to prevention, aiming to help reduce antibiotic resistance. The antibiotics that are prescribed work well and fast but if used too often, the bacteria figure out a way to adapt to this medication, rendering them useless. In summary, if the number of infections a person has are reduced then they won’t require multiple antibiotic prescriptions which means they are less likely to develop antibiotic resistance.  The best part is, with a preventative approach, you are less likely to have multiple infections overtime.  

So, what are some ways to help prevent a urinary tract infection?

1. Drink water, lots of it and often – drinking water encourages you to urinate more frequently throughout the day. Holding in urine allows bacteria to grow and thrive within the bladder. So drink up.

2. Pee often. It is commonly known that individuals who hold in their urine for long periods of time are at a high risk of a UTI. By drinking lots of water, your kidneys are forced to produce more urine, resulting in frequent bathroom trips. Flushing out the bacteria by frequent urination reduces the number of bacterial populations as well as their chance to populate within your bladder walls. So sip often and flush often.

3. Avoid sugary foods and beverages. The most common bacteria that causes a UTI is E. coli and they love sugar because it gives them energy and helps then proliferate. Cutting out the sugar makes it harder for E. coli to thrive, thus reducing the chances of an infection.

4. Cranberry intake – Cranberries are rich in a compound called proanthocyanidins. They work by preventing the bacteria from adhering to the bladder tissue[2]. If the bacteria are unable to stick to the bladder surface, they won’t be able to infect the tissue either. Dried cranberries, sugar free cranberry juice and tea, as well as cranberry supplements are great options for helping to prevent UTIs. Tea or beverage forms are a good option because they also encourage fluid intake and frequent urination.

Other herbal options include D-mannose, bearberry herb and goldenseal. These herbs and natural compounds can help target and prevent urinary tract infections.

So, to all you women (and that small percentage of men), if you find yourself at your pharmacy for yet another antibiotic prescription for that horrible bladder infection, you may want to start thinking about prevention rather than treatment.

The preventative approach benefits you, reducing the number of infections, lowers your risk of antibiotic resistance and lowers your risk of UTI complications such as irreversible kidney damage.

1 Heidar N., Degheili, Yacoubian Al., Khauli R. (2019). Management of urinary tract infection in women: a practical approach for everyday practice. Urology Annals: 11(4):339-346.

[2] Hisano M., Bruschini H., Nicodemo AC., Srougi M. (June 2012). Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention. Clinics; 67(6): 661-667.

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