The three main types of herbs used for urinary tract infections are urinary antiseptics, diuretics, and and demulcents. These include Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), garlic, birch (Betula spp.), Alfalfa, Echinacea, couch grass (Agropyron repens), goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), horsetail, Java tea (Orthosiphon stamineus), lovage (Levisticum officinale), spiny restharrow (Ononis spinosa), juniper and nettle.
All these products appear to work by increasing the volume of urine, causing extra filtration and hence flushing the bacteria out of the urinary system. The majority of these herbs or nutrients are drank as a tea or taken as a supplement pill.
Another commonly eaten food that can treat a UTI is horseradish. It has been shown that the oil released from this product has antibacterial properties. Once eaten the oil kills the bacteria and thus may be effective in treating an infection. Numerous plants products containing the alkaloid, berberine, also have been found useful in the treatment of UTIs. Plants like goldenseal with high amounts of berberine may be useful in treating UTIs.
Finally, the herb, uva ursi, has been used for decades in Europe to treat UTIs. Uva ursi is a trailing evergreen shrub that flourishes in alpine forests in many regions, including North America, Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Siberia, and the Himalayas. The herb when ingested is converted to an active agent (hydroquinone) which can kill bacteria.
Most alternative health care practitioners recommend that the herb should be used only for a short time to kill an infection. The recommended usage to treat an infection is 3 times a day. While uva ursi is considered generally safe when taken in recommended doses and for brief periods, minor side effects have been reported. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take uva ursi. It is also not recommended for those with high blood pressure.
It has been known for many years that the bacteria, lactobacilli (a human friendly organism) protects against genital and urinary tract infections. Many yogurt products contain lactobacilli and there are numerous reports of females who claim that that by taking yogurt daily, they have do not get as many UTIs. Lactobacilli containing products are now also available in health food stores. It is believed that lactobacilli protects against UTIs by maintaining acidity in the genitalia and hindering E. coli growth.
Urinary tract infections are quite common in post-menopausal females and it is not clear why. Recent studies indicate that the daily application of an estrogen containing cream significantly decreases the frequency of recurrent infections compared to females who do not.
This has been postulated to be due to the protective effects of these hormones on the vaginal mucosa. Others claim that estrogens lower the vaginal acidity, making it more difficult for bacteria to grow. However, ingestion of an oral estrogen pills is not associated with the same effect and in fact increases the frequency of UTIs. The reason for this is not clearly understood.
Like cranberry, blueberry has been reported to decrease the frequency of UTIs. However, all the reports are anecdotal and it also appears to decrease the frequency of UTIs but have no affect on an active infection. The chemicals found in both cranberries and blueberries which inhibit bacterial growth are known as the tannins. Tannins have the ability to prevent the bacteria from attaching to the vaginal and urethral lining.
There is no doubt that vitamin C supplements are good for health. Vitamin C and vitamin A have both been touted as a cure for UTI. Some recommend mega doses of vitamins daily to prevent UTI. To date, there is no evidence to show that vitamins can prevent or cure UTIs.
Some proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain (from pineapples) and trypsin have been shown to act synergistically with antibiotics to rapidly cure UTIs. However, these products are very labile (get destroyed by the high acidity in the stomach) and thus do not get absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Coated versions of these enzymes are available and have to be taken with antibiotics or other treatments for UTIs.