We know friendly bacteria can help improve our digestion, but did you know they can fight UTIs like cystitis too?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is uncomfortable at best and can lead to a kidney infection at worst. And if you’re susceptible, you may worry about taking antibiotics every time you’re ill. One growing area of research is using friendly bacteria supplements to help prevent and treat UTIs. So, how exactly do they work?
Handpicked content: What is digestion?
What is a UTI?
A UTI is an infection anywhere in the urinary system, including the urethra and bladder. Symptoms include:
- Feeling like you always need to pee
- Pain or burning when you pee
- Cloudy and/or strong-smelling urine
- Pain during sex
- Abdominal and/or lower back pain
Handpicked content: 10 reasons why your back hurts
What causes a UTI?
A UTI is caused when ‘bad’ bacteria enter the urethra, travel up into the bladder, and can spread into the kidneys. Women have a much shorter distance between the anus and the entrance to the urethra, so bacteria are more easily transferred. More than 50% of women have at least one UTI in their lifetime.
Other causes include having sex, not emptying the bladder properly, menopause (oestrogen helps prevent bacteria clinging to the vaginal walls) and antibiotics, as continued use can make recurring UTIs (rUTI) more likely.
Handpicked content: What you should know about the menopause
How friendly bacteria help UTIs
‘Friendly’ bacteria work by replacing ‘bad’ bacteria in your body. Taking a supplement can help restore the natural balance in the vagina and bladder, especially if repeated courses of antibiotics have wiped out both types of bacteria.
One study by the University of Washington in 2011 found only 15% of women given a friendly bacteria pessary suffered from recurrent UTI, compared with 27% using a placebo. Another study published in the Indian Journal of Urology in 2008 concluded that friendly bacteria supplements ‘have the potential for a future alternative prevention and treatment strategy in recurrent UTI.’
Canadian researchers in 2001 discovered that taking a supplement could restore and maintain healthy vaginal bacteria in 90% of women, while in 2003 a separate Canadian team found that friendly bacteria not only improved vaginal health, but could also restrict the growth of bad bacteria.
How should I take friendly bacteria for UTIs?
Many of the studies found different strains of the Lactobacillus bacteria had the most benefits, taken either as a pessary or in a capsule. Talk to your GP if you’re interested in using friendly bacteria to help prevent or treat UTIs.
You can also find friendly bacteria in some fermented foods, such as kefir, plain yoghurt, sauerkraut, kombucha tea and kimchi.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
Shop our Vitamins & Supplements range.