If you’re age 50 or older and haven’t had a bladder infection, count yourself lucky. The reality is that these infections are among the most common complaints of the AARP crowd.
Here’s why: With age, women—and men—are at increased risk because tissues in the bladder weaken, making it more difficult for it to fully empty…so bacteria have more time to proliferate and cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). As we age, our immune systems also don’t work as well.
Interestingly, the symptoms of bladder infection become less apparent with age. Instead of the burning, cramping pain and bloody urine that generally accompany a UTI in younger people, only a modest increase in urinary frequency and a dark urine color may indicate a bladder infection once you’re middle-aged or older.After about age 70, confusion, agitation, balance problems and falling may be a physician’s only clues of a bladder infection.
Fortunately, there are some highly effective natural approaches to help prevent UTIs. My favorite UTI-fighting strategies…
Stay hydrated. You must drink a minimum of two quarts of plain water daily—no matter what other beverages you consume. If you take a prescription medication, you may need even more water. Diuretics and some other drugs will make you lose water, so you’ll need to drink more than usual. Discuss this with your pharmacist.
Use good hygiene. OK, you might find this is a little embarrassing, but make sure that you wipe from front to back after a bowel movement…wash your genitals before and after sex…and change your undergarments regularly, particularly if you have incontinence or are sedentary (small amounts of stool on a person’s underwear can increase infection risk).
Load up on cranberry. Everyone knows that cranberry is supposed to be good for the bladder, but research on its its effectiveness is mixed. One study found that cranberry may not be very effective at preventing UTIs. But don’t write off cranberry. Research shows that compounds in cranberry can prevent infections by making it difficult for bacteria to stick to the walls of the bladder. Though a sweetened cranberry juice is the most convenient form of the fruit, I find that unsweetened cranberry juice works best. I usually advise people who develop more than one bladder infection a year to add 600 mg of a freeze-dried cranberry extract to their daily supplement regimen. You can also drink unsweetened cranberry juice. Because it is so tart, you may want to add it to another juice you regularly drink or add a very small amount of honey or stevia. Caution: People with a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones or who take warfarin (Coumadin) or regularly use aspirin should avoid cranberry—it can increase stone risk and interact with these medications.
Get more probiotics. The beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and other cultured foods, such as kefir and miso, reduce risk for bladder infection. Eat one cup of plain yogurt, kefir or miso soup daily or take a probiotic supplement.
Do Kegel exercises. Women—and men—listen up! Strong pelvic muscles allow for more complete bladder emptying and reduce infection risk. What to do: At least once daily, contract and release the muscles of your pelvic floor (the ones that stop urine flow) 10 times while seated or standing.