A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) or bladder infection is a serious condition that can spread to and damage the kidneys. Turning an infection that is simple to clear with antibiotics into a lifetime illness. At home UTI treatment does not replace professional medical care for an infection. Instead, it should be used alongside doctor recommended treatments, and to help prevent further bladder infections in the future. Given how painful a UTI or bladder infection can be prevention can be a priority for many people after experiencing one.

The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A. Duke and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain the healing foods that help with at home UTI treatments and how they protect your bladder and urinary tract.

Bladder Infections

About half of all women will have at least one bladder infection during their lives, and about 11 percent will get them annually. Men can develop bladder infections, too, especially if they have prostate enlargement, but this problem strikes mostly women.

Bladder infections, also called urinary tract infections (UTIs), result in nearly 10.5 million doctor visits annually, two to three million visits to the ER, and 400,000 hospitalizations. A woman is 30 times more likely to have a UTI than a man. Some 80 percent of bladder infections are caused by bacteria from the anal area, notably Escherichia coli, a microorganism that lives in the digestive tract. Since women have much shorter urethras (the tube through which urine exits the body) than men do, E. coli can travel more easily into their bladders. Luckily, most infections aren’t serious and can be easily treated with antibiotic medications.

The first sign of a bladder infection may be a strong urge to urinate or a painful burning sensation during urination. Even though you may feel that you have to go frequently, you may produce little urine each time. You may also have soreness in your lower abdomen, back, or sides. Your urine may look cloudy or have a reddish tinge from blood, and it may smell foul or strong. You may also feel tired, shaky, and washed out. If the infection spreads to the kidneys, you may have fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and back pain in addition to the frequent urge to urinate and painful urination. If you develop these symptoms, don’t wait to see your doctor for treatment, or you may end up with more complicated health problems.


Two chemicals from foods, cineole (eucalyptol) and thymol, are urinary antiseptics. I think that herbs with cineole make a more pleasantly flavored tea, but thymol is perhaps the more potent of the two. You can wander into the herb section of your supermarket or natural foods store and find the ingredients to concoct your own CysTea—what I call an herb tea that fights cystitis—to taste. Some culinary plants with high amounts of cineole include cardamom, basil, cinnamon, spearmint, rosemary, ginger, nutmeg, peppermint, fennel, tarragon, and turmeric. If you want the power of thymol antisepsis, you might use basil, oregano (which also reportedly contains arbutin), savory, or thyme. I’d also add some teaberry, for both its arbutin and its delightful aroma. I’d go with a few cardamom berries, a handful of spearmint and rosemary, some cranberry and/or blueberry, and a dash of ginger and turmeric. That would provide a flavorful mix of dozens of antiseptic phytochemicals.

Healing Foods for Bladder Infections

Celery. With loads of analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic compounds, as well as some calcium blockers, celery seed extracts seem appropriate for treating bladder infections. Celery seed is said to improve the quantity and quality of urine and is a useful diuretic for UTIs. Along with parsley and carrots, celery stalks should be consumed liberally, as all three promote urine flow and generally support the urinary tract.

Cranberries. For ages, grandmothers and other folks, as well as a few wise doctors, have recommended cranberry juice to clear up bladder infections. Scientists were a little later coming on board, but they now agree. Research suggests cranberry may be effective against UTIs because it prevents E. coli from attaching to the walls of the bladder.

Along with helping to prevent and treat garden-variety UTIs, it turns out that cranberries may also help prevent more serious bladder infections. In a very small study at the University of Washington in Seattle, researchers gave three women cranberry juice cocktail after collecting urine samples. The scientists took more samples four to six hours afterward, combined both sets of samples with human bladder cells, and incubated them with E. coli. They found that the number of bacteria able to stick to the bladder cells (which is the first thing bacteria have to do to cause an infection) was significantly reduced in the women’s urine after they drank the cranberry juice. The most protective dose was eight ounces. Although this was a very small study, several larger ones show similar results. Writing in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine, a team of researchers analyzed results from 10 studies involving nearly 1,500 people—and found that “cranberry-containing products” (juice, powders, dried cranberries, etc.) reduced the risk of UTIs by 38 percent. More impressively, the risk of recurrent UTIs was reduced by 47 percent.


Drinking more fluids, such as cranberry juice and water, encourages frequent urination, which helps flush bacteria from the bladder, but some fluids can be irritating. When you feel a bladder infection coming on, avoid drinking alcohol and coffee, tea, and colas that contain caffeine.

Yogurt. For an infection-fighting breakfast, you might try tossing a handful of blueberries into a bowl of yogurt and chasing it with a glass of cranberry juice. Yogurt is a good natural healer. Studies show that the probiotics (active bacterial cultures) in yogurt help prevent both bladder and yeast infections.

Another way yogurt may help is by stimulating the production of several cytokines (molecules that help regulate immune function), according to research from the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Vienna, Austria. Although both conventional and probiotic yogurt enhanced immune function in the study, I’d look for yogurt that lists live cultures on the label.

Don’t be fooled by the words “made with active cultures.” All yogurts are made with live cultures, but some manufacturers heat-treat yogurt after fermenting it, which kills the cultures. The FDA requires them to label these products “heat-treated after culturing.” Avoid these products and look for yogurt labels that say “active yogurt cultures,” “living yogurt cultures,” or “contains active cultures.”

You might improve the action of probiotics by pairing them with herbs rich in inulin, such as Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion, and chicory.

Blueberries. As with cranberries, folk practitioners have claimed for a long time that blueberries help UTIs. Blueberries contain constituents similar to those in cranberries and may also prevent bacteria from attaching to the lining of the bladder. However, there isn’t much research on the effectiveness of blueberries in preventing bladder infections.

An early study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that certain compounds in cranberry and blueberry juice may prevent bacteria from clinging to the bladder walls so they can’t cause infection there. Both blueberries and cranberries, as well as many other herbs and fruits in the heather family, contain arbutin, an antibiotic and diuretic compound that helps relieve water retention. In another study of seven juices, cranberry and blueberry both lowered E. coli adhesion, while grapefruit, guava, mango, orange, and pineapple did not.

Banish Bladder Infections

All of the foods mentioned here, along with your doctor’s prescription, can help treat bladder infections, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the following standard self-care guidelines for preventing this condition.

All women, whether or not they’re prone to bladder infections, should…

  • Drink eight glasses of water a day
  • Urinate whenever they feel the urge (a full bladder is more prone to infection)
  • Avoid douching
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom, to prevent anal bacteria from being introduced into the urethra Women with recurrent bladder infections should…
  • Take showers instead of baths
  • Drink a glass of water before and after sexual intercourse
  • Urinate within 15 minutes after intercourse

Teaberry (wintergreen). You probably won’t find this at the supermarket except in chewing gums and herbal teas, but if you can find it, I think this one really belongs in every spice chest. In midwinter, I steep the leaves and berries in vodka for my homemade liqueur called Teaberry Trip. In summer, I like to add wild ginger and bee balm. Old-timers steeped the leaves in brandy as a tonic liqueur. In Maine, we also use it to make wintergreen tea. Northern Indians revered the leaves almost as much as the Incas revered the leaves of coca. There are at least four painkilling compounds in them: methyl salicylate, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and gentisic acid. For bladder complaints, it contains the important urinary antiseptic arbutin plus a lot of other bladder-friendly phytochemicals.

Papaya and other produce. After cranberry and blueberry, UTI-fighting juices include carrot, celery, cucumber, papaya, and parsley. Papaya, in particular, has a long history of use for bladder problems, and no wonder. Good research shows that it’s a diuretic that helps empty the bladder.

From the Herbal Medicine Chest

Bearberries, close relatives of cranberries and blueberries, contain a good amount of arbutin, a natural diuretic and antibiotic. The herb was highly recommended by my late friend Varro Tyler, PhD, dean and professor emeritus of pharmacognosy (natural product pharmacy) at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. In his excellent book Herbs of Choice, Dr. Tyler relied on the recommendations of Germany’s Commission E, a government agency that evaluates the safety and efficacy of medicinal herbs. Calling bearberry the “most effective antibacterial herb for urinary tract infections,” Dr. Tyler offered the Commission E prescription: Take 10 grams a day (about 1 ⁄3 ounce) to treat bladder infections. This much bearberry contains anywhere from 400 to 700 milligrams of arbutin. Maximum antibacterial activity occurs three to four hours after taking this herb.

For additional advice on proven natural remedies for common health conditions, purchase The Green Pharmacy from Bottomlineinc.com.

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