Urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are very common bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. However, it is also possible to treat a UTI without antibiotics. UTIs, which are more prevalent in women, are among the most common bacterial infections in the United States.
Most people now want to know whether non-antibiotic treatments can resolve UTIs. Here are seven evidence-based home remedies that can help to treat UTIs.
Can you treat a UTI without antibiotics?
Antibiotics are an effective treatment for UTIs. But minor UTIs can often be resolved by the body without the help of antibiotics.
It has been estimated that about 25–42 percent of uncomplicated UTI infections resolve on their own. In these cases, people can try a range of home remedies to accelerate recovery.
READ ALSO: Urinary Tract Infections, UTIs in Men
Complicated UTIs will require medical treatment. These UTIs involve one or more of the following factors:
- changes in the urinary tract or organs, such as a swollen prostate
- species of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics
- conditions that affect the immune system, such as lupus, cardiac disease, or HIV
Benefits of antibiotics for UTIs
Antibiotics are the standard treatment for UTIs because they kill the bacteria that cause the infections. Most UTIs develop when bacteria enter the urinary tract from outside the body. The species of bacteria most likely to be responsible for UTIs include:
- Escherichia colispecies
- Staphylococcus epidermidisand Staphylococcus aureus
- Klebsiella pneumoniae
Risks of antibiotics for UTIs
While antibiotics can usually treat UTIs quickly and efficiently, people can be allergic to them, and their use can carry certain risks.
An estimated 22 percent of the women receiving treatment for simple UTIs develop a type of fungal infection called vaginal Candida infection.
Other side effects of antibiotics as UTI treatments include:
- nausea and vomiting
- a rash
- abnormal liver function tests
More severe risks of using antibiotics include:
Creating stronger strains of bacteria
Some species of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics over time. There are several species of E. coli that are displaying increasing drug resistance, and these are the primary cause of UTIs.
Every time people use an antibiotic, there is an increased risk of the bacteria developing resistance to it. This often happens when people do not follow the doctor’s instructions to complete the full prescribed dosage.
So, doctors are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially when other treatments may be effective. It is essential to continue a course of antibiotics until the end date that the doctor provides.
Damaging good bacteria
The body contains a community of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live harmoniously and help with functions of the body. Antibiotics may destroy some of these bacteria, which could increase the chances of other infections.
Seven methods for treating UTIs without antibiotics
Scientific research supports some home or natural UTI remedies, but others have been a part of traditional medicine systems for thousands of years.
To treat a UTI without antibiotics, people can try the following home remedies:
- Drink lots of water
Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to help prevent and treat UTIs. Water helps the urinary tract organs to efficiently get rid of waste from the body while retaining vital nutrients and electrolytes.
Proper water intake also dilutes the urine and speeds its journey through the system, making it harder for bacteria to reach the cells that line urinary organs and to cause an infection.
There is no set recommendation for how much people should drink daily, as each person’s water requirements are different. People should drink at least six to eight 8 glasses of water daily on average.
- Avoid holding back urine
Endeavor to urinate when you have the urge. Frequent urination mounts pressure on bacteria in the urinary tract, which can help to flush them out. It also reduces the amount of time that bacteria in the urine are exposed to cells in the urinary tract, reducing the risk of them attaching and establishing an infection.
- Drink cranberry juice
Cranberry juice is one of the best natural treatments for UTIs. People have also used it to help clear general infections and speed up wound recovery.
According to one review, cranberry juice is made up of compounds that may prevent E. coli cells from attaching to cells in the urinary tract.
Cranberry juice also contains antioxidants, including polyphenols, which have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
There is no set guideline on how much cranberry juice to drink to treat a UTI, but a common recommendation is to drink around 400 milliliters (mL) of at least 25-percent cranberry juice daily to prevent or treat UTIs.
- Use probiotics
Probiotics can help keep the urinary tract healthy and devoid of harmful bacteria. A group of probiotics called lactobacilli may help with treating and preventing UTIs by:
- producing hydrogen peroxide in urine, which is a strong antibacterial
- preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to urinary tract cells
- lowering urine pH, making conditions less favorable for bacteria
People who take lactobacillus supplements while on antibiotics for UTIs may develop less antibiotic resistance than people not taking them.
Probiotics occur in a variety of fermented and dairy products, including:
- some types of cheese
People can also take probiotic supplements, which are usually in the form of a capsule or a powder that mixes into water or other beverages.
- Get enough vitamin C
Vitamin C helps to improve the function of immune system. It also reacts with nitrates in urine to form nitrogen oxides that can destroy bacteria. It can lower the pH of urine, making it less likely that bacteria will survive.
As with cranberry juice, people have been using vitamin C in various forms to treat UTIs for thousands of years. But there is a lack of quality research to confirm whether or not increasing vitamin C intake can prevent or treat UTIs.
The National Institutes of Health recommend that for people aged 19 and over, women should get at least 75 mg of vitamin C per day, while men need around 90 mg per day. Those who smoke should take an additional 35 mg of the vitamin daily.
- Wipe from front to back
Many UTIs form when bacteria from the rectum or feces enter the urethra, the small channel that allows urine to flow out of the body.
Bacteria can travel up into other urinary tract organs where they can lead to infections once they are in the urethra.
Wipe in a way that prevents bacteria from coming into contact with the genitals after urinating or defecating. Use separate pieces of toilet paper to wipe the genitals and anus.
- Practice good sexual hygiene
Sexual intercourse introduces bacteria and other microbes from outside the body to the urinary tract. Practicing good sexual hygiene can help to reduce the number of bacteria that people can transfer during intercourse and other sexual acts.
Examples of good sexual hygiene include:
- urinating before and immediately after sex
- using contraception such as a condom
- washing the genitals before and after engaging in sexual acts
- ensuring that sexual partners are aware of any current or previous UTIs
Currently, researchers are trying to design vaccines that would prevent many types of bacteria from being able to attach to body cells properly.
When to see a doctor
If a person suspects that they might have a UTI, they should speak to their doctor for advice on the best way to treat the possible infection.
Antibiotics may not always be necessary to treat UTIs, but it is still important to seek medical attention for any infection or suspected infection. This will reduce the risk of a more severe infection developing that is more difficult to treat.
The signs and symptoms of UTIs include:
- burning sensation when urinating
- increased frequency and urgency of urination
- cloudy, murky, or bloody urine
- low-grade fevers(below 101°F)
- pressure or cramping in the area around the lower abdomen and groin
- change in the smell or color of urine