Anyone who has ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI) is familiar with just how awful an experience it can be. I experienced my first UTI when I was about 20 years old (2000). What started out as an increased urge to pee gradually progressed over several hours to what felt like urinating tiny drips of pure acid (delightful). At the time, and as an inexperienced youngster, I assumed I’d contracted an STI and immediately booked an appointment to see my doctor the same day. For those of you who are lucky enough to have never had a UTI, you suddenly feel absolutely desperate to pee every half an hour or so, but when you rush to the toilet, you only manage a thimble-full, if any. I felt terrified of leaving the house in order to get to the doctor for fear of peeing myself in public, but I had no choice… I needed help, fast. The doc tested a urine sample and told me I had a bladder infection, then prescribed me a course of antibiotics (trimethoprim). These worked almost immediately and I was fine the next day (but of course still finished the course).
About a week later though, my next joy of joys was a bout of thrush, which is a common after-effect of antibiotics. This is because antibiotics not only kill the bacteria causing the infection, but they kill all bacteria, including the vital “friendly” bacteria responsible for maintaining a balanced environment in the vagina. So off I went to the pharmacist this time, who (after clarifying to the whole shop: “DO YOU WANT A CREAM, TABLET OR PESSARY?” Thanks.) gave me a Canesten tablet (clotrimazole), an anti-fungal. A week or two later I was back to normal.
However, while this UTI was my first, it was unfortunately not to be my last. From this point on, and for the next 12 years or so, I suffered recurring bladder infections, sometimes in bouts of 3 or 4 almost consecutively. I figured out the cause was sex; bacteria (likely e coli.) were invading my urethra and no amount of water, aggressive post-coital peeing or cranberry juice was making any difference. I became so accustomed to the initial symptoms that I recognised the dreaded “end-of-pee-flow sting” immediately. And every time, I had to go to my GP, get a urine test, and then take yet another course of trimethoprim, which would most often progress to thrush, which, in turn would need to be treated with yet another Canesten pill (or pessary, if you prefer!). And, throughout these 12 years I was taking a contraceptive pill – knowing how antibiotics can cause the pill to become less effective (though not once did my GP warn me of this, I came across this information myself), I became increasingly worried about an unplanned pregnancy. By age 30, I was in a relationship that I wanted to end and I was right in the middle of my second university degree – a pregnancy would not have been good news! Add all that to the well-known problem of antibiotic resistance (especially drugs like trimethoprim) and I was getting anxious.
I’d done so much research on bladder infections and how to prevent them, but struggled to find anything useful. “Drink plenty water” (kind of obvious), “wipe front to back” (does anyone do the opposite?!), “drink cranberry juice” (sugar water with 3% cranberry from concentrate? No thanks), “pee and shower after sex” (“it’s not you, it’s me”), you name it I tried it. Then one day, in one of my many desperate online searches, I came across a community forum with a thread on cystitis. Most posts were well-meaning advice on the usual “remedies”, but one person mentioned something I had never come across before: mannose. Google, brace yourself.
Mannose (usually labelled D-mannose) is a type of sugar that can be made by the body from glucose for certain metabolic processes. While similar in structure to glucose, mannose is not stored in the liver and muscles, but is instead excreted by the kidneys through the urine. Described as being effective in preventing bladder infections, I ordered some immediately. I took a few immediately after sex (and before if possible!) along with plenty water and… lo and behold…. the bladder infections just stopped. After the misery and stress of what amounted to nearly 13 years of recurring cystitis, I felt like I’d found the miracle cure. Every time I would normally start an infection I would wait for the dreaded symptoms and… nothing! How does it work? It’s thought that mannose either prevents bacteria from adhering to the wall of the urethra and/or attaches to bacteria, thereby helping to flush them out of the bladder. Kind of like the police escorting an unwelcome guest from the premises.
In the subsequent 8 years I only ever had about one or two bladder infections (but on both of these occasions I forgot to take enough mannose, so my fault). I’ve found mannose to be so incredibly effective in preventing bladder infections, however, credit for treating active infections goes to another wonder-remedy I discovered: uva ursi (aka bearberry).
Latin for “bear grapes” (hence the name bearberry), uva ursi is a small evergreen ground plant that is typically found in colder climates and at higher altitudes, such as Northern Europe and the mountains of Canada and North America. Thanks to its anti-bacterial, diuretic, urinary antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, it is an extremely effective way of treating bladder infections naturally. So effective in fact, I have been able to treat the couple of infections I have had without having to resort to antibiotics.
You will likely find little conclusive scientific research on the effectiveness of either mannose or uva ursi for preventing and treating bladder infections, but unfortunately this is typical across most “complementary” or “alternative” therapies. Drug companies only make money if they sell medications, so little funding goes into researching natural therapies and even compelling evidence is deemed unproven, inconclusive or purely speculative. But there is some strong research out there and plenty reliable producers of both products. This has been my experience, but do your own research. I hope these miracle cures become more widely known and accepted – I wish I’d known about them 20 years ago!