A “recurrent UTI” doesn’t sound like too a big deal, but this diagnosis forever changed my relationship with conventional healthcare. My first instinct has always been to trust my doctors. After all, half of my family members are physicians. However, when my physician told me that I have to start taking antibiotics every time after having sex, because of recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI), I protested.
Half a year before this diagnosis, I had zero health concerns and couldn’t even remember the last time I had taken any medication. It seemed ridiculous for me to have to start taking antibiotics regularly, if not indefinitely.
Recurrent UTI Cycle
How did it all start? Out of the blue, I woke up one day with a full blown UTI: an urgency to urinate, a horrible burning sensation after peeing, blood in my urine, and lower abdomen pain. Needless to say, I called my physician and, per his prescription, I started a course of antibiotics (Cephalexin [KEFLEEX]). My symptoms quickly disappeared and I felt great.
Much to my annoyance, a couple weeks later, the blood and burning was back; I had another UTI. A new course of antibiotics quickly brought relief, but soon I was back at the doctor’s office with the same symptoms. When the cycle repeated itself again and again, my physician declared the next step: take an antibiotic pill every time after I have sex, since it’s a known trigger for urinary tract infections. For me personally, I knew that sex was a major contributing factor even though I was doing everything right in terms of intimate hygiene. I decided to research the connection between sex and UTIs a little deeper, before agreeing to preventative antibiotics.
The Mechanics Of UTIs
One out of four women will experience a UTI at least once in her lifetime. For about a quarter of these women, the infection will become a recurrent problem.
Sex is a known risk factor for urinary tract infections; during sexual intercourse, bacteria (80 percent of UTI are caused by E. coli) that are normally present in your gut can enter your urethra and ascend to the bladder, causing a UTI. E. coli is harmless, and even helpful (it helps to produce vitamin K) when it inhabits your lower intestines, but if it infects other areas of your body, it can cause problems.
Remember how your mom told you to wash your hands after using the bathroom? It’s because your poop is full of E. coli and other potentially harmful bacteria! Sexual activities, poor hygiene, and even toilet water splashes can serve as a mechanism for transmitting E. coli towards the vagina and urethra. Once E. coli is abundant in your vaginal flora, it is even easier for the bacteria to reach your urethra during sex (unfortunately, the urethra is right next to clitoris). That’s why, if you are diagnosed with recurrent UTI, the common strategy is to start preventative antibiotics; instead of waiting for the symptoms, take the pill right after sex to nip the infection in the bud. However, all antibiotics come with certain side effects. Antibiotics were not meant to be taken preventatively and overuse has led to the development of antibiotic resistance.
First Line Of Defense: Vaginal Flora
While some bacteria are harmful to humans, our bodies (inside and out!) are literally covered with beneficial bacteria. Moreover, good bacteria help to regulate and control harmful microorganisms. When you take an antibiotic, it kills the “bad guys” but also kills some of your good bacteria too. In other words, drugs disturb the innate protective flora of your gut, bladder, and vagina. Imagine that happening again and again. Your own defenses become battered.
Due to female anatomy, it is very easy for E. coli to reach the vagina (as I mentioned earlier, it could happen during sex or due to poor hygiene habits). If vaginal flora is balanced, the invaders will be “kicked out.” On the contrary, if one’s vaginal microbiome lacks good bacteria, the harmful microorganisms will thrive.
A high concentration of pathogens in the vagina almost guarantees that some of them will be transferred toward the urethra during sex, and this is how most women get a recurrent UTI. Some factors that contribute to making the vaginal pH out of balance, and more likely to absorb pathogens, are stress, poor diet, condoms with spermicide, chemical-based lubricants, etc. These can affect your vaginal microbiome and make you more vulnerable for the infection.
A round of antibiotics clears an infection, but makes it easier for harmful bacteria to invade your bladder again.
The solution is quite simple: if you have to take antibiotics, take a course of probiotics to restore the bacterial balance. You may also wish to consider natural antibiotics, such as colloidal silver, which is scientifically proven to kill bad bacteria while leaving good bacteria intact.
When it comes to choosing a probiotic, look for Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 strains. These strains are thought to maintain a favorable vaginal pH in the acidic range and to inhibit pathogens, and their role in supporting healthy vaginal flora is well researched.
Second Line Of Defense: Bladder Flora
Even when harmful bacteria reach your bladder, you still have a chance to resist the infection. Contrary to popular belief, your bladder is not sterile; similar to the rest of your body, it is inhibited by dozens of different bacteria (pathogenic and beneficial ones) that form bladder flora. Stress, diet, and pharmaceutical drugs can shift the balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in your bladder, making it more susceptible to infections.
Another important aspect that contributes to the effectiveness of the bladder’s defense mechanism is the urine pH level. One recent study compared urine samples from volunteers and found that harmful bacteria would quickly grow in urine with low pH level, but would deteriorate in alkaline urine. Fortunately, diet is the main factor affecting the acidity of your urine, as well as your whole body, and it is easy to control.
Therefore, to improve your bladder flora, take probiotics and eat right! Steer clear from sugars, processed foods, and meat since they increase the acidity of your bladder. Also, make sure to include more vegetables, fruits, and berries in your diet to alkalize your urine and protect your bladder from a recurrent UTI.
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Closing The Loop
Several months later, UTI free and taking zero antibiotics, I sent an email to my physician sharing my findings of how to break the cycle of recurrent UTI. He replied: “Thanks for letting me know about it. We’re seeing more benefits from probiotics for various things, so I definitely can see how this could help”.
Four years has passed since I have discovered the importance of probiotics for vaginal and bladder health. Since many things besides antibiotics can affect the balance of our natural protective flora, I now take a course of probiotics during stressful times or after indulging in carbs and sweets (holiday season!).
I hope this information can help women prevent UTIs naturally and stay healthy. To read more news, tips and ideas on recurrent UTI prevention and treatment, please check out my blog.
Anastasia Visotskyis is a former chronic UTI sufferer, I write about latest UTI related research, advocating for mindful use of antibiotics, smart preventive tactics, and focus on human microbiota.Her blog is www.StopUTIforever.com. I frequently interview researchers, physicians and patients to provide insights and different perspectives on the topic. I want to help you to break the cycle!
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