Today I am going to look at different natural antibiotics for the urinary tract.
A lot of herbal antimicrobials have a much longer track record of safety compared to modern antibiotic drugs.
They often have less side effects and may exert additional beneficial effects on top of their antimicrobial action, such as reducing inflammation and hindering bacterial adhesion.
Unfortunately, there is not as much science to support plant medicine simply because research is expensive and there is not a lot of money to be made from natural compounds.
This does not necessarily mean that natural remedies are not evidence-based or less effective.
I have written about my issues with standard antibiotic protocols for UTIs before and with the rising problem of antibiotic resistance we should be looking at other alternatives and reserve antibiotic drugs for emergencies.
Now let’s take a look at some natural antimicrobials that do have scientific data to support their efficacy:
Bearberry (Uva Ursi)
Uva Ursi is a traditional herbal folk remedy for urinary tract infections that also has some scientific research to validate its use.
The active compound in Uva Ursi is called arbutin, which is synthesized into the antimicrobial compound hydroquinone in the liver, from where it is secreted into the urine.
Uva Ursi exerts its maximum antimicrobial effect 3-4 hours after oral ingestion.
Because Uva Ursi exerts its antimicrobial effect mainly in alkaline urine, a diet rich in vegetables and fruits would be recommended during treatment.
In women with recurrent cystitis, Uva Ursi has been shown to prevent further episodes .
Uva Ursi may also reduce bacterial urease (an enzyme produced by pathogens that increases urinary pH) in certain Staphylococcus infections .
Uva Ursi contains tannins, which may be another compound that helps to fight early infections .
On top of that, Uva Ursi has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties , which may be useful when long-term infections and intracellular bacteria have caused inflammation in the bladder.
- The tannins that are present in Uva Ursi may cause nausea and can bind to minerals in food, making them unavailable to the body. A cold infusion of 4-5 Tbsp of leaves in water may reduce this issue as tannins are poorly extracted this way.
- Despite their positive antimicrobial action, hydroquinones have a number of potential negative effects such as suppression of immune cells, toxicity of the kidneys and mutagenic properties.
- However, no side-effects have been observed when used short-term (no more than 1 month) as the amount of hydroquinone generated in urine over that time is exceedingly small .
Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia)
Guduchi is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that has long been used for the urinary tract and to support immunity, longevity and resistance to disease.
This herb seems to be particular for fighting infections of Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
The herb doesn’t seem to be as effective for E. Coli infections.
For the above purpose the herb is best used as an ethanol extract of its leaf .
Berberine is a natural plant alkaloid that is found in plants such as goldenseal, Oregon grape, gold thread and barberry.
In sufficiently high concentrations, berberine exerts antimicrobial effects.
Moreover, it may also help prevent the adhesion of pathogens onto the bladder wall , which would in turn help keep them from invading cells and producing biofilms.
Berberine has been shown to prevent cell division of E. Coli  and is useful and safe for E. Coli infections .
However, to gain maximum antimicrobial effects Berberine needs to be taken in large enough amounts. Simply taking a Berberine containing herb would probably not contain a large enough amount.
Standardized extracts usually contain 5-10% Berberine and should be available in supplement form.
Horseradish Root (Armoracia rusticana) and Nasturtium
Horseradish root is the white root commonly used as a food condiment.
Nasturtium includes edible watercress that belong to the brassica family of plants.
A combination of horseradish extract and Nasturtium leaf has been shown to be as effective as antibiotics for uncomplicated UTIs, but without the side effects .
In a follow-up, the rate of UTIs had also halved in those treated with the combination compared to the placebo group.
Moreover, horseradish has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects .
Horseradish and watercress could be easily added to the diet for anyone who is prone to UTIs (although an extract would most likely be needed for acute infections).
Natural does not always mean something is safe and does not have side effects. When taking anything, I would always recommend working with a skilled and knowledgeable practitioner.
Natural also doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘good’ bacteria won’t be affected. So whenever following an antimicrobial protocol (natural or allopathic) it may help to also top up beneficial bacteria with a supplement or probiotic foods.
In the future, safer and more targeted antibiotic protocols may be widely prescribed but until then it may be wise to look at alternatives.
I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has experience with natural antimicrobials for the urinary tract. Please let me know in the comments!
Pin it for later:
- Kathy Abascal, B.S., R.H. (AHG), and Eric Yarnell, N.D. Botanical medicine for cystitis ALTERNATIVE & COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES—APRIL 2008 http://www.academia.edu/7456116/Botanical_medicine_for_cystitis_2008_
- Deutch, C.E. (2017), Limited effectiveness of over-the-counter plant preparations used for the treatment of urinary tract infections as inhibitors of the urease activity from Staphylococcus saprophyticus. J Appl Microbiol, 122: 1380–1388. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jam.13430/full
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- Shanthi and R. Nelson Anitbacterial activity of Tinospora cordifolia (Willd) Hook.F.Thoms on urinary tract pathogens Int.J.Curr.Microbiol.App.Sci (2013) 2(6): 190-194 http://ijcmas.com/vol-2-6/V.%20Shanthi%20and%20R.%20Nelson.pdf
- Corinna Herz, Hoai Thi Thu Tran, Melinda-Rita Márton, Ronald Maul, Susanne Baldermann, Monika Schreiner and Evelyn Lamy Evaluation of an Aqueous Extract from Horseradish Root (Armoracia rusticana Radix) against Lipopolysaccharide-Induced Cellular Inflammation Reaction Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2017, Article ID 1950692, 10 pages
- Prerna N. Domadia, Anirban Bhunia, J. Sivaraman, Sanjay Swarup and Debjani Dasgupta Berberine Targets Assembly of Escherichia coli Cell Division Protein FtsZ Biochemistry 2008, 47, 3225–3234 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Anirban_Bhunia/publication/5577238_Berberine_Targets_Assembly_of_Escherichia_coli_Cell_Division_Protein_FtsZ/links/0c9605200f4bfaf2ef000000/Berberine-Targets-Assembly-of-Escherichia-coli-Cell-Division-Protein-FtsZ.pdf