Published January 25, 2024 Itching, burning, funky smells, swelling, discharge… Sound familiar? Those are the most commonly reported symptoms of bacterial infections, down there. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bacterial vaginosis (BV) are the two main bacterial infections that women experience in their lifetimes. Although it can be hard to discern which you may have at times, the two affect distinctly different parts of your reproductive system. A UTI is an infection in any part of your urinary system which includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most often, the infection occurs in the lower portion of your urinary tract, in your bladder and/or urethra, but it can spread to your kidneys if left untreated. On the other hand, BV is an infection in your vagina that usually causes inflammation and irritation of your vulva as well. Both UTIs and BV are not only miserable, but they can also take a toll on your mental health and other body systems. Not to mention, many women find themselves in a seemingly never-ending pattern of recurring infections or coinfections. Let’s dive into our favorite herbs and supplements to give UTIs and BV the boot for good! Natural remedies: nutrition and herbs Cranberry Turns out there is some real truth to the notion that cranberry juice can help UTIs after all! And it’s all thanks to the bright-red compounds within fresh cranberries called proanthocyanidins or PACs. These bioactive, microbiome-modulating, probiotic-feeding constituents contain highly specific A-type linkages in their chemical structures, which aren’t found anywhere else in the plant kingdom. Researchers found that the A-type linkages in PACs in cranberries are what inhibit the adhesion of E. coli and other pathogenic strains of bacteria to the walls of your urinary tract. While drinking pure, unsweetened cranberry juice will certainly offer you the benefits of PACs, concentrated forms of cranberry (like powders) allow you to consume the most medicinal aspects of this plant without the volume of juice that’s typically required to reach a therapeutic dosage. Generally, research shows that taking 500-1,500 mg of dried cranberry per day is most effective for urinary tract infections. Our complete vaginal health formula *LAUNCHING SOON* contains Cranberex, a clinically studied, 200x concentrate of whole Oregon cranberry, for a solution that’s both punchy and convenient. Probiotics Did you know your vagina needs specific probiotic strains in order to maintain the correct pH and prevent infections? Instead of seeking microbial diversity, you actually want fewer species of bacteria and more of them. Particularly, Lactobacilli. These beneficial bugs physically crowd out pathogenic microbes, produce lactic acid (which keeps your vaginal pH acidic), and generate compounds (like hydrogen peroxide) that target and kill any invaders. Therefore, it’s important that any probiotic supplement you take for your vaginal health contains predominantly Lactobacilli strains. If you enjoy getting a daily dose of probiotics from your meals, Lactobacillus-rich foods like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha are extremely supportive to your vaginal flora! D-Mannose If you’ve perused the UTI supplements at your local health food store, you’ve likely come across this common ingredient. D-Mannose is a monosaccharide, or simple sugar, that is found in fruits like apples, currants, oranges, and peaches. It is quickly absorbed into your urinary tract and works by preventing harmful bacteria from sticking to your urinary tract walls. While the exact mechanism of action is still being studied, researchers postulate that D-mannose molecules bind to pathogenic bacteria (like E. coli) and ensure that they get eliminated through your urine. Clinical studies suggest that taking 3g of D-mannose for 2 weeks during an infection, followed by prophylactic supplementation of 1g daily significantly decreased UTI recurrence, duration and severity (1, 2). Garlic Garlic is one of the most potent kitchen medicines we have at our fingertips. Allicin, an active compound in freshly chopped or crushed garlic, has both antifungal and antibacterial properties. This means it’s able to attack UTI-causing E. coli AND yeast infection-producing Candida albicans – a one-two punch (3, 4). There are numerous ways you can go about using garlic for urinary tract and yeast infections: simply eating raw garlic (sneak it into salad dressing!), trying a garlic clove suppository, applying a topical cream that contains garlic and taking garlic extract supplements. Vitamin C We all know how wonderful Vitamin C is for supporting the immune system, which is certainly a factor in fighting infections of any kind. Additionally, experts say that Vitamin C can help treat UTIs by making your urine more acidic and, therefore, inhibiting bacterial growth in your urinary tract. This is especially helpful for people who are prone to UTIs, like postmenopausal or pregnant women. One study on pregnant women found that taking 100 mg of Vitamin C each day for three months was able to safely and effectively treat their UTIs when compared to the control group (5). Oil of oregano The volatile oils that make oregano smell and taste so divine are the very same oils that give the herb its powerful antimicrobial properties. You might see oregano in topical creams, as an essential oil, or in the oil form which is labeled as “oil of oregano”. Several studies have shown that oregano oil successfully inhibits the growth of E. coli and other infection-causing bacteria in vitro (6). While there isn’t any published clinical research on oregano oil and bacterial vaginosis (BV), there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence from women that suggests it may help with symptoms and reduce the duration of the infection. You can quite easily find oil of oregano in capsule form and take it daily for acute infections. Uva ursi Also known as bearberry or upland cranberry, Arctostaphylos uva ursi is another herb that you may have seen in UTI formulations. The small, hardy leaves of the uva ursi plant are quite antibacterial due to their high arbutin (a glycosylated hydroquinone) content. There haven’t been any large-scale studies exploring uva ursi as a clinical treatment for UTIs but several smaller studies suggest that it can reduce recurring instances of UTIs in women (7). In one double blind, randomized study, chronic UTI sufferers (defined as getting 3 infections per year) were treated with uva ursi and dandelion for 1 month, then monitored for the subsequent year. Researchers found that the uva ursi and dandelion regimen exhibited a prophylactic effect on recurring UTIs (7). Antibiotics for UTIs and BV As much as we adore herbal medicine, we also vehemently believe that there is a time and a place for conventional medicine to step in. Infections of any kind must be taken seriously to prevent them from snowballing into other conditions or becoming systemic, and UTIs or BV are no exception! If you find yourself at the doctor’s office for one of the two, you’ll usually have to give a urine sample for the doctor to determine if you have a bacterial infection. From there, you’ll receive a prescription for a round of antibiotics, depending on the bacterial strain that caused it. The good news with this approach is that you’ll probably experience sweet sweet relief from the miserable symptoms in a day or two. The bad news? You’ll upset the balance of bacteria in your microbiome (gut, vaginal, etc) and you may become resistant to certain antibiotics the more you take them. Antibiotics aren’t able to differentiate between “good” and “bad” bacteria so they unfortunately end up killing off a large population of both. This means that after your round of antibiotics, you’ll have significantly less beneficial bacteria in your microbiome that offer countless benefits including: warding off invaders, modulating your immune system, supplying essential nutrients and reducing inflammation. You may also end up getting a pesky yeast infection post-antibiotics which is the worst! All this is to say, absolutely use antibiotics when necessary, but try to avoid taking them when they aren’t. And as far as herbal care goes, prevention is always the best medicine! We recommend supporting your urinary tract health and vaginal health with diet and lifestyle choices to stave off infection and reaching for research-backed herbal remedies first.