UTIs are incredibly common, particularly in the female population. As such, lots of research has been poured into ways to prevent and treat these infections. Many theories and ideas have come about from this research, including the topic of probiotics for urinary tract infections.
Can taking probiotic supplements or ingesting more probiotic foods help with your UTI? Let’s find out…
What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
A UTI is a bacterial infection that forms within your urinary tract, usually starting in the urethra and spreading further up. When left untreated, the infection can spread up to your kidneys and cause a kidney infection. It is currently believed that 10 in 25 women and 3 in 25 men will have symptoms of a UTI in their lifetime. Research also indicates that the portion of the population most at risk of UTIs is women of reproductive age.
What causes a UTI?
Bacteria is what triggers a urinary tract infection in both men and women. Various studies have been done on this topic, and they all indicate that the main culprit is E coli. Our body naturally produces this bacteria in our digestive tract, and when it is left here it doesn’t usually cause any complications or infections.
However, most UTIs are caused by this bacteria escaping and ending up in the urinary tract. The most common way for this to happen is the bacteria being picked up around the rectum/anus and transferred to the urethral opening. You could scratch an itch by your buttocks and think nothing of it. But, if you then go to the toilet and touch your genitals, you might transfer E coli bacteria to your urethra.
There is also some interesting evidence that suggests women are more prone to recurrent UTIs because of a particular vaginal bacteria called Gardnerella vaginalis. It is believed that the presence of this bacteria triggers any E coli hiding in the bladder to multiply and create another infection.
Can probiotics help with a UTI?
Probiotics can be defined simply as good bacteria. Your body needs bacteria to thrive, and there is some evidence that indicates women with decreased levels of lactobacillus (a probiotic) are more prone to UTIs. Thus, one study in 2018 looked at the role of probiotics in women with recurrent urinary tract infections. It found that increasing levels of lactobacillus improved the chances of warding off the infection.
Similarly, there is a link between probiotics and your urine. Specifically, probiotics are shown to lower acidity levels in your urine. This is very important when treating UTIs as high acidity levels are bad. When your urine is too acidic, it creates the ideal setting for bacteria to form and cling to your urinary tract. Making it less acidic will do the opposite and makes it easier to get rid of the bacteria when urinating.
Are probiotics effective for preventing UTIs?
Yes, as mentioned above, studies have shown that taking probiotics can reduce the risks of developing UTIs. Effectively, the good bacteria make it less likely that bad bacteria can form in your urinary tract.
However, it’s important to note that you still need to take other measures to prevent a UTI. If you are constantly unhygienic and never wash your hands – particularly after wiping in the bathroom – then you are still likely to get a UTI.
What is the best probiotic for UTIs?
Naturally, there are many probiotics out there, but which one is the best for treating and preventing UTIs?
Generally, scientific research has indicated that Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 are the two most effective for preventing UTIs. If you are going to use a supplement, it is a good idea to check the nutritional information or ingredients to see if these two are present.
Other ways you can prevent UTIs
UTIs are easy to prevent if you know how. To start, practice better hygiene, particularly when you are going to the toilet or engaging in sexual intercourse. Wipe from front to back at all times to prevent bacteria from spreading from your anus. Always wash your hands if you have touched your anus or genitals. During sexual intercourse, use protection if engaging in anal sex and ensure that a new condom is worn if engaging in vaginal sex after.
Other ways you can prevent a UTI include:
- Drinking lots of water to flush out your urinary tract and stop bacteria from forming & multiplying
- Drink cranberry juice – a study found that regularly drinking cranberry juice was associated with a decreased risk of UTIs
- Use sodium bicarbonate – orally taking sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) has been linked to a reduction in urinary tract infections in young women, per one study. This is because it makes the urine more alkaline, slowing down the formation of bacteria. There has also been some evidence to suggest that taking a baking soda bath could prevent a UTI and ease symptoms
Treating a UTI is simple and painless. No surgery or extreme measures are required – a course of antibiotics is all that’s needed. A doctor will prescribe them to you, and you should take the entire course – even if your symptoms subside very quickly. The antibiotics work to destroy the harmful bacteria that caused your infection. It could be a good idea to take a probiotic supplement after finishing your antibiotics as the medicine also kills good bacteria in your body.
When to see a doctor?
Should you see a doctor if you suffer from a UTI? Absolutely, and you should see them the moment you notice your symptoms. The most common symptoms are burning sensations when you pee, followed by the constant urge to pee. You’ll also feel an itching feeling in your genitals or pain in your bladder.
If you download DrHouse, you can make an on-demand online doctor visit that lets you receive a diagnosis for your UTI and makes it easy to get antibiotics online. This saves the hassle of driving to see your doctor while ensuring you get treated as quickly as possible.
Probiotics can be useful in both treating and preventing UTIs, but you should still take additional preventative measures. Likewise, don’t rely on probiotics to cure your infection – you still need antibiotics to do that.
- Jagtap, S., Harikumar, S., Vinayagamoorthy, V. et al. Comprehensive assessment of holding urine as a behavioral risk factor for UTI in women and reasons for delayed voiding. BMC Infect Dis 22, 521 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12879-022-07501-4
- Falagas ME, Betsi GI, Tokas T, Athanasiou S. Probiotics for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a review of the evidence from microbiological and clinical studies. Drugs. 2006;66(9):1253-61. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.2165/00003495-200666090-00007 . PMID: 16827601.
- R. Raz, B. Chazan, M. Dan, Cranberry Juice and Urinary Tract Infection, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 38, Issue 10, 15 May 2004, Pages 1413–1419, https://doi.org/10.1086/386328
- Sönmez MG, Göğer YE, Ecer G, Atıcı A, Özkent MS, Öztürk A. Effects of urine alkalinization with sodium bicarbonate orally on lower urinary tract symptoms in female patients: a pilot study. Int Urogynecol J. 2018 Jul;29(7):1029-1033. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1007/s00192-017-3492-3 . Epub 2017 Oct 3. PMID: 28975365.