Problems in the bladder and urinary tract can range from incontinence and irritable bladder to infections, also called Cystitis. Incontinence means being unable to control the flow of urine whereas an irritable bladder can feel similar to an infection in that there will be frequent urination and a feeling of wanting to urinate often.
A full-blown infection will cause frequent, burning or painful urination, possible fever, cloudy and sometimes blood-tinged urine. Cystitis occurs more commonly in women because of the shorter, more easily infected urinary ducts.
All of these problems are extremely uncomfortable to say the least! Some women seem to be more prone to symptoms than others and there can be many triggers. So what are the triggers to this uncomfortable and often painful scenario?
Firstly, incontinence happens most commonly after childbirth where the muscles of the pelvic floor have been stretched and weakened. Jumping, running, laughing loudly and even crying can trigger this embarrassing response. An irritable bladder can be the result of a decrease of oestrogen in the bladder and urethral area associated with menopause. It can also be a result of stress and worry.
Cystitis is caused from bacteria, which can come from the anus because of its close proximity or from other outside situations, i.e. sex! This most commonly happens at the beginning of a new sexual relationship and is therefore jokingly referred to as “honeymoonitis”!
However, don’t despair as there are easy, non-toxic solutions to helping and resolving these problems.
Here are some of my favourites that I have found extremely effective over the course of the last 30 years while treating many women in distress:
- Practice kegel’s exercises every day (i.e. pelvic contractions to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles). There are other benefits to this that I won’t go into here!
- Assess if your sensitive bladder and/or incontinence is related to stress. Biofeedback-assisted behavioural training has shown to improve incontinence by 80%. Likewise, stress reduction techniques will help with a nervous, irritable bladder.
- If you suspect an infection or are prone to them, drink a lot of water or unsweetened diluted cranberry juice. Cranberries contain a substance that prevents bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.
- According to Paul Pitchford in Healing with Whole Foods, “infections thrive in a damp environment caused by eating too many acid-forming foods”. Avoid refined sugar and other sweeteners like jams, cakes, biscuits, refined carbohydrates like white rice and white bread, red meat, oily and greasy food.
- Foods that remove dampness and heat, according to Paul Pitchford again, are the cooling, bitter vegetables, especially those bitter salad greens like mizuma, radicchio, mustard greens, rocket, dandelion etc. He suggests making a broth from either aduki or lima beans with celery, carrots, squash, potatoes, asparagus and mushrooms. These veggies are all very alkalising and the fluids will help to flush out the bacteria. Beneficial fruits are diluted lemon juice and cranberry juice.
- Over the years I have found herbal teas and tinctures to be extremely effective in clearing up urinary tract problems and infections. Make a tea of uva ursi, buchu, marshmallow, cornsilk and dandelion leaves and drink one cup 3-4 times a day. From your local herbalist or naturopath, a tincture of buchu, uva ursi, golden seal, echinacea, cornsilk and marshmallow will, in my experience, alleviate symptoms quickly and stop the need for antibiotics.
- For chronic infections I suggest a multi-disciplinary approach. Follow the above guidelines plus include a probiotic in your daily regime to help colonise the gut with friendly bacteria, which because of the anatomical closeness of the anus and urethra, will help to encourage good bacteria in the places it is needed.
- Barley Water – I have found this a great treatment for both acute and chronic cases of bladder problems. Barley has a mucilaginous component and so is very soothing for the bladder and urinary tract. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add a few tablespoons of pearl barley. Let it simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. Strain and cool, adding honey and lemon to taste. Drink 3-4 cups a day for acute problems or 1-2 a day for chronic problems, preferably warm.
- Lastly, Louise Hay says the emotional component behind bladder problems is “feeling pissed off” and Dr. Christiane Northrup in The Wisdom of Menopause says it could be about having “leaky boundaries”.
A holistic approach is needed for any illness, but for such an uncomfortable set of symptoms that the bladder can manifest, I recommended looking at diet, lifestyle, herbs and supplements, as well as our thoughts and patterns to enable a healing to occur.
Suzanne Staples ND DBM
Naturopath Herbalist Homoeopath