What you eat may impact your risk of developing a urinary tract infection, a new study suggests.
Researchers have found that the acidity of urine — as well as the presence of small molecules that come from what you eat — may influence whether bacteria can flourish in the urinary tract, according to the study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Finding a way to prevent UTIs before symptoms even develop may help doctors cut back on antibiotic prescriptions for one of the most common bacterial infections worldwide, said study coauthor Dr. Jeffrey Henderson, an assistant professor of medicine and molecular microbiology at the Center for Women’s Infectious Disease Research at the Washington University School of Medicine. And that might help combat the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
“There is a protein made by human cells that is secreted very early on when a microbe first contacts the cell,” Henderson said. “And you can detect it in those who have developed a urinary tract infection. We wanted to see how well it works in urine and whether there are individual differences in that regard.”
Earlier studies had shown that the protein, dubbed siderocalin, prevents E. coli from spreading by depriving the nasty bugs of iron, a mineral necessary for bacterial growth.
Henderson and his colleagues decided to take a look at how well urine samples collected from a variety of people fought off infections with E. coli and whether siderocalin levels made a difference.
The researchers found that while higher siderocalin activity was associated with a better ability to fight off infection, there were other important factors, such as the acidity of the urine.
Intriguingly, the samples that had a higher pH — the less acidic ones — battled the bacteria better. And that, Henderson said, is counter to conventional wisdom. The good news, he added, is that pH is easily manipulated. “If you take Tums, for example, it makes urine less acidic.”
However, another important factor pumping up fighting ability was the presence of substances called aromatics, Henderson said. These substances pop up when polyphenol-rich foods, like tea, coffee, wine and cranberries, are consumed and digested. Which means that the gut needs to contain certain microbes to process the foods properly, Henderson said.
Ultimately, it turns out a higher pH/lower acid diet with added polyphenols not only improves gut function, it also might help ward off UTIs. Henderson isn’t ready to make any hard and fast recommendations yet. He’d like to do some more research first into what kinds of gut microbes help the most.
In the meantime, experts say it wouldn’t hurt to add a few items to your diet such as yogurt rich in live cultures and cranberry supplements, as well as some antacids.
“The easiest thing may be taking some over-the-counter cranberry tablets,” said Dr. Jonathan Shepherd, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
But guzzling cranberry juice may not help as much as thought.
“I tell people to feel free to drink as much cranberry juice as they want, but only because you like it, not because it will have an impact on UTIs. It’s not very concentrated.”
Women tend to be at higher risk for UTIs right about the time they start having intercourse and when they are postmenopausal, Shepherd says.
The solution: Immediately empty the bladder after having sex. But the problem in general is that many women don't empty their bladders often enough.
“For many, it’s just once or twice a day,” said Dr. Ming-Hsien Wang, Spiegel/Nichols Assistant professor of Urology at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Optimally, women should be peeing every few hours.
The urine will flush out any bacteria trying to make its way up the urinary tract, she said.
Wang also recommends her patients consume yogurt that is rich in live cultures. That will help to boost the “good” bacteria in your gut, she said.