If you have ever felt like you’re passing razor blades instead of water, you know that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a unique form of torture. Left untreated, they can lead to permanent kidney damage and sepsis, a life-threatening immune response to infection.
Cystitis, or inflammation of the lining of the bladder, is the most common UTI. Symptoms include needing to urinate frequently, dull pain in the lower abdomen, pain when urinating, and cloudy, bloody or odd-smelling urine. The most common bacteria linked to UTIs are Escherichia coli (E. coli), responsible for up to 90 per cent of infections. The bacteria are found naturally in the gut, but the problem occurs if they enter the urethra and migrate to the bladder and kidneys.
According to a review in the British Journal of Family Medicine, half of all women will experience a UTI at some point, with many having repeated bouts – 53 per cent of those over 55 and 36 per cent of younger women report a recurrence within one year.
Women are more prone to infections because they have shorter urethras, reducing the distance bacteria have to travel. The urethra and anus are also in close proximity in women (men rarely get UTIs and, if they do, often it’s a sign of another problem, such as with the prostate gland).
Another female urogenital issue on the rise is vaginal thrush – a fungal infection that results in itching, soreness, discharge, stinging, and in some cases, sores on the skin around the vagina. It is caused by yeasts from a group of fungi called Candida. Many women have Candida in their vagina without it causing any problems, but thrush can develop if the natural balance of micro-organisms in the vagina is disrupted and the Candida multiplies.
UTIs are normally treated with a short course of antibiotics, but imagine a scenario where a UTI is resistant to the most powerful antibiotics we have in our arsenal. This is not a vision of the future, this is happening now – antibiotic resistance, or as the Chief Medical Officer to the British Government recently stated, ‘Antibiotic Armageddon’ is happening in our communities.
UTIs are one of the most common bacterial illnesses in adults, and they are one of the most common indications for antibiotics (1). Research shows that people prescribed an antibiotic for a UTI in primary care acquire resistant bacteria, and these may persist for up to 12 months. A World Health Organisation global surveillance report highlights an increase in bacterial resistance to fluoroquinolones used to treat UTIs (2). Scientists have linked the rise of treatment-resistant UTIs to overuse of antibiotics for everything from bronchitis to the common cold. The more bacteria are exposed to these medications, the more they develop immunity.
But treatment-resistant UTIs may also stem from antibiotic use in the cattle, pork and poultry industries because these animals receive some of the same medications used in humans. Researchers have found strains of E. coli in UTIs that show the same resistance patterns as those found in food-producing animals treated with antibiotics.
Scientists have linked the rise of treatment-resistant UTIs to overuse of antibiotics for everything from bronchitis to the common cold. The more bacteria are exposed to these medications, the more they develop immunity, researchers say.
But treatment-resistant UTIs may also stem from antibiotic use in the cattle, pork and poultry industries because these animals receive some of the same medications used in humans. Researchers have found strains of E. coli in UTIs that show the same resistance patterns as those found in food-producing animals treated with antibiotics. When animals including pigs, sheep and cows have diarrhoea, it can get into our water supply through run off. The faecal matter runs off the fields into our rivers and other waterways, and can end up polluting our drinking water. If these animals have infectious diarrhoea and have been treated with antibiotics, then the antibiotic residues will also end up in the water.
Modern industrial farms are ideal breeding grounds for germs and disease. Animals live in close confinement, often standing or lying in their own waste, and are under constant stress that inhibits their immune systems and makes them more prone to infection (3).
One major way in which antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria enter the environment is via animal manure. Industrial livestock operations produce an enormous amount of concentrated animal waste – often laden with antibiotics and their residues, as well as antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It is estimated that approximately 75 per cent of all antibiotics given to animals are not fully digested and eventually pass through the body and enter the environment (4), where they can encounter new bacteria and create additional resistant strains.
Now that antibiotics are losing their punch, scientists are searching for other ways to dislodge the bacteria that cause UTIs. The decline in effective treatments for UTIs hurts women the most. Half of all women will get at least one UTI in their lifetime. I have treated many thousands of women over the years, and there has been a marked increase in the number of women who visit my clinic, complaining of UTIs and thrush. One woman in particular had to self-cathetorise due to a ‘paralysed’ bladder so was always getting bladder infections, requiring antibiotics. She had become antibiotic-resistant – even the strongest antibiotics would not work for her. She now has to have regular check-ups with a microbiologist at the hospital to ensure she has no life-threatening infections. Having met women struggling in this way with urogenital issues, I knew that I could help more of them by developing a female-specific probiotic that would help the symptoms of UTIs and thrush, and prevent recurring cases.
My For Women probiotics can help prevent the harmful bacteria (in most cases E.coli) which cause the UTI, from sticking to the bladder wall and creating an infection, so taking these capsules daily can help prevent recurring UTIs in susceptible women. Recent studies have shown that the live bacteria contained within my For Women probiotics, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri, are a safe and effective treatment for recurrent UTIs (5).
They also offer an effective treatment for women who suffer from thrush or yeast infections. The multi-strain, live, ‘friendly’ bacteria replenish gut flora and help fight the candida yeasts which cause thrush. Both Lactocabillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri have been shown to be able to reach the vaginal tract alive and colonise it with friendly bacteria, fighting candida locally by literally ‘crowding’ it out (6).
Studies have shown that allicin, a compound found in garlic with antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, is effective when used against thrush-causing candida. The Just For Tummies Women’s Health Duo was developed based upon this scientific evidence; the ‘Duo’ box contains my Garlic tablets alongside the For Women strain-specific probiotics. This new Kit in my range offers a simple regime to keep on top of UTIs and thrush.
The supplements form an important part of the treatment plan, but I always recommend the following additional measures:
- Drink a minimum of two litres of water daily
- Wipe from front to back after visiting the loo
- Empty the bladder after sexual intercourse
- Wash ‘down below’ after sexual intercourse
- Follow a low sugar diet (e.coli and candida have been found to love sugar)
- Cut back on or eliminate alcohol and fizzy drinks (both high in sugar)
- Use soaps and shower gels that contain natural ingredients
- Use unbleached toilet paper, natural tampons and sanitary products
So it gives me the greatest pleasure to add my ‘For Women’ probiotics and my Women’s Health Duo to the Just For Tummies range, and I hope they will give those of you who suffer with painful and debilitating UTIs and thrush that extra special care needed for ‘down below’.
(1) Foxman B. Epidemiology of urinary tract infections: incidence, morbidity, and economic costs. Am J Med 2002;113 Suppl 1A:5S–13S.
(2) World Health Organization. Antimicrobial reistance: global report on surveillance. 2014. (accessed 20 August 2014).
(3) Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2008). Putting meat on the table: Industrial farm animal production in America.
(4) Chee-Sanford, J.C. et al. (2009). Fate and transport of antibiotic residues and antibiotic resistance genes following land application of manure waste. Journal of Environmental Quality, 38(3), 1086-1089.
(5) Abad CL, Safdar N (2009) The role of lactobacillus probiotics in the treatment or prevention of urogenital infections–a systematic review. Journal of Chemotherapy, 21(3):243-52.
(6) Shim YH, Lee SJ, Lee JW (2016) Antimicrobial activity of lactobacillus strains against uropathogens. Pediatrics International, 58(10):1009-1013.