Our Expert: Wendy Cohan, RN, author of The Better Bladder Book, who suffered from chronic bladder issues eased her symptoms using a natural approach, including altering her diet. For her book, she widely researched conventional and holistic treatments for UTI (urinary tract infection), interstitial cystitis and other bladder complaints. If you suffer from recurrent bladder infections, consider some of the measures Wendy's health-coaching clients have found successful.
Cohan got healthier by adopting a gluten-free diet. She's seen good results with some of the women she health-coaches too. "I have a number of women who had chronic urinary tract infections who completely healed on a gluten free diet." The proteins known as gluten are found not just in wheat but in many other grains, including barley, oats and rye. In the extreme, gluten can trigger an autoimmune condition called celiac disease. But you also have garden-variety gluten intolerance.
The Trouble With Wheat
If you want to investigate gluten as a factor in your recurrent urinary tract infections, Cohan suggests ruling out celiac disease before you ban wheat from your diet. "If there is a skin disorder, a mood disorder, chronic pain, GI-tract issues, or autoimmune disorders, be sure rule out celiac disease through blood testing," Cohan says. The test is antibody based, so if you cut out wheat, you won't produce the antibodies and you could get a false negative.
If that test is negative, you can still try eliminating gluten from your diet. "Gluten intolerance often strikes at midlife when our bodies aren't as good at producing enzymes to digest gluten," Cohan says. She has seen avoiding gluten help in a variety of circumstances, including interstitial cystitis. "Women over 50 can have stress incontinence issues and doctors sometimes tell them they have to learn to live with it," Cohan says. She's seen a gluten free diet help, though only if there's no structural anatomical problem.
Beyond gluten, Cohan cites several other dietary changes that can help with a urinary tract infection that keeps coming back. "Cranberry extract does help, but I don't like cranberry juice because it's so full of sugar. Unsweetened cranberry juice is good if you can stomach it. Cranberry tablets are effective," she says, adding a caution, "Cranberry can be irritating to interstitial cystitis, it can put you in agony if that's what you have and you think it's a UTI."
Keeping your urogenital tract well lubricated helps prevent damage to your tissues that could let bacteria enter more easily and travel up the urinary tract to cause infection. You can also reduce your intake of foods that can be bladder irritants: excessive coffee, excessive alcohol, sugar and carbonated beverages are among the offenders.
Finally, Cohan says, keep yourself hydrated. Always drink enough water to make your urine a pale yellow.