Cystitis, or urinary tract infection, is a pain in the bladder. Over 20 percent of women experience the discomfort of cystitis at least once a year-about as often as the common cold. If not treated early and well, the infection may become chronic and spread to the kidneys. That is very serious, so here are some suggestions for early treatment and even prevention.
But first, what causes cystitis? The disease is almost always caused by fecal bacteria, usually E. coli, that migrate up the urethra and into the bladder. There, they attach to the cells of the bladder, multiply, and cause severe pain with urination as well as a constant urge to urinate.
Urinary tract infections in men and women are frequently associated with sexual activity. Hence, the condition known as "honeymoon cystitis." However, cystitis is not a sexually-transmitted disease; sexual activity simply facilitates migration of bacteria into the bladder.
Considering that E. coli and other bacteria almost routinely migrate into the bladder, it's a wonder that we are not perpetually suffering with cystitis. We don't because the overwhelming majority of bacteria are washed out with urination. For cystitis to occur, bacteria must stay in the bladder by anchoring themselves to the bladder's cells, much as oysters and sea urchins anchor to rocks and coral. I picture bacteria in the bladder as bobbing up and down in a rough sea, trying to grab hold of slippery rocks and crevices before an enormous drainpipe opens.
How Cranberry Helps Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
For years, I have been advising my patients with urinary tract symptoms to drink copious amounts of water to increase urine flow, and to drink cranberry juice. I had thought—as I suspect many other physicians do at this time—that cranberry juice helps by making urine more acidic and less hospitable for the bacteria.
The surfaces of fecal bacteria are dotted with special substances called "lectins," which form strong bonds with mannose, galactose, and other sugar residues on the surfaces of cells lining the bladder.
Cranberry juice contains substantial quantities of alpha D mannopyranoside, a derivative of the sugar D-mannose. This attaches to the lectins of the bacteria, thus preventing their attachment to the bladder wall. In one test-tube study, urine from either mice or humans given cranberry juice acted as a deterrent to the attachment of bacteria to bladder cells. Another study found that 16 ounces of cranberry juice per day eliminated cystitis in 73 percent of 44 women and 16 men.
Steps to Prevent Cystitis
- Drink plenty of water, three liters or more per day. Flush out those bugs.
- Try to urinate after sex as soon as possible.
- Drink eight ounces of cranberry juice a few hours before and after sex or any other activity that manipulates or puts pressure in the pelvic area, such as riding a bicycle. Ocean Spray provides both the pure juice and the cocktail, which is one-third juice. I recommend the pure juice. At the first hint of burning urination, drink eight ounces of cranberry juice, and repeat in three to four hours.