A healthy immune system is vital for health and healing. Often, patients with recurrent urinary tract infections can benefit from taking measures to strengthen the immune system.
Many things can weaken the immune system. These include the following:
Alcohol and drug use
Excessive sugar consumption
Stress—physical, mental, and emotional
Several vitamins are also known to strengthen the immune system. If you have recurring infections, you may wish to take the following both to prevent infections and help your body recover when you have them:
Daily dose: 10,000 units
Infection dose: 25,000 to 50,000 units
Daily dose: 1 gram daily
Infection dose: 1 gram four times a day
Daily dose: 30 mg daily
Infection dose: 60 mg daily
As always, the best source of vitamins is from whole foods. Look for forms of these vitamins that are derived from natural forms rather than synthetic.
The cells in our bodies are made entirely from the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that we get from our food, that we have been getting from our food since we were born, that we got from the food our mother ate when we were growing in her womb. This is an inescapable fact. What and how we eat creates our bodies.
All of the waste from the food we eat, either what we have already used and no longer need, or the parts that our body cannot use to rebuild itself, are excreted—either in the stool or the urine. The composition of the urine is strongly related to numerous urologic conditions. Kidney stones form when the chemical component of urine is out of balance—this can be purely because of diet, or it can be because of an abnormality in the way the kidney works, but in either situation, dietary changes can help prevent more stones from forming. What is in the urine also affects the bladder, which is really a storage organ. Whatever is in the urine is stored in the bladder and interacts with its lining. This can worsen conditions such as overactive bladder or enlarged prostate, and, in the case of chemicals from cigarette smoke, cause cancer. What you eat also affects your bowels, and if the intestines are irritated, chances are the bladder will be, too. These organs live very closely together and both work to eliminate wastes, so illness in one can often translate to the other.
So how do you know what to do? Diets are everywhere. So many people in our society are suffering, and in many cases it can be directly attributed to diet. People know this, and they seek answers. This is why so many diets are so popular. The problem is that people are confused and don’t really know what the right diet is.
I’ve always had a love for cooking and eating, and this naturally extended into a love for nutrition as I studied medicine and became a parent. As I began to realize the effects my diet had on my own health, I became more interested in nutrition as a healing measure. After reading and studying numerous books, research studies, and philosophies, I believe that the best diet is one that resembles food as closely as possible to the way it comes from the Earth, the way it was meant to be eaten. Heavily processed foods play on our natural tastes for foods high in nutritional value, but they lack what our bodies need. Even with added vitamins, it’s impossible to truly recreate what we’ve already been given. Take a strawberry, for example—the closest thing to a strawberry that can be manufactured only vaguely resembles one. Imagine a piece of strawberry candy, or the filling of an artificial, packaged, fried strawberry pie. The taste, the texture, the color—nothing even approaches the beautiful fruit we get from nature.
What exactly are you eating?
A food diary is a great way to really examine your diet. In this diary, look at every food you eat in detail. If it isn’t a whole food from the Earth, such as an apple, look at the ingredient list. Record all of these ingredients in your diary. If that slice of bread you’re eating has 13 ingredients, each of those is really what you’re putting into your body. We don’t know the effects of all of these chemicals, but many studies of have shown several of them to be harmful. If your body does use these extra ingredients, chances are high it’s in a way that can be harmful, since our bodies weren’t designed to eat these things. If you’re body doesn’t use it, it will be excreted—either from the intestines or in the urinary tract. The chemicals will be in your urine, and they will sit in your bladder, sometimes for hours, until you urinate.
Aside from the chemicals found in processed foods, certain types of foods can exacerbate urinary conditions. It’s important to clean the diet up from heavily processed foods before beginning to change the whole food composition of your diet if you’re going to determine what is causing a problem for you. One reason for this is that many processed foods contain chemicals that come from other foods, but this isn’t always obvious. So, if you’re trying to avoid corn, and you eat something that says “xantham gum” on it, you’re not really avoiding corn. Another reason is that it’s impossible to sort out all of the effects of these chemicals when you’re eating so many of them.
Special diets have been described by patient education groups, medical doctors, and practitioners of natural medicine for a variety of conditions, such as interstitial cystitis, kidney stones, and enlarged prostate (BPH) . If you don’t know what foods to try, an elimination diet may be very helpful. In an elimination diet, you completely remove from your diet all of the foods that you suspect may be causing a problem and then gradually reintroduce them one at a time. You can read more about elimination diets at Wikipedia, or we can discuss this diet at your next visit.
In Brenham, we are very lucky to have access to locally grown, naturally-raised foods. There are two farms in the area, Jolie Vue Farms and Yonder Way Farm, that grow their own animals in a humane way, feeding the animals what they were meant to eat. In the case of a cow, this is grass. Most feedlots use corn, because it is so cheap, and supplement it with a variety of other heavily processed foods. Since cows weren’t designed to tolerate this type of diet, a diet of corn has to also include many medications to allow the cow to digest the food and to keep it from getting sick. Probably not things you want in your body. For eggs and produce, the Brenham Farmers Market is a great way to connect with local growers. And, of course, in Texas, we have a climate that allows us to have our own gardens and grow our own food if we wish.
Your diet truly affects every aspect of your health and well-being, including the urinary tract. You really are what you eat, and you can make that wonderful.
This page describes with great anatomic detail the reasons why the toileting methods we are all used to aren’t good for us. Squatting is the natural method of toileting, which our bodies were designed to do. Great information here!
For the best stone prevention, it is important to have an evaluation with a urine collection and blood tests. However, these general diet recommendations are effective for most stone types.
Drink enough water to produce 2 to 3 liters of urine a day. This means you must drink more than 2 liters of water a day, because some of the water you take in is lost in sweat and stool. I recommend you actually measure how much urine you make in a 24 hour period to see how close to this you are.
Add lemon to your water. Lemon juice contains citrate, which inhibits the formation of stones. This is also found in other citrus fruits, especially grapefruit or tangerine.
Eat a moderate amount of calcium, 800 – 1000 mg a day. The calcium should come from food, not supplements.
Eat a low sodium diet.
Eat less animal protein. This makes the urine acidic and increases stone formation. The recommended amount of protein is 0.8 – 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight per day.
Eat less oxalate. Examples of high oxalate foods are black tea, spinach, and cocoa.
These guidelines are general and more specific information can be found by searching food contents online or from lists that my office carries. Other factors may be present and causing stones, and these are identified with a lab and urine evaluation.
Great cranberry sauce is easy to make. To make a quick and nutritious sauce, blend 1 pint of washed cranberries, a peeled orange and its zest, 1/2 cup of walnuts that have been soaked in water overnight, 1/2 cup of raisins that have been soaked in water overnight, a little cinnamon to taste, and whatever other spices you like (nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, and allspice are great choices). Blend in a food processor or blender. Add the water from soaking the raisins and walnuts until you reach the desired consistency. Add maple syrup to sweeten to taste.
Cranberries have long been used to treat and prevent urinary tract infections. Studies have shown that this benefit is partially due to the presence of a chemical called proanthocyanidin, which keeps bacteria from binding to the surface of the bladder. A large review of all of the studies that have been done on the use of cranberry products to prevent UTIs has shown that they are effective.
The best form of cranberry products and the best dosage haven’t been studied enough to make definite recommendations. Some studies have looked at 1 tablespoon of 100% cranberry juice daily. Others have used anywhere from 1 to 6 cranberry tablets containing 300 to 400 mg, taken twice daily.
Natural cranberry products are very safe. Very high doses of juice can cause diarrhea and stomach upset. There have been a few reports of abnormal blood clotting in patients who are taking Coumadin who drank large amounts of cranberry juice. Cranberry products have also been associated with kidney stones, though the evidence is conflicting on whether they cause or prevent stones.
It’s always important to remember that we don’t understand nature completely. For this reason, trusting that the whole food is best is a wise approach. Although we understand one component of cranberries, there are likely to be many more that we haven’t yet learned how to identify or measure. Cranberry tablets should be made from whole foods. Cranberry juice should be unsweetened, 100% juice, and should not contain any other ingredients. Cranberries can also be used in cooking, for example, to make a cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and eating with poultry the rest of the year! Brenham Health Food offers a variety of whole food cranberry products.
Blueberry juice has also been shown to have the same effect as cranberry juice.
Oxalate is a chemical found in many foods. High oxalate levels in the urine can cause kidney stone formation.
Research has shown that a bacteria named Oxalobacter formigenes is important for oxalate excretion. Because this bacteria is killed by commonly used antibiotics, many people no longer have normal levels of it in their bodies. When this bacteria is absent, oxalate is no longer broken down properly, and high levels of it are excreted in the urine. Ultimately, this could lead to kidney stone formation. (Duncan et al, “Oxalobacter formigenes and its potential role in human health,” Applied and Environmental Microbiology)
Although several studies show that taking Oxalobacter in the form of a probiotic may reduce the formation of kidney stones, these probiotics are not readily available. If a low oxalate diet has been recommended for you, these are some of the foods you should avoid:
Lemon or lime peel
A more detailed list of oxalate levels in foods is published by Litholink, a maker of laboratory tests for kidney stones.
Many patients with bladder problems find that certain foods and beverages cause worsening of symptoms. An elimination diet can help you determine which foods you are sensitive to. In an elimination diet, you completely remove from your diet all of the foods that you suspect may be causing a problem and then gradually reintroduce them one at a time. You can read more about elimination diets at Wikipedia, or we can discuss this diet at your next visit.
Dean Ornish, MD, is an internal medicine physician who graduated from UT Austin and completed part of his training at Baylor College of Medicine. He is known for his research on lifestyle changes and the effect of these on diseases such as heart disease. His program includes a special diet, daily exercise, stress management, and group support.
Dr. Ornish’s work on prostate cancer has been particularly impressive. Men with small prostate cancers that haven’t spread outside the prostate have participated in his program and been found to have a lower chance of prostate cancer progression. In an article published in the journal Urology, 27% of patients not on his program went on to have surgery, radiation, or hormonal treatment within 2 years of diagnosis of prostate cancer, compared to only 5% of those who did his program. One of his books, The Spectrum, describes his program and how you can make it work for you.
The Ornish plan is used in men choosing active surveillance to manage their prostate cancer, meaning they do not wish to have any therapy unless the cancer shows signs of growing. It’s very important to discuss this with your urologist to decide if it is safe and to decide on a good plan for monitoring the cancer. However, even men who do have treatment for their prostate cancer may benefit from the lifestyle changes made in this program.
With the recent fall holidays, I was inspired to do some research on pumpkin seeds and prostate health.Pumpkin seeds are a common component in natural men’s health formulas, and I’ve heard somewhere along the way that men in Turkey consume a handful of pumpkin seeds a day often, and that they have a very low incidence of prostate disease. Now, I couldn’t find any data to back this up, and I don’t know if it’s true, but I did find some other interesting research on pumpkin seeds. (If you do know the source of this information, please visit my Contact page and let me know!)
In 2009, a Korean study was published in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice. Forty-seven men with enlarged prostates were enrolled in the study and were either given a placebo, pumpkin seed oil (320 mg/day), saw palmetto oil (320 mg/day), or a combination of pumpkin seed and saw palmetto oil (same dose). All 3 treatment groups showed improvement in urination by 3 months. Their symptoms were measured on a 35 point scale and on average went from 18-20 down to 4-9 after treatment for a year. No side effects were reported in the trial, although some patients did leave the study because their symptoms worsened.
A study published in the International Journal of Oncology in early 2011 investigated a supplement called ProstaCaid that contains 33 herbal and nutrient ingredients, including pumpkin seeds (2% of the total preparation). They studied this compound in the lab on prostate cancer cells and measured how it affected the cells’ gene expression and ability to grow. The supplement had a very strong effect, keeping the cells from growing and being able to invade other cells (which is how cancer spreads).
Although nothing I found strongly supports using pumpkin seeds to treat prostate disease, it’s no surprise that there isn’t a lot of research on this. Foods from nature are full of ingredients and compounds that have an array of effects on the body. Eating these foods has numerous effects that we can’t possibly ever study or fully understand. The take home message for me, here, is that this is a reminder of the power of real food. Eat real food, as it comes from nature. You can’t go wrong.
Adrienne Carmack, MD, is a board-certified urologist with a special interest in holistic and integrative medicine. She enjoys combining Western medicine techniques with the vast spectrum of other therapies available to help patients achieve true healing. She believes that patient empowerment is key for those experiencing illness to regain optimal health and begin to thrive.