Complementary or alternative therapies offer a different approach to conventional or mainstream medicine. Be aware there is little evidence as to their effectiveness in treating urinary tract infections and complementary therapies are omitted from national guidelines because of no randomised patient control trials or clinical studies.
Many of these approaches have roots in ancient Eastern philosophies of health or the kinds of traditional healing methods used widely before the development of therapeutics currently used by conventional medicine.
We have looked at three of the most common approaches to the treatment of urinary tract infections in more detail.
The primary goal of naturopathy is to enhance internal defences against the infection by providing immune support; promote a proper urine pH; and prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder epithelium. However do they actually work? Naturopathic treatments for urinary tract infections include:
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a system of medicine partly based on the idea that an energy, called qi, flows along pathways in the body called meridians. In this belief, if the flow of qi along these meridians is blocked or unbalanced, illness can occur. In China, doctors have practiced traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and clinics and practitioners are also available in many Western countries.
Another concept in traditional Chinese medicine is the concept of yin and yang. In this approach, all things, including the body, are composed of opposing forces called yin and yang. Health is said to depend on the balance of these forces. Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on maintaining the yin-yang balance to maintain health and prevent illness.
Traditional Chinese medicine doctors look at the balance of body, mind, and spirit to determine how to restore qi, the yin-yang balance, and good health.
A bacteriophage is a type of virus that infects bacteria. The word ‘bacteriophage’ literally means ‘bacteria eater,’ because bacteriophages destroy their host cells. A bacteriophage attaches itself to a susceptible bacterium and infects the host cell. Following infection, the bacteriophage hijacks the bacterium’s cellular machinery to prevent it from producing bacterial components and instead forces the cell to produce viral components. Eventually, new bacteriophages assemble and burst out of the bacterium in a process called lysis. We review whether phage treatment is appropriate for persistent cystitis.
What you need to know when choosing a complementary health route for chronic UTI
Critically, ask and research whether the complementary route you are considering has the same clinical controls, research evidence for its efficacy and effectiveness in the management of UTIs and safeguards around it that are applicable to conventional medicine. Many treatments are unlicensed and lack the safeguards in place that conventional medicine has.
Don’t believe all apocryphal stories you read online about how a natural remedy or home treatment has resolved someone’s UTI issues. Importantly their health physiology will be unique to them alongside their personal circumstances. Beware the snake oil salesmen or women. Their bank balance will be the only one to benefit not you.
Complementary therapies are not available free of charge at the point of use unlike some healthcare systems for allopathic/conventional medicine. Costs may add up and a degree of trial and error may be involved.
They can interfere with the action of conventional drugs and natural remedies may cause side effects and should not be taken with certain foods. You should discuss with your GP the combination of natural and allopathic medications in case of interactions. You should not stop prescription medication until you have discussed it with your prescribing doctor. It can be dangerous to suddenly stop taking prescribed conventional medicines.
If you’re considering using a complementary medicine read our Buyer Beware information on our Natural supplements section.
Trials and studies – the limitations of an alternative route
Controlled trials and studies are often limited in complementary and alternative medicine and involve small numbers of participants. They are often conducted under less rigorous controls, governance and environments than those undertaken for the development of new pharmaceutical medications such as antibiotics or in clinical patient trials. Do your research, there should be clear, peer reviewed, empiric evidence as to the efficacy of complementary therapies rather than theorisation about how they may be beneficial in the treatment of a chronic UTI.
Studies may involve participants who suffer acute attacks of cystitis rather than recurrent or chronic infections. Bear in mind that studies often focus on one organism, usually e-coli, whereas bacterial bladder infections are now known to be poly-microbial.