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. However at present there are insufficient randomised control trials showing success in the usage of TCM for the treatment of UTIs to consider it an effective treatment.

Causes of qi imbalance are thought to involve:

  • External forces, such as wind, cold, or heat.
  • Internal forces, such as emotions of joy, anger, stress or fear.
  • Lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, too little sleep, or too much alcohol.

Another important 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.


According to TCM, the underlying pattern of UTI is a kidney yin deficiency. This imbalance is diagnosed by symptoms like chronic fatigue, night sweats, chronic thirst, hot flashes, difficulty with urinating, dry skin and dry tongue, irritability and low libido.

When the cooling yin aspect of the kidneys is depleted, it can lead to chronic inflammation. Therefore, trying to treat a UTI with antibiotics, without addressing the underlying yin deficiency means the immune system will stay weak, leading to the potential reoccurrence of bacterial infections in the bladder.

This cycle can be repeated over and over, causing other problems from the side effects of the drugs. In Chinese medicine, the standard management for chronic UTI is to tonify yin and clear heat. Clearing damp heat from the bladder will prevent symptoms such as fever, possibly chills, burning urine, pain in the back or lower abdomen, and an urgent need to urinate frequently.

A research study for recurrent UTI and Chinese Medicine

In 2016, a detailed study undertaken by the University of Southampton recruited a total of 80 women lasting 16 weeks to evaluate the efficacy of TCM for recurrent UTI. The primary outcomes were the number of episodes of recurrent UTIs during the trial period and in the six months of follow-up, and the number of days of symptoms rated moderately bad or worse based on patient diaries. Secondary outcomes assessed participant expectations and beliefs, adherence to the treatment, adverse events and health economics and provided data on the impact of recurrent infections on the lives of women. The results of the study have recently been published in Science Direct.

The authors note:

“The 6 month follow up data from 13/22 (59.1%) of women in the active individualised group suggests that women reported persistent benefits in symptom reduction subsequent to the trial.

Antibiotic use also declined markedly in this follow up group with 11/13 (84.6%) of women reporting a reduction, and 7/13 (53.5%) reporting that they completely stopped antibiotics. This should be seen in the context of studies reporting that 60% of women will re-use antibiotics within just 3 months of stopping long term (> 6 month) antibiotic prophylaxis (ref: Journal of Ethnopharmacology 243 (2019) 111935).

These data are obviously limited by small numbers, by the differently sourced populations for individualised and standardised arms, and by the non-validated status of the outcomes measures used to collect them. It is not possible to provide a meaningful comparison of active and placebo interventions”.

Due to the small number and poor quality of research studies available for the use of TCM for recurrent UTI either used alone or alongside antibiotics, there is limited information on their short or long term efficacy and there are no studies for its usage to treat those with Chronic UTI.