Urinary tract infections or UTIs are amongst the most prevalent microbial diseases that affect us. And while anyone can contract a UTI, the condition affects women far more than it does men: Some estimates suggest that one in two women will get a UTI at some point in her life.
Infections can affect any part of the urinary tract – kidneys, bladder, ureter, and urethra – with most infections starting from the lower part of the urinary tract and moving upwards.
While severe cases of a urinary tract infections are treated using antibiotics, which come with side effects, mild cases can be treated with ayurvedic remedies. Mutrakrichchra, literally meaning `urine’ and `difficulty’, is the term for UTI in Ayurveda. It can be managed and prevented with a host of herbs that have antimicrobial properties.
But this needs to be done under the supervision of ayurvedic practitioners.
UTIs can also be recurrent, severely affecting the quality of life and increasing the financial burden on the person suffering from it, especially amongst women. Women face a greater risk of contracting UTIs as they have a shorter urethra, which allows bacteria to infect it more easily and move upwards towards other parts of the urinary tract.
Infection can be caused either by bacteria contracted outside the body due to poor hygiene, or during intercourse. They can multiply in the urethra or bladder, leading to a UTI.
Its symptoms include burning or painful urination, bloody or cloudy urine, abdominal pain and fever of different grades.
Sometimes UTIs are hard to prevent, especially if previous treatments do not fully address the issue. But there are some simple ways to reduce the risk of contracting them, including drinking enough fluids, having foods rich with Vitamin C, cleaning genitals before and after intercourse, urinating immediately after intercourse, avoiding holding in urine and consuming probiotics.
UTI and the 3 doshas
According to Ayurveda, the body runs on three energies (tridosha), that includes air element (vata), fire element (pitta) and water element (kapha). It is on this basis that ailments are predominantly diagnosed in Ayurveda, and likewise in the case of UTIs, how they are treated.
Ayurvedic texts tell us that if pain is the predominant symptom, then an individual’s vata is out of kilter. The pitta element is affected if there is a burning sensation during urination, and if urine has a whitish or cloudy discoloration, then kapha is involved.
The air element (vata) takes care of any kind of movements in the body, which in the case of the urinary tract involves the process of flushing out urine. Any imbalance in this process can increase the risk of bacteria accumulating in parts of the urinary tract, and in turn increasing the risk of a UTI.
Massage, shower, herbal mixtures
To treat this, massaging the abdomen and the pelvic region with warm medicated oils can re-balance the movements of the urinary system. Ayurveda considers infections that cause UTIs to be dry and cold. The massage makes the associated tissues warm and moist.
The fire element (pitta) deals with regulation of body temperature; any alteration to this can create conditions favourable for the growth of bacteria. When it comes to UTIs, Ayurveda says that the temperature of the tissue and blood has been raised and needs to be brought back down.
Ayurvedic experts suggest the use of coriander seeds, sarsaparilla, sandalwood and vetiver to cool the body and re-balance the pitta dosha.
Taking a cold shower can also have a similar effect, as can getting a massage with herb-infused cooling oils or herbal paste. This is believed to create an unfavourable condition for the infection-causing bacteria, killing them.
The water element (kapha) relates to regulation of bodily fluids and can flush out bacteria in individuals suffering from UTIs. A common prescription is a paste of bitter and cleansing herbs that is taken with water.
Ayurvedic experts recommend using liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) which has soothing properties, as well as neem (Azadirachta Indica) or Triphala which are bitter and kill bacteria. These herbs can also promote recovery of damaged tissues.
Countering Urinary infection through herbs
There are many herbs that can re-balance the three doshas (particularly kapha) with their antiseptic properties. They can also prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract wall, according to ayurvedic experts.
These herbs work against many strains of bacteria like E. coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterococcus faecalis, which can reach the urinary system internally or externally when anal hygiene is not maintained.
Here is a list of some common herbs that ayurvedic practitioners suggest for managing UTIs:
- Swamp mallow or Hrivera (Pavonia odarata)
- Barley (Hordeum vulgarae)
- Three leaved capers (Crateva nurvula)
- Red hogweed (Boerhavia diffusa)
- Berginia plant (Berginia ligulata)
- Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
- Indian fumitory (Fumaria parviflora)
- Indian madder (Rubia cordifolia)
- Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
- Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
- Sandalwood (Santalum album)
- Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia)
- Neem (Azadirachta indica)