By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Urinary tract infections may be a common complaint for women but they are actually pretty rare in young adult men. But unusual or not, it goes without saying that a urinary tract infection is painful and distressing. Symptoms include a strong desire to urinate, a burning sensation when you pee, cloudy urine, and rectal pain.
You want to get rid of it as quickly as possible, so you look online and find some popular solutions --- like cranberry juice. But do they actually work? Could any of these home remedies for urinary tract infections be causing more harm than good?
Who Suffers from Urinary Tract Infections?
Young men are not commonly affected by urinary tract infections. Around 5 to 8 men per 10,000 under the age of 50 suffer a true urinary tract infection (UTI) every year (University of Michigan School of Public Health, 2002). When you get over the age of 50 the incidence rises to around 20 to 50 percent of the population, due to enlargement of the prostate and changes to the urinary tract.
What are the Causes of Urinary Tract Infections in Men?
You get a urinary tract infection when bacteria enter your urinary tract (your kidneys, bladder, and urethra) and do not leave.
Most bacteria are expelled when you urinate – those that stay cause an infection.
In case of men under the age of 50, the most common cause of a urinary tract infection is a sexually transmitted infection.
But when this isn’t the case for you, a urinary tract infection could be the result of cystitis, urethritis, or prostatitis.
Blockages in the urinary tract like kidney stones increase the risk of a urinary tract infection, as does a weakened immune system.
You are more likely to experience a urinary tract infection if you are not circumcised, according to a 2012 study from Montreal Children's Hospital, McGill University Health Centre.
Are Urinary Tract Infections Dangerous?
Because the urinary tract in men is more robust and less susceptible to infection, if a urinary tract infection strikes, doctors treat it as a more complicated case than that experienced by women.
For this reason, urinary tract infections in men are more likely to need surgical intervention. Without treatment the bacteria could spread to the kidneys and can cause a serious condition called "pyelonephritis", or to your blood, where it can cause septicemia, a killer.
This is why many men risk their health by failing to visit a doctor and instead rely on home remedies instead.
Cranberry Juice for Urinary Tract Infections
It has long been said that drinking cranberry juice successfully helps prevent urinary tract infections. But does the remedy actually work?
According to studies like a 2012 report by the National Taiwan University Hospital and National Taiwan University College of Medicine, products containing cranberries do seem to be linked to the prevention of urinary tract infections.
However, the researchers say that “cranberry-containing products tend to be more effective in women with recurrent UTIs” and children, while the evidence for a male cranberry juice cure is scarce.
A 2011 study from the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam shows that manufactured medicines – antibiotics - are more effective than nature’s cranberries at preventing urinary tract infections although there is still a role for cranberry juice extract as it stops some bacteria sticking to the bladder wall.
Doctors recommend men take antibiotics for at least 14 days after a urinary tract infection, and that they should not rely on a cranberry cure.
Goldenrod for Treating Urinary Tract Infections?
The herb goldenrod is used in Germany as a supportive treatment for urinary tract infections as it is believed to wash bacteria out of the urinary tract and to soothe inflammation, according to the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy, 1996–1997.
However, there is no definite proof that goldenrod actually helps. It may increase urine flow, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can benefit sufferers from urinary tract infections. Don’t rely on this cure over traditional antibiotics.
Taking Cleavers for a UTI
The cleavers plant has small, hooked hairs that “cleave” to your fingers. This unusual herb is traditionally used to for urinary problems because it has a diuretic effect. You may find cleavers recommended as a natural remedy for treating bladder and urinary tract infections. But here's the shocker --- there is no scientific evidence that it works in any way whatsoever.
The Dangers of Buchu and Sassafras for Urinary Tract Infections
If you feel like giving buchu, a South African herb, a try for treating urinary tract issues, think again.
Buchu is traditionally used to treat stomach pains and UTIs as it contains bioflavonoids, according to a 2001 study from Zagazig University, Egypt. However, one of the components of buchu is actually toxic – pulegone can cause liver damage and buchu should therefore be used with great caution.
Sassafras is another traditional remedy for urinary tract infections. Sassafras is a tree native to North America and was originally used as a blood purifier.
But scientists discovered in the 1960s that sassafras oil contains high amounts of the liver toxin safrole.
Safrole causes liver cancer in animals, and is banned for human consumption.
Sassafras oil is deadly toxic and a few drops can kill an infant, with a teaspoon causing the death of an adult. Not something to try when you get a UTI.
Can You Treat Urinary Tract Infections with Uva Ursi?
Uva ursi, or bearberry, is a medicinal plant traditionally used in America and Europe for treating urinary issues.
Despite its traditional popularity, no studies have shown any evidence that bearberry actually works. Two studies in the 1970s by Frohne VD and Kedzia B, Wrocinski T, Mrugasiewicz K, et al show that it is active against bacteria in the urinary tract, but these trials were not double-blind and were inconclusive.
Plus, uva ursi breaks down in your body into a chemical called hydroquinone which, again, is a liver toxin and carcinogen. The herb is not recommended to be taken over a long period of time.
The best advice if you suspect you have a urinary tract infection is to go to the doctor. While you may not want to take antibiotics, this can be the safest option for men with a complicated version of a urinary tract infection.