Cystitis is one of the most common infections a woman can get and one of the most painful. If you've ever had cystitis you won't need reminding of the sharp searing pain of a bladder infection. I used to get them far more frequently before I trained as a herbalist than I do now. Normal course of action for me was to take antibiotics to deal with the infection which would invariably destroy my gut flora and leave me vulnerable to thrush for which I would need a course of canestan. When it happens once it's easy to brush it off as a rubbish turn of events but when you get thrush EVERY time you have to take antibiotics for Cystitis you think, enough is enough! There has got to be a better way. And sure enough there was, in the form of herbs.
Cystitis means inflammation (itis) of the bladder (cyst) and so it's no wonder it feels like your urethra is on fire! They affect at least half of all women at some time in their life. However, it only affects 1 in every 2000 men each year. This dramatic difference is down to the anatomical difference between men and women. Women have a much shorter urethra allowing infection to effect us before it would effect a man. The infection usually lasts a few days. It is experienced as pain on urinating, an urgent need to pee, peeing more frequently than usual, pain/stinging sensation in the lower tummy. If it is fairly severe one may see blood or puss in the urine. If you use this treatment protocol and it doesn't go away in a few days or only gets worse you must see a doctor/health practitioner. If you're on medication it's important to check this advice doesn't contraindicate with what you already take.
Normal symptoms of cystitis include:
- Cloudy urine
- Sharp pain when urinating
- Urgent need to go frequently
- Urge to go despite small amounts of pee
I was watching a documentary the other day which said cystitis is the third most common reason for antibiotics being prescribed to women. But with the increasing resistance of bugs to these drugs it's imperative we learn how to treat things like cystitis ourselves. Antibiotics won't always be there.
Bladder infections should never be ignored as they can travel to the kidney and cause so much trouble it can do damage to the kidneys and you can even lose function in them. Taking pain killers and getting on with your day as normal is not enough. It's important when you treat your own cystitis that you understand a few signs which should always be referred to the doctors:
- Blood in the urine
- A fever
- Low back pain
- being female
- poor hygiene (aka wiping from back to front rather than front to back)
- sexual activity
- holding in the natural urge to urinate
- high sugar diet
Diet and Lifestyle changes
- These are simple steps you can take to reduce the chances of you getting an infection in the first place.
- minimise stress (stress lowers our immunity leaving us liable to infection)
- wipe front to back if you’re a lady
- lessen the amount of sugar in your diet, cut it out entirely for the duration of treatment if you can, this includes plant based sources such as fruits
- kegel exercises may help those who have incomplete bladder emptying
- pee immediately after sex
When it comes to cystitis the faster you get to treating it the less severe and long the symptoms will be. Even if it's just a tiny twinge be sure to drink pints of water that day and you will probably flush it out before it has a chance to get worse. Because of the speed with which treatment needs to occur it's normal to find yourself without herbal supplies. So these home remedies are good to know because they're easy to come by.
- Apple cider vinegar. This will change the pH of the bladder making it less hospitable for bugs. Add a tablespoon to a pint of warm water and drink twice a day.
- Bicarbonate of soda. This does the same as the apple cider vinegar. Have a teaspoon in a pint of warm water twice a day. (I normally aim to drink a pint per hour and switch between all these remedies as the day goes on so I get the best of them all)
- Flat leaf parsley tea. This is a lovely antiinflammatory and it immediately relieves the pain. Use a couple teaspoons of fresh herb from the supermarket and pour on a mug of boiling water. Infuse for 5 mind before drinking.
- Cranberry juice concentrate. Everyone should have this in their house as the shelf life is enormous so you can have it just in case of infections. It contains D-mannose which stops the bacteria from attaching to the wall of bladder, allowing you to flush it out.
- Thyme tea. This is Antibacterial and really seals the deal on killing the bugs. Id use a sprig or two of the fresh stuff from the supermarket and pour on boiling water just like for the parsley tea. Infuse for 5mind and drink. Straining is optional. Try to have 3-5 cups of this per day.
A question for you: I would love to understand why Apple cider vinegar and Bicarbonate of soda which are different pH's before they enter the body are both alkalising once you've consumed them. If anyone has an explanation please do leave it in the comments below. My current theory is that it's because it's not much to do with the original pH but the way we utilise the nutrients within the substance.
There is one key thing which should always be done in treating cystitis you MUST carry on treating yourself for the infection for one day AFTER the symptoms subside. Many times I've seen infections come back because people didn't do this. There is no harm in taking these home remedies so just keep at it for one whole day once you're feeling fine. Trust me.
These herbs can be combined any which way you like but I would recommend using at least one from each category. There are many more herbs under each category but I have chosen the most commonly found wild ones or the ones most strongly associated with the urinary system.
- Antibacterial; Thyme (Thymus off.), Marigold (Calendulaoff.), Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia or purpurea), Buchu (Barosma betulina), Uva-ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
- Soothing (demulcent); Marigold (Calendula off.), Echinacea (Echinacea anguvstifolia or purpurea), Marshmallow root (Althea off. rad.), Couch Grass (Agropyron repens).
- Diuretic; Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), Cornsilk (Zea mays), Marshmallow leaf (Althea off. fol.), Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica), Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum off.)
I try to use herbs which are easy to grow and find in the UK so I don't usually use Buchu, Uva ursi or Cornsilk though they are the usual favourites.
The diuretics will help you pee more. This is helpful because it enables you to flush through the bacteria as quickly as possible. They are often anti-inflammatory too and will soothe the passage of urine. The anti-bacterial herbs will help to combat any bacteria which may have caused the infection. The soothing herbs will calm the painful sensations. It’s common for a stinging sensation to continue for a day or two after infection has subsided. It can make you feel nervous the infection is still there or returning. Be sure to continue with your herbal tea for a day or two after symptoms subside to be absolutely certain it does not continue.
Cystitis Tea Recipe
- Marigold (Calendula off.) 5g
- Marshmallow root (Althea off. rad.) 15g
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) 10g
- Nettle (Urtica dioica) 5g
To make combine these together and use 1 tsp for every cup of boiled water. Infuse for 5-10mins while covered. Drink at least 5 times a day, continuing for a day or two after symptoms subside.
If I think stress (i.e. lowered immunity) has played a big role in my cystits occurring I will also have a tincture of the following:
- Echinacea 20ml
- Thyme 5ml
- Elderberry 25ml
I would recommend taking 10ml of this up to 4 times a day while you have symptoms and for a day after they go.
Emotional causes of Cystitis
I don't want to over-generalise here so it's important that you know each person will get cystitis for different emotional reasons. But a good starting point is knowing that cystitis often relates to being "pissed off" aka. angry. I would always consider the question "What's pissing me off?" when I get cystitis. When I got cystitis most frequently I was a teen and I was pissed off about most things; the environment, social injustice, my parents, consumerism, etc. etc. Now a days I'm not so angry.
It does seem though that cystitis is common after sex and I often wonder, (outside of the bacterial physical causes), why am I getting it this particular time but not all the others? I now ask myself what about sex has "rubbed me up the wrong way". It seems the physical act of sex subconsciously brings emotional upsets from the vagina to the fore. This doesn't mean the sex was bad or upsetting but that the physical interaction has summed up old feelings stored deep in the tissues. I think of the friction of sex causing a build up of inflammation in the tissues leading to cystitis. This is often more so the case of people experiencing interstitial cystitis though.
I've come to realise my cystitis is a sign that I need to slow down. Cystitis asks me to stay inside the house, cancel all my appointments and nurse myself better. I hope this gives you some inspiration on the emotions which might be leaving you open to getting cystitis. Look out in the future weeks for an article about how your illness benefits you. This is a good way to figure out what emotions may lie underneath the illnesses you tend to get.
In some people (usually women), the symptoms of cystitis seem to come back over and over. Sometimes it seems there is little respite from one infection to the next. This is called interstitial cystitis and actually isn't always caused by an infection. If we break down the word cystitis it actually means inflammation of the bladder. In the case of interstitial cystitis it is usually a case of chronic inflammation rather than irritation caused by infection. This is why repeated use of antibiotics often doesn’t alleviate the symptoms and can lead to other symptoms if necessary. Interstitial or recurring cystitis is best treated with individualised advice from a Herbalist. To talk about treatment plans with me you can book a free chat here.
This is just one way to treat cystitis naturally. I'd love to hear about any home remedies you use which haven't been listed. Just put it in the comments below and hopefully we can put a stop to antibiotic use for Cystitis.
Disclaimer: this information is for educational purposes only and should not be used without advice from your medical practitioner especially if you are already taking any medicines.