Oh, the horror of malfunctioning plumbing; the leaking and the mess; the calling of plumbers and the strategic placing of bowls and towels. The breakdown of our internal plumbing is equally horrific, although mostly less visible and very much more within our power to avert.
What is it all for?
The urinary tract is part of the system by which unwanted waste products are politely shown the door. The kidneys filter the blood, removing toxins and wastes and sending them down via the ureters to the bladder, from whence they are sent out through the urethra to the outside world. The kidneys also reabsorb water and minerals, to keep the correct balance in the body. The bladder is the receiving and storage area for urine, of which the average healthy adult makes about 1 to 1.5 litres a day. What goes wrong?
There are many possibilities, some of which are a direct result of our bad habits. If the kidneys are not working properly, toxins will be returned to the bloodstream instead of being filtered out. This can contribute to poor skin condition, lethargy, headaches and a general feeling of being under the weather. Unhappy kidneys can be spotted by the puffy eyes, dark circles ('Panda eyes'), swollen fingers and ankles, and the lower backache that they cause. The less water you give your kidneys, the more they will hold on to what they have. Ironically, most people who feel they suffer from fluid retention cut down on fluid intake, making the problem worse!
The kidneys also help to control blood pressure; when they are not working well it can have a knock-on adverse effect on blood pressure. I will never forget the patient whose blood pressure came right back down to normal when she replaced her regular cola intake with water.
The urine is sterile before it gets to the bladder, but from there on infection can travel up from the urethral opening. Cystitis and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are common, with things like sexual activity, oral contraceptives, stress and dietary factors influencing their appearance.
For men, other problems loom as they have a small gland called the prostate gland around the neck of the bladder and if this swells, as it usually does as they age, it obstructs the flow of urine from the bladder down the urethra. They then experience problems with passing urine, having to go many times, often at night, which interrupts sleep. Urination is also hesitant and incomplete, with a weak flow and the possibility that stagnant urine in the bladder will get infected. No fun at all.
What can we do to stop all this trauma?
- DIY plumbing! Fix it yourself. It's possible to do many things that will have a positive effect on the health of your urinary tract, although you should always see your doctor with any worries you may have about symptoms.
- Drink enough water!! And by 'enough' I mean at least 1.5 litres a day. Before you explain to me how this will make you trot to the loo every 5 minutes, may I point out that concentrated urine irritates the sensitive lining of the bladder, making you feel as if you need to go all the time? If you dilute the urine, the bladder will happily hold more for longer, without you feeling uncomfortable. Try it and see. Within a few days you will be going less often, although the volume when you do go will be greater and it will not sting as it exits, as the irritants will be more diluted.
- Cut out coffee, tea and fizzy drinks, which do nothing at all for the kidneys, and drink fruit and vegetable juices or herb teas alongside your water. Fennel tea is especially good if you tend to hold fluid.
- Alcohol also irritates the kidneys, so drink less of it and dilute your intake by drinking glasses of water around it.
Now let's get specific
- Drink, drink, drink...... (water, that is)
- Drink cranberry juice, making sure it isn't loaded with sugar. Cranberry supplements are also available. The cranberry stops bacteria sticking to the bladder wall, so if you get frequent attacks, cranberry may help prevent them.
- Avoid sugar... It's really not good for any part of the urinary tract. Vogel wrote that, in his practice, 'I have been able to observe the extent of the damage refined sugar has done to the kidneys.' Unfriendly bacteria feed on sugar too, so cut it out!
- Take Uva-ursi (Bearberry), which disinfects the bladder. It works quickly and effectively and can be taken long term if you are prone to frequent attacks.
- If you are plagued by cystitis, think about seeing a cranial osteopath to check for the spine or bowel putting pressure on the bladder.
- For fluid retention
- Drink, drink, drink...... (you've heard this before.....)
- Try not to rely on chemical diuretics, which irritate the kidneys into working and cause potassium to be leached from the body. Instead use herbs that contain potassium, such as Dandelion.
- Avoid salt, which causes water to be held in cells.
- Eat onions and parsley, which are good for the kidneys.
- For kidney health
- Drink, drink, drink...... (boring but true.......)
- Avoid salt and refined sugar
- Eat asparagus, which stimulates the kidneys
- Take Solidago, which is anti-inflammatory, anti-infective and anti-spasmodic for the kidneys. A couple of weeks of this and your puffy eyes and lower back pain should be less. A couple of months and your kidneys will be much happier.
- Take a silica supplement or use a silica-containing herb such as Galeopsis. Use this for several months and you should see some improvement as the pelvic floor is strengthened.
For prostate problems
- Check with your doctor to ensure it is benign prostate enlargement
- Use a zinc supplement - 15 mg daily
- Eat pumpkin seeds
- Take Saw Palmetto on a regular basis.