Can eating too much sugar cause a UTI?



Naturopath, Herbalist and Yoga teacher (BA, Dip Nat, Dip Herb)
@NerdyNaturopath
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09 March 2022

Can eating too much sugar cause a UTI?

A diet high in refined sugar can make you more susceptible to urinary tract infections. UTIs are caused by bacteria, not by sugar itself, but bacteria feed on the sugar and multiply, making it easier for an infection to take hold. Sugar also suppresses your immune system, making it harder to fight off infections.

3 reasons why eating too much sugar can cause a UTI

Before we get started it's important to note that not all sugar is created equal. Natural sugar is found in whole foods like fruit and grains. But when we start processing these fruits, whether that is extracting white sugar from beets or sugar cane, or extracting fructose from fruit, these natural sugars then become refined sugar.

Any white carbohydrates like white flour, white bread and white pasta also act as refined sugars as the fibre has been removed. It is these refined sugars and grain that cause the most trouble when it comes to UTIs.

So, now you understand that, let's take a look at 3 reasons why sugar can cause or worsen a UTI:

1. Sugar feeds bacteria

Bacteria love sugar, almost as much as we do! Well, the bad guys do! The illness causing bacteria, the unhelpful ones, feed on sugar. This can make an infection worse but it can also make you more prone to getting an infection. We come in contact with a host of different bacteria all the time. If we are eating a diet full of sugar then that sugar is more likely to feed the UTI-causing bacteria we encounter, and help them to multiply into a full-blown infection.

2. Sugar disrupts the microbiome

You have likely heard of the microbiome, the bacteria that live in our gut. There are good guys who feed on fibre-rich food like fruits and veggies, so the more fibre we eat the better for our microbiome. The unhelpful bacteria, however, thrive on sugar! And often, when we eat a diet high in sugar, we don't get a lot of fibre in, so it can be a double whammy negative effect on your microbiome. (1)

The gut microbiome is important for supporting immune function, to help you fight off infection in other parts of the body. But we also have a microbiome on our skin, on our vulva, at the urethral opening and in our urinary tract itself; so, a diet high in sugar will help to feed the bad bacteria throughout the body's diverse microbiome. (2)

3. Sugar reduces immune function

A diet high in sugar can have harmful effects on your immune system. (3)
This means that if you have a UTI, eating a lot of sugar can prolong an infection because your immune system won't be able to work as well to fight off the infection. It also means that if you regularly eat a lot of sugar, you are more likely to get recurrent UTIs.

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Be careful about hidden sugars

When I talk about sugar, it's not just the sugar in your tea or on your cereal, but hidden in the ingredients of things like yoghurt, pasta sauces and baked beans. It also refers to products made from refined flours, cakes and pastries of course, but also white bread and pasta. My best advice is to eat whole grains and lots of veggies, and to always read the label on packaged food and look out for hidden sugars!

What about fruit?

Fruit is my go-to sweet alternative to refined sugar. Berries are nature's candy in my opinion, and are lower in natural sugar than many other fruits, making them a great choice while you have an infection especially. While all fruit does contain natural sugars, they are also high in fibre; so, go for whole fruits rather than fruit juice to make sure you get the benefits of the fibre!

What about alcohol?

A lot of alcoholic drinks contain sugar, especially if your spirits are being mixed with fizzy drinks as mixers. But alcohol is also dehydrating and can certainly make a UTI worse. For more on this topic check out my blog: Why does alcohol make cystitis worse?

What can help prevent a UTI or treat it if you get one?

Reducing your sugar intake if you are prone to recurrent UTIs or when you have one is not the only thing that can help. The following herbal medicine might also be worth a try:

Uva ursi

Uva-ursi, or bearberry, is a traditional herbal remedy for treating UTIs. It's fast-acting and has an antibacterial effect directly in the urinary tract. Unlike antibiotics, it does not trigger thrush.

The antibiotics properties seem to be due to a compound called arbutin, but as it is a whole plant extract it has lots of other side benefits too, rather than side effects. It has astringent properties and contains allantoin, which helps to heal inflamed and irritated urinary passages.

It is recommended to take Uva-ursi for one week, and symptoms should improve after just 4 days of use. If symptoms do not improve it is important to see your doctor, as a bladder infection can become a kidney infection which can be quite serious.

Echinacea

Echinacea is a great antibacterial and anti-inflammatory herb which is used to treat many infections. It is well-known as a remedy for colds and flu, but it is also effective in treating urinary tract infections. Its antibacterial properties help to fight the infection, and its anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties will help prevent a reoccurrence.


My Top Tip: Take at first sign of infection


 

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Here’s what I recommend

Emma our women's health advisor recommends Uva-ursi complex to help ease symptoms of cystitis and cranberry to maintain bladder health.

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Did you know?

Cystitis is sometimes known as ‘honeymoon cystitis’. Why? Well, during sex, bacteria can spread from the perineum to the urethral opening. The risk of developing cystitis is therefore increased depending on the frequency you have intercourse (sorry honeymooners!).

7 reasons you keep getting cystitis

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