Is there a link between cystitis and thrush?

The two conditions may have some common factors

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

03 October 2016

Cystitis and thrush

If you’ve ever had cystitis or thrush, you’ll know how unpleasant they are, and how they can really interfere with your daily life, even if just for a couple of days. If you’ve ever experienced them at the same time, or one directly after the other, you’ll know how much worse this is!

But why do these two conditions seem to go hand in hand for some people?

The main connection between these two conditions, aside from their location and their tendency to affect only women, is that they can have very similar causes.

How are the two conditions similar?

When we start to explore what these two conditions are, and what causes them, we begin to see some clear connections.

Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a yeast found naturally in the intimate area and the gut. An overgrowth causes itching and thick, white vaginal discharge. Cystitis, on the other hand, is the inflammation of the bladder, usually caused by a bacterial infection. It causes a burning sensation when peeing, a frequent, urgent need to urinate, pelvic pain and cloudy urine.

The first major connection between the two, therefore, is that they are both caused by micro-organisms. Therefore, one condition does not cause the other, but rather, due to this common cause, the factors that put you at risk of developing one, will also likely put you at risk of developing the other.

What common factors are involved?

Identifying the risk factors involved with both conditions helps to highlight the connection between them.

Our natural flora plays an important role in both conditions. All of us have a rich population of naturally-occurring bacteria and yeasts in our guts and intimate areas, so upsetting this balance can cause either yeast populations, like Candida albicans, to grow out of control, or bacterial infections such as those that cause cystitis to grow – or both at the same time if you’re really unlucky!

If your immune system is not working efficiently, you will not be able to fight off invaders, leaving you vulnerable to both cystitis and thrush. The immune system can be weakened by colds and flu, as well as diet. Long-term suppression of the immune system means that these infections may come back again and again.

Poor diet can therefore contribute to both conditions, as eating a poor diet means you are lacking in the vital nutrients that support the immune system, but it also creates an environment in which friendly bacteria struggle to survive, leaving yeasts and unfriendly bacteria free to multiply.

Antibiotic use is also a major factor. People tend to forget that antibiotics don’t have a preference over which bacteria they kill – both friendly and unfriendly bacteria come under the firing line. This leaves yeast free to multiply unchecked, but it also leaves you at risk of developing a bacterial infection if your unfriendly bacteria multiply quicker than your friendly bacteria. If you use antibiotics to treat your cystitis, you may find that thrush follows on a few days later.

One final thing to consider is the fact that one of the most common symptoms of thrush is itching. Itching your intimate area is a really easy way to transfer bacteria into the urethra, particularly if you scratch with unwashed hands! This bacteria then travels up into the bladder and causes cystitis.

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How to reduce the risk of developing either condition

Since we know what kinds of factors are involved in both conditions, it becomes easier to take measures to prevent both conditions developing.

Diet plays a vital role in both conditions, so adjusting yours is really important. I recommend:

  • Reducing your intake of refined sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as white bread and white pasta – yeast and unfriendly bacteria thrive on these!
  • Increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. A wide range is important to provide the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your immune system needs, but I would recommend making an extra effort to increase your intake of green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli
  • Reduce your intake of ‘yeasty’ foods such as cheese, alcohol, and bread made with yeast. Wash fruit thoroughly or peel before eating as yeasts can be found on their surface
  • Seeds and nuts are packed full of nutrients and make a great replacement for sugary snacks!

For more detailed dietary advice, have a look at my blog post on diet and cystitis, as many of these tips will be relevant for thrush too.

Aside from improving your diet, I strongly recommend taking a probiotic supplement. Optibac have a great range, and their probiotics for women are clinically proven to reach the intimate area alive. Take our prebiotic, Molkosan, with your probiotics to help create an environment in which the healthy bacteria you’re adding will thrive – there’s no point spending money on good-quality probiotics if these bacteria are just going to die off too!

I also recommend making a special effort to improve hygiene generally. This means washing your underwear and towels in the hottest wash you can without damaging them. Additionally – and this might seem odd when talking about improving hygiene – you should stop using chemical soaps and washes for your intimate area as these upset your natural balance of bacteria and yeast. This area is fairly self-cleaning, so some clean, warm water is all you really need to freshen up. Lastly, make sure to wash your hands in clean, hot water and a gentle, natural soap before going anywhere near your intimate area!

Are there any herbal remedies to help?

There are a number of herbal remedies that you can use to manage these symptoms.

Uva-ursi is great for treating cystitis, as it helps to cleanse the bladder. It is also a great treatment choice for people prone to thrush because it doesn't upset your natural balance of bacteria in the way that antibiotics do.

Cranberry is also a popular treatment for cystitis, but unfortunately many people drink sugary, from-concentrate cranberry juice, which is not all that helpful. Instead, why not try our Biotta Cranberry Juice which contains only a natural source of sugar. You might also want to also read up on what some of the research says around Cranberry Juice for cystitis - all very interesting!

Our Cranberry Complex could also be an option for you. This contains cranberry as well as other herbs like fresh horseradish, golden rod and nasturtium which are all used traditionally for urinary tract health. This, along with our Golden Rod tea, can be taken every day to help keep cystitis as bay.

I would also recommend taking Echinacea as this helps to strengthen the immune system. In addition, vitamin C is vital for immune function, so taking Nature-C may also be beneficial.

It may seem a lot to take all of these supplements and remedies at once, but as we have seen, cystitis and thrush are often caused by imbalances in the body, so it is important to give your body a gentle boost to balance and strengthen it, and provide support until your body’s natural defence system can take over. It is likely that you won't need to take all of these long term.

Uva-ursi and Echinacea – for cystitis


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What's being asked

Will changing my diet help with cystitis?

There are many helpful things you can do diet-wise to reduce the likelihood of cystitis. • Drink ...
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Is cystitis infectious?

No, it’s a bacterial infection that cannot be caught and cannot spread to another person. It may ...
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How is cystitis diagnosed?

A urine sample is given to the doctor, who sends it for testing. A urinary tract infection is ...
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Can cystitis and thrush be linked?

If you suffer from both recurring thrush and cystitis, or find that when you develop one, the other follows soon after, you’ll know how frustrating it can be.

Find out what the link is

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.

Learn more

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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