The problems with sugar
What are the problems with sugar when it comes to cystitis? Firstly, never mind the cystitis, sugar is simply everywhere these days! Much of the time packaged or processed food and drinks are common culprits as they have lots of hidden sugar in them. Unfortunately, the ever-expanding sugary component of our diet is thought to be contributing to a number of issues, including obesity and type II diabetes, but possibly also smaller scale, yet equally troubling problems, such as recurrent cystitis or UTIs.
Here, I explore some of the ways in which sugar could be wreaking havoc with your bladder:
The medical links with sugar and cystitis...
1. Sugar encourages your bad bacteria
More than half the cases of cystitis come about as the result of an infection. This means bad bacteria either gets into your urethra from the outside world, or the small numbers of naturally occurring bad bacteria throughout your urinary tract have been given some substance to grow.
Sugar is one thing that can provide just that. Excess sugars from your diet can help to feed the very bacteria we don’t want to overpopulate within your urinary tract such as E coli; which, if given half the chance, can give rise to hard-to-shift infections.
2. Sugar is a stimulant
Much like many other foods or drinks such as caffeine or spicy foods, sugar is thought to act as a stimulant in the body. This means it can act as an irritant to your bladder and give rise to an increased urgency and frequency in your toilet habits.
Once your bladder ends up in a more hypersensitive state, it can be more difficult to regain some calm once more.
3. Sugar is inflammatory
Refined sugar is also considered to be pro-inflammatory in the body. This means the delicate mucous membranes that line your urinary tract can easily become irritated if you’re consuming too much. Fruit sugars are generally gentler on your system and contain a whole host of beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A or zinc, plus dietary fibre in combination, so fruit generally doesn’t pose such a great risk. Just watch out for loading up on too much fruit juice which is a more concentrated form of sugar, without the nice fibre to help balance it out.
Unfortunately, cystitis is also thought to also be more problematic in people with diabetes. Diabetics generally have higher blood glucose levels but they can also present with higher glucose in their urine. Excess glucose in your wee can risk creating the perfect medium for bacteria to proliferate in the wrong places.
Are sweeteners any better?
If you’re trying hard to limit your sugar intake, you might assume that artificial sweeteners are a suitable alternative. However, especially when it comes to consuming diet fizzy drinks whilst trying to manage cystitis, this might not be the best approach.
All types of fizzy juice should be avoided. It seems that the acidity, fizziness, added sugars, sweeteners, and in some cases caffeine, aren’t a good combination and can easily give rise to unwanted inflammation and irritation down below.
What can be done to help?
1. Consider your carbs
If you’re struggling to give up those sweet treats but suspect that they could be contributing to bouts of recurrent cystitis, you could try swapping in some kinder alternatives instead.
More natural, sweet options such as dried fruit or dates will hopefully provide you with sufficient sweetness, but also give you a good dose of fibre to help slow the release of sugars into your system. Another tactic is to couple sweet elements of your diet with sources of protein or healthy fats such as yoghurt (watch out for ‘low-fat’ options which can be deceiving), nuts or seeds. These, again, can help to steady the release of the sugars into your system.
2. Flush yourself happy with plenty of water
People often assume that their water intake is perfectly adequate but water in the form of flavoured juices, teas or coffee doesn’t quite count in my books.
As we’ve already covered, sugar and caffeine are ones for avoiding, but we also need to ensure we have an adequate water intake on top of this. Aim for at least 1.5l of plain, still water daily to help keep your urine dilute and keep you flushing through.
3. Choose Cranberry
Whilst we need to watch for hidden sugars in drinks, cranberry juice may be one not to disregard altogether. Cranberry juice contains a unique sugar component called d-mannose. This special structure helps to trick the bad bacteria that can give rise to infections into sticking to them, and as a result, they can be more easily excreted from your system as the cranberry passes through your urinary tract.
Be sure to pick up a good quality juice containing only natural sugars, such as Biotta Wild Mountain Cranberry Juice.
Then, whilst Cranberry products are a good option to include in your diet for more general protection, at the first sign of infection I recommend you have a bottle of Uva-ursi & Echinacea drops on hand.
4. Support your good bacteria instead of the bad
Whilst we can aim to avoid excess sugar which risks spurring on our bad bacteria, another tactic is to focus on supporting our good bacteria instead. See, we have both good and bad types of bacteria throughout our system naturally; however, these operate in a delicate balance and our good bacteria need to be of adequate numbers to help keep the bad guys in check.
To help support your good bacteria, a combination of prebiotics and probiotics work particularly well. Prebiotics such as our Molkosan help to correct the internal environment and the pH in and around our digestive and urinary tracts, which helps set the scene to top up our numbers of good bacteria themselves (probiotics). For urinary tract or intimate issues, I often recommend Optibac For Women.