Herbal Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections
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CYSTITIS AND URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS
The term urinary tract infections (UTI) is often used interchangeably with cystitis but, technically a urinary tract infection refers to an infection anywhere in the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. The term cystitis literally means an inflammation of the bladder, which is generally the result of a bacterial infection. The term urethritis is used when the condition is limited to the urethra. When both the bladder and urethra are involved, the term cystourethritis is sometimes used. Flare-ups of symptoms associated with sexual related activity are often referred to as "sex-related cystitis". Sometimes a urinalysis will reveal no bacteria in the urine even though there may be intense, cystitis-like symptoms. These cases are sometimes diagnosed as "frequency-dysuria syndrome" or "acute urethral syndrome" or even "interstitial cystitis". These latter cases are different from cystitis and are treated differently. Untreated bladder infections can sometimes travel up into the kidneys and cause severe, even life-threatening infections. This condition is known as pyelonephritis.
We will be using the term cystitis to mean an inflammation of the bladder either with or without the presence of a bacterial infection. The term urinary tract infection will be used as a more inclusive term to include infections of the ureters, bladder, or urethra and kidneys. An infection of the kidneys, pyelonephritis, will not be treated in this article.
THE COURSE OF AN INFECTION
The first bladder infection usually comes on suddenly and with urgency. The symptoms can be painful, quickly progressive and overwhelming in their intensity.
Urinary tract infections or cystitis usually begin with symptoms of urinary frequency, burning on urination, and voiding only a small amount of urine and maybe blood in the urine. The bladder or urethra become inflamed and irritable. The urine itself may be cloudy because it contains pus or blood and may also have an unpleasant odor. The urine becomes more acidic than normal and even small amounts of urine irritate the bladder's sensitive lining. This irritation causes the bladder to send urgent messages to empty it and there is the urgent need to urinate at once and yet there is often only a trickle when voiding. The acidic urine flowing over the sore urethra produces the burning pain when urinating. The infection causes aches and pains in the lower abdominal and groin area and the back. There is a general feeling of malaise with a feverish and sick feeling. If the cystitis is severe or if previous attacks have scarred the urethra there may be blood in the urine.
Bacteria enter the urethra, then enter the bladder resulting in cystitis or simply a bladder infection. Mostly the infection stays in the bladder but it can travel on up into the kidneys creating a more serious infection. If the infection stays in the urethra without traveling into the bladder it is called urethritis. The symptoms of urethritis are usually confined to burning while urinating.
If there is a history of recurrent bladder infections there is a fairly good chance that a kidney infection will develop at some point in time. Kidney infections can be quite serious. Such infections can leave scarring of the kidneys and if left untreated may result in kidney failure. Kidney infections are usually accompanied by chills, high fever, nausea or vomiting, and pain under the rib cage which may radiate to the groin.
Most women will have the common urinary tract infection symptoms but some may have an infection and not be aware of it. Most women get one or two urinary tract infections in their lives. Although most women only get one or two infections throughout their lives some have infection after infection for years. Some women notice that sex, too much alcohol, certain birth control methods such as the the diaphragm, cervical cap, and the pill are related to recurrent infections. These women will go from crisis to crisis drowning themselves in cranberry juice and taking endless rounds of antibiotics. They may visit doctor after doctor hoping to find the cure.
Although there are certain conditions associated with reoccurring UTIs for the most part it is not known what really causes an urinary tract infection.. Recurrent cystitis may be a sign of a more serious problem such as bladder cancer, an anatomical anomaly or an immune deficiency. By understanding more about urinary tract infections you can begin to look for the cause of these recurrences develop a plan to reduce or eliminate the infections.
WHO HAS CYSTITIS?
Bladder infections account for more than 5 million doctor visits annually second only to visits for upper respiratory infections. One out of every 5 women in the United States will have a bladder infection during their lifetime. About 75 percent of those experiencing an infection will never have a recurrence or will have fewer than 3 a year. Up to 25 percent will have more than 3 episodes in one year and some will have even more.
As babies males are more susceptible than females, the cause is often congenital and most involve the kidneys. However, by the age of 5 females are more susceptible with about 5 percent of schoolgirls having at least one infection. After the onset of sexual activity women are about 30 times more likely to develop an infection. Between the ages of 20 and 50 women have UTIs 50 times more often than men. By the first few years after menopause, 1 out of 10 women will have a bladder infection. Five to ten percent of pregnant women will develop an infection, but may not have symptoms. After the age of 60 the occurrence of UTIs in men and women balances out again. More than 1/3 of women over the age of 70 have bladder infections and about 20 percent of those are 'silent:' infections (they have no symptoms although bacteria may be present in the urine and may go undetected for a long time).
POPULATIONS MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO CYSTITIS
Pregnant women, post-menopausal women, women on birth control pills, women with lowered immunity, or women with prolapsed urethra or bladder tend to be more susceptible to cystitis. Women who are diabetic have glucose in their blood and urine which provides food for E. coli bacteria. Women who have obstructions in the urinary tract such as a tumor or kidney stones, which causes irritation and provide a perfect place for bacteria to grow, may have more urinary tract infections. In pregnant women the muscles in the urinary system relax and this allows urine to be retained in the ureters and bladder. Fifteen percent of pregnant women have bladder infections without any symptoms.
In post-menopausal women shrinkage of urethral and vaginal membranes, which occurs as a result of a reduction in the amount of estrogen , can increase the tendency to develop bladder infections. The skin and other tissues of the vulva, vagina, and urethra post-menopausal may have gradually diminished skin thickness and resilience. These changes make the skin so delicate and sensitive that the trauma of everyday occurrences may cause small cracks or ulcers and lead to inflammation called atrophic urethritis. Also the bladder itself may become less elastic and may not empty completely.
Those experiencing chronic or acute stress may be more likely to have frequent recurrences of cystitis. Stress responses in the body and related moods of depression result in the production of hormones such as ACTH, ADH, glucocorticoids, and aldosterone, all of which reduce circulating white blood cell counts and thus increase the probability of an infection. The interactions of these hormones also cause the body's cells to retain water and urine output is reduced since the fluids are retained in the body's cells and the bladder is flushed less often. This creates a better environment for bacteria to grow in.
THE BODY'S OWN DEFENSES AGAINST AN INFECTION
The body's natural defenses which normally keep the urethra clean include the antimicrobial surface of the bladder itself, the removal of bacteria during urination, and urine pH that is normally unsuitable for the growth of gram negative bacteria. A healthy bladder normally has a sterile environment and is designed to remain so. Four to eight times a day flushing of any bacteria or other unwanted debris occurs during urination. Generous fluid intake, around 8 glasses of water, ensures efficient flushing. Drinking plenty of fluids also dilutes the urine, lowering the concentration of bacteria that might be present. Restricting fluids can increase the concentration of urine and of irritants in the bladder.
The natural acidic environment of the bladder (pH5.5 to 7.0) helps reduce bacterial proliferation. Women tend to have a slightly less acidic urine than men and this is one reason why bladder infections are more common in women than in men. Also women who experience recurrent bladder infections have a urinary pH even more alkaline than that of women who do not have recurrent infections.
There is some research that suggests that the bladder lining may actually repel bacteria. It is felt that this is the mechanism that prevents most people from getting bladder infections. Some, however, may have a defect in the bladder lining that allows bacteria to adhere more easily. Certain bacteria, especially strains of E.coli, have hairy, finger-like projections, call fimbriae, that can insert themselves into receptive cells on the bladder surface in sort of a lock and key manner. Once they are attached they can not be flushed out and they must be killed. Also there appears that there may be more attachment sites in some people's bladders. Immune, hormonal, and genetic factors may play a role in preventing or allowing bacteria to thrive in the bladder.
In a healthy body the entire functioning of the body contributes to healthy functioning. In regards to cystitis, the liver is the main organ contributing to the urine composition. If the liver is not working well the waste products which the kidneys must filter will be very concentrated. This can lead to bacteria more easily being able to proliferate in the bladder.
In terms of maintaining normal energy flow it has been suggested that lifestyle patterns that support lack of circulating energy would more likely contribute to the development of cystitis. Such patterns would include holding the urine when the bladder is full, wearing undergarments that are too tight and constricting circulation, and sitting too still for a long time without physical exercise.
Herbal remedies have been used for many thousands of years in many different cultures. Today herbs have become a growing alternative for establishing a healthy body environment. Herbs have many different actions that can affect the bladder: disinfectants (can kill bacteria), analgesics (are soothing), diuretics (can increase the output of urine) or narcotics (reduce or relieve pain). Some have even been shown to have antimicrobial effects against E. coli and other organisms that cause bladder infections. Herbs can be very effective in programs for resolving urinary tract infections.
Allopathic treatments have a fairly successful rate of cure for UTIs. However, the medications used have significant potential toxicity and negative side effects. There is also no assurance that the infections will not reoccur or that the underlying causes for recurrent cystitis will be resolved . If left unresolved the underlying cause can contribute to further malfunctioning in the body and surface at another time or surface in relation to another physiological function.
The problem of repeated cystitis and antibiotic treatment is a common one. Repeated courses of antibiotic treatment lower vitality, and disrupt first line immune defenses. Antibiotics destroy internal flora and create a continual imbalance in body processes. Repeated antibiotic use reduces overall resistance to infections and increases the likelihood of recurrences. Often those with cases of chronic cystitis will have other patterns of repeated infections such as colds, flu, tonsillitis which point to a general reduction in primary and secondary immune responses. Optimal immune functioning is essential for resolution of repeated infections.
THE SYMPTOMATIC VS. THE HOLISTIC APPROACH
In allopathic medicine the symptomatic approach is used. It gives the same antibiotic for the same bacterial infection. In some cases this works and in some cases it does not work. When it does not work it can prolong the healing and may weaken the body or suppress and drive deeper into the body the fundamental cause of the illness. The symptomatic approach has limitations because not every bladder infection will be the same in every person even with the same bacteria present.
In an herbal program for cystitis the specific symptomology is addressed and simultaneously the underlying disharmonies are resolved. It is important to develop a program specific for the individual. Each bladder infection would manifest differently in each person because of the person, their personal and health history, present living situation, and available support resources. Each illness manifests with a different energy pattern which varies according to the person's present energy pattern therefore the herbs used to resolve cystitis would be different for different people.
Simple cystitis is quite assessable to treatment with herbs and supportive therapies. Complications arise when there are other areas involved. It is necessary to find out whether the infection is confined to the urinary system and what kind of infection it is. It is necessary to distinguish cystitis from kidney or vaginal infections and even venereal diseases such as nonspecific urethritis or gonorrhea. The presence of these underlying factors would effect the kind of program and the herbs used. Some herbs used for cystitis would not be appropriate in other cases. For instance Juniper would not be used in kidney infections. If other types of infection were present such as chlamydis or candida much deeper issues of depressed immunity would be involved. Each medicinal herb has a somewhat different effect and works on different mechanisms of the body and therefore several herbs are usually combined.
Herbs used to treat cystitis would reduce the inflammation, soothe muscle spasms and be antiseptic. They would also seek to increase urine production to flush out the infection and help prevent kidney stone formation. Antimicrobial diuretics may help the body control and clear the bacterial infection but they must be ones that are specifically active in the urinary tract. These antimicrobials would contain essential oils which are excreted from the body via the kidneys, thus the healing properties of the herbs are directed to the site of the infection in the bladder. Herbs such as barberry and buchu are two such herbs.
In contrast to allopathic chemical diuretics which often result in unphysiological salt losses, most herbal diuretics simply increase the excretion of water and are ideal for flushing out the kidneys and urinary tract without resulting in any imbalance in the body's water equilibrium. Many herbal diuretics lead to increased flow of blood through the kidneys and stimulate the production of primary urine from tissue fluids. Also the considerable quantities of potassium salts present in various herbal diuretics leads to water diuresis by osmotic mechanisms. Such herbs also possess antibacterial and spasmolytic (cramp-relaxing) effects. Good herbs to be used for this include: dandelion, horsetail, nettles, barberry leaves, goldenrod.
Anti-inflammatories will soothe the pain and discomfort but need to be used in the context of removing the infection that caused the inflammation. Antispasmodics may be useful if there is much pain (marshmallow, hops, chamomile). Imbalances may be present in the kidneys, liver, and bladder. The acute symptoms would be resolved first and then treatment would include resolving more widely spread inflammation and low-grade infection. Useful anti-inflammatories for this would include: ginger, marshmallow, Echinacea, chamomile.
Children, pregnant women, those on medications, and the elderly should consult a qualified health care practitioner before taking any herbs.
HERBAL ACTIONS TO HELP RESOLVE URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS
Urinary Support herbs: provide general healing support for the urinary system. Herbs: agrimony, couchgrass, elder flowers, plantain, yarrow, juniper (not with inflammation), horsetail, Lady's mantle, saw palmetto.
Foundation support herbs- provide overall nutritional and adaptogenic support. Herbs: nettles, red clover, super blue-green algae, astragulus, the ginsengs, acidophilus, burdock.
Demulcents- will help soothe and coat irritated, inflamed tissue. Herbs: marshmallow, comfrey, plantain, violet, mullein, cornsilk.
Antispasmodics- assists in helping the body reduce muscular spasms along the urinary tract. Herbs: marshmallow, hops, red raspberry, scullcap, chamomile.
Alkalizing herbs-may help alkalize the urine. Herbs: sarsaparilla, peppermint, marshmallow, comfrey root., plantain, ginger.
Anti-microbials (including urinary antiseptics) - help overcome and destroy pathogenic bacteria and strengthen the immune responses. Herbs: echinacea, goldenseal, myrrh, burdock, garlic, bilberry, uva ursi, feverfew, honeysuckle, barberry, buchu.
Diuretics- help stimulate the kidney and bladder and increase the flow of urine. Herbs: dandelion, cornsilk, sassafras, juniper berry, fennel, cleavers, uva ursi, horsetail, goldenrod, meadowsweet, pipsissewa, plantain, shepherd's purse
Anti-inflammatory- are indicated to lessen the inflammation that may have been caused by bruising or trauma, or from the present infection. They will assist in lessening the pain and discomfort. Herbs: ginger, echinacea, yellow dock, licorice, gotu kola, comfrey, chamomile, marshmallow.
If there is bleeding-Shepherd's Purse is one of the most effective herbs to stop bleeding of all sorts. It is a diuretic and is useful for genitourinary problems especially bladder infections with bleeding and difficult urination. Marshmallow and plantain will also help stop urinary bleeding.
For cystitis with weakness and exhaustion - beth root, horsetail, hydrangea, corn silk, barberry, black haw.
For kidney involvement including kidney stones- gravel root, marshmallow leaf, couchgrass, barberry, stone root, hydrangea, corn silk, uva ursi.
Herbs effective against specific bacteria:
SPECIFIC HERBS AND THEIR ACTIONS
Juniper berry - contains aromatic compounds that increase the flow of urine. It increases the production of digestive fluids which assists in it absorption. Juniper relieves pain and is antiseptic, diuretic, and stimulant. It is useful in cases of chronic cystitis but is best not used when there is acute inflammation as it may result in irritation of the bladder.
Uva Ursi - contains bitter compounds that are antiseptic and increase the flow of urine. It also contains astringent compounds that shrink inflamed tissues. It is effective against E. coli in the bladder. The herb possesses tonic properties and is useful for weakened liver, kidneys, and other glands. Uva ursi is a strong, non-irritating diuretic and urinary antiseptic for bladder and kidney infections. When combined with marshmallow it helps to eliminate stones from the kidney and bladder. It strengthens and tones the urinary passages and is effective to treat blood in the urine. Its diuretic properties are at their most effective if the herb is infused into cool or tepid water. Hot water alters its diuretic properties.
Uva Ursi is good to use if there is an irritable bladder or an atonic boggy bladder. It is also good to use when there is bacterial vaginosis and if there is ulcerative cystitis. It may cause the urine to become brownish-green and it works best with alkaline urine.
Plantain- has cooling diuretic properties that make it beneficial for kidney and urinary bladder infections.
Dandelion root - contains bitter compounds that enhance the efficiency of the body's eliminative and detoxifying functions. These compounds help restore normal liver function, increase the production of digestive fluids and enzymes, particularly bile. It increases the flow of urine and has a laxative effect. It acts as an effective diuretic. Herbal diuretics help to cleanse the system. By promoting the release of fluids from the tissues it helps to relieve the false sensations of urgency characteristic of cystitis.
Chamomile flowers - contain aromatic compounds that increase the production of digestive fluids, reduce muscle spasms and pains, reduce inflammation and are antiseptic. These compounds have a sedative and relaxing effect.
Couch grass- strongly diuretic with a soothing, anti-inflammatory healing effect on the lining of the bladder. Useful when there is mucus discharge from the bladder with painful and frequent urination.
Cleavers- soothing diuretic which is useful for acute or chronic cystitis with swollen lymph nodes and uterine inflammation.
Nettles- mild diuretic which is useful if there is a possibility or history of kidney infection. It builds the blood and is a nutrient rich herb.
Buchu- a urinary antiseptic diuretic and that can also be taken after the acute phase of an infection has passed to restore damaged mucosa. Buchu works as a urinary disinfectant. Its volatile oil stimulates urination and is excreted virtually unchanged by the kidneys, rendering the urine slightly antiseptic. Good for use with a bladder infection accompanied by a burning sensation and if there is acidic urine with a constant desire to urinate with no relief from doing so. It should not be used if there is acute inflammation.
Echinacea- improves overall immune responses, stimulates circulation and removes toxins from the blood. It is also an effective anti-inflammatory. Echinacea contains a natural antibiotic (echinacoside) which is comparable to penicillin in its broad spectrum activity. It also strengthens tissues against assault by invading microorganisms. Body tissues contain a chemical (hyaluronic acid) that acts as a shield against germ attack. Many germs produce an enzyme (hyaluronidase) that dissolves this chemical shield, allowing them to penetrate tissues and cause infection. Echinacea contains a substance (echinacein) that counteracts the germs tissue-dissolving enzyme, keeping them out of the body's tissues.
Echinacea also helps stimulate immune responses. It boosts macrophage (big eaters that engulf and digest microorganisms) activity and increases the production of infection-fighting T-cells up to 30 percent. In addition, echinacea may act like the body's own virus-fighting chemical, interferon. Interferon released in the body boosts the cells' ability to resist infection. Untreated cells and cells bathed in an echinacea extract were exposed to two potent viruses, influenza and herpes. Only a small proportion of cells treated with echinacea became infected compared to the untreated cells
Cornsilk - is a soothing, anti-inflammatory diuretic that directly reduces painful symptoms and swelling due to inflammation. It is a diuretic and urinary demulcent. It is especially useful with excessively alkaline urine and for bladder irritation in children.
Hydrangea- good for stimulating the kidneys and flushing them clean. It is useful if there is urinary pain and back pain from kidney involvement . Helpful if there is irritation of the bladder and urethra with quick, sharp pains in the urethra. It works quickly on acute cutting urethral pain and is considered one of the best general urinary anodynes.
Goldenseal- good for bladder infections if there is bleeding. It is an effective antimicrobial and choleretic. Repeated use of goldenseal can destroy the intestinal flora and should not be used on a continual basis. Goldenseal should not be used during pregnancy.
Marshmallow root- increases the acidity of the urine thus inhibiting bacterial growth. It helps to strengthen and cleanse the bladder. It is a demulcent, emollient, and diuretic. Marshmallow is the best source of easily digested vegetable mucilage which lubricates the body, protecting it against irritation and dryness. It soothes the urinary system and is usually combined with other diuretic herbs to treat kidney and bladder inflammations, difficult or painful urination and kidney stones or gravel. It stops bleeding in the urine.
Yarrow- anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, spasmolytic, diaphoretic, astringent, tonic. It regulates many urination problems and soothes and heals mucous membranes. It clears heat and congestion by aiding elimination via the kidneys through its diuretic effect.
Gravel root- a mild diuretic, stimulant, tonic and urinary anodyne. Helpful in cases in which there is deep seated back ache with cloudy, milky urine, and aching bones. Good for women with uterine prolapse and a tendency to form kidney stones.
Horsetail- is an active diuretic that is used if there is scanty, dark colored urine with an irritable bladder resulting in spastic urge to urinate.
Cranberry- Unsweetened cranberry juice may prevent bacteria from sticking to the cells that line the urinary tract. An experiment showed that 73 percent of recurrent UTI suffers showed significant improvement after drinking a pint of cranberry juice each day for three weeks. Researchers at Tufts University have found that one of the effects of taking cranberry juice is that bacteria are unable to adhere to the lining of the bladder. Drinking cranberry juice therefore helps sweep the bacteria from the bladder.
In the bladder, cranberry juice breaks down into hippuric acid, a compound that has natural bactericidal properties. Some research has shown that the urine of those who eat cranberries contains a bacteria fighting chemical called hippuric acid. However some researchers believe that urinary acidity and hippuric acid have nothing to do with the herb's effectiveness but that it is the ability of the juice to prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder that makes it effective in helping to resolve cystitis.
Cranberries have quinolic acid and vitamin C that have an impact on bacteria. The quercetin in all berries, including cranberries, helps resolve inflammation. This may not be enough to make a significant antibacterial difference but it may be enough to head off an infection if it is started right away.
When drinking cranberry juice it is best to purchase pure, unsweetened juice. Avoid commercial cranberry juice cocktail products as they contain very little cranberry juice and contain high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners.
The acidity of the cranberry juice can enhance the effectiveness of the antibiotic nitrofurantoin. However, some antibiotics like erythromycin are more effective at a more alkaline pH. In that case you would want to stop drinking the cranberry juice and perhaps take 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 oz. of water. Some herbalist recommend that cranberry juice should be used at the very beginning of symptoms and after symptoms have subsided. If herbs are being taken for active symptoms cranberry juice is not recommended at this time.
Barberry- the berberine in barberry has remarkable infection fighting properties. Studies show that it kills microorganisms (E. coli, staphylococci) that cause urinary tract infections. (High doses can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, hazardous drops in blood pressure and depression of heart rate and breathing. Those with heart disease or chronic respiratory problems should be careful not to take large doses. Pregnant women should not take barberry.)
Burdock- contains chemicals (polyacetylenes) that kill disease causing bacteria and fungi. It has been used traditionally for urinary tract infections.
Goldenrod- a mildly antiseptic and stimulating diuretic which is good to use if there is pain in the kidneys and scanty, dark urine.
Cinnamon - one German study showed that it 'suppresses completely' the cause of most urinary tract infections (E. coli) and the fungus (Candida albicans) responsible for vaginal yeast infections. Use 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of powdered herb to one cup of boiling water. Drink up to 3 cups a day. Cinnamon infusions should not be given to children under 2 years old. For older children and those over 65 start with low-strength preparations and increase strength if necessary.
In powdered form, culinary amounts of cinnamon are nontoxic, though allergic reactions are possible. Cinnamon oil, however, should not be ingested as it may cause nausea, vomiting and even kidney damage.
In addition to these internal herbal preparations, external compresses and baths can be most useful for clearing an active infection and shifting conditions associated with chronic cystitis. Hot herbal compresses can be applied over the bladder or better still a hip or sitz bath can be taken to stimulate immune and circulatory activity in the pelvic region. Good herbs for this include: plantain, calendula, comfrey, burdock, violet, yarrow, lady's mantle, lemon balm, lavender, angelica, chamomile and ginger.
A hip bath in radish leaf water is specific for bladder infections either acute or chronic. Daikon radish leaves are best to use because they are more stimulating than most radishes, yet any radish leaves can be used. Ginger makes an excellent bath to stimulate circulation, remove congestion, and stimulate the immune responses. Any of the above combined together make a useful stimulating bath for resolving pelvic infections.
To make such a bath combine the ingredients in a glass quart jar filling the jar about 1/3 to 1/2 full with the herb. Pour in boiling water to fill the jar and put a screw on cap on the jar. Let sit for about 4-6 hours (at least one hour). Fill the bathtub with hot water to your hips. Pour in liquid from the bath preparation. Soak in tub while circulating the water for about 20 -30 minutes.. (If you are very tired, weak, or debilitated 2 tablespoons of salt should be added to the bath mixture.) Also a drop or two of essential oils can be added to the compress or the bath. Good oils for this include: lavender, thyme, frankincense, bergamot, or fennel.
ADDITIONAL HERBAL SUPPORT - SUPPORTING THE BODY'S DEFENSIVE IMMUNE RESPONSES
In treating for a urinary tract infection the immune system is urged to work with increased effectiveness. An immune support program is usually given as foundation support to heighten the functioning capacity of the immune responses. General principals for immune support therapy include nutritive and restful measures which support increased immune responses including adequate rest and sleep, adequate hydration and nutritive support with vegetable juices and soups. The consumption of sugars, including fruit sugars, should be eliminated as sugar metabolism interferes with bacteria-destroying capability of granular white blood cells. The ingestion of various kinds of sugars including glucose, fructose and sucrose, reduces the ability of neutrophils to engulf and destroy bacteria and depresses lymphocyte activity. Sugar begins to suppress the immune system within thirty minutes after you eat it, and the effects last for over five hours. Studies show at least a 50 percent reduction in neutrophil activity two hours after ingestion. Neurtrophis constitute 60 to 70 percent of all circulating white blood cells and impairing their activity undermines the entire immune responses.
The thymus is believed to be one of the major glands for increasing the strength of our immune support. The thymus is responsible for many functions of the immune system, including the production of T lymphocytes a white blood cell responsible for cell mediated immunity. Cell mediated immunity is important in resistance to infection against bacteria, virus, yeast, fungi, and parasites. In addition, the thymus releases several hormones such as thymosin, thymopoeitin, and serum thymic factor which regulates many immune functions. Low levels of these hormones are associated with depressed immune responses and an increased susceptibility to infections. Some herbs that support the thymus functioning include echinacea, goldenseal and licorice.
The lymph, lymph vessels and lymph nodes are another important part of the immune response. Lymph vessels drain waste products from tissues and transport the lymph (interstitial fluid) to lymph nodes which filter the lymph. Macrophages, large cells which engulf and destroy foreign particles including bacteria and cellular debris, are responsible for filtering the lymph. The lymph nodes contain B-lymphocytes, white blood cells which can initiate antibody production against viruses, bacteria, yeast, and other organisms. Herbs that assist lymphatic functioning and the production of B-lymphocytes include violet, calendula, red clover, watercress, cleavers, echinacea, ginseng and yellow dock.
The spleen is the largest lymphatic tissue in the body. The spleen has major immune system functions. It produces lymphocytes, engulfing and destroying bacteria and cellular debris. It also destroys worn-out blood cells and platelets and serves as a blood reservoir. Herbs that benefit the spleen include goldenseal which enhances the blood flow through the spleen and increases macrophage activity, and astragulus, fenugreek, barberry and ginger.
Although not technically a lymphatic organ the liver produces a majority of the lymph in the body. The integrity of the lymphatic system is dependent on Kupffer cells (special types of macrophages). Kupffer cells filter bacteria, yeast, and toxic foreign compounds that are absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. Kupffer cells are extremely effective in filtering the blood. Herbs that support healthy liver functioning include milk thistle, sarsaparilla, barberry, herbal bitters, Oregon grape and dandelion.
White blood cells including the granular white blood cells -neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils and the non-granular white blood cells - lymphocytes ( T-cells, B-cells, natural killer cells, memory cells) and monocytes ( macrophages) are important active components of the immune system responses. Herbs that enhance white blood cell and macrophage functioning include echinacea, goldenseal, ginseng, siberian ginseng and licorice.
Several chemical factors enhance immune system functioning including interferon, interleukin II, and complement. Interferon is produced primarily by T-cells, interleukins are produced by macrophages and T-cells, and complement fractions are produced in the liver and spleen. Several herbs increase the body's production of these compounds. Echinacea , boneset, astragalus and licorice have been shown to stimulate the production and action of a number of chemical mediators of immunity, especially interferon.
Strong immune supporting herbs include echinacea, ginger, elder, lavender, marshmallow, calendula, poke, St. John's wort, marshmallow, astragulus, burdock, dandelion, red clover, nettles, licorice and chamomile.
MEDIATING THE EFFECTS OF STRESS
The modification of the effects of stress in the body is also an essential component when working for the resolution of a chronic problem in the body. Many studies have demonstrated that the degenerative effects of stress, personality, attitude and emotion are causative factors in many diseases and illnesses. A negative experience of stress results in increases in the adrenal gland production of hormones including corticosteroids and catecholamines. These hormones inhibit white blood cells and cause the thymus to shrink. This leads to a significant suppression of immune functions and responses. This suppression and the wear and tear from the effects of chronic stress leave the body more prone to developing illness, infections, and diseases. The level of degenerative stress experienced is related to the level of immune suppression.
Negative stress responses results in stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the flight or fight response. The immune responses function more fully under the predominance of the parasympathetic nervous system. During periods of rest, relaxation, visualization, meditation and sleep ( which are governed by parasympathetic nervous system dominance) potent immune enhancing compounds are released and many immune functions are greatly increased.
Herbs that buffer the degenerative effects of stress in the body include ginseng, Siberian ginseng, ginkgo, gotu kola, lemon balm, wood betony, all of the adaptogens such as burdock, dandelion, red clover, and nettles, and herbs that nourish the endocrine glands particularly the adrenals and pituitary such as borage, rosemary, chaste tree, watercress, licorice, and yellow dock.
Resolution of a chronic cystitis infection would include the use of self-help supportive remedies along with an individualized program of integrated herbal support for acute symptoms and comprehensive herbal support for upgrading immune responses and healing the degenerative effects of stress. The use of allopathic antibiotics could best be used selectively and specifically under the direction of an allopathic doctor. An herbal and nutritive program could be used to buffer against and heal any negative side effects from the use of such antibiotics.
Excerpted from the booklet: Herbs & Urinary Tract Infections by Mary Ann Copson copyright ©1998. The complete booklet is available for $9.95. Order Form
© Copyright 1997 - 2008 by Mary Ann Copson and Evenstar. All rights reserved.
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