Probiotics match drugs for UTI prevention

With all the attention given to antibiotic overuse, you'd think docs would have gotten the message by now and started to cut back.

Wrong.

They're still giving these meds out left and right -- and women prone to urinary infections are often given a never-ending supply of the drugs as a "preventive" measure.

But as the unmistakable burning sensation that marks the start of yet another infection shows, these "preventive" drugs don't actually prevent the infections.

They can reduce the number of UTIs, but there are much safer ways to get the same results, starting with natural probiotics.

In one new study, the probiotics Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 cut the average number of annual infections in half -- from 7 at the start of the study down to 3.3 after a year of supplements.

Women in the same study given a daily dose of the antibiotic co-trimoxazole every day for that year brought their infections down from seven to 2.9. But in return for that tiny benefit -- just 0.4 fewer infections a year -- the women were quietly breeding their own microscopic army of superbugs.

Tests on the women taken at the start of the study found that between 20 percent and 40 percent of E. coli samples were resistant to meds. After a year of antibiotics, that number shot up to as much as 95 percent.

Among those on probiotics, on the other hand, the number of resistant samples actually fell slightly.

In addition, antibiotics can cause stomach pain and diarrhea, and women who take them can even develop yeast infections. That's like trading one infection for another -- and that's never a very good tradeoff in my book.

To me, it's no contest -- probiotics are the clear winner here. The urinary tract contains these friendly bacteria-fighting bugs, which increase your resistance to infection. And if you're prone to UTIs yourself, be sure to combine these natural gut-friendly bacteria with plenty of cranberry.

I know cranberry is often dismissed as folk medicine, but science shows that this stuff is all "medicine" and no "folk" -- because cranberry can actually prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract.

If they can't stick, you don't get sick. One study even found that 500 mg of cranberry extract in capsule form worked as well as the antibiotic trimethoprim in women with a history of UTIs.

Bear in mind that most cranberry drinks -- I hesitate to even call them "juice" --contain a lot sugar and precious little cranberry. If you can't handle the unsweetened juice, get your cranberry in supplement form.