Urologic diseases and conditions affect around 20 million Americans per year and medical interventions for some of these issues can be very expensive (1). While healthy lifestyle choices such as keeping hydrated, regularly exercising and avoiding excess consumption of caffeine or salt are key for maintaining urologic health, several natural supplements also support these important bodily functions (2).
The Value in Vitamins
Part of the reason why minimizing salt and staying hydrated supports urologic health is the positive effect of these actions on the kidneys, specifically, lowering the risk of kidney stones (i.e., solid crystals that form out of material usually dissolved and passed in urine). In addition to being painful, kidney stones can also cause permanent damage in severe cases if left untreated. It is estimated that one in 10 Americans will suffer from kidney stones at some point in his or her lifetime (3).
Ensuring one has the proper amount of certain vitamins and minerals can help lower kidney stone risk. For instance, B vitamins and magnesium are flushed away by caffeine, so those who consume a lot of caffeine or have diets low in these nutrients may be at risk for kidney stones. The Linus Pauling Institute says that vitamin B4, in particular, can reduce kidney stone risk in women when taken daily, but further study is needed to determine the exact relationship (4). Calcium also serves a similar purpose, which may be surprising as high amounts of calcium in urine are often linked to stone formation in certain individuals. However, according to Manoj Monda, Ph.D., this is a common misconception, and calcium-rich diets can lower kidney stone risk in many people. Potassium and vitamins C and D are also beneficial for overall kidney support.
UTIs and the Cranberry Question
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the second most common infection in the body, accounting for about 8.1 million visits to health care providers each year. They are especially common in women, with a lifetime risk for infection greater than 50%. While not necessarily serious on their own, they are highly uncomfortable and painful, and can lead into more severe conditions if left unchecked, like kidney infections (5).
However, one natural option for lowering UTI risk has been discussed for quite some time: cranberry. Cranberry in either juice or supplement form is said to help prevent UTIs from occurring, but the exact reason for this is not yet clear. Originally, the line of thinking was that cranberry made urine more acidic and inhospitable to bacteria that cause UTIs such as E. coli. Now, most scientists believe that cranberry prevents the bacteria from sticking to urinary tract walls, but there are several theories as to how this occurs, ranging from altering the bacteria to creating a coating on the tract walls themselves (6).
Several studies point toward cranberry lowering UTI risk. One trial compared the use of cranberry extract to antibiotics in 221 women with recurrent UTIs. After 12 months, the antibiotic performed only slightly better than the cranberry extract at preventing future infections (10).
Another study comparing cranberry to lactobacillus showed a significant drop in UTI recurrence in women after a six-month trial, with 16% in the cranberry group, 39% in the lactobacillus group, and 37% in a control group (7). Several other studies on women have yielded positive results, but others involving groups like the elderly and children have shown less effectiveness. Nonetheless, many medical professionals agree that cranberry does have potential use for lowering UTI risk/recurrence in women, though solid consensus on an exact dosage has yet to be found (8). Like any supplement, cranberry extract will not cure illness or disease.
Urologic health also has some concerns specific to men, mainly involving the prostate. One of the most common prostate problems is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a swelling and inflammation of the prostate caused by an overabundance of a sex hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). BPH can cause difficulty urinating and residual urine in the bladder. Interestingly enough, 30% of men in North America diagnosed with prostate disease are already seeking out complementary and alternative therapy, which includes natural supplements, so there is already quite a great deal of interest in natural prostate care (9).
One of the most commonly recommended herbs for men suffering from BPH and other prostate issues is saw palmetto. Saw palmetto berries are currently the most researched natural option for BPH, and many of these studies showed a reduction in the need to urinate at night as well as an improvement of urinary flow and less painful urination. One interesting fact is that several of the studies showed a minimal manifestation of the placebo effect, something that is traditionally common in BPH-related studies (10). While larger scale studies need to be conducted, other herbs gaining some scientific traction for dealing with prostate issues include pygeum bark extract, rye grass pollen and stinging nettle (11). In addition, flower pollen extract may have an anti-inflammatory effect that is beneficial to those with BPH by reducing prostate volume and symptoms associated with the condition (12). WF
See www.wholefoodsmagazine.com/supplements for additional coverage of the supplements category.
1. WholeFoods Magazine, “The Urologic Puzzle,” www.wholefoodsmagazine.com/supplements/features/urologic-puzzle, December 2011 (accessed 10/6/14).
2. Urology Care Foundation, Healthy Living Tips, http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/healthylivingtips.cfm, accessed 10/6/14.
3. UrologyHealth, “Treating and Preventing Kidney Stones,” http://www.urologyhealth.org/_media/_pdf/StonesArticle.pdf, Summer 2014, accessed 10/7/14.
4. Louise Tremblay, What Vitamins & Minerals Help With Kidney Function? http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/vitamins-minerals-kidney-function-4491.html, accessed 10/7/14.
5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Urinary Tract Infections In Adults, http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/utiadult/, accessed 10/7/14.
6. WebMD, Cranberries and UTI Prevention, http://www.webmd.com/urinary-incontinence-oab/womens-guide/cranberries-for-uti-protection, accessed 10/8/14.
7. Kontiokari T et al, randomised trial of cranberry-lingonberry juice and Lactobacillus GG drink for the prevention of urinary tract infections in women, BMJ 2001, Vol. 322, pgs 1571-1573
8. Guay, David R.P., Cranberry and Urinary Tract Infections, Drugs, May 2009, 69,(7), pgs. 775-807.
9. J .Curtis Nickel, et al. Nutraceuticals in Prostate Disease: The Urologist’s Role, Reviews in Urology, Summer 2008, 10(3), pgs. 192-206.
10. Christopher Hobbs, L.Ac and Stephen Brown, N.D., Saw Palmetto: The Herb For Prostate Health, Interweave Press, 1997
11. Stephanie Brown, Healthline, 6 Natural Remedies for Enlarged Prostate(BPH), http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/bph-natural-remedies#promoSlide, accessed 10/8/14.
12. Graminex G63 Flower Pollen Extract for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia in Men, https://wholefoodsmagazine.com/white-papers/graminex-g63-flower-pollen-extract-benign-prostatic-hyperplasia-men
13. M.A. Beerepoot, et al., “Cranberries vs. Antibiotics to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections,” Arch. Intern. Med. 171 (14), 1270–1278 (2011).
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2014