UTIs happen when there’s an overgrowth of bacteria from the anal area in the urethra, bladder, or kidneys which can lead to nasty symptoms like painful and frequent urination, pelvic pain, and nausea. Since women’s urethras are shorter and closer to the anus than in men, the infections are more likely to occur in females versus males—one in two women vs. one in 20 men will get a UTI in their lifetime.
- Yana Barbalat, MD, Yana Barbalat, MD, is a board-certified urologist based in Needham, Mass.
While it’s not known for sure why UTI risk is higher in the summer, there are some well-established theories, according to Dr. Barbalat. “One reason is lack of hydration," she says. "People are more likely to get dehydrated in the summer. If you’re dehydrated, you’re not peeing as often. When you urinate, you’re flushing the system of bacteria. If you’re not drinking enough, you’re not producing enough urine, so you’re not flushing the system.”
The bacteria that cause UTIs also thrive and are more mobile in warm, humid conditions, making wet bathing suits or sweaty clothes ideal environments for UTIs to occur, especially if you’re already prone to them, says Dr. Barbalat.
An ounce of UTI prevention worth a pound of cure
Preventing UTIs is ideal, because treatment involves a course of antibiotics, which can lead to yeast infections, microbiome imbalance, and drug resistance, says Dr. Barbalat. “Prevention’s especially important in women with recurrent UTIs because if resistance happens, you are limited in what you can use to treat them,” she adds.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to lower your UTI risk throughout the summer and year-round, according to Dr. Barbalat.
1. Stay hydrated
2. Don’t hold your pee, especially after sex
Holding in your urine gives the bacteria more time to stick to the bladder wall. Dr. Barbalat recommends flushing your system after sexual activity by peeing and drinking a glass of water.
3. Stay dry down there
Don’t sit around in wet bathing suits or sweaty underwear and wear loose-fitting clothes when possible.
4. Wipe properly
Always wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom. Doing the opposite increases the chances of unwanted bacteria getting into your urinary tract.
What about cranberry juice?
If you are prone to UTIs or are going to be spending a lot of time doing activities that raise your risk, Dr. Barbalat says cranberry supplements are one of the best ways to significantly reduce UTIs, especially in women with recurrent infections. “There is really good data that cranberry protects against UTIs," she says. "It’s the only holistic preventative supported by robust data and guidelines."
However, going to the grocery store and grabbing a bottle of cranberry juice won’t do the trick. Proanthocyanidins, or PACs, are the active molecule in cranberry that prevents bacteria from sticking to the urethra and bladder wall, and clinical data has shown you need 36 mg daily of the compound to help prevent UTIs, says Dr. Barbalat. PACs also need to be soluble, meaning they’re taken from the juice of the fruit, instead of insoluble forms taken from the seeds, stem, or skin, which the body won’t absorb.
When shopping for a supplement, you need to read the label and be discerning. “Most products don’t report PAC content or usually it’s only two mg per pill if you’re lucky," Dr. Barbalat says. "Or the products may say ‘cranberry content,’ but you need to know PAC content.”
Dr. Barbalat’s favorite for her patients: Utiva Cranberry PACs Supplement, a third-party tested, vegan product with 36 mg of soluble PACs in one pill. “It’s like a magic pill for my patients with recurrent UTIs, and many of them never have one again,” she says.
So as you’re enjoying all the wonderful outdoor offering of summer, make sure to bring a change of clothes to the pool or beach, take a break from the fun to empty your bladder, and maybe even wash down a cranberry supplement with the water you should be drinking plenty of.
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