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E. coli, food poisoning, and urinary tract infections.

A lot of what I do in my articles is point out associations to help you better understand your body and your health. Today, I'd like to explain the connection between food poisoning and urinary tract infections, two conditions caused by E. coli bacteria. Both depend on the ability of this harmful bacteria to adhere to cell walls and colonize. Urinary tract infections and E. coil-related food poisoning can be reduced--or prevented--when you have enough friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract or urinary tract to fight the bad bacteria. When you treat either of these conditions, you're treating both.

E. coli and food poisoning

Escheria coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that causes food-borne illness with flu-like symptoms. Careless kitchen hygiene can cause harmful bacteria to travel from sinks or countertops to sponges, other foods, and to our mouths. You can get food poisoning from ground beef and other poorly handled meats, contaminated sprouts, lettuce, salami, or from drinking unpasteurized milk and juices.

As you can see, you can't escape E. coli. It's everywhere. If you don't have healthy quantities of good bacteria in your gut to fight off excessive amounts of pathogens like E. coli, you're likely to get sick. The people who are most likely to get food poisoning from this bacteria are those with suppressed immune systems--children under the age of five, the elderly, and anyone with lowered immunity. A strong immune system reduces populations of E. coli. So can particular supplements that prevent food poisoning and keep urinary tract infections in check.

E. coli and urinary tract infections

E. coli causes 90 percent of bladder infections. Both bladder infections and cystitis are urinary tract infections (UTIs) triggered by an elevation of E. coli bacteria in the urinary tract. One of the most common reasons for these low quantities of friendly bacteria is the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off friendly bacteria along with pathogens, leaving an environment in which harmful bacteria can thrive.

The more we use antibiotics, the more resistant we become to them. The result is often a urinary tract with too many pathogenic, and too few beneficial, bacteria leading to vaginitis and UTIs. To prevent UTIs, you need more friendly bacteria colonizing in your urinary tract and fewer harmful bacteria.

Drink plenty of water to flush bacteria out of your bladder, whether you're treating or preventing UTIs, even if you don't like running to the bathroom often. It's not worth getting an infection. And consider taking supplements that fight E. coli.

Probiotics stop pathogens

Forty years ago, I sang the praises of probiotics, friendly bacteria. In fact, I was contacted by a nurse practitioner in Los Angeles to help her locate the scientific studies to support her recommendation for using yogurt for vaginal infections. Yogurt contains acidophilus, a probiotic. The nurse practitioner was being charged with practicing medicine irresponsibly. I found the documentation she needed and she won her case. Today, you can buy acidophilus suppositories from Natren, Inc. in health food stores.

Anyone with UTIs or food poisoning should take good quality probiotics orally for two to three months. If you want to prevent UTIs, you may want to take them for six months or more. I routinely take probiotics one month a year to make sure I have enough good bacteria in my intestinal and urinary tracts.

Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidus are two safe and common strains of probiotics that keep the pathogenic bacteria like E. coil in check. Streptococcus faecium is one of a number of "friendly" bacteria that may not be so friendly. My suggestion is to only use probiotics that say "lactobacillus," "acidophilus," "bifidobacteria," or "bifidus." They're safe and effective.

In the past, I have recommended two expensive brands of probiotics that cost from $18 to $50 for just 30 capsules. I liked them because they worked so much better than inexpensive brands. But I've located a low-cost, high-potency probiotic with an increased ability to stick to cell walls. This allows the friendly bacteria to establish healthy colonies rather than being swept out of the body. The product, TheraDophilus, (ProThera, 888-488-2488) costs $16.95 for 90 capsules--a fraction of the price of other excellent probiotics.

Berries to the rescue

To treat or prevent E. coli-related illnesses you need good quality probiotics that will stick to cells in the urinary and digestive tracts so they can multiply. The next step is to prevent harmful bacteria from sticking. If bacteria can't grab onto cells, they can't colonize and develop into infections. There's an easy way to block pathogens from sticking--berries.

You've no doubt heard that cranberry juice is good for you. Well, cranberries are one of several berries in the Vaccinium family that contain substances which prevent E. coli from adhering to cells in the urinary tract. Blueberries and bilberries have the same effect. These berries contain high amounts of mannose, a sugar that attaches itself to urinary cells. Bacteria can't stick to these cells if mannose is already there.

Cranberry juice from grocery stores is greatly diluted with water and either contains sugar or artificial sweeteners. They are not suited for preventing or treating UTIs. Instead, use cranberry concentrate from health food stores or cranberry capsules.

By using a good probiotic along with cranberry juice, you can keep free from urinary tract infections and avoid the consequences of an overabundance of E. coli.

Kontiokari, Tero, et al. "Dietary factors protecting women from urinary tract infection," Am J Clin Nutr, 2003;77:600-4.
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Publication:Women's Health Letter
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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