Is a vegetarian diet better for urinary health?

3 min read

Diet and urinary health

Diet plays a big role in our overall health, and our urinary health. As always, it's important to discuss any major diet changes with your physician and find a solution that is best for you and your body.

Is avoiding a UTI as simple as becoming a vegetarian?

The vegetarian diet has many possible health benefits, including reducing your chances of getting coronary heart disease and colon cancer; lowering bad cholesterol and high blood pressure; and preventing complications if you have diabetes. Now, research suggests it may stop you from getting UTIs.  

The researchers believe this study is the first to examine the possible connection between eating vegetarian and the rate at which you get UTIs. Researchers looked at the diets of 9,724 Taiwanese subjects (3,257 vegetarians and 6,467 non-vegetarians) from 2005 to 2014. The results revealed: vegetarians, it turns out, may have up to 16% less of a chance of getting a UTI than folks who don’t follow that diet, and for women who are vegetarians that number is 18% less than women who aren’t eating vegetarian.

Keep in mind, this study is applicable for those susceptible to uncomplicated UTIs, not complicated UTIs.

The study findings

The study was conducted via a questionnaire which was used to monitor the participants’ eating habits. This questionnaire inquired about education, medical background, physical fitness, and smoking: “Participants were categorized as vegetarians if they (1) self-identified as vegetarians in a question asking vegetarian status, and (2) reported ‘no eating’ in frequency questions for all individual meat and fish items in the FFQ [Food Frequency Questionnaire],” according to the study.

The vegetarian group in this study was made up of 72.4% women (versus 58.6% in the non-vegetarian group) and were also less likely than the non-vegetarian group to smoke, drink or have risk factors that would have made it more likely for them to contract a UTI.

There are numerous reasons, in theory, why choosing a vegetarian diet might prevent a UTI: Meat has E. coli, and E. coli causes some, though not all, urinary tract infections. The study also noted that vegans and vegetarians have lower stool pH than those who eat meat and that could stop E. coli from growing.

Dr. Jill Rabin, who works in ob-gyn education and development for Northwell Health, told HealthDay that when you have less E coli in the intestine, you create more acid in the bladder and gut, and can lower your chance of getting UTIs that way, as well as from the amount of a fiber you could potentially consume as a vegetarian. In addition, when you eat a large amount of animal protein, you lower urinary pH. Plus, as the study pointed out, “[p]lant foods contain phytochemicals (major classes including terpenoids, phenolics, alkaloids) which have been demonstrated to have antibacterial activities, in addition to anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidative factors.”

Folks that tend to get uncomplicated UTIs may want to pay special attention to this research, as the diet showed “significantly reduced risk” of getting that type of UTI.

You can explore what foods are best (and worse) for your vaginal pH here.

Other foods to consider

There is some doubt about the benefit of a vegetarian diet on UTIs: Dr. Elizabeth Kavaler, a urologist from Lenox Hill remarked that cooking kills E. Coli and vegetables have E. coli as well.

It’s also important to understand that the vegetarian diet is not the only type of dietary change that can result in possibly less UTIs. Eating dark chocolate might help, due to the amount of polyphenols. Yogurt or sauerkraut can also help, because they are considered probiotic-rich foods, and those allow your good bacteria to flourish. And of course, drinking more water could make a difference, just because it helps you flush out the urinary tract upon urination.    

If you are a woman, you have a 50% chance or more to experience a UTI sometime in your life. Given the frightening possible side effects and resistance of antibiotics, utilizing natural preventative methods that are simple and low-cost like changing your diet could make a big difference, if, that is, they work.

As always, it's important to discuss any major diet changes with your physician and find a solution that is best for you and your body.

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