Vegetarian women are less likely to suffer from the misery of cystitis, a study has suggested.
Researchers recruited 9,274 people and tracked them for nearly a decade to see if vegetarians got fewer urinary tract and kidney infections.
When other potential influences were taken into account, including age, sex and smoking habits, vegetarians were 16 per cent less likely than meat-eaters to develop a UTI.
The effects were greater in men, but women are far more likely to be burdened with cystitis generally.
Meat, especially chicken and pork, is believed to carry the E.coli bacteria which cause up to three quarters of bladder infections such as cystitis.
Vegetarian women are less likely to suffer from the misery of cystitis, a study suggests
Study leader Dr Chin-Lon Lin of Tzu Chi University in Taiwan suggested women who repeatedly suffer from UTIs should try becoming vegetarian.
Urinary tract infections are extremely common and affect more than half of women and around one in eight men at some point during their lives.
In the US, there are around 8.1million doctor’s appointments because of UTIs every year, according to the American Urology Association – this could be about equal to 1.6m in the UK.
The infection is caused when disease-causing bacteria attack the urethra, the tube carrying urine out of the body.
This causes pain in the stomach, back and legs and while anyone can develop the condition, women are more commonly affected because their bladder is closer to their back passage.
Sufferers often feel a frequent need to urinate and sleep and sex lives can also be affected.
A UTI can also develop into a more serious kidney infection if the bacteria travels further up the bladder.
Dr Chin-Lon Lin and his colleagues said finding alternatives to the standard first line of treatment – antibiotics – was ‘important’.
UTIs may be contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistance because doctors give them to sufferers so frequently.
It has previously been warned that antibiotic overuse could mean people die from routine operations or previously minor illnesses.
To see if diet could curb UTI cases, researchers tracked thousands of people in Taiwan, China. They were all Buddhists, the most common religion there.
Around a third of the participants were vegetarians. They were followed from 2005 to 2014.
Most of the vegetarians were women and the benefits were largely seen among them rather than men, the researchers said.
The findings show that women were 18 per cent less likely to succumb to a UTI if they were vegetarian.
Among the 3,040 who were vegetarians, only 217 developed a UTI, compared to 444 out of 6,684 meat eaters.
Meat is believed to harbour strains of E.coli, which is common in the gut.
Therefore, those who avoid meat may be less likely to have E. coli bacteria in their gut.
The experts, who published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports, also believe that vegetarian diets high in fruit and vegetables contain molecules known as phytochemicals, which stop bacteria from growing.
This may explain the old wives’ tale that cranberry juice is the best home remedy for UTIs.
The high fibre in a vegetarian diet may also cause the intestine to be more acidic, making it harder for bacteria which cause UTIs to grow.
Dr Lin said: ‘Previous studies have suggested fruits including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries as remedies for urinary tract infections, and while we did not look at these, our results suggest why they might work.
‘It certainly seems that drinking cranberry juice to treat UTIs, or prevent them coming back, is a pretty good idea.’
The benefits of a vegetarian diet were largely seen in those with uncomplicated UTIs – people who are otherwise healthy.
WHAT IS A URINARY TRACT INFECTION (UTI)?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can affect different parts of your urinary tract, including your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection).
Most UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms of a UTI include:
- needing to pee suddenly or more often than usual
- pain or a burning sensation when peeing
- smelly or cloudy pee
- blood in your pee
- pain in your lower tummy
- feeling tired and unwell
- in older people, changes in behaviour such as severe confusion or agitation
Children with UTIs may also:
- appear generally unwell – babies may be irritable, not feed properly and have a high temperature of 37.5C or above
- wet the bed or wet themselves
- deliberately hold in their pee because it stings
Treating urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Your doctor or nurse may prescribe antibiotics to treat a UTI.
Once you start treatment, the symptoms should start to clear up within five days in adults and 2 days in children.
If your UTI comes back any time after treatment, you’ll usually be prescribed a longer course of antibiotics.
Things you can do yourself
Mild urinary tract infections (UTIs) often pass within a few days. To help ease pain while your symptoms clear up:
- take paracetamol – you can give children liquid paracetamol
- place a hot water bottle on your tummy, back or between your thighs
- rest and drink plenty of fluids – this helps your body to flush out the bacteria
It may also help to avoid having sex until you feel better.
You cannot pass a UTI on to your partner, but sex may be uncomfortable.
Causes of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from poo entering the urinary tract.
The bacteria enter through the tube that carries pee out of the body (urethra).
Women have a shorter urethra than men. This means bacteria are more likely to reach the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.
Causes of UTIs include:
- conditions that block the urinary tract – such as kidney stones
- conditions that make it difficult to fully empty the bladder – such as an enlarged prostate gland in men and constipation in children
- urinary catheters (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)
- having a weakened immune system – for example, from type 2 diabetes, chemotherapy or HIV