THE URINARY SYSTEM
Herbal treatment of urinary system conditions is either very straightforward, or very challenging. One one hand, acute cystitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is usually dealt with very quickly - and on the other, chronic types of cystitis and kidney disease can require long-term management, specifically adapted to the needs of the person in question.
Herbal medicine can be very useful in treating benign prostate enlargement and the symptoms of urinary retention, frequency and urgency that come with it – a few herbs have been well-researched for the condition and success rate is high.
The prostate is a small gland that sits underneath the bladder in men and controls the release of urine from the bladder as well as producing seminal fluid. In benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a potent form of testosterone in the prostate causes enlargement and obstruction of urine flow. Herbs like saw palmetto, nettle root, Crataeva nurvala and Pygeum africanum can restore proper urine flow by regulating hormone levels in the prostate, improving bladder tone and acting as general anti-inflammatories.
Your diet can also be a good source of anti-inflammatory substances and care should be taken not to consume too much processed food, sugar or meat. A diet rich in organic vegetables lowers pesticide exposure, which also helps keep hormone levels balanced.
While it is important to test your PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels if you are experiencing symptoms, this test has a high level of false negative and false positive results and can be misleading. It is always good to talk to a doctor about the risks and benefits of testing and subsequent conventional treatment, and decide whether this is the right thing for you.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) or cystitis is much more common in women than in men, due to the differences in urinary system anatomy in both sexes. Bacteria get into the urethra in a variety of ways, and reflux of infected urine upwards can infect the kidneys and cause recurrence.
The most important thing during a UTI is to drink lots of fluid, which helps flush the bacteria out. This should be in the form of a herbal tea for best results, combining fluid intake with the medicinal benefits of herbs – marshmallow root, yarrow, bearberry, corn silk, horsetail, nettles, couch grass and dandelion leaf are commonly given with quick results.
Cranberry can prevent the attachment of bacteria to the urethra and is useful in recurrent UTIs - though of course this should be a sugar-free, high quality supplement, not a shop-bought juice.
Immune-boosting and anti-infectious herbs like Echinacea, garlic, thyme and andrographis are also very helpful in recurrent infections where the immune system is low. Sugar should be avoided and care must be taken to consume a healthy diet, to encourage the growth of beneficial, instead of harmful, bacteria in the body.
For post-menopausal problems with recurrent cystitis, steps should be taken to support oestrogen levels - maintaining a healthy body weight, eating good fats and taking herbs like Black cohosh and sage are helpful here.
Herbal treatment of kidney disease is perhaps the least researched area of modern herbal medicine. There are a few traditional kidney ‘tonics’ which have shown good success in practice – these are golden rod, nettle seed and horsetail.
Various other herbs from Chinese and Indian traditions have been researched slightly more – these include astragalus, angelica, andrographis, turmeric, withania and some medicinal mushrooms.
It may also be possible to heal the kidneys through improving blood circulation to the area and supporting the health of the microvasculature. The kidneys are made up of a huge network of tiny blood vessels, which become damaged in conditions like diabetes. Restoring good microvascular circulation may therefore help to restore damaged kidneys and improve health – this can be done through diet alone, which avoids using herbs that may irritate the kidneys further.