It’s unfortunately pretty likely that you have first-hand experience with the burning urination and abdominal pain that accompany a urinary tract infection. It’s the second most common type of bodily infection, responsible for a whopping 8.1 million doctor visits each year in the USA. Women are much more prone than men: for ladies, the risk of getting a UTI at some point is over 50 percent!

The cause of UTI’s are many, but easiest to consider is the UTIs caused by bacteria getting stuck in the walls of the urethra and traveling up to (think of it as being milked up to) your bladder. The longer urethra makes it harder for bacteria from the outside to make it all the way to the bladder in men. Once in the bladder, the bacteria seem to like most urine and multiply there. If untreated, the bacteria in your bladder can travel further, toward your kidneys: a more serious situation. You might know that these infections can result from bacteria getting pushed up (milked up) into your body during sex, which is why it’s vital that you pee every time you have sex (before and after is best but at least after–If you’ve been skipping the bathroom so you can keep cuddling with your beau in bed, that is very sweet, but sorry, we really suggest you go pee. Flush that urethra out with fresh urine from your bladder, baby. Then you can resume cuddling.)

But there are some possible causes of UTIs that might surprise you. The good news? Knowing them will give you that many more ways to escape that horrid, horrid burn.

  1. Urine composition and diet. At the beginning of a UTI, your cells produce siderocalin, a protein that fights bacteria by sequestering the iron the bacteria feed on. A new study found that urinary composition has a huge effect on how well siderocalin works. The lower the pH of your urine (the more acid), and the fewer you have of certain metabolites called aromatics, the worse you’ll fare. So an alkaline urine seems best. The researchers surmise that some of these aromatics bind to iron, thereby preventing bacteria from feeding on it. The best part: although urinary composition is a complex issue, the research suggests you can both raise pH (make it alkaline) and increase the presence of metabolites through diet, including calcium supplements, coffee, tea, berries, red wine, dark chocolate, and cranberries.
  1. Bubble baths. If you’re trying to avoid a UTI, you might also want to cut down on the bubble baths. We know, they are so relaxing, but stewing in those warm suds can basically serve as an invitation to bacteria to join the party in your urethra. Showers work better.
  1. Back-to-front wiping. Since UTIs are usually caused by E. coli or other bacteria from your intestinal tract, dragging your toilet paper from your rectum—basically an E. coli and other bacteria factory—to your vagina is a bad idea. Front-to-back is the way to go.

If you have gotten a UTI recently, we hope knowing some of the risks helps you avoid the same fate in the future. But you also are, according to a recent study, 22 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than someone who hasn’t had a UTI in the past two years. So at least there’s that small comfort.

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