by Kaitlan Downes, MSAOM
Burning, irritating, painful urination is one thing we could all live without. Unfortunately, these symptoms and their main cause – Urinary Tract Infections – are extremely common. It is estimated that 50-60% of women will experience at least one UTI in her life. Men experience UTI’s as well, especially after age 50.
Western medicine offers some help in the form of antibiotics. Home remedies recommend drinking cranberry juice and some people swear by Alka-Seltzer tablets. These are all helpful tools when addressing the symptoms of a current and active UTI, but how do we stop them in the first place? How do we heal afterwards? How do we prevent the cycle of recurrent UTI’s from taking over our lives month after month?
Chinese herbal medicine has the answer. While UTI’s are thought to be caused by a bacteria, it is a weakness in the body’s immune system and a favorable environment that allows the bacteria to overgrow. By using Chinese herbal medicine to improve the condition of the body’s environment, we can heal from past infections and prevent future attacks.
Chinese Medicine and Urogenital Issues
An interesting concept in Chinese medicine is that of the “three burners.” The three burners are located in the chest (around the area of the heart), the abdomen (near the gallbladder), and the lower abdomen (between the Kidneys and the spine). There is a special kind of heat that resonates in these areas that is related to both yang energy and Qi – hence the name burner! Our bodies require heat and activation to carry out our movements, metabolism, and to maintain life in general. These different actions are taken on in different ways by these three burners.
While these regions are necessary centers of action and transformation, they are also regions that are susceptible to disruption and imbalance. The lower burner is particularly susceptible to issues that we will discuss like dampness, heat, cold, and stagnation. These imbalances will lead to trouble in the organs that rest near this lower burner: kidneys, urinary bladder, large intestine, uterus, prostate, genitals, and low back.
Dampness in the Lower Burner
Dampness is an intriguing concept that’s particular to Chinese medicine. Dampness in the body is much like dampness in the environment. Think of a steaming swampy bog (dampness and heat) or picture a cold, oversoaked patch of farmland (dampness and cold). Now picture that in the body – that’s dampness! Dampness can also be considered excess water weight, fat tissue, or mucus.
For our purposes, we will be considering dampness that has settled and built up in the lower abdomen. This can occur after a history of dampness-inducing diet (greasy foods, alcohol, sugars, dairy), injury to the region, sexually transmitted disease, or a constitutional tendency to put on weight in the lower body.
Dampness can be complicated by heat which tends to lead to inflammation, pain, irritation, and symptoms like odorous vaginal discharge, hot and dark urine, foul bowel movements, and menstrual irregularities. This is the typical cause of UTI’s.
When Dampness is accompanied by cold, we may see more issues like incontinence, trouble holding the bladder, large amounts of pale vaginal fluid, impotence, and lack of sex drive. When cold and dampness come together, it is often because there is a lack of yang in the body – the warming, activating energy that keeps fluids transforming healthily has dwindled and allowed a backup.
Heat in the Lower Burner
It’s not uncommon for the lower burner to get overheated. Much of our source fire and activity occurs in the lower burner, including the active digestion in the large intestine, the constant work of the kidneys, and the ever-changing hormone cycles of the female reproductive system. Like dampness, heat can build up in the lower burner with unbalanced food choices (usually hot, spicy, alcoholic, or fatty foods). Inflammation can also occur after injury in the area or from infection or may result in issues like interstitial cystitis or UTI’s.
Cold in the Lower Burner
Cold in the lower burner is usually due to a lack of yang energy. There is not enough warm transformation occurring in the lower body and water and fluids can build up. In the world of urogenital health, this often relates to problems with incontinence or frequent urination, painful sex or low sex drive, sluggishness, and bloating.
Stagnation in the Lower Burner
Stagnation is a common phenomenon in the lower burner and will likely accompany all these above imbalances. With stagnation, blood, qi, and body fluids fail to circulate properly, leaving some areas in deficit and others in obstruction. Stagnation is often likened to a beaver dam; a stuck area that prevents the whole system from functioning properly. Stagnation will make any urogenital issues worse and may even lead to further inflammation and disease. When treating these issues, most formulas will employ herbs that helps to move and release stagnation to bring the whole system into balance faster.
Solving Urogenital Issues with Chinese Herbs
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary Tract Infections are one of the most common urogenital complaints that Chinese medicine practitioners see. UTI’s are quite common in women (due to a shorter urethra and the nature of sexual intercourse) but do occur in men as well. They occur when bacteria enters the urethra and travels to the bladder, kidneys, and/or ureters causing infection and inflammation.
UTI symptoms can range from mild to extremely problematic. Pain with urination, frequent urination, difficult urination, odors, abdominal pain, and fever are all typical symptoms. One of the most frustrating things about UTI’s is the fact that can tend to become a recurring problem.
While bacteria is considered a trigger for UTI’s, the root of the problem is the individual’s internal environment that allows for the infection to spin out of control. This is where Chinese medicine can make a huge impact. With Chinese herbs, we can rebalance the environment making it inhospitable to bad bacteria and prevent future UTI’s. In addition, Chinese herbs can be used during a UTI to help reduce pain, inflammation, and heal the urinary tract faster.
This formula is the go-to choice for stopping a UTI in its tracks. This formula clears heat, reduces inflammation, cools and sedates, releases tension to allow more comfortable urination, and acts an an antibacterial. Use in the throws of a current UTI or, if you suffer frequent UTI’s, keep handy and take dose whenever you feel the early onset of an infection.
Er Xian Tang is the best choice for a daily preventative for those with a hot constitution or UTI’s that are accompanying menopause. This formula works wonders to calibrate the yin and tang of the body when hot flashes, night sweats, painful urination, dryness, and inflammation are present. Pair with Ba Zhen San Tang during an active infection.
While most UTI’s are a result of excess heat or heat and dampness in the lower burner, occasionally the root issue is actually a deficiency. This tends to be Kidney Qi deficiency. If this is more your case, you will notice that you are often easily fatigued, have weak low back and knees, trouble hearing, hypothyroid, low libido, feel cold, have trouble concentrating, dark undereye circles, or trouble sleeping. Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan will help to improve the health and state of your Kidney system and allow you to build up the resistance to recurrent infections.
This pill formula is an excellent inflammation and infection fighter. It contains herbs that work to kill bacteria, cool and reduce inflammation, and boost up the immune system. This one is best for use during an active UTI.
This is a more generally focused formula that is best to help those with a cold-damp presentation. This formula is a great daily supplement for you to help prevent future UTI’s if you have bloating, edema, heaviness, fatigue, and mucus build up. Wu Pi Yin Wan will help you to release excess fluids that are weighing you down and creating a target environment for infection.
Find a Better Flow
Urinary Tract Infections and other inflammatory pelvic and urogenital disorders severely impact the quality of life of their victims. Not only do these issues cause pain, discomfort, and irritation, but when left untreated they can lead the way for other, more serious health concerns to arise. Chronic inflammation and infection in the lower burner can be a complex problem to treat, but Chinese herbal medicine offers a solution for everyone. Find your formula and stop the cycle once and for all.