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Urinary Herbs: Let It Flow

Urinary Herbs: Let It Flow

Maintaining our internal plumbing 

Nature is abundant in herbs that support the function of the urinary system, which makes such sense when we understand that we humans are mostly made of water. That is an average of roughly 60% which changes slightly with age, sex and hydration levels. Consequently, free flowing irrigation is everything; like any system, obstructions, impurities, inflammation and loss of tissue integrity impedes the optimal function within the entire network of conduits and organs that constitute the urinary system. This system, also known as the renal system, consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and the urethra. Helpful herbs can be successfully used to soothe and tone all of these parts and offer a combination of diuretic, mucilaginous (demulcent) and astringent (tonifying) herbs that have been traditionally used for thousands of years. Herbs that treat urinary problems are relevant to aid the body’s cleansing mechanism in treating the whole body, no matter what the problem and stabilising the dynamic balance of water metabolism. Maintaining a balance of hydration, fluid dispersal and removal is so crucial to stay healthy. 

The kidneys rule the fluid body
The urinary system includes the all-important kidneys that are dedicated to the maintenance of a constant and healthy internal environment within the body. The architecture of the kidneys is quite miraculous in how it is able to fulfil its multiple complex functions. Holistic health for the body is dependent on the effective elimination of waste products and toxins and the fine balance of the body's fluids that are key functions of the kidneys.  They also have the ability to differentiate between waste products and vital substances. Kidneys act as very efficient filters for ridding the body of toxic matter and returning required vitamins, amino acids, glucose and hormones that regulate blood pressure and other important elements into the bloodstream.

The multi-tasking kidneys receive a high blood flow and this is filtered by very specialised blood vessels that control the production of red blood cells. Lets not forget that the kidneys also produce an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones. Herbal remedies have much to offer in the treatment of kidney problems, whether minor or major in nature and are best used as preventatives. The kidneys however are so fundamental to health and life that any treatment of serious kidney disease should be under taken by experienced practitioners.

The role of diuretics
In herbalism, a diuretic is a plant that has some sort of beneficial action on the urinary system and in general, that means any herb that acts on the kidney or the bladder, which means there is a multitude of diuretic herbs. Like synthetic diuretics they increase, flow and volume of urine produced and the excretion of salts and water, in healthy or unhealthy kidneys. They are used to reduce oedema, which is the build-up of fluid in the body that causes tissue to become swollen, especially in heart, liver or kidney disorders. In herbal medicine with its ancient traditions, diuretic herbs may include urinary antiseptics, demulcents, astringents and anti-inflammatory remedies. They have a vital role in any good treatment of illness, as they will help the body eliminate waste and support the whole process of inner cleansing that is needed. Increasing diuresis aids in the purification of the blood and the relieving of infections, including jaundice and hepatitis. 

Certain herbs help drain damp-heat downwards and thereby can be useful in treating fevered diseases. Because excess fluid in the abdominal cavity can weaken the power of digestion, some are helpful for gastrointestinal disorders, including diarrhoea. So if we want good results it makes sense to discerningly choose the most efficacious herbs, especially if we suffer from any urinary affliction, of which there are many. Herbal diuretics can be as effective if not superior to synthetic diuretics as they can fulfil their task without the side effects. They very often contain, such as dandelion, a high percentage of potassium, an element that is too often leeched out of the body by the use of synthetic diuretics. This has potentially dangerous consequences and requires supplementation of potassium to make up the deficit. Dandelion, for instance, actually increases potassium levels in the body, which is also a liver tonic.

How do urinary herbs work?
The antiseptic action of some diuretic herbs is usually due to the content of volatile oils (essential oils) or glycosides that are excreted through the kidney tubules, thus acting directly on the offending microbes. Typical examples of urinary antiseptic herbs include: uva ursi, buchu, celery seed, juniper and yarrow. Echinacea will also lend excellent anti-microbial action to a urinary blend. Usually the kidneys and bladder take care of themselves by flushing through the normal volume of urine. These herbs can aid that natural process when infections persist. 

Herbal diuretics appear to be three broad groups, those that increase kidney blood flow (stimulating), those that reduce the water reabsorption in the nephrons of the kidney (osmotic) and those that work by increasing cardiac output. Stimulating diuretics work by a functional irritation to the kidneys so that they try to flush away the offending substance (e.g. Juniper acts in this way). They also include caffeine-containing herbs (e.g. tea and coffee) that increase the blood flow in the kidneys by effects on the heart or elsewhere in the body. Because there is more blood passing through the kidney, more urine is therefore produced. Constituents that stimulate the reabsorption mechanism in this way are often volatile oils, saponins or alkaloids, such as in uva-ursi, juniper, celery, or parsley.

Osmotic diuretics work via many different means, but often cause diuresis mainly due to constituents such as mucilage and polysaccharides which cause a nerve reflex reaction through the gut lining (via the vagus) to thin & loosen mucous secretions to be excreted via the kidney. As larger and/or un-metabolised sugars pass into the urine, this change in osmotic pull causes more water to be lost. Corn silk, marshmallow and dandelion, work in this way. Cardiac or peripheral circulatory stimulants work by increasing renal blood flow and consequently the glomerular filtration rate.  Up to a certain point any excess glomerular filtrate can be reabsorbed from the kidney tubules, but if it is too high then the urine volume will increase. Herbs that increase the cardiac output and/or stimulate peripheral circulation include: yarrow, hawthorn.

Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic perspective 

Regulating Water metabolism
The general rule in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is that if there is water retention in the upper half of the body, above the navel, it should be dispersed upwards through evaporation, using diaphoretics or sweat inducing herbs. (Yarrow, ginger, elderberry) If it is in the lower part of the body, below the navel, it should be dispersed downwards through diuresis, using the appropriate herbs; (dandelion, nettle, epilobium).  The TCM concept of permeating wetness indicates not only the ability of herbs to eliminate fluid waste but also to properly hydrate bodily cells by effecting an electrolytic balance of sodium and potassium ions. Specialised herbs are used and the mushroom, Poria cocos is often used to exert this effect.

 Ayurveda advocates that flushing out the kidneys with diuretic herbs is an important therapy not only for treating disease but also for maintaining health. It purifies the water element and prevents accumulation of toxins. Diuretic herbs are used in Ayurveda for treating lower back pain, sciatica and kidney disorders. Diuretic herbs are contraindicated for individuals with symptoms of fluid deficiency, wasting and dryness (particularly yin deficiency). This is because such herbs can overly irritate the compromised mucous membranes of the urinary tract, so they should be combined with demulcents like marshmallow, liquorice or corn silk, especially if there is blood in the urine.

How to drink water to maintain a healthy urinary system
According to Ayurveda, there are certain ways to drink water. Firstly by sitting down so it reaches different organs sufficiently because when we drink water standing, the fluids get drawn into our joints It is recommended to drink with a 45-minute gap, sipping water 45 minutes before and after food intake. If you drink water before food it gets diluted with gut enzymes and reduces digestion. Excess water right after food alters the digestion process and may cause obesity. Drinking eight glasses of water a day is considered optimum, too little water makes you dehydrated and excess water makes you groggy and dizzy due to electrolyte imbalance. It is best to drink it tepid, as too cold water disrupts the digestion process, whereas warmer water improves blood supply to organs and promotes metabolism. We should drink it with small sips instead of big gulps to strengthen the digestive system. Drink warm water as soon as you wake up on an empty stomach to assist digestion.

Herbal rescue when things go awry 

Urinary tract infection - UTI

Bladder infections are the most common form of UTI infection and can be painful and annoying. UTIs occur mostly in females, during pregnancy and in peri- and postmenopausal women. In fact, female anatomy, age, sexual activity and certain types of birth control all present potential risk for getting UTI. Other risk factors predisposing people are urinary tract abnormalities, blockages in the urinary tract, suppressed immune system, catheter use or a recent urinary procedure. It can occur in any part of the urinary tract, which includes the urethra, kidneys, ureter and bladder. Urinary tract infections can become a serious health problem if the infection spreads to the kidneys.

Cystitis and urethritis
Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder caused by bacterial infection and it is the most common type of UTI that is usually more of a nuisance than a cause for serious concern. It is characterised by a scalding pain experienced when passing urine and often feeling pain in the groin before, during and just after urination. It is often accompanied by an intense desire to urinate even though the bladder is empty. Herbs can truly come to the rescue if we can read the signs before the infection travels higher to affect the kidneys, in which case, antibiotics may be required. However, diligently flushing through the system with copious amounts of alkalising and antiseptic herbal infusion can turn the tide and after a few days the condition usually subsides. Even if you are using antibiotics, complementary therapy with medicinal herbs, in many studies, has been shown to reduce bacterial resistance to the antibiotics. 

If the burning is very strong, or if there is blood in the urine, a demulcent like corn silk or marshmallow root is ideal to add to a herbal healing program. The diet should be modified to avoid acid-forming foods, especially sugars. Urethritis or the infection of the urethra can be treated in the same way as cystitis, but will require, perseverance to clear the condition. If a small stone moves into the ureter and gets stuck there, it can obstruct the flow of urine and cause renal colic that is very painful. Antispasmodic herbs like valerian, chamomile, black cohosh, peppermint or ginger or fennel can help in the meantime before the blockage is cleared or passed altogether. 

Kidney stones
The formation of mineral deposits, stones or gravel in the kidneys is a process that responds well to herbal treatment; stone dissolving herbs are called lithotriptic. Stones or gravel can be composed of the calcium salts of oxalic acid, uric acid and phosphates or by combination with the amino-acid cytosine. A low acid diet is indicated, avoiding foods high in oxalic acid such as rhubarb or spinach. It is important to flush the kidneys with at least three litres of water a day. This is a splendid opportunity to turn that prescribed water into three litres of herbal tea with diuretic herbs such as meadowsweet, dandelion, corn silk, buchu, marshmallow and uva ursi which can also be used as a preventative if you have a predisposition for kidney stones. 

Prostatitis is when a man has an infection of the prostate gland, the symptoms may not be localised as in the case of cystitis. In this case, in addition to the urinary antiseptics used in cystitis, the systemic anti-microbial echinacea can be added to the herbal decoction, which could include epilobium, sarsaparilla and saw palmetto. In the case of a swollen prostate gland, uva ursi, echinacea and horsetail are effective help.

Water retention
When the water levels in the body become unbalanced, an excess of water in the lymph causes swelling and puffiness. When the kidneys do not eliminate water, some of it collects in the body where it is often retained and due to gravity it accumulates in the feet and lower legs. The cause of the retention should be ascertained and it usually lies in the kidneys themselves or in the circulatory system. If the condition is not serious try to avoid having to go down the medical path by immediately implementing dietary changes which can make a big difference, try a low-sodium diet, eat more fruit, drink more water, get moving, wear a compression garment and elevate the feet. Begin a herbal therapy program. Sometimes fluid retention is due to pre-menstrual tension and diuretic herbs can be used appropriately, such as uva ursi, dandelion, buchu or yarrow. However if it is due to pregnancy they should avoided and if in the case of coronary disease, professional advice is necessary.

Incontinence can be caused by a number of physical or psychological factors. So long as there is no organic defect or illness involved, it can be resolved with herbs quite adequately. This is the case even where incontinence is due to a loss of tone in the sphincter muscle of the bladder or to a general muscle or nervous debility. Try mullein, horsetail, alfalfa, saw palmetto and epilobium, also supplement the diet with vitamin B and C. Practice Kegel exercises as a part of your daily routine where you try urinating and once urine starts to flow, squeeze your muscles to hold it in. You should feel the muscles lift. Try squeezing your pelvic floor muscles for 3 seconds, then release for 3 seconds. 

The Urinary Herbs

Corn silk Zea mays

Corn silk is a soothing and demulcent diuretic with an affinity for the kidneys and urinary tract, especially when heat is present. It is a safe and neutral alkalising herb that treats oedema, urinary dysfunction and urinary tract stones.

Marshmallow Althaea officinalis
Marshmallow root provides natural mucilage that supports, soothes, and moistens mucous membranes of the urinary tract. Marshmallow is soothing for irritation in urethritis and urinary gravel. The leaf is also an effective diuretic.

Uva Ursi Arctostaphylos uva ursi
Uva ursi has a close affinity with the urinary system especially with its active glycoside arbutoside and with its gentle astringent, tannic and diuretic action, it works well for UTIs.  It also treats blood in the urine and kidney infections. This herb is medically approved in Germany for the treatment of bladder infections and effective against E. coli in the bladder.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Yarrow's slight diuretic, astringent and antibacterial effects make it a great herb to add to tea blends for urinary tract infections and it is indicated for cystitis to promote rapid healing. It causes diuresis for the kidneys and normalises the distribution, secretion and elimination of water in the body.

Juniper Juniperus communis
Juniper shows remarkable antimicrobial and diuretic activities that are effective against urinary tract infections. The main antibacterial constituent of this plant is terpinen-4-ol, a volatile oil, which plays an important role in the treatment of UTIs. Juniper increases the rate of kidney filtration, which in turn increases urine flow whilst helping to flush out bacteria from the kidneys and bladder.

Cinnamon Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Cinnamon contains phytochemical compounds that show antioxidant and antibacterial activities in the treatment of UTI. It prevents the colonisation of E. coli in the bladder and urethra.  Add a few quills to your UTI herbal tea.

Buchu A. betulina
Buchu is one of the oldest known herbs for the treatment of uncomplicated UTI. It has diuretic and antiseptic properties and contains various phenolic compounds that make it an ideal herbal remedy for urinary tracts. It effectively treats fluid retention, gravel and catarrh of the bladder. 

Horsetail Equisetum arvense
Horsetail is astringent and diuretic and helps to clear urinary tract pathogens including E. coli and E. faecalis.  It is also tonifying for the whole urinary system and good for incontinence and bed-wetting in children. It is considered a specific in cases of inflamed or enlarged prostate gland.

Epilobium Epilobium parviflorum
Epilobium contributes to the functionality of the urinary tract and has draining properties that help eliminate fluids. It is used in the treatment of prostate-associated ailments to heal and improve function.

Nettle Urtica dioica
Nettle has long been traditionally used for the treatment of UTI and kidney stones. It exhibits antimicrobial activities against various gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria to fight infection.

Plantain Plantago major
The major chemical compositions of plantain include mucilage, organic acids, polysaccharides and flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory, astringent and healing for urinary tract infections.

Liquorice Glycyrrhiza glabra
Liquorice root is an effective tonic for the kidneys and urinary system. Its cooling action is well suited to aid in the treatment of urinary tract infections and hot, painful urination that is dark in colour, potentially with a smell associated.

Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria
Meadowsweet is astringent and anti-inflammatory and is used as a diuretic to increase urine output in people with kidney or bladder infections.

Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis
Goldenseal has bioactive alkaloids such as berberine that inhibits bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls. Notably, berberine exerts its powerful antibacterial activities against UTI with interfering E. coli adhesion to the bladder epithelium.

Lemongrass Cymbopogon Flexuosus
Lemongrass has good antiseptic, antimicrobial properties and is known to prevent and treat urinary tract infection with different pathogenic bacteria. It is an effective diuretic to rid the body of excess fluid and sodium.

Cranberry, blueberry and elderberry
These berries can be active against E. coli, the leading causes of bacteria-mediated UTIs. They work by reducing and inhibiting the binding of the bacteria to the walls of the bladder so it will be washed out during urination. The berry juice intake leads to measurable protection against both sensitive and resistant strains of E. coli and uropathogens. These berry juices are best to use in cases of chronic UTIs and to complement other herbal therapies. 

Other herbs of Note: Horseradish, couch grass, peppermint, garlic, ginger, shepherd’s purse, cleavers, gravel root, burdock, parsley 

The diuretic essential oils

Among essential oils, there are many natural diuretics that admirably address fluid retention in restoring normal balance. Use them in massage blends and gently massage the sacral area upwards towards the heart. Massage them into the lower abdomen and lower back. Add them diluted in carrier oil to a bath.  Interestingly, sage essential oil has shown inhibitory activities against clinically isolated uropathogens. 

Essential oils: Rosemary, cypress, juniper berry, sage, fennel, carrot seed, coriander, lavender, geranium, grapefruit, tea tree, manuka, frankincense

These more intense oils that are effective antiseptics need high dilution before applying to the skin: oregano, cinnamon, clove, lemongrass

The fluid body

Domain of the 2nd sacral Chakra
Urinary system difficulty falls under the influence of the second Chakra, Svadhisthana. So if we pay attention to the tendencies and qualities of this chakra, we have some immediate clues to ascertain the metaphysical causation of our urinary disorders and can adopt these attributes. The ability to change and adapt is a quality of fluid embodiment; a person with a fluid nature can adapt to change or unfamiliar, unexpected situations with ease. If we expect life to turn out a certain way, and are met by the inevitable delays and changes of plan, we too often react by fixing, defining and defending our version of reality. This lack of adaptability creates unease within and amongst those around us, whereby our health and relationship suffers. We are emotional beings and it is in the fluid body that our emotions live, washing through us expressing our deepest fears, desires and motives, heaving and swelling with an oceanic force of their own. 

When our fluids stop flowing, from which our dreams and fantasies are born, we lose fluidity and become rigid in body and mind, our creativity dries up and our inner landscape becomes barren. If we are too fluid, with no restraint we might descend too deeply into the world of fantasy that is never brought into the light of this world. When we retain our feelings, water is also retained in the body, creating puffiness and oedema.

Reaching the underlying issues

If we look for the spiritual causes of kidney disease, we will find that we may be avoiding expressing our feelings or suppressing them. The kidneys respond to fear, frustration, anxiety and suppression of feelings in general. Unexpressed and hidden, they accumulate and fester to eventually affect and disrupt the energy of the kidneys and manifest in various conditions of this organ.

A person who is often affected by UTIs usually doesn’t assimilate external events effectively; and there can be an underlying angst about others not “seeing” their suffering that causes a “burning” sensation. The body is indicating that it is time to take responsibility for our life and understanding that no one else can make us happy; by accepting others without expectations, we can heal our pain. Bladder problems reveal certain fears regarding our ancestors that we cannot overcome. Boys who are afraid of their parents, especially their father or other father figures in their life (grandparents, teachers), sometimes express this fear through enuresis (peeing in bed). Girls tend to express this fear through repetitive cystitis. 

Often urinary incontinence occurs because of a muscle that cannot work effectively. This condition can be related to control issues, perhaps life is teaching us to be more flexible and let people and situations go. Rigid thoughts when we cannot control the situation are just a form of protection from our own hypersensitivity. 

Meditate on the sacral centre of the body, imagining a sense of spaciousness and openness in this region. Let the flow of breath flood the area with love and light, releasing all tension and unease. Feel that you have sufficient vitality to move forward in life, doing what you love and enjoying the unfolding process.

Things we can do to support our urinary system
Judicious use of herbs, essential oils, yoga and other wholesome living practices can make us master plumbers to improve the irrigation of our water works to keep our body healthy. Below are other things to be aware of.

  • Use the toilet as often as needed. Holding urine in the bladder for too long can weaken our bladder muscles and increases chances of infection.
  • Be in a relaxed position while urinating. Relaxing the muscles around the bladder will make it easier to empty the bladder. Take enough time to fully empty the bladder when urinating. If urine stays in the bladder too long, it can make a bladder infection more likely.
  • Drink enough fluids, especially water and eat juicy foods, limit alcohol and caffeine, which can make bladder problems worse. 
  • Watch what you eat. Processed foods and drinks, such as soft drinks, artificial sweeteners and acidic citrus fruits and juices, tomato-based foods or spicy foods, can make bladder problems worse.
  • After a bowel movement women should wipe from front to back to keep gut bacteria from getting into the urethra. 
  • Urinate after sex. Sexual activity can move bacteria from the bowel or vaginal cavity to the urethral opening. Both women and men should urinate shortly after sex to lower the risk of infection.
  • Do pelvic floor muscle exercises. Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, help hold urine in the bladder. 
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes that can help keep the area around the urethra dry. Tight-fitting pants and nylon underwear can trap moisture and help bacteria grow.
  • Avoid constipation that can put pressure on the bladder and keep it from expanding the way it should. 
  • Quit smoking. Bladder problems are more common among people who smoke. 
  • Do regular Yoga asanas: Butterfly pose, warrior 2 pose, chair pose, wide-legged forward bend and the bridge pose.

Tinderbox products that help maintain our internal plumbing
Wee Tea
Inner Radiance Tea
A Man's Tea
Juniper Body Rub

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