Researchers in the United States have found that a common herbal extract which can be bought over the counter at health food stores, has the ability to cut down on urinary tract infections and may also enhance the effect of the antibiotics used to treat such infections.
The team at Duke University Medical Center say an extract from the Indian coleus plant, Forskolin, prevents urinary tract infections in the bladder recurring even after treatment with antibiotics; Forskolin they say has the potential along with antibiotics to kill the bacteria that cause 90 percent of infections in the bladder.
Almost all urinary tract infections (UTI's) in the bladder are caused by the E. coli bacteria and women are far more susceptible to them than men.
All too often the infection returns within weeks of antibiotic treatment; UTI's are a serious health problem affecting millions of people each year and are the second most common type of infection in the body; they account for about 8.3 million doctor visits each year.
One in five women develop a UTI during their lifetime and as many as 20 percent of those will have another, and 30 percent of those will have yet another, with an 80 percent chance of a recurring infection.
Research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that one factor behind recurrent UTIs may be the ability of bacteria to attach to cells lining the urinary tract and a recent NIH-funded study found that the bacteria formed a protective film on the inner lining of the bladder in mice.
Although a UTI can exist without symptoms, most people experience some discomfort, ranging from a frequent urge to urinate and a painful, burning feeling in the area of the bladder or urethra during urination, to feeling generally unwell.
It is common for a person with a urinary infection to complain that, despite the urge to urinate, only a small amount of urine is passed which may appear milky or cloudy, even reddish if blood is present.
A UTI accompanied by a fever can indicate the infection has reached the kidneys.
The Duke University researchers carried out a series of experiments in mice, and suggest that urinary tract infections in the bladder return even after treatment with antibiotics because some bacteria hide in cells lining the bladder, where they cannot be reached by antibiotics.
They survive antibiotic treatment and wait for the opportunity to emerge and start multiplying again.
They discovered that Forskolin flushes out hiding colonies of bacteria, making them susceptible to antibiotic treatment.
Lead researcher microbiologist Dr. Soman Abraham says the herb is known to rev up certain cellular activity and has been used in Asia for centuries for a wide variety of ailments,including the treatment of painful urination.
Forskolin is often added to bodybuilding products and promoted for it's ability to increase lean body and bone mass, as well as to increase testosterone levels.
The herb has also been claimed to be an effective weight-loss aid but as with most herbal extracts has not been tested nor regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Abraham recommends that anyone with a urinary tract infection should contact their physician before trying Forskolin.
For the research the mice had Forskolin injected directly into the bladder or administered intravenously; the herb appeared to expel more than 75 percent of the hiding E. coli and it now remains for the team to establish whether or not the herb is effective when mice receive it orally as that is how it would be used in humans.
The experiments also will combine the use of Forskolin and antibiotics.
Abraham says the treatment strategy may provide a much needed new and effective approach for treating urinary tract infections, because constant antibiotic use has many drawbacks, including expense, possible liver and kidney damage and the potential for creating strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The research is published in the current issue of the journal Nature Medicine and was supported by the National Institutes of Health.