The urinary system, also known as the renal system, consists of two kidneys, two ureters, the bladder and the urethra. The urinary system works in conjunction with the lungs, skin and intestines to excrete waste and keep body chemicals and water in balance. The urinary system is regulated by blood pressure, the nervous system, and hormones produced by the endocrine system. The primary function of this organ system is to produce, store and eliminate urine. However, the urinary system has other important functions:
- Regulation of electrolyte balance such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium which affect and regulate hydration of the body as well as blood pH. These electrolytes are essential for nerve and muscle function.
- Regulation of acid-based homeostasis which keeps the tightly controlled and highly sensitive body pH in balance. A normal body pH measures between 7.38 and 7.42 leaving little room for deviation.
- Control of blood volume and maintenance of blood pressure. Blood volume is regulated by the kidneys and generally equates to between 4.7 and 5 liters of blood circulating in an average adult.
The chief functions of the kidneys are to filter the blood which regulates the concentration of water and sodium, to reabsorb water, glucose and amino acids, and to excrete the waste as urine. The typical adult produces 1 – 2 liters of urine per day dependent upon such factors as hydration and activity levels, environmental factors, weight, and the individual’s state of health. Thin tubes, called ureters, transport small amounts of urine from the kidneys to the bladder about every 10 – 15 seconds. A healthy bladder can hold up to 2 cups of urine comfortably for two to five hours.
Problems of the urinary tract system can be a result of aging, illness or injury. Changes in kidney function due to aging can be caused by changes in kidney structure, affecting their ability to remove wastes from the blood. Muscles of the ureters, bladder and urethra can lose some of their strength as we age. The bladder wall may lose some of its elasticity as well, decreasing the amount of urine that can be stored resulting in more frequent urination. In a healthy aging person, kidney and bladder function can remain normal.
Diseases of the urinary system can be a result of congenital or acquired dysfunction. Symptoms related to diabetes, for example, sensitize the kidneys to the damaging effects of hypertension. Complications of diabetes can lead to scarring of kidney tissue, incontinence and may eventually lead to chronic kidney disease. Some examples of urologic disease are:
- Acute or chronic renal failure. Renal failure may require medication, dietary and lifestyle changes or dialysis.
- Urinary tract infections. Typically caused by bacteria, symptoms may include painful, burning or frequent urination, urge to urinate, and fever. In general, uncomplicated urinary tract infections can be treated with antibiotics.
- Incontinence or the involuntary loss of urine can have a profound effect on quality of life. Urinary incontinence may result from an underlying medical condition such as uncontrolled diabetes, enlarged prostate, bladder stones or neurological disorders.
- Urinary stones. Stones can be classified by their chemical composition and their location and can be found in the kidney, ureter or bladder. Stones can pass without causing symptoms. For symptomatic stones, medications for pain control and inflammation may be prescribed. Severe cases may require surgical intervention.
- Prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate gland, can cause urinary frequency and urgency, painful urination and back pain. Most often prostatitis is a result of a bacterial infection and frequently responds to antibiotics.
Lifestyle habits that can help keep your urinary tract healthy and reduce the risk of developing problems include:
- Behavioral techniques such as bladder training. Bladder training can involve learning to delay urination to lengthen the time between trips to the bathroom, double voiding to train the bladder to empty completely, scheduled trips to the bathroom, and fluid intake management.
- Physical therapy exercises can strengthen the urinary sphincter and pelvic floor muscles. Kegel exercises involve squeezing the muscles that stop urine flow, holding for a count of three and repeating.
- Hydrate. To be sure you are getting enough water to keep your system working and your urine flowing, drink when you are thirsty. Most of the water that we eliminate each day through urination can be replaced through our normal dietary intake of food and liquids.
- Lower your sodium intake. Too much salt in the diet can create an imbalance of salt, minerals and water. High sodium levels have been associated with high blood pressure. Uncontrolled long-term high blood pressure can overstress the kidneys and lead to kidney damage.
- Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeinated beverages can irritate the bladder and act as a diuretic, increasing the need to urinate.
- Don’t hold it! Don’t wait when you need to urinate. It’s important to go when you feel the need. The bladder can become a breeding ground for bacteria to grow, which can lead to infections of the bladder and kidneys. It’s normal to urinate 8 – 10 times each day.
- Pay attention to the color. Healthy urine is pale yellow and indicates you are well hydrated. If your urine is dark, it’s too concentrated and you need to be drinking more fluids. Cloudy urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
- Dietary factors. Some foods offer urinary tract health-boosting benefits. Cranberries prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract thereby lowering infection risk. Berries are rich in flavonols, a chemical that plants produce in response to bacterial infection. The researchers believe flavonols may kill microorganisms or suppress their growth in humans as well. Yogurt and other fermented dairy products may decrease your risk of urinary tract infection by up to 80%. Fermented milk products contain lactobacilli, beneficial bacteria that can inhabit the digestive tract and replace the coliform bacteria responsible for UTIs.
- Proanthocyanidin antioxidants found in cocoa, apples, grapes, peanuts and cinnamon may help maintain the health of your urinary tract, notes Dr. Shweta Rastogi, in her book “Eat Right to Stay Bright: Manage Diet to Manage Disease.”
- Grape seed extract, obtained from grape juice or wine or by eating grapes with seeds, may prevent kidney disease by prolonging the life of kidney cells and protecting against oxidation, according to a study published in the May 2012 issue of the journal, Nephrology.
- Vitamin C increases the acidity level of urine, which in turn helps decrease the number of harmful bacteria that may be present in your urinary tract system.
- D-Mannose, a carbohydrate found in cranberries, apples and peaches, actually adheres to the receptors on the lining of the bladder that attach to bacteria. This limits the adhesive properties of the bacteria that may cause a urinary tract infection thereby enabling elimination of the bacteria.
Supplements to support urinary tract health include:
U-Tract by Progressive Labs contains D-Mannose, a simple sugar that supports digestive and urinary tract health. D-Mannose aids urinary tract health by creating an environment that is unfavorable for bacterial proliferation and by interfering with their ability to adhere to the urinary tract lining so that they are eliminated naturally.
Bladder Support, Q. by Quantum Nutrition is a powerful, broad-spectrum formula featuring two key botanical-based blends: Bladder Pro and Uri-Cleanse for optimal nutritional support of the bladder and the urinary tract.
Cranberry NS by Pure Encapsulations nutritionally supports urinary tract health. The role of cranberry extract includes enhancing the acidity of urine and maintaining a healthy urinary tract ecology. Constituents of cranberry extract associated with its benefits include proanthocyanidins as well as d-mannose.
Uristatin (SF726) by Thorne Research is a botanical formula designed to maintain normal flora and provide support for a healthy urinary tract. Uristatin soothes irritated tissues in the urinary tract, helps maintain a healthy balance of microorganisms and contains herbs with a particular affinity for the urinary tract.
Multi-Priobiotic 15 Billion by Douglas Laboratories contains over 15 billion beneficial organisms from lactobacillus and bifidobacterium genera with additional benefits of prebiotic fructooligosaccharides. This product may be a useful dietary supplement for those who wish to support their intestinal microflora with potent amounts of beneficial microorganisms.