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Vegetarian Diets May Reduce UTI Risk

Sharon Palmer

Nobody likes to talk about them, but urinary tract infections (UTI) affect about one in every 100 people worldwide, accounting for over eight million doctor visits in the U.S. alone. This troublesome infection is uncomfortable, even painful, distressing to deal with, and can be very embarrassing for some people. The cause is clear—most UTIs are caused by E. coli microbes introduced through the intestinal tract. According to researchers, who noted that two major dietary sources of E. coli are poultry and pork, eating a plant-based, meat-free diet may lower the risk of developing UTIs.

In the Taiwanese study, researchers tracked the UTI rates of the Taiwanese Buddhist population over a 10-year period. The Buddhists, 3,200 of whom were vegetarians, filled out food questionnaires which researchers used to determine that a vegetarian diet was associated with a 16 percent lower risk of developing a UTI compared with non-vegetarians. The reason may be that these infections are often linked to E. coli, bacteria that comes from infected meats, however, E. coli can also be on vegetables, transmitted through workers’ dirty hands. In either case, it’s important to prevent this by cooking meat and washing vegetables thoroughly.

There may be other reasons a vegetarian diet may lower risk of UTIs. Vegetarian diets tend to increase the amount of fiber in one’s diet, which may be effective in preventing UTIs, and more fruits and vegetables and their fiber content can reduce the population of E. coli in the intestine, which causes the gastrointestinal tract to become more acidic, reducing the likelihood of a UTI. Plant-based foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts also contain an abundance of powerful plant chemicals called phytochemicals which have been shown to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic activities, among other health protecting and promoting benefits.

The diet-related reduced risk is largely associated with women, who most commonly contract UTIs. Although people of any age or gender can develop a UTI, more than 50 percent of all women will have at least one bout with a UTI in her lifetime, which carries a 20 to 30 percent risk of recurrent UTIs. Adopting a plant-forward eating pattern may not only reduce this risk, but it will boost intake of nutrient-rich foods that will contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle.

Read more about this study at Nature, January 2020

Written by Lori Zanteson with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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