A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection of the bladder that commonly presents with symptoms like needing to urinate constantly and painful urination. Treating these infections with antibiotics is the go-to for doctors, but they don't prevent reinfection. And they often cause yeast infections, creating an entirely new problem.
Many people have turned to natural remedies to treat their UTIs, and some methods have been backed by scientific research. For example, studies have found Chinese herbal medicines like Ba Zheng San to have a higher effectiveness rate for treating acute UTIs than antibiotics. D-Mannose has also been successfully studied to treat UTIs as effectively as antibiotics. Cranberries have also been shown to lessen the number of symptomatic UTIs over 12 months for women with recurrent UTIs.
In addition to those well-proven remedies, there's another supplement that can potentially help treat UTIs: Pycnogenol. While it has been on the market for some time and used in skincare products, it was only recently studied in relation to urinary tract health.
"Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract is a versatile natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory with over 40 years of scientific research behind it," Dr. Steven Lamm says. "This 2021 study showcases important findings for those who suffer from UTIs and are looking for a safe, natural and effective option to manage symptoms and infection occurrence. It's a new study, and more research is needed to build upon these findings." Ahead, Dr. Lamm shares everything you need to know about Pycnogenol's benefits for UTIs.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Steven Lamm, MD, is a researcher, internist, and leading expert on sexual health. He’s also medical director of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health at NYU Langone.
How Does Pycnogenol Help UTIs?
The primary benefit of Pycnogenol is its anti-inflammatory benefits. "Those who suffer from recurrent UTIs often experience disruptive symptoms, such as pain, burning, itching, and the constant need to go to the bathroom," Dr. Lamm says. "Many of these symptoms are caused by persisting inflammatory processes in the lower urinary tract. As an anti-inflammatory agent, the study showed that Pycnogenol may decrease the severity of these symptoms as well as the occurrence of UTIs."
Dr. Lamm also notes many cases of UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria which are found in the gastrointestinal tract. "In addition to Pycnogenol’s anti-inflammatory properties, this study showed that Pycnogenol may reduce the infectiousness of these bacteria through its antioxidant properties," he says.
How Does Pycnogenol Compare to Natural Remedies?
Wanting to know how Pycnogenol compares to the natural methods, I asked Dr. Lamm to share his thoughts. "One of the most widely known natural options for UTI management is cranberry extract," he says. "Similar to Pycnogenol, cranberry is also known for its anti-inflammatory effects. This study found that those who supplemented with Pycnogenol may have stronger results at decreasing the occurrence of UTIs and diminishing its related symptoms. Further, Pycnogenol is a standardized ingredient to ensure that each finished product has the same trusted potency and efficacy."
How Does Pycnogenol Compare to Antibiotics?
Pycnogenol being potentially more effective than cranberry is great news for lovers of home remedies. But, it is especially important to understand where this supplement stands in relationship to antibiotics.
"For years, antibiotics have been the most common way of treating UTIs," Dr. Lamm says. "Taking antibiotics has possible side effects, and UTIs are becoming increasingly resistant to these medicines. Research found that a third of uncomplicated urinary tract infections caused by E. coli—the most common type—were resistant to Bactrim, one of the most widely used drugs, and at least one-fifth were resistant to five other common treatments. These initial findings may show a way to reduce antibiotic use with an effective natural remedy."
What About Reinfection?
Not only can antibiotics cause yeast infections, but bacteria can be resistant to certain antibiotics and therefore not effective. Knowing some natural remedies can help prevent future infections, I wanted to know if the same is true for Pycnogenol. Luckily, it is.
"Recurring UTIs can be disruptive and stubborn," Dr. Lamm says. "About 25–30% of women have at least one episode of recurrent UTIs, meaning you have an infection that occurs two times or more within six months or at least three times in a year. Pycnogenol was found to reduce the number of UTI episodes."
Dr. Lamm points out that the study found after 60 days of supplementation with 150mg of Pycnogenol daily, 62% of patients experienced a reduction in the number of urinary tract infection episodes (compared to 45% reduction in the group that only supplemented with cranberry extract and 29% reduction in the control group).
How To Incorporate Pycnogenol in Your Routine
Should we be using Pycnogenol acutely or as a daily part of our supplement regime? The answer is the latter, which bodes well for anyone looking to prevent horrible UTI experiences before they occur.
"As a natural ingredient with various health benefits, Pycnogenol can be taken regularly," Dr. Lamm says. "I typically recommend my patients take 100-150 mg daily. Pycnogenol is an important building block of wellness because of its versatile benefits and ability to impact various areas of health, including benefits for skin, heart, and joint health."
UTIs are often treated with antibiotics, but unfortunately, those don’t prevent reinfection. The infectious bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics over time. Luckily, there are many natural remedies on the market to help prevent UTIs. While studies for them are slow going, existing research provides promising data.
Pycnogenol has proven to be highly effective at both treating and preventing UTIs. It’s safe enough to take regularly and has other health benefits as well. If you’ve been caught in the endless cycle of infections and antibiotics, it’s worth a try.
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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Microbiomic and Immunologic Profiling of Women with Antibiotic Induced Vaginal Candidiasis. clinicaltrials.gov; 2019.
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Domenici L, Monti M, Bracchi C, et al. D-mannose: a promising support for acute urinary tract infections in women. A pilot study. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2016;20(13):2920-2925.
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Ledda A, Hu S, Cesarone MR, et al. Pycnogenol® supplementation prevents recurrent urinary tract infections/inflammation and interstitial cystitis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021;2021:9976299.