In This Article
The stinging. The burning. The pressure. Nothing feels quite like a urinary tract infection. And once you’ve had your first, you’ve got a solid chance of getting another one within months. 60% people with vaginas will have a UTI at some point in their life, and one in three will have a serious enough infection to require antibiotics by the time they’re only 24 years-old.
There are numerous natural cures for UTIs with some proven efficacy, such as D-Mannose. However, there is a traditional Chinese medicine herb combination that has been shown to do even more than Western medicine can accomplish. When studied, Ba Zheng San was proven to work better than antibiotics at treating UTIs and also helps prevent the recurrence of them. It can also treat, as well as prevent Interstitial Cystitis, the painful bladder syndrome that can be a result of recurrent UTIs.
Ba Zheng San, which is available as an over-the-counter supplement, was initially prescribed to me by my acupuncturist. I’ve used the herb combination without fail any time I’ve ever had the slightest twinge of an oncoming UTI. That said, Chinese medicine is very nuanced, and my layperson’s brain has never fully comprehended exactly how Ba Zheng San works. So, I asked a couple of experts: licensed acupuncturist and TCM expert Tsao-Lin Moy and functional medicine physician and licensed acupuncturist Dr. Jerry Bailey. Ahead, they discuss the benefits of Ba Zheng San, what it’s made of, and how it works.
Meet the Expert
- Tsao-Lin E. Moy has over 18 years of experience as an expert in alternative and Chinese medicine. She is the founder of Integrative Healing Arts, which specializes in Chinese medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and energy healing.
- Dr. Jerry Bailey is a functional medicine physician and licensed acupuncturist. For over two decades, he has drawn upon both western and traditional methods to treat patients.
What Is a UTI?
Simply put, a urinary tract infection is a buildup of bacteria—generally E. Coli—in your urethra. It can migrate into your bladder, and if left untreated, into your kidneys, which can be dangerous to your health.
Unlike many other infections, UTIs can be difficult to clear without medication because the proteins in the bacteria in that area are difficult to flush out no matter how much water you drink (though sufficient hydration is one key to preventing them in the first place).
One study notes: "As a class of extracellular proteins, adhesins enable bacteria to adhere to and, in some cases, invade host tissue; adhesins render UPEC virulent and permit host colonization. Adhesin receptor interactions at the host interface determine tissue tropism and disease progression in that niche, with each adhesin preferring unique sites within the urinary tract."
Why Do Assigned-Female People Mainly Get UTIs?
Female bodies have much shorter urethras than male bodies, making the distance between where one urinates and defecates a brief trip. As E. Coli is commonly present in our intestines, this crossover of bacteria is the usual cause of UTIs. That’s why assigned female individuals are taught to wipe from front to back, to minimize the risk of bacteria landing in the wrong place. However, even if you have perfect hygiene, you can get a UTI.
Sex is another way this bacterial crossover occurs and leads to UTIs. "When you have sex, bacteria on the skin is pushed into the urethra and travels into the bladder," says Dr. Allison Hill, OB/GYN. Additionally, both diaphragms and spermicides can increase the chances of a UTI.
What Ba Zheng San Is Made Of
This TCM combo, sometimes called Ba Xheng, contains eight active ingredients, which vary slightly depending on the supplement brand. Dr. Bailey told me that its main ingredient is Caulis Mutong (mu tong), which "clears heat, promotes urination, and is very effective in clearing the obstruction caused by damp stagnation."
"Mutong is followed by talcum (Hua Shi), Semen Plantaginis (she qian zi), Herba Dianthi (qu mai), and Herba Polygoni (bian xu)," Dr. Bailey says. "Additionally, there are several 'assistant ingredients' which include the Fructus Gardeniae Jasminoidis (zhi zi) and Treated Radix et Rhizoma Rhei (zhi da huang), Medulla Junci Effusi (deng xin cao) and then Radix Glycyrhizae Uralensis (gan cao) in order of support. Those other herbs work synergistically to clear damp heat by promoting urination and for assisting the chief ingredient in unblocking painful urination."
How Exactly It Works
If you're confused about the usage of words like damp and heat in relation to bodily function, you’re not alone; that’s precisely why I mentioned TCM is nuanced. Dr. Moy informed me that "Chinese herbal formulas are created based on a balancing strategy to help the person’s body heal itself."
She said the way a herbal combination for urinary issues works is as follows: "UTIs are a type of 'damp heat' called 'Lin' syndrome where there is a form of Qi stagnation and fluid that turns to heat, also known as inflammation. The strategy is to drain the excess fluids and heat (inflammation) by promoting urination. Clearing excess fluid is the first part because the more fluid builds up, the more inflammation (heat), and then cooling the inflammatory process."
"These herbs in combination work as both antimicrobial (natural killer) and anti-inflammatory to the urinary tract organs," Dr. Bailey says about Ba Zheng San’s function. "This not only treats but can prevent UTI infections." He says it can also treat prostatitis-type issues in men, as well.
As far as how exactly dampness and heat are at play in our bodies, Dr. Bailey broke it down for me. "Damp heat can be explained as simply heat or warmth from infection or inflammation and dampness from fluid and swelling in the area," she explains. "As in this instance, it is like really hot weather with a lot of humidity (think midwest or Florida summers) all hanging out around the urinary tract. He also noted that "this formula can also be used for treating glomerulonephritis, cystitis, urethritis, urinary tract calculi, prostatitis, and stomatitis. It is a very potent formula for both men and women that clears heat, promotes urination, and unblocks painful urination."
Should You Try It?
As someone who has used this herbal combination for about twenty years with great success, I’ve recommended it to friends and family, all of whom also found success with it. I appreciate that it’s an affordable, side-effect-free, and natural alternative to probiotic-destroying antibiotics.
Dr. Moy had a different viewpoint about using premade TCM herb combos, though. "While Ba Zheng San is typically used to treat UTIs, Chinese herbal formulas are 'personalized' to the person’s presentation and constitution," she says. "Meaning, the formula should not be taken unless the person consults with an herbalist. Herbal medicine is powerful medicine and needs to be used respectfully and appropriately."
In a society where UTIs are generally treated with antibiotics that won't solve long-term problems, Ba Zheng San is an effective alternative. Because it promotes systemic balance in addition to having strong antibacterial properties, it can also make you less prone to their recurrence. If you’re able to see an herbal practitioner to get a TCM combination tailored to you, then that would be your best bet. If not, this eight herb combo sold as an OTC supplement is a readily available method of relief from UTIs.