It seems that the medical community has gone vaccine crazy! First Gardasil. Then the Shingles vaccine. Then the H1N1 vaccine. What’s next? A vaccine for pimples?
I sound paranoid, I know. But I’ve got my guard up, especially after reading that researchers at the University of Michigan have been busy developing a vaccine to prevent urinary tract infections!
To be clear, I’m entirely against using a vaccine to prevent something the body can (and should!) fight off on its own. Case in point: urinary tract infections. Your body should ward off these nagging infections on its own. (Sometimes, you may need a little extra help to get rid of chronic infections. Keep reading and I’ll give you some tips for conquering UTIs without antibiotics or a vaccine!)
But proponents of the UTI vaccine say: think of all the benefits, especially for women prone to recurrent infections. No more antibiotics, no more agonizing pain, no more doctor visits. Plus, look at all the money it could save! According to one report, UTIs cost Americans $2.4 billion in doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, and lost work time.
Forget cranberry juice! Just vaccinate young girls and boys and they’ll never have to worry about another urinary tract infection again. I have my doubts whether this vaccine will really prevent UTIs as well as real concerns about what these new — and in my book unnecessary — vaccines will do to the delicate immune system.
Still, let’s take a look at how the vaccine is supposed to work…
The building blocks of infection
Most UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria in the urinary tract. The E. coli bacteria start causing trouble when they track down tiny receptors in the body called bacterial proteins. The bacteria attach themselves to these proteins, like two Legos snapping together.
The bacterial proteins help the E. coli to find iron circulating in the body. The E. coli feed on the iron, using it to grow. Eventually, the E. coli multiply out of control and cause an infection.
Outsmarting the bacteria?
The University of Michigan researchers figured if they could find the proteins that E. coli attach to, they could stop the bacteria from multiplying.
They analyzed 5,000 different protein molecules taken from a patient infected with E. coli. After this exhaustive search, UM researchers hit the jackpot. They found three proteins that E. coli use to set off their chain reaction and cause infection in the body.
Researchers sprayed these proteins into the noses of test mice. Then they exposed the mice to a strain of E. coli. And what do you know…the mice didn’t get UTIs!
Evidently, by exposing the mice to these bacterial proteins, their immune systems became “primed” and ready to fight E. coli the next time around. Hurray for the mice…but what will this kind of vaccine do to a 60-year-old woman prone to UTIs? Say she’s already gotten the shingles vaccine, gets the flu vaccine every fall, and this year will get the H1N1 vaccine. Plus, she’s already had a bout of breast cancer. Think her immune system has gone a bit off track? Instead of knowing how to fight real invaders (metastic cancer cells), her immune system wants to sit back and relax and wait for the vaccine to jump start things.
More on the way…
The UM team is currently testing the vaccine against more strains of E. coli. The team hopes to move forward in the near future and test the vaccine in human trials. If all goes as planned, the vaccine could reach the market in a few years!
I’m sure that would be a windfall for the drug company that purchases the rights to this vaccine. I can see the ad campaign now, targeting women prone to UTIs. But here’s the thing…UTIs are entirely preventable. And, say you do get stuck with a UTI from time to time, you don’t need a vaccine to get rid of it!
Here’s what you should be doing if you’re prone to urinary tract infections:
1. Avoid any UTI vaccine!
2. Drink more water.
3. Take cranberry extract daily to help prevent recurring UTIs. In one study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, cranberry extract works nearly as well as antibiotics in preventing urinary tract infections. The antioxidants in cranberries prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of your urinary tract.
4. Take probiotics daily. These “good” bacteria help keep harmful bacteria like E. coli in check. Take your capsules before meals and at bedtime. Look for a capsule with billions of units of these healthy bacteria.
5. As a general rule, you’ll want to limit sugar and refined sugar products. This will help clear the infection and make you less prone to a recurrence.
That’s all well and good for preventing infections. But what about if you’ve already got a UTI?
Before panicking and calling your doc for antibiotics, consider giving D-mannose a try. It’s the natural ingredient in cranberries responsible for fighting off infections. It will take care of just about any bladder infection caused by E. coli.
Every two to three hours, you’ll need to take 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful of D-mannose dissolved in water. Try this route for a day or two and see if you don’t get some relief. Though, not all urinary tract infections respond to D-mannose. So if your symptoms don’t improve within 48 hours, see your doctor.
In closing, if you’re watching the nightly news and you hear about the latest and greatest vaccine that will protect you against UTIs (or pimples!), just turn it off! You know better. And your body knows better too.
Dr. Allan Spreen
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