Did you know?
The average human has 7-8 litres of blood in their body, all of which gets filtered by the kidneys about 25 times a day! Your kidneys are the organs which filter the blood and produce urine. They form part of your urinary system, which is also made up of 2 ureters (the tubes connecting kidneys to the bladder), the bladder (which stores urine until you can excrete it) and finally the urethra (the short tube through which urine leaves the body). Women's urethras are short (4cm), while men's are much longer (20cm). This is the main reason women tend to get bladder infections much more frequently than men.
The main purpose of the urinary system is to produce urine and remove it from the body. This process is necessary for our bodies to function, as we need to get rid of toxic waste matter and the byproducts of digestion. But the urinary system also performs some other very important functions, such as maintaining the water balance in your body and keeping a proper balance of electrolytes (salts). It even plays a role in regulating blood pressure.
Kidneys: Their Structure and Function
Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs, about the size of a fist, and are located in the middle of your back, one on each side of the spine. Anna, one the herbalists in our clinic, refers to things being as 'cunning as a kidney' by the clever way they do all these things. Each kidney contains about a million tiny units called nephrons. Nephrons act like a colander, allowing any unwanted small molecules in the blood to be filtered out while keeping the important ones in. These little nephrons not only calculate and monitor how much sugar, water and electrolytes (or salts) are in the blood, they also decide and control how much of these to keep and how much to get rid of. It does this through the process of osmosis. Eventually, all of the blood goes back into the bloodstream, with exactly the right amounts of water, sugar and salts in it, and all the waste (the unwanted salts, water and other waste products) becomes urine and goes to the bladder to be excreted. These nifty little nephrons really are 'cunning as a kidney'!
But wait! There's more!
While they're doing all this, the kidneys also play a role in some other very important functions in the body, including regulating the blood volume and helping regulate blood pressure. They also aid the production of new red blood cells, help the body to utilise Vitamin D and buffer the blood (making sure it is not too acidic or too alkaline).
It's no wonder then that the process of moving salt and water in and out of kidneys burns 5% of your body's calories! Even more amazing is that all of this work can be done by one kidney. You can live healthily with only one kidney, you were born with a spare!
In the middle ages, people thought that its yellow colour meant urine contained gold, and many alchemists spent hours trying to extract gold from urine samples! Today we have discovered the yellow colour is due to chemicals called urobilins. Colour is also a guide to how well our urinary tract is working, more on this later.
Common Urinary System Complaints
Compared to the digestion or circulation, the urinary tract has fewer illnesses and problems. Changes in how often you urinate, the urine's appearance, odour or quantity, can be signs of imbalances in body (e.g. dehydration, or be symptoms of ailments developing in body). Some symptoms to look out for are: dark, scanty, strong smelling urine; a burning sensation on peeing or difficulty peeing; a reduced volume of pee, the absence of urine; sweet smelling urine; blood in the urine or very brightly coloured urine. If you experience these changes for a few days then you may wish to get it checked by a medical professional. Below are some of the most common urinary complaints explained, and herbs that may be helpful.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- (also referred to as Cystitis)
This is an inflammation of the bladder and urethra, often caused by infection. Simple steps to reduce recurrent infections for females include drinking water, urinating after sex and good hygiene. There are herbs that can help either to prevent or treat an infection, from cranberry (see below), to soothing
marshmallow or cornsilk teas
Althea officinalis and Zea mays
such as buchu (
) or uva ursi (
Arcostaphylos uva ursi
) which help treat the infections.
has similar symptoms but is not due to an infection, long term treatment with soothing herbs can work well for this condition.
When the pain is in the region of the kidneys (in your back at the bottom of your ribcage) it
should be treated by a medical professional. Kidney stones are calcium deposits in the kidneys, which can be very painful to pass, and may require an operation to be removed. Drinking lots of water can help to prevent them forming.
Enlarged Prostate/ Benign Prostate Hypertrophy (BPH)
This occurs among many men from the age of 50 onwards. The prostate can become enlarged, causing pain and discomfort while urinating, difficulty urinating or the need to pee in the middle of the night. There are a number of different herbs that can help with the most common causes of an enlarged prostate Benign Prostate Hypertrophy (BPH), however the most popular one is saw palmetto (
) and is definitely worth considering (more later).
Other Top tips for a healthy urinary tract
Don't hold on forever. If you feel the urge to pee, go! Holding urine in the bladder for too long can contribute to UTIs. If you can, stop smoking, it narrows the blood vessels, reducing the ability of the kidneys to work properly. Get your fluid intake correct (2 litres a day if possible).
is considered by many to be a tonic for the kidneys and may form part of a treatment by a medical herbalist or could be included in a detox programme.
some herbs (including tea and coffee, due to caffeine content) and prescription medicines affect how the kidneys work, increasing the amount of fluid that passes out of the body as urine. This can be helpful for conditions such as high blood pressure, and others use them as part of a detox programme. However, it can also be bad for problems such as constipation, as the water that you need to make faeces soft leaves the body as urine, leading to a hard, dry painful poo. Diuretics can also lead to excessive loss of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium from the body. Long term use of diuretics should only be used if prescribed by a medical professional.
Dehydration is quite a common issue, and although it is not normally life threatening it can lead to poor stamina and performance, constipation, kidney stones and more. Signs of dehydration are: a dry sticky mouth, very little or no urine, sunken eyes and lethargy or tiredness. The correct colour of urine is an important guide to how hydrated you are; a light straw colour is normal, a yellow or dark colour may means you are not drinking enough. We should try to drink about 1.5 litres of water a day, including herbal tea, fresh fruit and vegetable juices diluted with water. Try to avoid fizzy soft drinks and coffee, as both can may act as diuretics and make dehydration worse. In cases of severe dehydration please seek advice.
: From the ages of 40 to 70, blood flow through the kidneys and the filtration rate both decline by 50%. We also feel less thirsty with age, so the older we get the more susceptible we are to dehydration, as we won't feel the thirst that tells us to drink more liquids. As you age take more care with your fluid intake.
Supplement of the Month - Cranberry Juice
It used to be thought that it was the acidity of pure Cranberry
juice that was the key to its effectiveness. It was believed that drinking the juice created an acidic environment in the bladder which bacteria could not thrive in. While it does indeed do this, recent findings show it does even more.
Recent research now indicates that cranberry actually works to prevent bacteria from adhering -or sticking- to the lining of the bladder and urethra. In this way, pure cranberry juice can be very helpful in preventing and treating infections of the bladder. If supplementing with cranberry, it is recommended to take pure cranberry juice, with no sugar added, or cranberry extract tablets. Most conventional cranberry juices that you buy in a supermarket have a high sugar content, to make the juice taste nicer. Sugar can promote the growth of harmful bacteria, and counteract the good effects of the cranberry juice. This is why a pure unsweetened cranberry juice is recommended, although
may also be used.
Note: While it is better not to have added sugar in your cranberry juice, a small amount may be preferable to artificial sweeteners.
Herb of the Month - Saw Palmetto
Most men over the age of 50 suffer from an enlarged prostate gland (also called benign prostate hypertrophy, or BPH). As mentioned earlier, this can put pressure on, or obstruct the urethra, which can cause difficulty urinating, pain when urinating, or the need to urinate frequently (especially through the night).
A classic herb that can be helpful to prevent and alleviate BPH is Saw Palmetto. This herb is native to North America. It is the smelly, oily berries of the plant that contain the most active ingredients. These can be taken as liquid capsules, where the oil is pressed from the berries and put into a capsule or as extracts, where the active ingredients are extracted in tablet or capsule form. Saw palmetto is often prescribed by the medical profession in Germany for BPH.
Saw palmetto works by reducing high levels of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which has been shown in clinical trials to be effective in treating enlarged prostate gland. Saw palmetto may also be helpful in conditions of male pattern baldness (characterised by a receding hairline and central baldness) which is also linked to high levels of DHT, although there is limited evidence to prove this as yet.
Pumpkin seed oil (or seeds) are known to reduce the formation of DHT, while green tea can help to reduce high levels. Reducing cholesterol levels can also help, as this has a role to play in your body's production of DHT. Garlic (
) and Artichoke (
)are both used in herbal medicine to reduce cholesterol.
Note: If you suspect you may have BPH, we
suggest you get it checked by a medical professional before self treating
We stock saw palmetto as
Vogel one a day capules
Solgar two a day capsules
. Powder and tincture are also available.
Cautions and contraindications
We normally recommend seeking advice from your doctor, herbalist or other health professional if taking prescription medicines and thinking about self-treating with herbs.
This Month's Therapy: Sports Massage
Sports Massage can play a role in the training and competitive regime of sportspeople, young or old, amateur or professional. It can play a role in your performance: by helping get your body into its best possible state, by supporting your training regime, or by reducing the chance of injuries. It can also be used to treat injuries. For more details visit
on our website or our therapists have a
new dedicated website
with more infomation.
Newsletter Special Offer:
Half Price First Visit with Sports massage Therapist John Curror. Mention "Newsletter Offer" when booking and get your First Visit half price.
T&C: Only valid for first visits with John Curror when offer mentioned when booking and not valid with any other offer. Offer ends 31st October 2010.
Infertility is an issue for many couples. During this evening seminar herbalist Anna Hill and acupuncturist Francesca Howell will cover many of the natural options available to increase fertility from conception to birth.
Thursday 2nd September 7pm-9pm Price: £6
For more information visit our
or call: 0141 564 3184.