Bladder infection is one of the most widespread bacterial infections. It can lead to serious complications such as kidney infections and blood poisoning. A team of scientists from University of Queensland in Australia has discovered new details about zinc and its role in the immune defense, and how zinc helps the white blood cells fight coli bacteria that are the main cause of bladder infections. Women are more exposed than men, and there are some rather easy ways for them to prevent coli bacteria from spreading to the urinary tract.
There are around 150 million cases of bladder infection every year on a global scale. 25-30 percent of women have at least one bladder infection during their life. The infection is primarily caused by coli bacteria (Escheria coli) that are transferred from the gut. Women have a higher risk due to their short urinary tract, and the risk is particularly great if the mucosa of the vaginal entrance are colonized by intestinal coli bacteria, a problem that can easily go unnoticed.
Having sexual intercourse can therefore add to the risk by pushing the bacteria into the urinary tract. Many women get urinary tract infections after menopause because their mucosa dry out as a result of reduced levels of estriol, a type of estrogen. If they have difficulty with passing water, this will also increase their risk of a bladder infection.
Coli bacteria are found in the intestinal system and are a natural part of the natural microflora, but not in the bladder. If coli bacteria enter the urinary tract and the bladder, it attracts the white blood cells of the immune defense, and symptoms of a bladder infection will occur.
If the infection is not treated, the bacteria in five percent of cases will move forward through the urethra to the renal pelvis and cause pyelonephritis, which can be quite serious. In a few cases of bladder infection and in nearly 10 percent of pyelonephritis cases, blood poisoning develops, causing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This requires immediate hospitalization.
Antibiotics are effective, but they have quite a few side effects, and there is the risk of developing resistance. Furthermore, antibiotics do not treat the underlying cause, which may be a weak immune defense.
Zinc’s role in the immune defense
Scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia have studied how the immune system uses zinc to fight coli bacteria. These bacteria are the main reason why people get urinary tract infections. The researchers already knew that white blood cells such as macrophages use zinc as a toxic weapon to fight bacterial infections, but they discovered that coli bacteria have an increased resistance towards zinc and are more able than other types of bacteria to defend themselves against being attacked by macrophages. What they also noticed was that coli bacteria have certain genes that protect them against zinc. This, the scientists point out, may show us new ways of understanding how the immune system fights infections, including finding new treatments that make coli bacteria more sensitive to zinc.
According to the scientists, therapies that do not include the use of antibiotics have the advantage that they do not make bacteria resistant. What the scientists want to do is to reprogram the immune cells to make them stronger and improve their ability to aim their attacks at pathogenic bacteria.
Claudia Stocks, a PhD student, says that these methods would even apply to the investigation of other types of bacterial disease.
Macrophages use zinc as a toxic weapon against many types of bacteria such as mycobacterium tuberculosis (that causes tuberculosis), salmonella, and streptococcus.
The science team therefore developed special zinc sensors that they could adapt to studying different types of bacteria. This helps them to a better understanding of the immune defense and to discover how to create therapies to treat a host of contagious diseases.
Other ways to prevent bladder infections
- Make sure to drink plenty of liquid to effective rinse the bladder
- Always empty your bladder completely
- Wipe from front to back to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the vagina
- Drink water before sexual intercourse and empty your bladder right after
- Intimate barrier protection creams regulate the pH value and have a soothing and protective effect
- Unsweetened cranberry juice often helps prevent coli bacteria from attaching to the bladder mucosa
- Get plenty of vitamin C that strengthens the immune defense and regulates the pH value of the urine
- Supplement with lactic acid bacteria that regulate the gut flora and the pH value of the mucosa
If the pH value is low or acidic it helps displace harmful bacteria such as coli bacteria
Claudia J Stocks et al. Uropathogenetic Escherichia coli employs both evasion and resistance to subvert innate immune-mediated toxicity for dissemination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019
Jennifer Hiizen. Seven ways to treat a UTI without antibiotics. MedicalNewsToday 2018
Anette Paulin og Jens Ole Paulin. Naturlig Hormonterapi – du har et valg. 2015
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