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Urinary Tract and Kidney Care

Most people have two kidneys, one on the right and one on the left.  They are shaped like flattened croissants (horns pointing toward the spine) and are located deep to the lower part of the rib cage in the back.  Their function in the body is to filter water and waste products (toxins) out of the blood, to keep the blood "clean".  The water and waste products become urine.  The urine is transported from the kidneys to the urinary bladder by the tube-like ureters.  There is usually one ureter per kidney.  The urinary bladder collects and stores the urine so that we don't urinate constantly.  When we urinate, the urine travels from the urinary bladder through the urethra and out of the body.

Think of the kidney as an extremely fine filter screen.  Damage to the filter will create larger holes, thus allowing larger molecules to be found in the urine (and lost from the blood).  When you have a kidney infection, kidney stones or chronic kidney disease, the damaged kidney will allow larger molecules, proteins, which should stay in the blood, to pass into the urine and out of the body. 

Kidney problems should always be treated quickly because allowing infection to continue or reoccur frequently will result in permanent damage to the kidneys.  Permanent kidney damage will cause the body to be chronically weak due to loss of blood and nutrients.

Kidney Stone or Urinary Tract Infection?  Differential Diagnosis: 

Kidney stones will cause bleeding and pain within the urinary tract.  The pain from stones will be sharp and more easily localized (as the path traveled by the stone can be traced) than the pain from an infection.  Kidney stones do not generally cause increased pain and urinary urgency when recumbent (or trying to go to sleep). Urinary tract infections are usually painful regardless of the body's position and may be especially noticable when lying down.

Both stones and infection can cause low back and flank pain.

Kidney Stones:  Cause and Treatment

The two most common causes of kidney stones are dehydration (not drinking enough fluid or loss of fluid through vomiting, diarrhea, etc) and stagnation (not urinating frequently enough).  Deficiency of magnesium and pyridoxine (vitamin B6) have also been implicated in kidney stones as well as chronic kidney disease.  One other major cause of kidney stones is gouty arthritis (treat for gout plus drink more water and urinate more frequently).

Kidney stones are dangerous because they can cause permanent damage to the kidneys by creating scar tissue inside the kidney and thereby reducing the kidney's ability to filter selectively.  When kidney stones break down into small enough particules, they will pass through the ureters into the bladder and then through the urethra out of the body.  Depending on the size and the sharpness of the edges of the stones, this process can be very painful.  It can also cause bleeding in the passages, which might be dangerous, and in some cases should be monitored in a hospital. 

Medical doctors can break up kidney stones without cutting into the human body by using ultrasound.  Passing the kidney stones under those conditions may still be painful and dangerous.

If you have kidney stones, see all the information below (when to drink water, when to urinate, substances and activities to avoid, litmus paper tests), pay special attention to the section on litmus paper tests, and obtain some from a local pharmacy right away.  Pay attention to the expiration date.  Shop around by phone if necessary for less expensive packages because you will only use a few before they expire.  As long as the dip sticks test urine pH, they will be adequate.

In addition, make sure you are ingesting adequate amounts of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and magnesium.

Urinary Infection:  Cause and Treatment

There is some medical controversy over whether a kidney infection can ever originate in the blood (or if they all come from the urinary tract).  It is assumed that urinary tract infections originate in the urethral outlet and migrate up into the urinary tract.  The principles of treatment of urinary tract infections involve preventing contamination and flushing the system clean.

The most common symptom of urinary tract infection is pain during urination, men may also notice a pus discharge from their urethras.  This can be accompanied by blood in the urine and a feeling of bladder fullness (a feeling of the need to urinate) even when the bladder is nearly empty.  In cases of kidney infection, there will also be flank or back pain.  In extreme cases the urinary system may shut down totally so that the colon must compensate with very fluid diarrhea ("rice water stool")

Taking Care of Your Kidneys

Kidney stones and infections can cause permanent damage to the kidneys.  Relying on antibiotics to combat repeated infections is not healthy, as repetitive or prolonged use of antibiotics can damage the liver and suppress the body's own immune system. 

However, kidney infections are so dangerous that is better to use antibiotics rather than delay cure.  Once damaged, kidney scar tissue forms, which interfers with the kidney's ability to filter waste products out of the blood.

Use the information presented here in addition to antibiotic and other medical treatment.  If your kidney infection is severe or has been prolonged, use the information presented here so that you may begin strengthening your urinary tract even before your appointment with your physician.  Use this information as preventative medicine or at the first symptom of urinary tract malfunction if you have had repeated kidney or urinary tract problems.

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection
  1. A slight stinging sensation in the urethra when urinating
  2. Painful urination
  3. Feeling the need to urinate when the bladder is not full
  4. Being unable to urinate
  5. Ache or pain in the back under the ribs on either or both sides (flank pain)
Increase your awareness of early symptoms so that you may begin treatment early.  Early treatment is easy and may take two to four days of preventative care, and observation.  In the advanced stages of infection, prolonged use of antibiotics and restricted activities are necessary.

First Aid/ Early Treatment
  1. Drink lots of water, at least 2 cups at your first symptom and one cup more every 15 to 20 minutes after that.  If you can drink more, do so.  If it feels uncomfortable to drink as much as recommended, take small sips from a straw constantly.  Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks.
  2. Clean your urethra.  Take a shower at your first opportunity.  If you cannot shower, wipe around your urethra with a clean wet cotton ball to wash it.  Pat dry with toilet paper.
Preventing Contamination

Both women and men who are susceptible to urinary infections should drink more fluid, urinate more frequently, and pay more attention to genital cleanliness.  Some soaps may irritate the urethra so find a soap that irritates the least and rinse immediately and thoroughly.

Urinary tract infections almost always originates in the genitals so the guidelines have been divided into male and female categories.

Men are especially susceptible to nonspecific urethritis (NSU).  This usually results from sexual contact when the "normal flora" of the man's partner is incompatible with the "normal flora" of the man's penis.


The term NSU (Nonspecific urethritis) means the laboratory was unable to identify any abnormal bacteria in the urine (healthy urine is sterile:  bacteria-free in the body, but once voided, picks up contaminants from the air and skin) or any normal bacteria in sufficient quantity to label as an "infection".  Some men have a greater sensitivity in this area than others and may find that any new sexual contact (or sexual contact after a period of abstinence) will cause a mild case of NSU until the man has adapted to his partner's normal flora.  NSU usually responds well to increased intake of fluids and more frequent urination especially after sexual contact.  Urination will flush the system, preventing foreign bacteria from spreading up the urethral tract.

Women should be especially careful to avoid fecal contamination to the urethra.  Do not wipe near the urethral orifice with toilet paper that may be contaminated.  In other words, do not wipe near the urethral orifice with toilet paper that was previously used to wipe the anus.

Sex, Hormones, Feminine Products, and Urinary Tract infections

Oral sex can be a factor in urinary tract infections.  If one partner's normal oral flora is incompatible with the other partner's genital flora, it can create an irritation known as NSU (non-specific urethritis).  NSU should be treated with the same preventative care as other urinary tract irritations.  Through limited and repeated exposure, the incompatible floras will eventually accommodate to each other.

Infections in the mouth such as a tooth abscess or a sore throat can be transmitted to the urinary tract of a partner by oral sex.

Groin chemicals such as douches and spermacides can upset the normal flora of the genitals making the urethra more susceptible to bacterial invasions.  This sensitivity can occur in either a woman using the product or her male sexual partner.  Often changing brands will be sufficient prevention.

Hormonal contraceptives:  (birth control pills, implants, injections) and hormone replacement therapy can alter normal genital flora by changing the body's hormonal balance.  If you are taking hormones, you should discuss this with your physician to find out if it might be contributing to your susceptibility and what your alternatives are.

Diaphragms can put a physical strain on the urethra especially when they are worn for more than 4 to 6 hours at a time. 

Vibrators may also put a physical strain on the urethra.  It is better to curtail sexual activity when you are trying to heal yourself of a urinary tract infection.

When to Drink Water (for everyone)

Drink water any time you are experiencing symptoms.  If you are susceptible to urinary tract infections increase your water consumption especially at the following times: 
  • 1/2 an hour before physical activity (body water is lost through sweat and increased metabolic rate).
  • if you wake up in the night to urinate, drink water before returning to sleep.
  • after urinating
  • after sexual activity
  • after exposure to heat
  • when standing or sitting upright after lying recumbent
  • anytime you think of it
  • if the symptoms get worse.
  • before going to sleep
When to Urinate (for everyone)

The urinary tract is normally sterile.  The kidney can only get infected (so far as we know) if the germs enter through the urethra and travel up the urinary tract to the kidneys.  Under normal circumstances the natural flow of urine should prevent this by flushing all infections out.
  • urinate anytime your bladder feels full or distended.  Some people get into the habit of urinating as infrequently as possible:  if you are susceptible to urinary infections that habit could be deadly.
  • urinate anytime you sit or stand upright after lying recumbent.
  • urinate after sexual activity.
  • urinate after taking a bath or being immersed in water.
Substances and Activities to Avoid while Infected or with Stones
  • Hot tubs (the exposure to heat is bad for the kidneys)
  • Hot packs or heating pads applied near the kidneys
  • Electric blankets
  • Saunas
  • Steam rooms, sweat lodges
  • Diathermy
  • Head stands, slant boards, space boots and other inverted positions
  • Body positions in which the waist is lower than the hips
  • oral sex
  • groin chemicals (douches, deodorants, etc.)
  • milk (counteracts antibiotics, promotes infection)
  • dairy products (counteracts antibiotics, promotes infection)
  • swiss chard (oxalic acid)
  • spinach (oxalic acid)
  • rhubarb (oxalic acid)
  • alcohol (dehydrates body, weakens kidneys)
  • coffee (dehydrates body, weakens kidneys)
  • tea with caffeine (dehydrates body, weakens kidneys)
  • Soda pop (sugar promotes kidney infection)
  • Sugary drinks (sugar promotes kidney infection)
  • Nutrisweet or Aspertine (weakens kidney filtering ability)
  • Cigarettes (contaminates liver and blood and delays healing)
  • Chocolate (see sugar and caffeine)
  • Recreational Drugs
  • Medication (call your doctor to find out if any prescription your doctor prescribed is bad for your kidneys).
Foods Considered Helpful for People with Kidney Problems
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • parsley
  • asparagus
  • garlic
  • watercress
  • marshmallow tea
The Litmus Paper - Dip Stick Test (for everyone)

Everyone who is susceptible to kidney stones or kidney infection should know how to do the litmus test, how to read and interpret it, and how to treat on the basis of the results.

Obtain urine pH testing litmus sticks from a pharmacy.  You will follow the directions on the bottle, they will usually involve urinating into a cup and dipping a litmus stick into the urine for a specified period of time.  When that time has lapsed, compare the color of the patch on the litmus stick with the colors displayed on the key on the label of the bottle (or on the instruction sheet).  You will have a reading of the pH of your urine.

pH is a scale that measures the acidity and alkalinity of a liquid.  It is a scale of approximately 1 (very acid) to 14 (very alkaline).  Water is neutral and will be at pH 7.  Normal urine should have a pH of 6.4, which is slightly acid. 

Most kidney stones and infections are associated with a urine pH that is too high (not acid enough).  The opposite is also possible.

If Your Urine pH is above 6.4, follow these directions:
  • Your urine is too alkaline and you must avoid foods that have an alkalizing reaction in the body.
    Avoid all citrus fruits:  orange, grapefruit, lemon; rosehip or fruity herb teas. 
    Instead of eating fruits, eat vegetables.  Do not drink fruit juices except for cranberry juice.
  • Obtain unsweetened Cranberry juice (or cranberry juice concentrate) from a health food store.  This cranberry juice must not be mixed with any other juice.  Dilute it to the recommended concentration (if concentrated) and sweeten only slightly (if you must) with sugar (not honey).  Drink half a cup of this every half an hour until your urine pH normalizes.  Or, dilute it with water and sip it at frequent intervals until your urine pH normalizes.
If Your Urine pH is below 6.4, follow these directions: 
  • Your urine is too acid and you must avoid foods that have an acid reaction in the body. 
  • Reduce your intake of animal products.  Eat fruits, particularly the citrus fruits.
For more information about the anatomy of the Urinary System, click here.