Your question is timely. A study reported in 2017 found that drinking six extra glasses of water per day appears to cut the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) almost in half. Increasing water consumption has long been recommended for treatment and prevention of UTIs, but as study leader Thomas M. Hooten, M.D., clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Miami School of Medicine, noted this never has been tested in a prospective trial before.
For the study, researchers recruited 140 healthy premenopausal women who all had had at least three UTIs in the previous year and who also reported low daily fluid intake. Half the women served as controls and didn’t change the amount of fluids they were accustomed to drinking. The other half agreed to drink six 8-ounce glasses of water in addition to the fluids they routinely consumed daily.
Over the course of the following 12 months, the researchers monitored the women through visits and telephone calls and documented that those who had agreed to drink more water had increased their intake by about five glasses daily. Added to the amounts they were accustomed to drinking, they were consuming 2.8 liters (almost six pints) of fluids. The total fluid intake (water and other liquids) of the women in the control group was 1.2 liters, about 2.5 pints.
After a year, results showed that women in the control group averaged 3.1 UTIs while those who increased their water intake averaged 1.6 UTIs, 48 percent fewer than the controls. They also required 47 percent fewer antibiotics.
In presenting the study findings at the Infectious Diseases Society of America October 2017 conference in San Diego, Dr. Hooten said, “It’s good to know the recommendation [to increase water consumption] is valid and that drinking water is a safe way to prevent an uncomfortable and annoying infection”.
UTI symptoms include a frequent, urgent need to urinate, and may produce a painful or burning sensation during urination. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that 40 to 60 percent of women will develop a UTI during their lifetime and one in 4 will have a repeat infection. Women are more likely to get UTIs than men in part because the female urethra is shorter, making it easier for bacteria to travel from the rectum and vagina to the bladder. Dr. Hooten noted that drinking more fluids increases the rate of flushing of bacteria from the bladder and also likely reduces the concentration of bacteria that enter the bladder from the vagina. This makes it harder for bacteria to attach to cells that line the urinary tract. You can find information about UTIs and my recommendations for preventing them here.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Thomas M. Hooten et al, “”Women who get frequent UTIs may reduce risk by drinking plenty of water.” Presentation at Infectious Disease Society of America, IDWeek 2017, San Diego, CA, October 5, 2017.