Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that supports your health in many ways. It helps support immune system function and prevents bacteria from reproducing, so this nutrient can potentially help to prevent or resolve bladder infections. However, using vitamin C for UTI treatment hasn't been well studied — clinical trials using this nutrient for bladder infections are limited and have had mixed results.
Bladder Infections and Your Health
Bladder infections, also known as urinary tract infections or cystitis, can happen to anyone of any age. According to Harvard Health Publishing, they are most common in older adults, particularly women.
Urinary tract infections occur when urine pools in the bladder, providing an environment for bacterial growth. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as a man may have an enlarged prostate that prevents the flow of urine or a woman may have insufficient estrogen around her vagina. Catheters, kidney stones and sexual activity can all contribute to bladder infections, as well. Most cases are caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli.
Bladder infections have a range of symptoms, including confusion, a sensation of urgency to urinate and a burning sensation when urination does occur. People may also experience bloody or cloudy urine and fevers — or even pus in urine, which is indicative of an abscess. The infection may spread to your kidneys, at which point your symptoms would become much more severe.
Typically, bladder infections are treated with antibiotics. However, according to Dr. Michael O'Leary, a urologist at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, "The overuse of antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections is a problem." This is because overuse of antibiotics can encourage the development of hard to treat, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
If you're particularly prone to bladder infections, you may want to make dietary changes or try alternatives like estrogen replacement therapy, probiotics, vitamin C, blueberries or cranberries, which are all thought to help prevent or manage urinary tract infections.
Vitamin C and Bladder Infections
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is one of the various essential vitamins that you need to consume on a daily basis. This nutrient plays a variety of roles in the body, supporting wound healing and the function of the immune system. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and can also help the body absorb other nutrients.
According to a July 2017 study in the Translational Andrology and Urology Journal, vitamin C can also lessen the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). The nutrient can help resolve bladder infections by changing the level of acidity in your urine. If your urine is more acidic, bacteria are less likely to be able to inhabit your urinary tract and bladder. Vitamin C is also thought to help stop bacteria from reproducing, which means it can help resolve ongoing UTIs, as well.
Using vitamin C for UTI treatment is fairly novel — according to an April 2016 study in the journal Pathogens, vitamin C has been used as an alternative to prophylactic antibiotics for UTI treatment in only two clinical trials. When 100 milligrams of vitamin C were given to pregnant women over a three-month period, the occurrence of UTIs was reduced by more than half.
However, in a small study of spinal injury patients, who are particularly prone to bladder infections, high doses (500 milligrams) of ascorbic acid did not help prevent or resolve UTIs. It also did not affect urine's acidity levels.
Using Vitamin C for UTIs
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily amount for vitamin C is 90 milligrams for adult men and 75 milligrams for adult women. Certain people need more vitamin C than average. For instance, smokers need an additional 35 milligrams per day; pregnant women need 85 milligrams per day; lactating women need 120 milligrams per day.
According to geriatric specialist Dr. Suzanne Salamon, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, you should take 500 to 1,000 milligrams per day of vitamin C if you're using this nutrient to prevent bladder infections. This is in addition to the recommended daily amount you should be getting, which means you'd have to consume about six to 13 times the amount you'd typically get on a daily basis. You can obtain this amount of vitamin C from supplements or naturally, through your diet.
Vitamin C and Your Diet
Vitamin C can be found in a variety of sources, including plant-based foods and fortified cereals and beverages. This nutrient is particularly rich in citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, acorn squash and kiwi. You can also find vitamin C in many vegetables including peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage.
Obtaining large amounts of this nutrient is fairly easy if you're consuming foods rich in vitamin C. For example, just half a cup of raw red peppers has 95 milligrams of vitamin C. One orange has 70 milligrams; a kiwi has 64 milligrams; half a cup of cooked broccoli has 51 milligrams.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables as part of the standard 2,000-calorie diet. If all of your fruits and vegetables come from products rich in vitamin C, you could consume more than 750 milligrams of this nutrient while following the standard diet's recommendations — around the amount you'd need to get to use vitamin C for UTI prevention and treatment.
Healthy Diet and Vitamin C
You should be aware that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming a varied, balanced diet. This means incorporating fruits and vegetables that are rich in other nutrients but have lower amounts of vitamin C. For instance, a medium-sized baked potato has 17 milligrams of vitamin C and 1/2 cup of spinach has just 9 milligrams of vitamin C, but these foods have larger amounts of other nutrients.
If you're trying to consume a lot of vitamin C without supplements but still want to follow the Dietary Guidelines' recommendations, it might be best to consume some fortified products (like cereals or juices) rather than eating only plant-based products that are rich in vitamin C. Otherwise, you may need to change your consumption of macronutrients so that you're not ingesting more than the recommended amount of calories or carbohydrates.
If you're trying to maximize your vitamin C consumption so that it all comes from natural sources, you should be aware that this nutrient has a tendency to degrade. The vitamin C content of foods tends to decline when they're exposed to heat or stored for long periods of time.
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- NIH: "Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- Pathogens: "Non-Antibiotic Prophylaxis for Urinary Tract Infections"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Stay a Step Ahead of Urinary Tract Infections"
- MedlinePlus: "Cystitis - Acute"
- Translational Andrology and Urology: "Non-Surgical Management of Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections in Women"
- Maturitas: "You Are What You Eat: The Impact of Diet on Overactive Bladder and Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Urinary Tract Infections"