Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause uncomfortable symptoms like frequent urination, burning with urination, and pelvic pain. Traditional treatment involves antibiotics.
Some lifestyle measures may help, including drinking more water to flush out bacteria, or drinking cranberry juice to ward off infection.
Coconut oil is another possible alternative remedy. It’s said to contain antimicrobial fatty acids that could help fight infection. Read on to learn more about how it may work, how to use it, and potential side effects.
What the research says
There isn’t any research specifically on the use of coconut oil to treat UTIs. There is, however, a growing body of information about coconut oil, specifically virgin coconut oil (VCO), and its antimicrobial properties.
In one 2013 study, coconut oil was shown to help fight antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile diarrhea. While plain coconut oil didn’t do much to inhibit growth of this bacteria, the growth did slow when the cells were exposed to 0.15 to 1.2 percent lipolyzed coconut oil.
This isn’t your usual coconut oil, though. The coconut oil used in the study was broken down to make the fatty acids more available to the body. This form of coconut oil isn’t available in stores.
There’s also evidence to suggest that coconut oil may be effective against yeast infections and other fungal infections. In a 2009 study on Nigerian women, coconut oil was shown to be active against Candida — particularly drug-resistant Candida. This paper has since been cited in studies focused on coconut oil’s potential use on preterm infants and fighting certain kinds of strep, among other medicinal applications.
Still, most of what you’ll find online about using coconut oil to cure UTIs is anecdotal. More research is needed before this method can be hailed as a tried-and-true treatment.
Is there a preferred method?
There isn’t any research on using coconut oil for UTIs, so there isn’t a standard or preferred method of treatment.
Anecdotal reports suggest that it can be used in several ways. For example, you can apply oil topically to the affected area or ingest pure coconut oil. You can also drink coconut water, though it may not have as high a concentration of the fatty acids.
How to use
If you suspect you have a UTI, it’s best to be checked out by your doctor before trying any alternative remedies. Without medical attention, the infection may lead to recurrent infections or kidney damage.
If you’ve dealt with UTIs before and your infection seems mild — or you’re trying to prevent infection — you may find coconut oil beneficial.
Topical coconut oil
Coconut oil may be placed directly on the skin for therapeutic purposes. It’s used for anything from dry skin to psoriasis to dermal infections. When using it for UTIs, you may apply it liberally to the external genital area. Be careful, though: Coconut oil shouldn’t be inserted into the vaginal canal.
Older studies have shown that coconut oil may kill viruses like HIV and herpes within just one minute of direct application. Since a UTI is located in the bladder, using this oil topically won’t necessarily stop the infection. Instead, it helps with external symptoms, like burning.
People who are allergic to coconut shouldn’t try this method. If you don’t know whether or not you’re allergic, try a patch test on your skin.
- Apply a small amount of coconut oil to your forearm.
- Place a bandage over the area and let sit for 24 hours.
- If you don’t experience any redness or irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.
- If you do experience irritation within 24 hours, discontinue use and see your doctor if your symptoms persist.
Oral coconut oil
There isn’t any research specifically on coconut oil and UTIs, so you won’t find doctor-recommended dosages for this treatment. That said, ingesting coconut oil is relatively safe.
Some people suggest taking two to three tablespoons of coconut oil each day while you’re experiencing symptoms. It may be best to spread the dosage out, so you could try taking one tablespoon in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. You can also eat the oil on a spoon or melt it into a beverage. Coconut oil is an oil often used in cooking.
The oil is made up of up to 92 percent saturated fat, and each tablespoon contains around 11 grams of saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat each day to just 13 grams, so you may want to consume it sparingly.
If you’re allergic to coconut, don’t ingest coconut oil.
Drinking coconut water
Coconut water isn’t the same thing as coconut oil, but it comes from the same source and has antimicrobial properties. They’re just, well, watered down.
Coconut water is the liquid that’s inside an immature coconut. People in different parts of the world, like Asia, use coconut water to fight urinary tract infections. The idea here is that coconut water is a natural diuretic, so it will help your body flush out bacteria by urinating more frequently.
While there’s little risk associated with drinking coconut water, it may not be the best drink to consume if you’re looking to watch your weight. A cup of coconut water contains around 46 calories.
Tips and tricks
- Drink lots of water each day — at least eight cups. Keeping your body hydrated will help flush bacteria out from your bladder.
- Stay away from beverages that irritate. These include coffee, alcohol, and soda. Citrus juice and teas containing caffeine may also irritate the bladder.
- Apply heat to help with bladder pressure and pain.
Possible side effects and risks
There are no risks associated with using coconut oil topically or ingesting the oil.
But if you’re allergic to coconut, you shouldn’t use coconut oil or drink coconut water. Your doctor can suggest a variety of other treatments, including antibiotics, to help relieve your symptoms.
Coconut water is high in potassium. A cup contains around 17 percent of the daily recommended intake. Drinking too much may lead to a buildup of potassium in the blood (hyperkalemia). As a result, older adults and people who have certain health conditions, like heart or kidney disease, may want to speak with their doctors before drinking coconut water.
When to see your doctor
UTIs are responsible for some 10 million doctor visits each year in the United States. You should make an appointment if your symptoms persist or get worse after a few days. Other warning signs that the infection may be spreading are fever, back pain, and vomiting.
At your appointment, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and test your urine for bacteria and blood cells. This test will also help determine which type of antibiotics may be most effective against your infection. You should finish all antibiotics unless otherwise directed by your doctor.