While urinary tract infections are common, they can be extremely painful and uncomfortable. Antibiotics will treat the infections in most cases, but people who use them frequently may find that they cause unpleasant side effects, such as yeast infections.
Some essential oil advocates claim that certain oils can treat or prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). A handful of preliminary studies suggest that essential oils can treat UTIs in some cases.
However, most doctors do not support this method of treatment, no major medical organization recommends it.
Use essential oils to treat a UTI only if a doctor has recommended it. Seek prompt medical treatment if symptoms do not improve.
UTIs develop when a person has an overgrowth of bacteria in their urinary tract, usually the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli).
To heal a UTI, an essential oil has to kill this type of bacteria.
A person can use essential oils in a few ways. The oils can be spread through the air in a diffuser or applied directly to the skin, often after being mixed with a carrier oil. Some oils should not be applied directly to the skin or should only be used if diluted.
The following essential oils may help to fight the bacteria that causes UTIs:
1. Clove oil
Preliminary studies of clove oil’s antibacterial effects are promising. A 2016 study suggests that clove oil may help to kill E. coli, particularly when the bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.
2. Oregano oil
A 2012 study found that oregano oil could slow or stop the growth of E. coli and other bacteria. The bacteria strains used in the study resisted other treatments, which means oregano oil may also kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A 2015 study that compared the effectiveness of oregano and lavender oils found that oregano had higher antimicrobial properties, suggesting that it can fight bacteria such as E. coli.
3. Cinnamon oil
Cinnamaldehyde, the chemical that gives cinnamon its flavor, may inhibit the growth of E. coli. The oil and the spice may also help to prevent UTIs from recurring. In addition to using cinnamon oil, a person might consider adding powdered cinnamon to their diet.
4. Lavender oil
Research suggests that lavender can kill bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other sources of infections. It may also act as an antioxidant.
Research published in 2015, for example, found that lavender and oregano oils, separately and in combination, may inhibit the growth of, including E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus).
5. Herbal oils
Authors of a 2013 study propose that some herbal oils are effective against E. coli and other bacteria. These include:
- sage oil
- basil oil
- rosemary oil
- marjoram oil
- hyssop oil
6. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil may combat a wide range of bacteria. This makes it a good option when a person is unsure which type of bacteria is causing the infection.
A 2016 study identified compounds in eucalyptus oil that may explain its antibacterial properties. The researchers found that eucalyptus may kill or slow the growth of E. coli, S. aureus, Listeria innocua, and several other pathogens.
7. Cumin oil
Cumin oil may help to fight E. coli and some other bacterial infections. Another study from 2016 compared the effects of cumin oil to those of chamomile and onion oils. Cumin oil killed the most bacteria.
Cumin oil became even more effective when used in combination with some antibiotics, suggesting that it may be a complementary treatment.
8. Coriander oil
The same study found that coriander oil was best able to kill a combination of S. aureus and E. coli. Coriander oil also fought bacteria resistant to multiple drugs. Like cumin oil, coriander oil was more effective when paired with antibiotics.
The right way to use an essential oil depends on the type and concentration of the oil and an individual’s health. Consult a doctor or expert in essential oils before beginning home treatment for a UTI.
Do not drink essential oils. Many are toxic if ingested and can cause serious side effects.
Do not apply essential oils directly to the vagina, penis, urethra, or any exposed skin. They can irritate the skin and cause an intense burning sensation.
When applied topically, essential oils must be diluted in a carrier oil. The usual recipe is 3 to 5 drops of essential oil per 1 ounce of carrier oil. Carrier oils are nontoxic. Warmed coconut oil is a popular choice. However, a person may have an allergic reaction to carrier oils, especially those derived from nuts.
Diluted essential oils can be safely used in a warm compress on skin near the affected area. Also, adding a few drops of diluted oils to a bath may promote relaxation and provide temporary relief from pain.
Anyone concerned about the effects of oils on the skin should consider aromatherapy, as essential oils have fewer side effects when inhaled. It is best to use small amounts of high-quality essential oils diluted in a carrier oil.
Children are more vulnerable to negative side effects associated with essential oils. Use the oils on younger people only when following a doctor’s advice.
Some essential oils are dangerous for people who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and they should discuss any planned use with a doctor or midwife.
Proponents of essential oils often highlight the fact that they are “natural.” However, this does not mean that they are always safe.
Risks associated with essential oils include:
- Poisoning: Essential oils can be toxic when consumed and when they come into contact with the skin. For example, pennyroyal and camphor oils can be poisonous when consumed, and camphor oil may be dangerous when applied to the skin.
- Skin damage: Certain essential oils may damage the skin. One study, for instance, found that strong concentrations of lavender oil can be toxic to skin cells.
- Allergic reactions: Essential oils can trigger allergic reactions, especially in people with allergies, eczema, or sensitive skin.
- Chemical changes in the sun: Many oils derived from citrus fruits, cumin, and the Angelica genus of herbs can change in the sun, burning the skin or becoming toxic. Anyone planning to spend time in the sun or in tanning beds should not use these oils.
- Endocrine disruption: Certain essential oils, including lavender and tea tree oils, may act as endocrine disruptors. This means that they may interfere with hormones, potentially affecting fertility, the onset of puberty, and the development of breasts in boys and men.
Some oils can be harmful or even deadly for pets, especially cats. Keep essential oils stored in a safe cupboard, and ask a veterinarian before using them in a diffuser.
Some people may find that using essential oils can speed healing from a UTI or prevent an infection from coming back.
Like any remedy, certain doses may be safe, but it is crucial to speak with an expert and research the oil before using it.
People considering this type of remedy should be aware that improperly treated UTIs can lead to sepsis, a dangerous infection of the blood. The infection may spread to other areas of the body, including the kidneys. As the bacteria spread, the infection may be harder to treat.
People with severe or frequent UTIs, a history of kidney problems, or allergies should only use treatments recommended by doctors.