In spring its shoots resemble asparagus – in Japan they are cooked and eaten in a similar way to the vegetable. By summer it develops the many branches from which its name is derived – the Latin ‘equus’ meaning horse and ‘seta’ bristle.
Equisetum arvense is high in silica, a mineral that is beneficial to bone and connective tissue health. There are strong positive associations between silica intake and bone mineral density and preliminary research suggests that the herb is valuable in treating osteoporosis.1
Traditionally, medical herbalists have valued the herb for its effect on the urinary system and it is particularly useful in formulations for the treatment of urinary tract infections.
- Diuretic, increasing the flow of urine and encouraging the removal of bacteria from the body.
- Tones and strengthens the membrane of the bladder preventing pathogens from adhering to the bladder wall. Urinary astringent and styptic.
- Antibacterial actions. Almost 95% of cases of urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria that typically multiply at the opening of the urethra and travel up to the bladder. Research has found that Equisetum preparations exhibited antibacterial activity against the selected urinary tract pathogens.2
Attending to the Basics
There are many factors that predispose individuals to urinary tract infections, some are structural or anatomical, but more often they involve aspects over which we have direct control.
Recurrent infections can establish a vicious cycle – a bladder that is inflamed from a recent infection is more likely to become reinfected. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria along with the infectious ones, altering the delicate balance of the microbiota. This allows the proliferation of undesirable species of bacteria and yeasts, including those same micro-organisms that caused the infection in the first place.
Establishing bowel health is particularly important in preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and studies show a high prevalence of constipation among patients suffering from urinary tract dysfunction. E. coli, the primary pathogen involved in UTIs can travel from the intestines or vagina to inhabit the normally sterile urinary tract. Therefore, improving the gut and vaginal flora can reduce the likelihood of infection developing. At The Herbal Clinic we find that improving elimination through the bowel and restoring the gut microbiota can be all that is needed to resolve some cases of UTI.
Drinking enough water is another key concern. A consistent flow of dilute urine is ideal to flush through any bacteria and keep the urethra and bladder healthy. Urine should be light yellow in colour indicating proper hydration. Dark concentrated urine that is not voided regularly creates a stagnant environment in which bacteria can grow. Overly acidic urine (caused by excess consumption of citrus, red meats, dairy and some medications) can irritate the lining of the bladder causing discomfort and a membrane that is easier for bacteria to permeate.
Hold Tight or Let Go
Traditional Eastern philosophy recognises that bladder problems can arise when we have difficulty in letting go of emotions.
Unlike many physical symptoms, emotions are subtle and complex. If we feel we are unable to manage or express an emotion directly, it can be suppressed and the tension experienced in another way. Tension can be held in the body on a subconscious level. It may start as a protective mechanism – holding a group of muscles tight, to protect against a perceived attack, but when the threat is not dealt with, the tension remains, causing physiological changes to an area. We can see this clearly in vulnerable individuals who round their shoulders to protect their core; gradually the ligaments and muscles adapt creating a permanent slouch.
Recurrent UTI can be linked to concerns within a sexual relationship, where something may need addressing, or communication needs to be improved. The holding of tension in the genitourinary area can create an internal environment that is out of balance. Reduced blood flow and oxygen to the area support the growth of unbeneficial bacteria and infection becomes more likely. At an unconscious level the situation may allow an individual a ‘no questions asked’ reason to refuse intercourse, an issue which may be difficult to address in direct confrontation.
It is useful to set aside some regular time to be alone for self-reflection. Keep a journal in which you can open up some of your innermost feelings and begin to consider how you can approach any changes you need to make.
Equisetum is most effective for urinary tract infections when combined with other urinary herbs in a tea. It is advisable that you consult a qualified practitioner to ensure that infections are managed appropriately.
- Corletto F. [Female climacteric osteoporosis therapy with titrated horsetail (Equisetum arvense) extract plus calcium (osteosil calcium): randomized double blind study]. Miner Ortoped Traumatol 1999;50:201-206.
- International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol 3, Issue 4, 2011, In vitro evaluation of antibacterial activity of Equisetum arvense on urinary tract pathogens. Geetha R.V et al.
Published in the August edition of ‘The Bay’ magazine.
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The Herbal Clinic in Swansea provides natural healthcare with the use of organic herbs, acupuncture and iridology.