How Estrogen May Help Prevent UTIs After Menopause
Laboratory study suggests vaginal supplementation would benefit some women
They found that estrogen encourages production of natural antimicrobial substances in the bladder. The hormone also makes the urinary tract tissue stronger by closing the gaps between cells that line the bladder. By gluing these gaps together, estrogen makes it harder for bacteria to penetrate the deeper layers of the bladder wall, the study authors said.
Estrogen also helps prevent too many cells from shedding from the top layers of the bladder wall.
"Normally, there's an innate response to infection and some cells die -- sort of taking one for the team -- and then these cells shed," Hannan said. "But shedding too much could allow bacteria to get into the deeper tissue, so this exfoliation is a double-edged sword."
According to the study, estrogen promotes the redistribution of cells and prevents excessive loss of cells during an infection.
One expert welcomed the findings.
"This study gives us more information about what we always had a sense was true: that women do get more [urinary tract infections] after menopause," said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Although taking estrogen in pill form is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, topical estrogen is much safer, Wu said. Topical estrogen formulations include creams, gels and vaginal suppositories.
"Only about 1 percent of estrogen cream or other topical delivery gets into the rest of the body's systems," she said.
Although commonplace, women shouldn't accept recurrent urinary tract infections as a normal part of aging, Wu said. "Talk to a gynecologist or urologist to find out what kinds of therapies are available," she said. "There are treatments besides antibiotics."