—by Cate Stevenson, BA
A new study has found that seniors who take a common antibiotic combination for urinary tract infections are at increased risk of developing potentially life-threatening high potassium levels. Researchers examined the medical records of 300,000 older adults who were taking heart drugs known as beta blockers. Of those, 189 patients had to be hospitalized because their potassium levels reached dangerously high levels. This occurred after they took antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections.
The patients who were most likely to develop the hazardous potassium levels, known as “hyperkalemia,” took the widely prescribed antibiotic TMP-SMX. The researchers explained that hyperkalemia is a potentially deadly adverse drug reaction. TMP-SMX can decrease your kidney’s ability to remove potassium from your body. And since potassium plays a key role in regulating heartbeat, abnormally high levels of potassium can cause fatal disturbances in the heart rhythm.
The risk of severe hyperkalemia was five times higher in patients prescribed TMP-SMX compared to those prescribed amoxicillin — another popular antibiotic used to treat simple bladder infections. The research team suggests that doctors may be able to help patients lower their risk by doing blood testing to monitor their potassium levels.
Searching for an alternative to antibiotics? Why not try cranberry? Cranberries have a time-honored reputation for fighting urinary tract infections. If you’re like most people, however, it’s likely cranberries aren’t often on your radar when you’re out doing the weekly grocery shopping. Most people are more likely to pick up some raspberries or strawberries from the produce section. This is too bad, because eating cranberries (or drinking cranberry juice) can have a number of other health benefits, along with to the reduction or prevention of urinary tract infection. It seems the proanthocyanidins in cranberries could inhibit bacteria from attaching to the wall of the urinary tract. This limits the bacteria’s ability to produce colonies and spread infection.
Goldenseal is another option. It contains a special compound called “berberine” that can help to kill many types of bacteria, including the ones that cause urinary tract infections. Berberine has also been shown to kill Candida (yeast) infections, viruses, and various parasites such as tapeworms. Researchers think that berberine may help to activate white blood cells, making them more effective at fighting infection and strengthening your immune system.