Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) in Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common bacterial infections affecting people world-wide. Women, men with enlarged prostate glands, and people with diabetes are especially prone to getting UTI’s. Did you know nearly 50% of women will have at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) during their lifetime?
Microbial population in the anus and vagina are the main source of bacteria that causes urinary tract infection and it is believed that more than 80 % of the uncomplicated UTI’s are caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli). Antibiotics are the first line of treatment and are usually effective, with the person starting to feel better within 1 or 2 days. While even acute infections can be effectively treated with conventional antibiotics, chances of recurrence within weeks or months is not uncommon.
Why are you likely to get another infection even after a complete antibiotic treatment?
Repeated use of antibiotics results in drug-resistant bacteria that doesn’t respond too well to the conventional treatment anymore. In another interesting mechanism, studies show that antibiotics may not be able to prevent recurrent infections because of the persistence of intracellular, dormant bacteria. What exactly happens? A review article published in Pathogens explains that “Intravesical bacterial persistence explains the relative ineffectiveness of antimicrobials to prevent recurrence of the infection, since intracellular and metabolically-inactive bacteria make a difficult target for conventional antibiotics and the body’s own defense.”. This is what happens:
- E.Coli enters the urinary bladder and invades the bladder epithelial cells.
- Bacteria multiply quickly and form intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs).
- Invading bacteria infect the surface cells that die and are excreted with the urine, allowing bacteria to invade deeper.
- Here the bacteria do not multiply but make dormant colonies which are known as quiescent intracellular reservoirs (QIRs). While the pathways that reactivate these dormant bacteria are not fully understood, it is now known that QIRs account for recurrent urinary tract infections.
- These intracellular bacteria form biofilm, a densely packed assembly of microbes where cells stick to each other and adhere to the surface by secreting glue like substances. The biofilm components of E.Coli, curli fimbriae and cellulose, reduce the immune response and promote the adherence of bacteria to the bladder epithelial cells. Dental plaque and wounds are some examples of bio-film formation that is visible to us. While these external biofilms can still be removed, the inaccessibility and increased drug resistance make it difficult for antibiotics to get rid of the internal biofilms.
A 2010 study in PLoS Pathogens shows that “Both of these biofilm components were expressed by a high proportion of clinical E. coli isolates. Curli promoted adherence to epithelial cells and resistance against the human antimicrobial peptide LL-37, but also increased the induction of the proinflammatory cytokine IL-8. Cellulose production, on the other hand, reduced immune induction and hence delayed bacterial elimination from the kidneys.” 
Recurrent urinary tract infections can be potentially dangerous causing serious damage to kidneys over time; and can even increase the risk of low birth weights and premature deliveries. The situation clearly calls for a much more effective treatment strategy than conventional antibiotics – that only leads to resistant strains of bacteria and dysbiosis (gut flora imbalance providing an all encouraging bio-chemical environment for pathogens to thrive, hence compounding the matter further).
Jiaogulan as a natural remedy against urinary tract infections
This leads us to a research that shows how Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan) can be an effective treatment for even recurrent urinary tract infections. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Functional Foods shows that Jiaogulan consumption can increase the inherent immunity of the urinary tract. How does it work?
Firstly, Jiaogulan exhibits powerful anti-inflammatory effects and helps to reduce the bacteria-led inflammation in the urinary bladder. The study says “Gynostemma pentaphyllum reduces IL-8 and IL-6 levels in bladder epithelial cells.” . IL-8 and IL-6 are cytokines, protein molecules that signal and activate other immune cells, triggering systemic inflammation.
Secondly, the medicinal herb increases the urinary tract immunity by modulating the expression of antimicrobial peptides or AMPs. These small proteins are an integral part of our innate immune system with a broad spectrum antimicrobial capacity against invading pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. AMPs are produced by neutrophils from the immune system and also expressed by epithelial cells throughout the body. The study found that “Gynostemma pentaphyllum modulates the expression of antimicrobial peptides.” And even more interestingly, it was found that bladder epithelial cells in treated mice showed a remarkable increase in a particular AMP protein, Psoriasin, whose strong counter-activity against E. coli is well established.
While this study was proved using a mice model, researchers believe that through similar workings, Jiaogulan might be a very important supplement in treating recurrent urinary tract infections, especially experienced in diabetic patients. With a lack of, or sparse placebo-controlled clinical trials, it might be difficult to prove the pro-health actions of so many medicinal herbs today, but in-vitro results and anecdotal usage in the traditional medicinal therapies clearly indicate the potential of herbs like Jiaogulan in treating and managing many serious conditions. In addition, an extensive body of scientific research proves Jiaogulan as a safe herb with no potential toxicity or side-effects. Why else would people in China be consuming it regularly for hundreds of years?
Jiaogulan owes its incredible anti-inflammatory and immunity boosting properties to the abundance of saponins, called gypenosides or gynosaponins, which incidentally are structurally very similar to the glycosides found in ginseng. Popularly known as the immortality herb for its anti-aging and disease fighting properties, Jiaogulan also belongs to a rare group of adaptogenic herbs that restores the balance in the body and helps to deal with stress-induced wear and tear and immune dysfunctions and that too without any side effects.
If you are looking for a natural remedy for recurrent urinary tract infections, try Jiaogulan. It is available both in tea and capsule form. As a potent anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory, Jiaogulan can prove extremely helpful in fighting bacterial infections and preventing urinary bladder infections. You can also enjoy your cup of Jiaogulan tea to stay over-all healthy as it boosts the inherent capacity of immune system – helping you to deal with diseases and stress much more efficiently.
While Jiaogulan is a safe product, we don’t recommend it for small children, pregnant and lactating women. Also if you are taking medication for any health condition, please consult your health practitioner to avoid any possible conflict.
- Petra Lüthje, Annelie Brauner. Novel Strategies in the Prevention and Treatment of Urinary Tract Infections. Pathogens. 2016, 5(1)
- Kai-Larsen Y et al. PLoS Pathogens. Uropathogenic Escherichia coli modulates immune responses and its curli fimbriae interact with the antimicrobial peptide LL-37. 2010 Jul 22;6(7):e1001010.
- Petra Lüthjea, Ezarul Faradianna Lokmanb, c, Corine Sandströmd, Claes-Göran Östensonb, Annelie Braunera. Gynostemma pentaphyllum exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and modulates antimicrobial peptide expression in the urinary bladder. Science Direct. Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 17August 2015, Pages 283–292