Eating Salad Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

Dr. Janet Zand
December 2, 2018


Have you eaten any salad lately? Probably not, thanks to the Romaine lettuce E. coli scare. But this is nothing new. These scares pop up every now and then. Here’s the problem: Our food supply will never be free from harmful bacteria. No matter how hard farmers try, there just isn’t any way to stop such organisms as E. coli from getting into our spinach, lettuce, onions, or other foods.

That means you have to protect yourself.  Understanding the connection between food poisoning and urinary tract infections is important for all of us women. But what do bladder infections have to do with E. coli?

Few people realize that food poisoning and urinary tract infections are both a result of an E. coli bacteria infection. Both depend on the ability of this harmful bacteria to adhere to cell walls and colonize.

E. Coli and Food Poisoning

Escheria coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that causes food-borne illness with flu-like symptoms. Careless kitchen hygiene can cause harmful bacteria to travel from sinks or countertops to sponges, other foods, and to our mouths. You can get food poisoning from ground beef, chicken, and other poorly handled meats, contaminated sprouts, lettuce, salami, or from drinking unpasteurized milk and juices.

As you can see, you can’t escape E. coli. It’s everywhere. If you don’t have healthy quantities of good bacteria in your gut to fight off excessive amounts of pathogens like E. coli, you’re likely to get sick. The people who are most likely to get food poisoning from this bacteria are those with suppressed immune systems — children under the age of five, the elderly, and anyone with lowered immunity. A strong immune system reduces populations of E. coli. So can particular supplements that prevent food poisoning and keep urinary tract infections in check.

E. Coli and Urinary Tract Infections

E. coli causes 90% of bladder infections. Both bladder infections and cystitis are urinary tract infections (UTIs) triggered by an elevation of E. coli bacteria in the urinary tract. One of the most common reasons for these low quantities of friendly bacteria is the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off friendly bacteria along with pathogens, leaving an environment in which harmful bacteria can thrive.

The more we use antibiotics, the more resistant we become to them. The result is often a urinary tract with too many pathogenic, and too few beneficial, bacteria leading to vaginitis and UTIs. To prevent UTIs, you need more friendly bacteria colonizing in your urinary tract and fewer harmful bacteria.

Drink plenty of water to flush bacteria out of your bladder, whether you’re treating or preventing UTIs, even if you don’t like running to the bathroom often. It’s not worth getting an infection. And consider taking supplements that fight E. coli.

Probiotics Stop Pathogens

Urinary tract infections and E. coli-related food poisoning can be reduced – or prevented – when you have enough friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract or urinary tract to fight the bad bacteria. When you treat either of these conditions, you’re treating both. And the best way to do it is to make sure you have sufficient probiotics – friendly bacteria – in your gut. So taking probiotic supplements is a must.

Anyone with UTIs or food poisoning should take good quality probiotics orally every day for at least three consecutive months. Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria bifidus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 (previously called L. fermentum RC-14) seemed to be the most effective among the studied lactobacilli for the prevention of UTIs. Streptococcus faecium is one of a number of “friendly” bacteria that may not be so friendly. My suggestion is to use only probiotics that say “lactobacillus,” “acidophilus,” “bifidobacteria,” or “bifidus.” They’re safe and effective.

The Problem With Probiotics

The problem is some probiotics on the market are worthless. They contain much lower levels of beneficial organisms than their labels say. These supplements won’t protect you from harmful bacteria like E.coli.

Tod Cooperman at tested 13 popular probiotic products. Only eight of them had one billion organisms, the minimum recommended quantity. One formula, made for a popular drugstore chain, contained only 30 million organisms!

Several probiotics that did make the grade are: Culturelle, Enzymatic Therapy, and Jarrow. You can find these in most health food stores. However, one billion is too low of a standard. Your probiotic should have at least 10 billion CFUs, but 15 billion is better.

But that’s not all. You also need to make sure these friendly bugs survive exposure to stomach acid so they can attach to the lining of the intestines. So make sure your probiotics are enteric-coated. That way, the probiotics pass through your stomach unharmed and you can deliver them to your intestines where they can repopulate the good bacteria.

Don’t Stop With Oral Probiotics

I know of one nurse practitioner in Los Angeles who likes to use yogurt for vaginal infections. She doesn’t just recommend that you eat the yogurt. She recommends you use high-quality non-flavored or sweetened yogurt topically. She recommends women use it vaginally to make sure the bacteria reach the vaginal area. Yogurt contains the probiotic acidophilus. But you don’t have to use yogurt. Today, you can buy acidophilus suppositories from just about any health food store, pharmacy, and online.

Berries to the Rescue

To treat or prevent E. coli-related illnesses you need good quality probiotics that will stick to cells in the urinary and digestive tracts so they can multiply. The next step is to prevent harmful bacteria from sticking. If bacteria can’t grab onto cells, they can’t colonize and develop into infections. There’s an easy way to block pathogens from sticking – berries.

You’ve no doubt heard that cranberry juice is good for you. Well, cranberries are one of several berries in the Vaccinium family that contain substances which prevent E. coli from adhering to cells in the urinary tract. Blueberries and bilberries have the same effect. These berries contain high amounts of mannose, a sugar that attaches itself to urinary cells. Bacteria can’t stick to these cells if mannose is already there.

Cranberry juice from grocery stores is greatly diluted with water and either contains sugar or artificial sweeteners. They are not suited for preventing or treating UTIs. Instead, use cranberry concentrate from health food stores or cranberry capsules.

By using a good probiotic along with cranberry juice, you can keep free from urinary tract infections and avoid the consequences of an overabundance of E. coli.

Simple Wash to Kill Bad Bacteria

You may know by now that simply washing your fruits and vegetables in water won’t wash away harmful bacteria. But this simple wash can do it.

You can kill off most bacteria on fruits and vegetables by washing them in a Clorox bath. Take half a teaspoon of Clorox (not any other brand of bleach) and add it to one gallon of water. Place your food in this bath for the following times, then rinse in plain water for 10 minutes:

* Leafy vegetables, berries, peaches, plums – 15 minutes

* Thick-skinned fruits and vegetables – 30 minutes

Your produce will not only be free from dangerous bacteria, it will stay fresher longer. This won't kill any bacteria that has grown inside the fruit or vegetable. But the probiotics and cranberry juice should protect you from these.

What to Do if You Get Sick

If you start to feel sick, it’s important to take action quickly. Once you’re in the hospital, you’ll receive a hefty dose of synthetic antibiotics. So why not get a jump on the bug that’s making you sick. With natural antibiotics, it doesn’t matter what the bug is. They’re good for fighting most bugs.

Pharmaceutical antibiotics are usually made from one chemical that fights bacteria. Herbs contain hundreds of compounds. Since it's easier to develop a resistance to one chemical than many, herbal antibiotics are superior – even though they aren’t as concentrated. Prescription antibiotics have their place. They save lives. But there are times when herbs may be a safer answer that works just as well – or better.

Ingredients in plants may interact adversely with medications, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any herbs if you take drugs, including hormones. Here are a few broad-spectrum herbal antibiotics:

Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) – This is a powerful broad-spectrum antibiotic used throughout the world. In very small doses, it fights bacteria, yeasts, and fungi. GSE can be used to kill off intestinal or skin bacteria. If you take too much, you'll kill off some good bacteria as well. You can take as much as three to 15 drops of GSE in citrus juice two to three times a day. But I find that one or two drops twice daily is often sufficient. Make sure you check with your doctor before taking GSE, as it can interfere with other drugs.

Garlic (Allium sativum) – Second in usefulness to GSE, and the most studied herb in the world, garlic has been found to be antimicrobial against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa, as well as skin infections, including athlete's foot. Garlic is effective against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, and most major infectious bacteria. It can be used in food or found in capsules. If you're on any blood thinner, don't use more than one clove a day. Garlic is an anticoagulant, and high amounts could thin your blood too much. Other than that, garlic is very safe.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – This herb contains berberine, an ingredient with antibiotic properties. Goldenseal has been used for tuberculosis, H. pylori, and diarrhea resulting from E. coli. It’s also used for skin, vaginal, and eye infections. Goldenseal can be found in tinctures, capsules, salves, or tablets. All work well. You can use it at the beginning of a cold or infection and take it for a week or two at a time. Avoid using it every day, since there are not enough long-term studies on its safety and effectiveness when it's used constantly. Goldenseal works on smooth muscles, so check with your doctor before using it if you’re pregnant.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – Effective against food-borne illnesses caused by Shigella dysenteria, E. coli, and Salmonella, the root of the ginger plant has both antibacterial and antiviral properties. Because it also acts as an expectorant and antihistamine, it works well for upper respiratory infections. You can use it as a tea, in capsules, or in food in any amounts due to its low toxicity.

Salvia (Salvia miltiorrhiza) – This herb exerts antimicrobial effects thanks to one of its active ingredients, tanshinone. A study recently published in Natural Product Research indicated that tanshinone can help kill off bacterial strains that include Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli and the fungi species Candida alibicans and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Salvia also has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects. It’s so effective, researchers are now investigating its ability to treat multiple sclerosis.

If you keep your immune system strong and follow these tips, you don’t have to worry about contracting E. coli from any food. You’ll be able to protect yourself and your family.


Kontiokari, Tero, et al. “Dietary factors protecting women from urinary tract infection,” Am J Clin Nutr, 2003;77:600-4.

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