Post-menopausal women are at higher risk than younger women of developing bacterial infections of the urinary tract, called UTI’s. Researchers have found that taking estrogen may help prevent the infections in women who are plagued by them.
Experts say up to 60 percent of all women will develop a urinary tract infection at some point in their lives, with 20 percent experiencing recurrent episodes. Most repeat infections are in women beyond their childbearing years, according to Annalie Brauner, a researcher and consultant at the Karoliska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Brauner said post-menopausal women are more susceptible to recurrent UTI’s because the mucosal tissue lining the bladder becomes very fragile, developing gaps which invite harmful bacteria to invade the tissue.
That’s something researchers, including Brauner, saw in their studies of women with UTI’s. “There was an extensive [and] massive [amount] of bacteria multiplying, and they could also hide away from the body’s own host defense mechanisms,” she said.
Brauner said the body naturally secretes those defensive antimicrobial peptides when it detects invading microorganisms. “And that is the reason why they cannot fend off the invading bacteria as quick as younger women can,” she explained.
Brauner said the bacteria’s ability to burrow deeply into the mucosal tissue lining the bladder also often renders antibiotics ineffective.
But when women with repeated UTI’s were given supplemental estrogen through the vaginal canal, Brauner said the hormone restored the integrity of the bladder's cellular lining to that of healthier tissue seen in younger, premenopausal women.
Researchers repeated their experiments in a mouse model of menopause and got the same results.
“So, we believe that by treating post-menopausal women with recurrent infections of UTI with local estrogen we could prevent these recurrences,” Brauner explained.
A study on the effectiveness of the female hormone estrogen in preventing urinary tract infections is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.