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How Avoiding Chicken Could Prevent Bladder Infections

Where do bladder infections come from? Back in the ’70s, longitudinal studies of women over time showed that the movement of rectal bacteria into the vaginal area preceded the appearance of the same types of bacteria in the urethra before they were able to infect the bladder. However, it would be another 25 years before genetic fingerprinting techniques were able to confirm this so-called fecal-perineal-urethral theory, indicating that E. coli strains residing in the rectal flora serve as a reservoir for urinary tract infections.

And it would be another 15 years still before we tracked it back another step and figured out where that rectal reservoir of bladder infecting E. coli was coming from—chicken. Researchers were able to capture these extraintestinal (meaning outside of the gut), pathogenic, disease-causing E. coli straight from the slaughterhouse, to the meat, to the urine specimens obtained from infected women. We now have “proof of a direct link between farm animals, meat, and bladder infections,” solid evidence that urinary tract infections can be a zoonosis (an animal-to-human disease). We’re talking millions of women infected a year, costing over a billion dollars.

Even worse, researchers have detected multidrug resistant strains of E. coli in chicken meat resistant to some of our most powerful antibiotics.

The best way to prevent bladder infections is the same way you can prevent all types of infections, by not getting infected in the first place. It’s not in all meat equally—beef and pork appear significantly less likely to harbor bladder-infecting strains than chicken.

Can’t you just use a meat thermometer and cook the chicken thoroughly? We’ve known for 36 years that it’s not always the meat, but the cross-contamination, that causes the infection. If you give people frozen chickens naturally contaminated with antibiotic resistant E. coli, let people prepare and cook it in their own kitchen as they normally would, the bacteria ends up in their rectum even if they don’t actually consume the meat. That’s how they know it was cross-contamination, because the jump happened after the animal was prepared but before it was eaten. In one study five different strains of antibiotic resistant E. coli jumped from the chicken to the volunteer.

So not only did it not matter how well the chicken was cooked, it didn’t even matter if you ate any! It was the bringing of the contaminated carcass into the home and handling it. Within days, the drug resistant chicken bacteria had multiplied to the point of becoming a major part of the person’s fecal flora. If you click on the above video, you can see all this drug resistant bacteria colonizing this person’s colon, yet the person hadn’t taken any antibiotics—it’s the chickens who were given the drugs. That’s why the industry shouldn’t be routinely feeding chickens antibiotics by the millions of pounds a year. It can end up selecting for and amplifying superbugs that may end up in your body.

More on the insanity of feeding antibiotics to farm animals by the ton in:

What if you’re really careful in the kitchen, though? The pivitol study in this are was entitled “The effectiveness of hygiene procedures for prevention of cross-contamination from chicken carcasses in the domestic kitchen.” Researchers went into five dozen homes, gave each family a chicken, and asked them to cook it. I expected to read that they inoculated the carcass with a specific number of bacteria to ensure everyone got a contaminated bird, but no. They realized that fecal contamination of chicken carcasses was so common that they just went to the store and bought any random chicken.

After the participants were done cooking it, there was bacteria from chicken feces (Salmonella and Campylobacter–both serious human pathogens) all over the kitchen—on the cutting board, the utensils, on their hands, on the fridge handle, on the cupboard, on the oven handle doorknob. Obviously people don’t know what proper handling and disinfection protocols entail. So the researchers took another group of people and gave them specific instructions. After they cooked the chicken they had to wash everything with hot water and detergent. They were told specifically to wash the cutting board, knobs on the sink, the faucet, the fridge, the doorknobs—everything. And the researchers still found pathogenic fecal bacteria everywhere.

Fine. Last group. This time they were going to insist that people bleach everything. The dishcloth was immersed in bleach disinfectant. They sprayed the bleach on all kitchen surfaces and let it sit there for 5 minutes. And… they still found Campylobacter and Salmonella on some utensils, a dishcloth, the counter around the sink, and the cupboard. Definitely better, but unless our kitchen is like some biohazard lab, the only way to guarantee we’re not going to leave infection around the kitchen is to not bring it into the house in the first place.

The good news is that if you eat chicken once, you’re not colonized for life. In the study I profile in the video, the chicken bacteria only seemed to last about 10 days in people’s guts before good bacteria could muscle it out of the way. The problem is that people tend to eat chicken more than once every ten days, so they may be constantly introducing these chicken pathogens into their system. For example, if you start feeding people only sterilized meat that’s been boiled for an hour, within 3 weeks there’s a 500 fold drop in the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria passing through their bodies.

I originally explored this topic in Chicken Out of UTIs, but decided I needed to take a much deeper dive, especially in light of the cross-contamination issue, which I also previously touched on in Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination and Fecal Contamination of Sushi.

Other videos about diseases that one might not initially associate with food include:

More on urinary tract health in:

What if you already have a urinary tract infection? See Can Cranberry Juice Treat Bladder Infections?

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Related:
What Should Women Eat to Live Longest?
Bladder Infections from Eating Chicken
Why Is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Still Legal?

Read more: Health, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Videos, Women's Health, , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

78 comments

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8:06PM PDT on Sep 5, 2013

Thanks!

6:45PM PDT on Sep 4, 2013

Thanks

2:28AM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

Thank you :)

2:26AM PDT on Sep 1, 2013

noted

11:11PM PDT on Aug 30, 2013

OMG, everthing is infested...

7:18AM PDT on Aug 28, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

8:54AM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

We try to buy ethically raised, organic chickens when we can, otherwise we don't eat much meat at all. No beef or pork, definitely, just US fish or chicken, maybe once a week.....the rest of the time veggies, beans, grains, fruits, and some cheese.

2:39PM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

You can read the scientists' report of their their work, published in 1999, at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1472-765X.1999.00656.x/pdf

Participants were asked to rinse the chicken, chop it into portions, and casserole it. Not all chickens were contaminated and swabs from households without camplyobacter or salmonella didn't shown any camplyobacter or salmonella.

Results such as these suggest taking care when cooking chickens - I usually buy portions and put then straight into the cooking vessel (without handling them) to destroy and pathogens, being careful to wash with any cooking utensils that may contact the food during the cooking process.

As I said before, these results are a strong argument for demanding all food from livestock routinely given antibiotics is required to be labelled - it's far more dangerous than GM food. I've no objection to requiring labels on GM food, but people who argue for improved food labels would achieve much greater public health benefits if they gave more prominence to major issues such as antibiotic resistance. If you get infected with a resistant strain (and it can come from eating vegetables or bean or alfalfa sprouts), you may either die or have to have the infected part cut out.

11:42AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

Yet another reason to work towards Veganism from the Ethical Omnivore Movement

4:54AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

Wow, I wonder if any of these studies looked at whether any of these families washed their hands after going to the bathroom? This over-sensationalised and not terribly hidden bias is part of the overall erosion of Care2's credibility. I'm reading more and more vegan-agenda, poorly written, and/or un-informative fluff every day here. I am seriously close to unsubscribing.

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