Making some simple lifestyle changes‚ such as swapping potentially troublesome foods for more healthful items, can help you alleviate overactive bladder symptoms, according to Karen Sebastian, M.S.P.T., a physical therapist in Honolulu, HI, and producer of The Bladder Cure, an exercise and education DVD for people with bladder problems. In fact, “women can regain bladder control with diet, exercise and relaxation,” says Diane K. Newman, C.R.N.P., co-director of the Penn Center for Continence and Pelvic Health at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Diet is a key component of the healthy-bladder lifestyle.
While certain foods and drinks can aggravate the bladder or cause it to spasm, others can work toward preventing and even relieving symptoms of overactive bladder (OAB). Find out which is which.
Foods to Add to Your Diet for a Healthy Bladder
Women should be getting about 21 to 26 grams of fiber daily, depending on how much they eat (figure 14 grams for each 1,000 calories consumed a day). Unfortunately, the average American takes in a measly 15 grams daily.
We know that consuming the right amount of fiber can stave off constipation—and constipation is not only uncomfortable, but it can also increase the likelihood of both OAB and incontinence. "Because the bladder and colon are in close proximity, being constipated puts constant pressure on the bladder," Sebastian explains.
Severe constipation (having less than one bowel movement a week) can even damage the neurological function of the pelvic floor muscles, making it harder to get bladder symptoms under control. But research shows that alleviating constipation may improve urgency and frequency.
To get the most out of your fiber intake, combine both soluble fiber, which absorbs water and slows digestion, and insoluble fiber, which helps maintain regularity, Newman suggests. Good sources of fiber include whole-grain bread and cereals, barley, brown rice, oatmeal, beans, peas, apples, cabbage and carrots. For snacking, try fresh or dried fruit, raw veggies, popcorn, whole-grain crackers or a handful of nuts.
Foods to Subtract From Your Diet to Reduce Bladder Irritation
If you suspect certain foods might be setting off bladder symptoms, try eliminating one item per week and see if it helps, says Lauri J. Romanzi, M.D, clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
Caffeine is a diuretic, which increases the amount of urine you make. Caffeine also stimulates bladder muscles, increasing feelings of urgency. Studies show that reducing caffeine intake to less than 100 milligrams a day (a cup of coffee can contain up to 180) can help reduce symptoms. In addition to coffee and cola, caffeine is present in chocolate, some energy bars, weight loss aids (look for "guarana," "yerba mate," "kola nut" or "green tea extract" on the label) and even certain prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Alcohol is a diuretic and a stimulant, producing symptoms of urgency.
Artificial sweeteners have been shown to be bladder irritants and are often found in diet sodas and other diet foods.
Acidic fruits and juices can irritate the bladder. Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tomatoes, pineapple and sour grapes are among the fruits that bother some.
Carbonated beverages and spicy food items appear to make overactive bladder worse for some women.
Foods and Drinks to Substitute for Less Bladder Irritation
- coffee....herbal tea
- seltzer.....spring water
- milk or dark chocolate.....carob
- raw onions....cooked onions
- citrus fruits.....blueberries, pears
- artificial sweeteners....sugar
How Water Helps Your Bladder
It’s a catch-22: Drinking a lot of water can increase the frequency and urgency of urination. But not consuming enough may cause constipation and make your urine more concentrated, both of which boost your chances of bladder irritation. That, in turn, can heighten your risk of incontinence.
So, what’s a person to do? The Institute of Medicine recently reported that most healthy people can let thirst be their guide in determining how much to drink.
The notion that everyone needs to drink eight 8 oz glasses of water a day is a myth.
But use common sense. "We tend not to think about drinking for a while, then all of a sudden we feel thirsty and start gulping," says Linda Brubaker, M.D., director of the division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Loyola University health System in Chicago.
Instead, spread your water intake throughout the day. And if you get up more than twice a night to urinate, limit what you drink after dinner, too.