Nutrition-wise blog

Diet and overactive bladder

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. April 19, 2017

Admit it. We've all experienced bladder urgency — needing to use the bathroom right away. Sometimes, it's referred to as urinary urgency or overactive bladder and can be accompanied by the need to go more often and leaking urine (urinary incontinence).

It's estimated that 7 to 27 percent of men and 9 to 43 percent of women experience overactive bladder. Severity increases with age.

In addition, medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and constipation, as well as some medications, can impair bladder function. Obesity, smoking and lack of physical activity are also strongly associated with overactive bladder.

I thought I'd explore specific diet factors that may — or may not —improve bladder control. It's important to note that you should be evaluated professionally if you're experiencing urinary urgency. Diet can only play a supportive role at best in helping with symptoms.

  • Fluid intake. Start by keeping a fluid diary. Write down how much and when you drink during the day. Most experts recommend decreasing total fluid intake by 25 percent. In particular, cutting back on fluids before bedtime is recommended. However, don't drink less than 1 liter a day (about 34 ounces, or a little over 4 8-ounce cups).
  • Carbonated beverages (regular, diet, caffeine-free, sparkling waters). It's well documented that carbonated beverages are associated with overactive bladder.
  • Caffeine. There's conflicting evidence about the effect of caffeine on urinary urgency. Experts have found that some people who cut back or avoid caffeine experience relief of their symptoms.
  • Alcohol. Evidence of a connection between alcohol and urinary urgency is inconsistent. Again, experts may recommend cutting back or cutting out alcohol to see if symptoms improve.
  • Artificial sweeteners (in beverages and foods). Artificial sweeteners (acesulfame K, aspartame, sodium saccharin) seem to increase urinary frequency and urgency.
  • Vitamins C and D. Vitamin C from food and beverages is associated with decreased urinary urgency. However, supplemental vitamin C, especially at high levels, is associated with worsening symptoms. Studies have found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased urination. Normalizing level of D may be protective.
  • Other dietary factors. Spicy, salt or acidic foods are proven to be irritating to the bladder and avoiding them may be helpful for interstitial cystitis. However, their avoidance hasn't studied for overactive bladder.

The take-away message: There are some simple diet changes you can try to lessen urinary urgency and frequency, but your first step should be to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. You'll get a thorough exam and specific recommendations, which may include exercises to train your bladder. In some cases, medication may be prescribed too.

– Jennifer

April 19, 2017