Bladder control problems: Nutrition solutions for optimal health

Urinary incontinence (UI) is somewhat of a hushed taboo subject. I recently mentioned the topic to a friend which, in turn, provoked images and thoughts of Tena lady adverts, infections, and elderly women rushing for the bathroom (and not quite making it)!

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UI refers to the involuntary loss of urine, or the inability to control urinary bladder function. It is a common condition that affects both men and women, although it is more prevalent in women. UI can range from occasional leaks to a complete inability to hold urine.

With an estimated 34% of women suffering from involuntary leakages of urine, this needn't be an ignored or forbidden topic. Addressing UI holistically with nutrition and a functional medicine framework is crucial. It allows for comprehensive care, identifies root causes, considers the impact of nutrition on bladder function, and ultimately improves quality of life.


Types of urinary incontinence

There are different types of UI including stress incontinence, urge incontinence, and overflow incontinence

Stress incontinence arises when there is increased pressure on the bladder. This occurs when one coughs, sneezes, laughs, or engages in activities that put pressure on the bladder. Stress incontinence can be caused by weak pelvic floor muscles. Factors such as childbirth, obesity, and chronic constipation can contribute to a weakened pelvic floor.

Urge incontinence, which is also known as an overactive bladder, involves a sudden urge to urinate followed by the involuntary loss of urine for no obvious reason or stimuli. This type of incontinence could be due to reduced nerve cell communication, bladder muscle spasms, vaginitis, or bladder infections.

Lastly, overflow incontinence is characterised by frequent leaking caused by the inability to fully empty the bladder.

This is a good time to highlight that it is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms so that they can investigate and provide you with the appropriate treatment, if necessary.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s explore the connection between your diet and bladder health to discover effective nutritional strategies to manage bladder control problems and improve your overall well-being.


Natural nutritional support for urinary incontinence

While bladder training, incontinence pads, and Kegel/pelvic floor exercises are excellent ways to help manage UI, it is worth noting that you can also optimise your nutritional status for additional support.

There is a significant association between the prevalence of UI and certain lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, fizzy drinks, caffeine, and alcohol. By being intentional about reducing these risk factors, you can potentially improve your bladder health.

One essential mineral for muscle relaxation and nerve function ismagnesium. It helps decrease bladder muscle spasms, which can be beneficial for individuals with UI. Good food sources of magnesium include dark green leafy vegetables such as steamed Swiss chard and spinach.

Other sources of magnesium include halibut, acorn squash, kelp, steamed broccoli, pumpkin seeds, other green vegetables, nuts, and seeds. By incorporating these foods into your diet, you can naturally increase your magnesium intake and potentially alleviate UI symptoms.

Magnesium isn’t the only nutrient involved in nerve function and bladder control either, vitamin D is too. Vitamin D is crucial for coordinating bladder muscles, and signalling between the bladder and brain. Adequate levels enhance muscle strength, support the bladder, and reduce inflammation, which can contribute to UI. Our skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight's UV B rays. However, in the UK from October to early March, the sunlight is inadequate for vitamin D generation.

While certain foods, like fatty fish, fortified dairy or plant-based milk, eggs, and sunlight-exposed mushrooms, contain small amounts of vitamin D, supplementation is advisable, particularly during winter months or for individuals with African or Asian heritage. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate vitamin D supplementation based on your needs and test results.

Furthermore, other nutrients have been associated with a reduction in UI symptoms. Vitamin C and β-Cryptoxanthin, a source of vitamin A, have shown potential benefits in this regard. Foods rich in vitamin C and β-Cryptoxanthin include bell peppers, pumpkin, butternut squash, citrus fruits, carrots, and collards. By incorporating these colourful fruits and vegetables into your meals, you can provide your body with these essential nutrients and potentially improve UI symptoms.

Adequate water intake is also crucial, although it may be tempting to drink less. Staying hydrated can help maintain bladder health and prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can contribute to UI. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses or 1.5–2 litres of water daily. This quota can include coconut water and natural, unsweetened herbal and fruit teas, which can be a flavourful alternative to plain water. By staying hydrated, you can help flush out toxins from your body and reduce the risk of UTIs.


Regain control over your bladder and your life

Urinary incontinence is common among women and should not be taboo. Understanding UI types and consulting healthcare professionals can address its causes and improve bladder health. Traditional methods like bladder training and exercises, along with nutritional optimisation, can help alleviate UI symptoms.

Reducing risk factors such as obesity, smoking, fizzy drinks, caffeine, and alcohol is beneficial. Including magnesium-rich foods (dark leafy greens, halibut, pumpkin seeds) and maintaining optimal vitamin D levels (through sunlight, supplements, and foods like fatty fish and fortified dairy) can support muscle relaxation and coordination.

Staying hydrated and consuming vitamin C and β-Cryptoxanthin-rich foods (bell peppers, citrus fruits, carrots) also promote bladder health. A comprehensive approach, including a balanced diet and lifestyle changes guided by healthcare advice, is essential for managing UI and improving quality of life.

If you can relate to what I’ve shared and would like some support, I’m here – visit my profile and get in touch to learn more.


Bibliography

Bailey, C., Nicolle, L. and Institute for Functional Medicine. (2013). The Functional Nutrition Cookbook: Addressing Biochemical Imbalances Through Diet. Singing Dragon, p.83.

Maserejian, N.N., Giovannucci, E.L., McVary, K.T. and McKinlay, J.B., 2011. Intakes of vitamins and minerals in relation to urinary incontinence, voiding, and storage symptoms in women: a cross-sectional analysis from the Boston Area Community Health survey. European urology, 59(6), pp.1039-1047. 

Nutritiondata.self.com. (2018). Foods highest in Beta Cryptoxanthin in Vegetables and Vegetable Products. [online] Available at: http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-011136000000000000000.html?maxCount=112 [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018]. 

Robinson, D., Giarenis, I. and Cardozo, L., 2014. You are what you eat: the impact of diet on overactive bladder and lower urinary tract symptoms. Maturitas, 79(1), pp.8-13.

Urinary Incontinence in women: draft scope for consultation. (2011). [ebook] NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH AND CLINICAL EXCELLENCE. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg171/documents/urinary-incontinence-update-draft-scope2 [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London E18 & E10
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Written by Rochelle Logan-Rodgers, Elle Rock Nutrition (BSc PgDIP mBANT mCNHC)
London E18 & E10

Rochelle is a registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with BANT and CNHC, and founder of Elle Rock Nutrition. She holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Nutritional Therapy and a BSc (Hons) in Molecular Medicine. Rochelle offers personalised, science-based nutrition and lifestyle advice to help you achieve your health goals. Contact her for more info.

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