In an ideal world, we would make healthy eating our first priority every day. In real life, we miss lunch breaks, cook family dinners, travel on a budget, eat out with friends, bake cookies, and celebrate birthdays, all of which can derail our dietary goals.
Those of us with urinary incontinence, however, don’t have the luxury to let ourselves slip, even for an hour – because the wrong choice can cause major leakage. And some “health” foods promoted as a magical elixir can be our bladder’s worst enemy.
So how do you manage your urinary incontinence (UI) while juggling your busy life? How do you determine which healthy habits apply to those struggling with UI, and which ones will leave you rushing to the nearest bathroom? To help you stay on track, here are some bladder-friendly diet tips to keep your urinary incontinence in check:
Drink enough water
We know: this sounds counter-intuitive. After all, doesn’t drinking water increase the urge to pee? Yes and no. Urination has more to do with expelling metabolic by-products like urea and getting rid of excess salt and sugar. So drinking too much water will necessitate a trip to the bathroom, but so will not drinking enough. In fact, being slightly dehydrated actually increases the body’s need to urinate. Furthermore, if you try to avoid the restroom by depriving your body of water, your urine will become more concentrated and acidic, which can damage the lining of the bladder and increase the likelihood of a UTI, as well as giving the urine a pungent odor.
The best thing you can do is drink moderately throughout the day. Hydration is crucial for your body to function properly, and you will be healthier overall and your urine less unpleasant if you’ve had enough water to drink. Furthermore, drinking enough water will also help avoid constipation, which can exacerbate or cause UI symptoms (see below). Even if you do end up leaking a bit, you’ll be better off in the long run for not depriving your body of what it needs most: just make sure you have some protective underwear as a backup plan.
Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
Another great reason to stick with water is to avoid other drinks, which are often diuretic. Soda, coffee, and alcohol all force the kidney to work harder and the bladder to manage more urine with a higher concentration of sodium. If you’re really bored of water, try to zest it up or find caffeine-free, sugar-free drink alternatives, like herbal tea or lightly sparkling water. (While these alternative beverages still aren’t ideal for your bladder, but they’re a major upgrade from a can of Coke.) Simply adding berries, mint, coconut, or cucumber can spice up your cold glass of H2O. You might even find yourself feeling more energized and refreshed once you kick the ol’ caffeine addiction.
Consume enough fiber
Continuously straining to pass a bowel movement can weaken the pelvic floor muscles over time, increasing the likelihood of incontinence with age. The pressure of a full bowel can also physically press the bladder, causing stress incontinence. So make sure to eat a balanced diet of fibers and plants to stay regular. Simple swaps like white bread for whole grain and leaving the skin on fruits and vegetables can significantly increase fiber intake. You can also take a natural daily fiber supplement, like those with psyllium or glucomannan.
If you are already constipated, make sure to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. If constipation is a consistent issue, talk to your doctor about a long-term plan to manage it, such as a daily, low-dose preventative laxative or dietary change.
Every puff of smoke introduces about 60 carcinogens into your body. Some of these act as irritants to the bladder, exacerbating symptoms of UI. Also, for those with stress incontinence—which is incontinence triggered by physical pressure on the bladder—the chronic coughing caused by cigarettes can cause the bladder to contract and leakage to occur. So if you’re already struggling with urinary incontinence, smoking will only make it worse.
For those not yet experiencing urinary incontinence symptoms but concerned about developing them, the carcinogens in cigarettes precipitate many UI-associated diseases. Cigarette smoking triples your risk of bladder cancer, and more than triples the risk of kidney, renal pelvis, and ureter cancer. Smoking also inflames the prostate, which eventually can cause prostate cancer as well. So if you’re concerned about developing incontinence, quit the cancer sticks as soon as possible.
Avoid red meat and processed meat
Like cigarettes, processed meats increase the likelihood of developing bowel cancers. Red meat has strong links to colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. Because of these correlations, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests limiting your consumption of red meat to no more than 50 grams a day, or about half of a burger patty, to significantly reduce your chances of developing these diseases associated with urinary incontinence. As for processed meat, try to consume as little as possible, since hot dogs, salami, and other encased meats have much higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals.
Of course, this list is far from exhaustive. The best way to manage your diet will depend on the root cause of your UI. If it’s diabetes, for example, you want to stringently avoid sugar. If it’s due to bladder stones, you want to avoid meat, eggs, and fatty foods.
While there is no dietary solution to urinary incontinence, what you consume can certainly impact the severity of your symptoms. Consult your doctor or nutritionist about the best approach for your needs. In the meantime, you always have the security of protective underwear to keep you dry and discreet.