Urinary incontinence and how nutrition can help
Oops! Bladder Control Problems in Women
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)! 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.
Several Types of Urinary Incontinence:
There are a few types of UI including stress incontinence, urge incontinence, and overflow incontinence.
Stress incontinence occurs when there is increased pressure on the bladder. This can occur 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 issues such as 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 great 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 is magnesium. 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.
Vital Vitamin D
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 we are 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, which is 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 for maintaining bladder health and preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can contribute to UI. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses or 1.5–2 litres of water per day. 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 but need not be taboo. Understanding its types and seeking professional guidance can help address its causes.
In addition to traditional methods like bladder training, nutrition plays a vital role. Reducing risk factors like obesity, smoking, and excessive caffeine and alcohol intake can alleviate symptoms. Incorporating magnesium-rich foods, such as leafy greens, halibut, and pumpkin seeds, may relax muscles and reduce spasms.
Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels, through sunlight exposure and vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish and eggs, can improve bladder muscle coordination. Staying hydrated and consuming vitamin C and β-Cryptoxanthin-rich foods like bell peppers and citrus fruits promote bladder health.
Remember, these dietary adjustments are just one aspect of a comprehensive approach, which includes lifestyle changes and healthcare professional guidance. Taking proactive steps towards bladder health can significantly enhance your quality of life. Let’s openly discuss and prioritise optimal bladder health for everyone.
ELLE ROCK NUTRITION ©Rochelle Logan-Rodgers BSc(Hons), PgDip – BANT & CNHC Registered Nutritional Therapist