Overactive bladder, or OAB, is a condition in which abnormal bladder functioning causes frequent, sudden urges to urinate. OAB is fairly common, yet it often significantly reduces patients’ quality of life and should not be accepted as normal. In fact, OAB can be managed with behavioral interventions, including dietary changes.
In this article, learn more about what foods, drinks, and supplements to add to (or eliminate from) your diet to help relieve your OAB symptoms.
Determining the Cause of Your Symptoms
The symptoms most commonly associated with OAB – frequent urination (urinating more than 8 times per day), nocturia (waking up more than one time per night to urinate), and urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control resulting in leakages) – can be caused by other medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, urinary tract infections, pregnancy and childbirth, enlarged prostate, or aftereffects of surgeries.
Before determining the best treatment pathway for a patient experiencing OAB symptoms, doctors must rule out other potential causes in order to diagnose OAB. Your doctor will likely ask you to keep a record of your symptoms and triggers, called a bladder diary, and will also perform a physical exam.
If the cause of your symptoms is determined to be overactive bladder, first-line treatments will include behavioral therapies, and may vary depending on your symptoms, age, medical history, and even gender.
OAB in women
Women report OAB symptoms at higher rates than men. According to some estimates, 40% of American women experience OAB symptoms compared to 30% of men. Though the reason for this is not fully understood, many medical professionals cite differences in anatomy and life events that can contribute to higher rates of OAB in women.
Pregnancy can contribute to stress incontinence, in which pressure on the bladder (such as from high fetal weight) causes sudden urges and leakages. Pregnancy and childbirth may also weaken the muscles around the bladder that control the starting and stoppage of urine. Finally, OAB becomes more likely after menopause, possibly because of estrogen deficiency.
Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, are one of the most effective therapies for women with OAB. However, they work best when paired with other interventions, such as the dietary changes explained below.
Overactive Bladder Diet: What to Eat to Manage OAB Symptoms
Managing your OAB symptoms through dietary choices is one of the most common first-line treatments recommended by doctors. Symptoms may be reduced by simply adding certain foods and drinks to your diet while avoiding or limiting others. When paired with other behavioral interventions, these management techniques can be effective without the need for medication or surgeries.
Note: The following recommendations have shown some success in medical studies but should not be taken as medical advice. As with any medical treatment plan, it’s important to discuss your unique symptoms, medical history, allergies, and any other important personal information with your doctor.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Fiber
A balanced diet with the right proportions of vitamin-rich fruits, vegetables, and fiber is the first step to better bladder health and OAB symptom relief. To start, try adding more of the following fruits to your diet:
Additionally, eat more of the following vegetables:
Finally, prevent constipation (which can exacerbate stress incontinence) with fiber-rich foods such as:
Foods for Better Bladder Health
In addition to striving for a balanced diet, you can also try foods and drinks that are associated with improving bladder health specifically. These include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Kohki tea
- Soy milk
- Cranberry juice
- Low-acidity fruit juices, such as apple juice
- Barley water
- Diluted squash
- Herbal teas (i.e., caffeine-free)
OAB Diet: Foods and Drinks to Avoid
Besides adding bladder-friendly foods to your diet, it’s also important to avoid food and drink that can exacerbate OAB symptoms by irritating the lining of the bladder. Consider eliminating or reducing your consumption of the following foods and drinks:
- Acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruit
- Spicy foods, which can irritate the bladder and bowels and increase urgency and frequency of urination
- Caffeinated foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate, as caffeine is a diuretic
- Alcohol, which also acts as a diuretic, increasing frequency of urination
- Foods high in gluten, such as pasta, noodles, and bread
- Artificial flavorings and preservatives
- Sugar and sugar substitutes
- Raw onion
You don’t necessarily have to avoid all of the foods and drinks listed above. You may be able to tolerate some better than others, or manage symptoms by eating certain foods or drinking certain fluids only at certain times per day (e.g., not too close to bedtime). Keeping a bladder diary can help you narrow down your trigger foods and drinks.
As mentioned, overactive bladder is not considered a normal part of aging. Though advanced therapies are available and necessary in some cases, many people experiencing OAB symptoms can find relief through behavioral therapies without turning to medication or surgery. Ask your doctor about the best diet for OAB as well as exercises and therapies you can try to reduce your symptoms.