10 Foods to Avoid If You Have Overactive Bladder
If you have overactive bladder, you may feel strong, sudden urges to urinate, even during the night. Eating or drinking certain things can make symptoms worse, mainly because your bladder is sensitive to irritants that can trigger the urge to go.
Paying attention to these triggers—and avoiding them if possible—can go a long way toward cutting down on sudden bathroom trips. Here are 10 types of food and drink that can worsen overactive bladder.
You may want to reconsider reaching for hot pepper sauce at every meal or always eating sushi with wasabi. For pretty much the same reason that hot, spicy foods can make your mouth burn, it is thought they can irritate the bladder lining and worsen symptoms. "If you want to eat foods with flavor, you can use some herbs instead of spices," says Harvey Winkler, MD, co-chief of urogynecology at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.
Cranberry juice helps fight off bladder infections, but it can be a culprit in worsening overactive bladder symptoms.
The berries' acidity can irritate the bladder, and although its diuretic action helps flush out the bladder and urethra, it will also make you go more frequently.
It makes sense that if too much caffeine can make you jittery, it also can make your overactive bladder jumpy. "It is both a diuretic and a bladder irritant," says Dr. Winkler, meaning it causes your kidneys to make more urine and makes your bladder more sensitive. "I tell patients, 'If you're going to have a cup of coffee, expect to have to go to the bathroom.'"
So if you're a coffee or tea lover, stick to one cup—and be prepared for the consequences. And be aware that cocoa and chocolate also pack a caffeine punch.
Like caffeine, alcohol is a diuretic and a bladder irritant. So drinking a beer is a triple whammy, because you're consuming liquid, accelerating the rate at which your kidneys are gathering water, and forcing the bladder to empty more often. Dr. Winkler advises his overactive-bladder patients who drink alcohol to stick to a single glass of wine or liquor per day.
Bubbly drinks can tickle your bladder as well as your nose. What's more, soda often contains caffeine, sugar, or artificial sweeteners—all of which are overactive-bladder triggers in their own right.
Acidic foods and drinks, such as grapefruits and orange juice, can also irritate your bladder, Dr. Winkler says. But don't let citrus scare you away from other fruits, such as apples, blueberries, and pears, which provide key nutrients as well as a healthy dose of fiber.
Eating fruit also helps stave off constipation, which can sometimes plague people with overactive bladder.
Tomatoes, like citrus, are quite acidic. If you can't bear the thought of life without tomato sauce, some chefs swear adding a little sugar can make your ragu or Bolognese less acidic, although others argue that the sugar just masks the acid taste.
Other strategies include adding shredded carrot (or just leaving a carrot or potato in the pot for a while to "soak up" the acid), stirring in some heavy cream, or even sprinkling in a bit of baking soda (1/4 teaspoon per gallon or so) to neutralize the acidity.
Added sugar and artificial sweeteners
Real sugar—and artificial versions such as Splenda—can worsen the symptoms of overactive bladder for some people, Dr. Winkler says.
Even honey can cause problems. If you find that sweeteners give you bladder trouble, try to cut them out of your diet, or use as little as possible.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, most famous as a flavor enhancer used liberally in some Chinese restaurants, lurks in other foods as well. And for some people, MSG is a trigger of overactive bladder symptoms.
Luckily, plenty of Chinese restaurants are now MSG-free. If you are MSG-sensitive, carefully read the labels of soups, stocks, salad dressings, canned vegetables, frozen entrées, and foods containing whey or soy protein to make sure they are free of the additive.
Too much (or too little) liquid
The adage that drinking eight to 10 glasses of water per day is good for you turns out not always to be true. So there's no reason for you to overload on liquids, which for obvious reasons can aggravate an overactive bladder. Drinking too little liquid can be a problem, too, because it can lead to overly concentrated urine, which is also a bladder irritant.
"Six to eight glasses of total fluids a day is acceptable," Dr. Winkler says. "It also depends on activity level, and you should drink if you are thirsty, as your body is telling you something."