Does What I Eat Affect My Urge to Pee?
Q. I frequently have an urge to go to the bathroom, and sometimes leak on my way there. Is something I’m eating causing this to happen?
A. You may have incontinence, a symptom of what is known as overactive bladder. There are potentially many causes of overactive bladder, but a main culprit is thought to be hypersensitivity and hyperactivity of the detrusor muscle in the bladder which controls the urine flow.
Very little research has been done looking at dietary influences on incontinence. The few that have suggest some possible food link. One study monitored around 10,000 men and women who were over 40 years old for one year. A 2004 write-up in the journal Public Health Nutrition(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15482614) reported on the results on the men. Participants filled out a food frequency questionnaire that assesses foods most commonly eaten and then estimates average nutritional intakes based on these eating patterns.
The researchers found that drinking beer was associated with a lower risk of having overactive bladder. They speculated that there could be a protective factor that might relax the action of the detrusor muscle. Extra high potato consumption showed a weak association with overactive bladder, although eaten lesser amounts of potatoes did not. The researchers theorized that if this association was valid, it might be that eating lots of potatoes (most likely French fries or potato chips) was an indicator of an overall fast-food diet that is high in fat, and the high fat diet might have a negative effect on the bladder. This study on the men found no other food links to foods and overactive bladder.(article continues after video)
But the women tested showed slightly different results. A 2004 issue of Neurourology and Urodynamics http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15098215 reported on the results on the women. Women who had a higher intake of Vitamin D had a lower risk of overactive bladder. Vitamin D is obtained in sunlight, as well as in supplemented items like soy milk and milk, eggs or supplements. A higher potassium intake was also associated with a lower risk. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and other plant foods tends to be high in potassium. No significant relationship was found between fat, protein or carb intake and overactive bladder.
Another study, in a 2010 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology (http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/171/10/1116.abstract) took a snapshot of over 2000 women between 30 and 79 years old. Their food patterns and nutrient intake were estimated. Women who had a poor balance of “good” polyunsaturated fats compared to unhealthy saturated fats (known as the SFA:PUFA ratio) had more than twice the odds of having incontinence. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish, soybeans and other soy products, walnuts and walnut oil. Meats, cheeses and other dairy foods are high in saturated fats. Someone with a poor SFA:PUFA ratio would eat too much animal food that are high in fat (most likely a fast-food diet) compared to the amount of “good “ fats found in fish, soybeans and walnuts that they would eat.
The researchers also found that the more calories that women ate, the more likely they were to have incontinence. And this finding held strong even among lean women who consumed higher levels of calories. This study was only a cross-sectional design, meant to pull out info about the women at one point in time, so it’s not possible to determine whether the good-to-bad fat ratio or calorie intake actually causes incontinence.
Some behavioral therapies to treat overactive bladder include cutting out certain irritants that might overstimulate the detrusor muscle, especially caffeine. But there is no proof that caffeine or other potential bladder stimulants such as spicy food might cause incontinence.
So what can you do about overactive bladder?
There are many methods of improving incontinence, especially doing pelvic floor muscle exercises, also known as ‘Kegels’. I’ve written about pelvic floor exercises for men here and I’ve written a book for women, The 7 Minute Sex Secret, here.