Bladder Irritants and Your Diet

bladder irritants and your diet

The holidays tend to be a time of indulgence for most of us. Unfortunately most holiday treats such as sweets, cookies, alcoholic beverages, and sugar-sweetened drinks - are full of empty calories. For those with diabetes who have bladder control issues, it is important to remember that the high sugar content in these treats can lead to frequency and urgency.

When there is excess sugar in the blood the kidneys work harder to remove the glucose. The brain gets the signal that water is needed to dilute the blood. If the kidneys cannot filter all the glucose, then excess glucose gets dumped into the urine. Fluid is taken from bodily tissues to help move the sugar to the urine. This leads to dehydration and thirst. As water is consumed to quench the thirst, urination happens more frequently. Drinking more water is good and helps the kidneys remove the sugar. Control of blood sugar levels can help prevent any of this from happening.

The holidays make it difficult to avoid Common bladder irritants: caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.

Caffeine

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, and certain over-the-counter medicines such as cold medications and diuretics for weight loss. It can have effects on the body's metabolism, including stimulating the central nervous system and increasing bladder activity. Caffeine is a known diuretic. Consuming caffeine may result in urgency, frequency, and/or incontinence. Studies have demonstrated that individuals with bladder symptoms who have reduced caffeine intake to less than 100mg/day noted improvement in symptoms. If you choose to limit products containing caffeine, do so slowly over a period of several weeks as strong headaches may result during the withdrawal period.

Alcohol

Alcohol has also been shown clinically to act as a bladder stimulant, triggering symptoms of urgency. In addition, it acts as a diuretic and may induce greater frequency of urination.  Alcohol inhibits arginine vasopressin, also known as antidiuretic hormone or ADH. The purpose of ADH is to conserve water in the body by reducing its loss in urine. Without ADH, the kidneys don’t reabsorb water as easily therefore you fill the bladder quickly with water-diluted urine leading to frequency. Alcohol affecting the availability of ADH can lead to urination being induced 20 minutes after a person consumes.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners (sodium saccharine, acesulfame K, and aspartame) have been shown to affect bladder function in limited animal studies. They have been found to cause bladder irritation in people with interstitial cystitis (IC) or chronic bladder inflammation. Additionally, they are known to aggravate symptoms in someone with a urinary tract infection. But the good news is that stevia, a natural sweetener, does not appear to cause bladder irritation.

Spicy Foods

Some individuals have noted bladder control issues after consuming high acid and hot and spicy foods such as tomato-based dishes and citrus fruit drinks.

However, if caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, or spicy food is a regular part of your diet, try eliminating them for a week to see if your symptoms improve. Then gradually, every one to two days, add one food/drink back into your diet, making note of any changes in urinary urgency, frequency, or bladder control loss. There may be individual circumstances that causes an individual’s bladder to spasm.

Tips for Success Around the Holidays:

  1. Avoid alcoholic beverages, coffee, and tea. Drink plain water when possible. Don’t restrict fluids to control bladder control.

  2. Drink water, at least six 8-ounce glasses a day. Limiting your amount of liquid will result in less, but the smaller amount of urine is highly concentrated and irritating to the bladder.

  3. In order to avoid the feeling of deprivation around the holidays: if you want a special treat, choose one that you cannot live without, have it, enjoy it, and count it in your dietary record and move on.

  4. Establish regular bowel habits. If you are constipated, add fiber to your diet, or use a laxative. Fluid intake also helps with constipation. Eliminating chronic constipation can also eliminate a source of signals to the brain suggesting that the bladder has an emptying problem when the source of discomfort is really the large intestine and rectum.

  5. Avoid going to the toilet “just in case”. This bad habit may lead to frequent urination because you will reduce the bladder’s holding capacity.

  6. Use the toilet regularly – every 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours.

Your Guide To Eating During The Holidays For A Healthy Bladder

Eating Well To Maintain Good Bladder Health

The holidays are well upon us, and for many, this means an influx of all types of delicious holiday food and drinks.  Maintaining healthy eating habits is always at the top of mind for my family and me, but during the holidays, it’s sometimes easy to let our guard down.  Sneaking an extra cookie from the batch made for my son’s class treats, having that extra glass of wine at the holiday Christmas party – it can all add up.  And if you have symptoms of Overactive Bladder (OAB), as I do, these little extras can make them even worse and end up putting an unwanted damper on the holiday season.

At my last appointment, I asked my physician for some tips on how to best manage my diet during the holidays to ensure that I’m not running to the toilet every five minutes.  She told me that the best rule of thumb is to try to stick to your normal eating plan as much as possible.  “After all”, she said, “you probably already have a good idea of what types of foods irritate your bladder and increase your symptoms.” (Ahem, chocolate, I’m looking at you.)  So, keep it simple and try to stay the course.  However, she said, if you must indulge (it is the holidays after all), do so sparingly.  And try to avoid the below foods as much as possible, since they are known bladder irritants.

Alcohol. 

That glass of wine or champagne may seem like a good idea, but alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it creates additional urine in the bladder.  This can cause an increase in urge incontinence, and may also trigger symptoms of overactive bladder.

Coffee and tea. 

Like alcohol, coffee and tea act as diuretics, causing more frequent trips to the restroom.  In addition, they contain caffeine, which can irritate the bladder and create stronger urges.  Limit coffee and tea as much as possible. (I know, I know – I am cringing as I type this at 5 am!)

Soda and fizzy drinks.  

These drinks usually have caffeine, as well as carbonation, which should both be avoided.  In addition, many of them contain artificial sweeteners, which are believed to be a bladder irritant.

Chocolate. 

Unfortunately, chocolate contains caffeine, which may cause bladder irritation.  (I had to use a little restraint to not shout at my doctor for this one.)

Sugar.

While sugary treats may be difficult to avoid around the holidays, you should do your best to limit things like cakes, cookies, and candy.  My doctor explained that sugar –even in inconspicuous forms like honey – can irritate the bladder.  If you must indulge, try to do so sparingly and try to avoid foods containing artificial sweeteners.  This can be a bummer around the holidays, when delicious treats abound, but look at it this way – I just gave you an alibi to avoid your Aunt Marta’s fruitcake this year.  You’re welcome.

Spicy foods.  

Things like curries or many spicy ethnic foods can irritate the bladder and increase symptoms of OAB and incontinence.  Try your best to avoid them.

Acidic foods.

Increased acid in things like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and cranberries can worsen bladder control.

Processed foods. 

Many processed foods contain artificial flavors and preservatives that can irritate the bladder and worsen incontinence symptoms.

I’ve been pretty good so far this season.  Not only are the above tips helping to keep my bladder healthy and avoid accidents, they are also helping me keep my weight in check – something that I think we all struggle with during the holidays. My doctor said this is important too, since increased weight gain can also contribute to a decrease in bladder control.  

Probably the best tip my doctor shared with me is to keep a food diary to track what I eat and to determine how it affects me.  I’ve been at it for a couple of weeks now and it has really helped me identify my “problem areas”.  Not only that, it also keeps me honest – no more stealing a handful of M&M’s from the candy dish as I walk past it.  And while the temptation is sometimes hard to pass up, knowing that it’s helping me stay dry makes it worth it.  And just think, come January, when everyone else is trying to work off those extra pounds they accumulated during the holidays, I’ll already be one step ahead of the game. 

Do you have any diet tips for the holidays?