There are many ways to manage incontinence, and one tool in the toolbox is as simple as which foods and drinks we consume. So, to prevent incontinence, what kinds of food and drink should you avoid or enjoy?
Though there’s no way to cure incontinence by staying away from or consuming any particular food or beverage, there are ways to avoid irritating your bladder and increasing the chance you’ll have an accident.
What follows are some tricks and tips to find the food and drinks that work best for you.
Water – too much or too little?
It makes sense that drinking too much fluid, particularly late at night, can lead to accidents. After all, when we were growing up, our parents probably told us to avoid drinks right before bedtime. And it is, indeed, a good idea to stay away from excess liquids at the end of the day. If you need to take medicine right before bed, use a sip of water (if the medication instructions allow) and try not to overdo it at dinner with beverages. Don’t forget that liquids like soup also count toward the total amount of fluid you’re having!
As important as it may be not to load up on liquids late at night, though, you may not realize that getting too little water can actually make incontinence problems worse, not better. Fluids like water help flush waste from your body, and if you’re not drinking enough, that waste can build up, creating a variety of problems. The Mayo Clinic says that dehydration can lead to bladder irritation or constipation, and those both will make incontinence problems worse.
The average adult is supposed to drink half their body weight in ounces of water per day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking 75 ounces of water per day, which is equivalent to about 9 cups of water per day. And that number should remain the same whether you are suffering from incontinence or not.
If you’re afraid of drinking that much water, the answer can be to either drink smaller amounts all day or to drink more liquid during the morning or afternoon, and less at night, creating a balance that will lead to fewer overnight accidents while still keeping you hydrated and healthy.
7 Foods and Drinks to Avoid If You Have Incontinence
Incontinence can sometimes be caused or made worse by an overactive or overstimulated bladder, and there are drinks and food that are known to irritate bladders and increase the need to pee or the inability to hold urine. Here are 7 foods and drinks that you should generally avoid if you have an overactive bladder or incontinence:
- Coffee/tea – The caffeine in coffee and tea is a diuretic, which means it increases the amount of urine you make, causing you to need to use the bathroom more frequently. In addition, caffeine can be dehydrating, which could further irritate your bladder. One study found that not only does caffeine increase the volume and frequency of urine, but it also can make you need to get up to pee during the night.
- Alcohol – Liquor, wine and beer also have a diuretic effect, making you need to urinate more frequently. Because of that, alcohol can also dehydrate you, causing similar problems to caffeine. Red wine may even be the worst of all possible choices, as the tannins in the wine can irritate your bladder even more. And drinking too many alcoholic beverages can make it difficult to wake up at night when you need to use the bathroom, leading to more accidents.
- Acidic or spicy food and beverages – Experts put acidic and spicy drinks and foods into the category of “bladder irritants,” which can lead to bladder pain, an increased need to pee or problems holding urine. Many, but not all fruits, are acidic. Some low-acid fruits include pears, papaya and watermelon.
- Carbonated drinks – Beverages (even water) with carbonation in them have dissolved carbon dioxide in them, which makes the liquid more acidic. Try to limit or eliminate carbonated liquids if you find that they worsen your incontinence.
- Sugar – It’s believed that very sugary drinks can stimulate your bladder, so try to avoid fruit juices, sugared beverages and especially sodas, which also have carbonation and can be caffeinated. That’s why, if you are suffering from incontinence, its best to drink only plain water, milk or herbal tea.
- Chocolate – Food and drinks made with a lot of chocolate usually have both caffeine and sugar in them, both of which can cause dehydration and stimulate your bladder and make you more likely to have an accident. If you are going to have something with chocolate, know that dark chocolate is generally lower in sugar than sugar, but milk chocolate has less caffeine than dark chocolate, and white chocolate has the least of all (and is typically caffeine-free).
- Artificial sweeteners – Saccharin, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners might cause bladder irritation, which can worsen already-existing incontinence problems. Once again, plain water is the best!
3 Types of Food That Can Help With Incontinence
It’s not all bad news. There are some foods and vitamins that might help soothe irritated bladders, so feel free to enjoy foods with:
- Foods That Are High in Fiber – Fiber helps improve regularity, which in turn prevents constipation. A backup of stool in your intestines can put pressure onto your bladder, making incontinence problems even worse. High-fiber foods include beans, whole grains, avocados and broccoli.
- Vitamins C and D – Studies have found that women who get enough vitamin C and D are less likely to have pelvic floor problems like incontinence. But be careful not to overdo it! Too much vitamin C can further irritate your bladder, so if you’re taking a supplement, talk to your doctor about proper dosage. Foods with vitamin C include bell peppers, white potatoes and broccoli. Be aware that while citrus fruits are good sources of vitamin C, they are also acidic, so they may be something to steer clear of.
- Foods High in Magnesium – Foods with magnesium in them – like black beans, nuts and fish – may help prevent incontinence. You can also take a magnesium supplement, but according to the National Association for Continence, it’s better to try to get adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in the food you eat and only take supplements when you’re struggling to fit in the nutrition you need.
Find What Works for You
If this seems overwhelming, start small. Try eliminating one item on the list from your diet and see if it helps with your incontinence issues. You also may find that you will not have to completely cut out any particular food or drink. For example, you can try swapping out your typical morning latte with a half-decaf, half-regular version.
And it’s also not a one-size-fits-all issue: Some people may find that one food or drink bothers them while another person may not have a problem with it. Start with the most common offenders – caffeine and alcohol – and go from there.
Either way, do your best to moderate, talk to your doctor about other treatments and know that there are plenty of options for getting help managing incontinence that’s not controlled by changes to diet.