by Tony Isaacs
author of Cancer's Natural Enemy
(The Best Years in Life) Overactive bladder, or urinary incontinence, is one of the most common chronic conditions in the US. People of all ages and genders are susceptible to overactive bladder, though the condition is seen most often in women. It is difficult to get an exact number of how many people experience overactive bladder because many cases go unreported - probably due to understandable but needless embarrassment. The good news is that relief from overactive bladder may be found in simple exercises, dietary and lifestyle changes and items found in nature's fields and meadows.
Needing to urinate more often than normal and leaking urine are common symptoms of overactive bladder. Changes associated with age are not necessarily the cause. In fact, experts don't know what usually causes these involuntary contractions of the bladder. Drug side effects, as well as urinary tract infections, impaired kidney function, diabetes, bladder stones, and tumors have all been linked to the condition. Thus, it would be a good idea to begin addressing overactive bladder by first seeing a qualified medical professional to rule out such possible culprits.
There are three different categories of actual overactive bladder: stress incontinence is urine lost when coughing, sneezing or laughing; urge incontinence is a strong desire to urinate, frequent urination, getting up at night, with the person unable to get to the bathroom in time; mixed incontinence is a combination of these two types. Regardless of the type of overactive bladder, physical exercises, dietary and lifestyle changes and supplementation may all help correct and control the condition.
EXERCISES FOR BLADDER CONTROL
Research suggests that exercises for the bladder can cut overactive bladder episodes by about half, and they have virtually no side effects. Bladder training (or bladder retraining) is the most common overactive bladder treatment which doesn't involve medication. Bladder training helps change the way you use the bathroom. Instead of going whenever you feel the urge, you urinate at set times of the day - a practice which is referred to as scheduled voiding. With scheduled voiding you learn to control the urge to go by waiting until your bladder is actually full instead of when you feel the urge. An excellent way to start bladder training is to keep a daily diary of all episodes of urination and leakage and then create a timetable for urination which is most likely to prevent the potential for a possible accident. As time goes by, gradually increase the time between bathroom visits with a goal of working up to one, two or even three or more hours between visits.
Pelvic exercises called Kegels can also be very effective against overactive bladder. Just as you exercise to strengthen your arms, abs, and other parts of your body, so can you exercise to strengthen the muscles that control urination. During these pelvic floor exercises, you tighten, hold, and then relax the muscles you use to start and stop the flow of urination. Kegel exercises should be familiar among women who have had children in recent years, since birthing classes usually instruct pregnant women to do the exercises throughout their pregnancy to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and help decrease stress incontinence due to carrying a child and going through childbirth. Pelvic muscles will relax under your command, and will control the opening and closing of the urethral sphincter. These are the muscles that enable you to have urinary control. When these muscles become weak, leakage will occur.
The continuous use of Kegel exercises will enable you to build up and strengthen the endurance of your muscles and regain bladder control. You can easily make these pelvic exercises a part of your daily routine, but you must be sure to do them regularly in order to benefit from them. Kegel exercise can be done discreetly during your regular daily routine - such as when you’re at your desk at work reading or typing, while you watch TV, or when you’re in your car stuck in traffic. In about three to six weeks, you should see an improvement with your ability to control your bladder, as well as notice less and less urine leakage. Using a special form of training called biofeedback can help you locate the right muscles to squeeze. Start with just a few Kegel exercises and gradually work your way up to three sets of 10. Another method for strengthening pelvic floor muscles for women is with electrical stimulation, which sends a small electrical pulse to the area via electrodes placed in the vagina or rectum.
While the information included here about Kegel exercises is tailored more for women, it is important to note that Kegel exercise can be used effectively by men as well. An internet search for "Kegel exercises" will return many helpful how-to sites and videos. One example is:
LIFESTYLE AND DIETARY CHANGES
Once you have a clean bill of health and have ruled out other problems which may be causing overactive bladder, consider these changes:
1. Avoid sugars, artificial sweeteners and caffeine and alcohol, which promote rapid release of urine and ingest foods containing vitamin C, like oranges and broccoli. Cranberries help prevent bacteria from growing in urine. Cranberries also fight bacteria by preventing them from sticking to the bladder wall, which could aggravate incontinence. Take Magnesium together with calcium to gain better control of muscles in the urinary system. Fiber also helps by absorbing water so dish up another helping of broccoli or whole wheat bread.
2. Staying active and weight control can be essential for controlling overactive bladder. If you are inactive, you can start by taking brisk walks around your neighborhood. Just get moving because many health problems, including urinary incontinence, are associated with obesity and lack of activity. A 2008 study found that the stress placed by weight gain on the bladder accounts for worsening incontinence among middle-aged women, not a decline in estrogen, as previously thought. A recent study released by the National Institute of Health found overweight women who lost five to seven percent of their weight experienced fewer problems with bladder control. Similarly a small study from the Journal or Urology found urinary incontinence decreased by 60 percent in women who had lost 35 pounds - quite the contrast to the 15 percent decrease in women who didn't shed any weight.
3. Acupuncture may be able to help control urinary incontinence by strengthening the urogenital system. Acupuncture treatment can also tone pelvic muscles and increase blood flow to the bladder. Other acupuncture benefits include boosting the immune system, diminishing swelling, and keeping the body's hormones in balance.
4. Try to drink at least 2 to 3 quarts of water every day in order to keep your urinary tract properly cleansed. Note, however, that you should not drink liquids right before bedtime and should also limit liquid intake prior to physical activities, at least until your overactive bladder has been brought under better control.
5. For women, avoid feminine deodorant products as they may be urinary tract irritants.
6. Until you get your overactive bladder under control, wearing absorbent pads can help hide any leakage that occurs.
HERBS AND OTHER SUPPLEMENTATION
Sometimes naturopathic doctors recommend herbal remedies to target underlying processes that may contribute to an overactive bladder, including inflammation and oxidative stress. For inflammation, anti-inflammatory remedies such as bromelain, curcumin or quercetin may help. To combat the oxidative stress that can irritate nerves surrounding the bladder, take antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and alpha-lipoic acid. Flax oil is another item which is often taken for overactive bladder.
Homeopathic medicines can also promote a healthy bladder. Try a potassium compound called Causticum to help strengthen muscles weakened by age or damage to the nerves. Natrum muriaticum, a table salt compound, aids in incontinence associated with menopause, often including symptoms like vaginal dryness and painful intercourse. Sepia, made from squid ink or dried cuttlefish, helps with incontinence due to stress, particularly in cases resulting from a prolapsed uterus and vaginitis.
Herbs which may help overactive bladder include:
*Buchu (Barosma betulina). South Africans have used preparations made from the buchu plant for hundreds of years to treat bladder and kidney infections and many other ailments. Buchu is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and diuretic. Remedies made with buchu act like tonics to improve the overall health of the urinary system, nourishing the bladder tissue and making it healthier and more supple.
*Cleavers. Cleavers is an ingredient often used in herbal remedies for treating urinary problems. In addition to its diuretic effect, it also acts as a soothing coating along the inside of the bladder wall that may protect against irritation which can cause overactive bladder.
*Cornsilk. Cornsilk is gathered from the silky, hair-like threads of the corn stalk. It has been a remedy for urinary infections dating back to ancient times, including being used by the ancient Incas. Cornsilk may help soothe the urinary tract.
*Gosha-jinki-gan. Gosha-jinki-gan is made from a combination of several different herbs and is one of the best-studied herbal remedies for bladder problems. Two small studies out of Japan found that gosha-jinki-gan improved urinary urgency, frequency, nighttime urination, and quality of life in both men and women with overactive bladder. Researchers believe this herbal supplement increases bladder capacity and reduces the number of bladder contractions via its effects on the nervous system.
*Horsetail. Horsetail, which is very high in natural silica content, is a fern relative which relative descends from enormous plants that existed 400 million years ago. Horsetail acts as a diuretic and it also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is used to treat urinary tract infections and incontinence as well as kidney and bladder stones,.
*Pariera brava. Pariera brava is a flowering tree whose antiseptic properties help ward off urinary problems and which can be beneficial for incontinence resulting from prostate enlargements.
*Saw palmetto. The saw palmetto is a small, dark palm tree with large leaves indigenous to Florida. Used primarily for impotence, the saw palmetto may help diminish symptoms of urinary incontinence in men because it targets the enlarged prostate gland.
*Zincum is used for help with prostate gland problems and and problems urinating while standing.
Note: Before taking any herbs or tonics, it is best to speak to a qualified herbalist, naturopath or homeopathic practitioner or to a conventional doctor who is also knowledgeable about herbal medicines. Only a professional can tell you how often and in what dose and combination to take herbs and other medicinal items. Be sure to let a professional know up front the types of conventional medicines that you may already be taking, in order to watch for any negative drug interactions that may lead to an undesired and potentially harmful effect.
Overactive bladder doesn’t have to be a problem, nor should it be something you constantly worry about. With the combination of dietary and lifestyle changes and proper supplementation, and perhaps the guidance of a naturopathic professional, you will likely be able to finally go shopping, go to a party, or sporting or other event without having to know where the bathroom is first.
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About the author
Tony Isaacs is a natural health advocate and researcher and the author of books and articles about natural health including Cancer's Natural Enemy. Mr. Isaacs articles are featured at The Truth About Cancer, the Health Science Institute's Healthiertalk website, CureZone, the Crusador online, The New Zealand Journal of Natural Health, the Cancer Tutor and several other venues. Mr. Isaacs also has The Best Years in Life website for baby boomers and others wishing to avoid prescription drugs and mainstream managed illness and live longer, healthier and happier lives naturally. In addition, he hosts the Yahoo Oleandersoup Health group of over 3500 members and the CureZone Ask Tony Isaacs- Featuring Luella May forum.