Overactive bladder is a group of conditions that can include urinary incontinence: an urgent need to urinate, often combined with an involuntary loss of urine (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020).
It also includes urinating too often (or more often than usual), including at night.
But what is “normal” bladder function? According to the Cleveland Clinic, it is normal to urinate anywhere from 6-8 times in one day; this may include getting up to urinate once or twice a night, especially after age 65 (2019).
If you are urinating more often than that, find yourself urinating a lot more often than usual, or find it difficult to control your urge to pee, your bladder may be over-acting.
Fortunately, there are many natural remedies or lifestyle changes that might help you treat an overactive bladder (OAB). We have compiled a list of some of the best natural remedies we’ve found that help those struggling with this uncomfortable condition.
One of the first steps in treating OAB is eliminating the irritants that may be causing your bladder problems. While irritants can be different for everyone, the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics list these common irritants (2020):
If you are experiencing OAB, you should avoid or limit all of these foods for a week or two to see if symptoms improve, then try adding them back into your diet one at a time.
Kegels help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles which support your pelvic organs, including your bladder. For those whose OAB is associated with urinary incontinence, Kegel exercises can greatly improve your ability to control your strong need to urinate or your involuntary urination.
A Cochrane review of 31 studies of the effect of pelvic floor muscle training on urinary incontinence found a reduction in both frequency and amount of involuntary urinary leakage (Hay-Smith et al, 2001).
As a bonus, a small 2013 study showed that pelvic floor muscle training helped relieve chronic low back pain (Bi et al). Even after your urinary incontinence has improved, Kegel exercises can be a great addition to your daily routine!
To perform a Kegel exercise, squeeze your vaginal muscles as though you are trying to stop the flow of urination. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10 times, do this 3-4 times per day.
Getting regular exercise is vital to your overall health and well-being, and its benefits extend to your urinary health, too. One French review of five studies found that a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle was a significant risk factor for urinary incontinence (Steenstrup et al, 2018).
In addition, there is a strong link between body weight and symptoms of an overactive bladder. A Brazilian study with interviews of over 1,000 women found that those with a higher body mass index (BMI) experienced more nocturia (urinating more than two times during sleep), greater urinary urgency, and more involuntary leakage of urine than those of a lighter weight (Palma, 2014).
Exercise is currently one way that many doctors recommend losing weight, though exercise may help your OAB even if you do not lose weight.
The CDC recommends that adults 18-64 do 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, plus muscle strengthening (2020), but if that’s not currently feasible, any amount of exercise is better than none!
Certain daily habits can contribute to OAB. This includes going to the bathroom “just in case”. Habitually going to the bathroom when your bladder is not full “just in case” leads to increased sensitivity of the bladders receptors that detect fullness.
After prolonged periods of this habit, your bladder will start to alert you that it is “full” at lower volumes leading to a sensation that you need to urinate when in fact your bladder is not completely full.
To remedy this, avoid going to the restroom to urinate “just in case”. Additionally, you can retrain your bladder to fill completely by delaying urinating when you first sense the urge.
You can do this more comfortably by distracting yourself for a few minutes. Often the urge will pass and you can wait much longer before you truly need to empty your bladder!
While most remedies for OAB naturally have more to do with liquids than solids, there are a couple of foods that may help improve bladder function. One study of 45 patients taking an extract of pumpkin seed oil for their urinary symptoms showed a significant reduction in symptoms after 12 weeks (Nishimura et al, 2014).
Eating a generally healthy diet may help your overactive bladder both directly and indirectly. The bladder is very close to the colon, so if you are having any trouble with your diet and defecation, this can easily lead to trouble in your bladder as well.
One large study examined the diets of women with and without overactive bladder symptoms and found that chicken, vegetables, and (in particular) bread consumption were associated with fewer symptoms (Robinson, Giarenis, & Cardozo, 2014).
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for your overactive bladder because the cause can vary by individual. Exercise (including kegels) is important to your overall physical and mental health, so if you don’t already have an exercise routine, that’s always a good place to start.
After that, you may want to try adding and eliminating substances from your diet one at a time to see what works and what doesn’t--and make sure you are sticking to a generally healthy diet.
There are also some underlying health conditions that can inhibit bladder control; if you are experiencing any other symptoms, make sure you tell your doctor as soon as possible. And as always, ask your doctor before using any supplement to treat a health condition.