By Amy Jo Howard, ND, CH
Bladder control is something that most of us take for granted, yet for many people, it is a concern that overtakes one’s daily life. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 13 million adults in the U.S. experience urinary incontinence, and over eight and one-half million of these are women. Women are twice as likely to develop incontinence, and the effects it has on one’s life can create stress psychologically and socially as well as affecting one’s occupation, sexual life, and physical health.
The urinary system is comprised of the kidneys, ureter tubes, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys are responsible for filtering wastes out of the bloodstream where the waste products are then combined with fluid and sent to the bladder via the ureter tubes. The bladder is a hollow, muscular organ with a sphincter, or opening, at the bottom. It sits on top of the muscles of the pelvic floor to prevent it from drooping down and putting pressure on the tissues below it. Nerves signal the brain when the bladder is full. When it is time to urinate, the muscles of the bladder contract, the sphincter opens, and the urine flows into the urethra, which has relaxed, to allow the urine to flow out of the body. (When the bladder is empty or only partially full, the bladder is usually in a relaxed state, and the urethra is in a contracted state so as not to let any urine escape.)
While urinary incontinence is defined as any unintentional leakage of urine, there are several different types of incontinence, depending on if the muscles of the bladder are contracting or if the urethra is relaxing at inappropriate times. Urge incontinence is when the bladder muscles are overactive. This produces a strong and sudden urge to urinate and often, one finds oneself wet quickly. Damage to the nerves of the bladder, injury, stroke, and other diseases can create this type.
Stress incontinence is when the sphincter cannot completely close off the flow of urine. This is the most common type of incontinence as it can be related to weakening of the muscles from pregnancy and childbirth. This type often experiences leakage when sneezing, coughing, laughing, or moving in certain positions. Overflow incontinence is less common and results when the nerves fail to signal to the brain that the bladder is full. This type can develop with diabetes and other diseases. Functional, or environmental, incontinence is failure to get to a bathroom rather than an imbalance of the urinary system. This type can sometimes be displayed by people with Alzheimer’s or cognitive disorders when they do not recognize the urge to urinate or get to a bathroom. Transient incontinence is temporary incontinence caused by an infection, severe constipation, side effects from medication, or other conditions. It is also common to experience more than one type of incontinence simultaneously.
No matter what type or types of incontinence you experience, there are natural remedies that can help.
First, make sure that you are drinking water. Ideally, you should aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces daily. Sometimes, with bladder issues, you feel you need to restrict the amount of water that you are drinking in an effort to try and use the bathroom less; however, you do want to remain hydrated and make sure that your body is able to eliminate wastes properly.
When the intestines cannot properly eliminate waste, the waste will build up and cause the transverse part of the large intestine to sag down which places pressure on the bladder and reproductive organs. This pressure on the bladder can create incontinence and over time, can lead to a prolapsed bladder. So, regular bowel movements are important. In addition to drinking enough water, healthy eating is a significant consideration. Try to eat whole, unprocessed foods. Avoid or limit caffeine, sugar, and alcohol (these stimulate the nervous system which can overstimulate the bladder). Increase your fiber intake from healthy foods like vegetables, berries, beans, and legumes. Making these changes to your diet may also help with changes in weight, and losing weight can mean less pressure on the bladder, too.
Kegel exercises are very beneficial for bladder control. They help to make the muscles of the pelvic floor, the same muscles which control urine flow, stronger. To do Kegel exercises, find the muscles that you use to stop urinating. Squeeze them for 3 seconds. You should not feel any tightening in the muscles of the stomach or thighs when you do this. Then, relax for 3 seconds. Repeat this sequence 10-15 times, and try to do it three times daily. Add one second each week until you reach up to 10 seconds at a time. Do not do this during urination, because it can hurt the bladder. The great thing about Kegel exercises is that you can do it anywhere, at anytime, and no one will even know!
There are natural remedies that can be incorporated that are very beneficial to the bladder and urinary system, too. Uva ursi is a single herb that has long been used to strengthen, tone, and tighten the tissues of the urinary system. It has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and neutralizes acid in the urine. Uva ursi also has a diuretic action, so it increases urine flow which helps with bloating and water retention. Cornsilk is another single herb that has an affinity for strengthening the urinary system. It has a history of use for many urinary ailments including incontinence, bed wetting, kidney stones, and infections. It has been used to reduce frequent urination, and it helps the kidneys regulate fluids which also aids blood pressure issues. Magnesium is a mineral in which most of us are deficient. Magnesium helps us to relax. Thus, it is good for stress and for the ability of the bladder to contract and relax properly.
There are quite a few cell salts (sometimes called tissue salts) that address the urinary system. These are minerals prepared in a diluted form that are taken sublingually and are very easily assimilated, or used, by the body to nourish and rebuild imbalanced tissues. Calc Fluor is beneficial for strengthening and toning tissues, especially in cases of prolapse. Calc Phos is indicated for bladder weakness with frequent urination and also loss of sphincter control. Kali Mur and Silica can both be used to lessen a constant urge to urinate. Ferrum Phos and Nat Phosare helpful in general for incontinence.
Essential oils are another fantastic tool to regain balance in the body. Cypress, Geranium, and Juniper essential oils all have an affinity for supporting the urinary system and have been used for incontinence. Choose one, dilute with a carrier oil, and apply a few drops to the lower abdomen once or twice daily.
The good news is that natural remedies are very safe and easy to use and often, can be used in combination with each other. Plus, they focus on addressing the root of the imbalance and helping your body become healthier overall. If you are experiencing incontinence, you don’t have to let it run your life; there are lots of natural ways to strengthen the urinary system without harsh or painful treatments or having to take pharmaceutical medications. Consult with a naturopath to learn the best remedies for you.