Urinary incontinence (the loss of voluntary control over the bladder) is one of the most widespread health issues in the Australian community, affecting up to 37% of women and 13% of men. It can affect people of any age, but becomes more common beyond the age of 50, particularly amongst post-menopausal women.
What causes incontinence?
There are many possible causes for problems with urinary control. Hormone changes, including falls in oestrogen levels, may play a role for post-menopausal women. One of oestrogen’s roles in the body is to help maintain the health of the urethra and bladder, so in older women, incontinence may be the result of the drop in oestrogen levels that occurs after menopause. Along with weight fluctuations, hormonal changes may also contribute to the incontinence that many women experience during pregnancy.
Additionally, damage to the nerves and tissues in a woman’s pelvic region during childbirth may lead to incontinence problems. Incontinence may also temporarily develop as a result of constipation or urinary tract infections such as cystitis, and can be a feature of several other conditions, including benign prostatic hyperplasia and nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
Diet and lifestyle tips for a healthy bladder
To help maintain the health and function of your bladder, adopt these diet and lifestyle recommendations:
- Aim to practice pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises) daily to help tone the muscles that support the pelvic organs and structures. They are easy to do and if performed regularly and
- Correctly can lessen or resolve some types of incontinence
- Avoid coffee, tea and cola drinks, which act as diuretics, increasing the loss of fluid from the body
- Alcohol stimulates the bladder and is best avoided
- Minimise the amount of fluid you drink after your evening meal
- Nicotine in cigarettes can irritate the bladder, so stop smoking
- If you are carrying excess weight, now is a great time to start a healthy weight loss diet and exercise program
- Avoid constipation, by maintaining adequate fibre levels and drinking at least two litres of water per day
- Minimise stress, which can affect bladder tone. Try meditation, yoga or Tai Chi
Pumpkin seed and soy may help reduce night-time urination
In a study involving 51 older men (aged 65-88 years) who were waking up at least twice per night to go to the toilet, taking a combination of pumpkin seed and soybean germ reduced the frequency of night-time urination. Over the six weeks of the study, night-time urinary frequency declined by approximately 40%, but daytime frequency remained unchanged. Participants also reported feeling that their sleep had significantly improved .
Maintaining adequate vitamin D may protect against incontinence
Vitamin D deficiency is quite prevalent among adults and may be associated with impaired muscle strength and loss of muscle mass. Given that the pelvic floor is composed of muscle fibres, researchers in America conducted a study to determine the rate of vitamin D deficiency in women with pelvic floor disorders and to examine whether low vitamin D levels were associated with increased rates of pelvic floor disorders such as urinary/faecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
The results showed that on average, women with pelvic floor disorders and/or urinary incontinence have lower vitamin D levels than other women, and that having adequate vitamin D levels may offer a degree of protection against these conditions.