While scientists and researchers are still working out exactly to what extent being overweight and obese negatively affects health (some studies have revealed that extra weight could actually have a protective effect against some diseases, and may even extend lifespan1,2,3,4), the general consensus among medical professionals is that being overweight or obese contributes to a range of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and joint problems such as arthritis.5,6
Being overweight or obese can also reduce the quality of life in a number of ways—by limiting a person’s mobility, making things like air travel difficult and diminishing self-esteem.7
Carrying extra weight can also put pressure on the bladder causing urinary incontinence (UI) or make it worse8,9, which is a condition that one in three women will suffer with at some point in her life.
Diet can also affect bladder control. We’ll explore in more detail how weight and nutrition can contribute to urinary incontinence, and we’ll look at ways to improve symptoms.
Pressure Points: How Extra Weight Affects Bladder Control
A review of the epidemiological literature covering the association between obesity and urinary incontinence showed that obesity is indeed a strong risk factor for urinary incontinence. The review found that for every 5-unit increase in body mass index (e.g., an increase in BMI from 25 to 30) the odds of developing UI increased by 30 to 60 percent over a 5 to 10-year period.10
The same review also found that there may be a stronger association with excess weight and both stress incontinence and mixed incontinence than with overactive bladder syndrome.
Another study found that older women who have stronger muscles and better grip strength are less likely to develop or continue experiencing stress incontinence.11
Losing even a modest amount of weight can help reduce bladder leakage, especially stress incontinence, which is linked not only to pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and obesity but also to diabetes and prediabetes. One study showed that prediabetic women who lost weight reduced their likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes and experienced improved bladder control.12
The Dish on Nutrish: How Diet Can Affect Bladder Control
Many women who experience bladder leakage reduce their fluid intake to avoid experiencing leaks, but this can actually worsen the problem by creating highly concentrated urine that makes you need to go (or feel like you need to go) more often. Not drinking enough fluids can also create excess bacteria growth, which can lead to bladder infections.
The following beverages and foods are known bladder irritants—eliminating them from your diet or at least cutting back may help improve your bladder control and function:
- Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulant that increases the amount of urine you produce and can increase feelings of urgency; eliminate or reduce coffee, caffeinated teas, and other caffeinated beverages. Choose herbal teas instead of coffee and caffeinated tea.
- Alcohol, also a diuretic and a stimulant, can produce symptoms of urgency. Instead of alcoholic drinks, choose grape juice, cranberry juice, or apple juice.
- Carbonated beverages are known to make an overactive bladder worse for some people. Choose spring or tap water instead of carbonated beverages.
- Medicines that contain caffeine can worsen UI. Check labels, and ask your doctor or pharmacist for alternatives to any medications you take that contain caffeine.
- Acidic fruits and juices contain acid that can irritate the urinary tract—this includes all citrus fruits, tomatoes, and tomato-based products, berries, etc. Instead of high-acid fruits, choose low-acid varieties like avocados and bananas. You’re thinking, “Eliminate tomatoes—are you nuts?!” We know. Tomatoes are a staple in so many dishes, from salsa to pasta, so it seems almost impossible to find a good substitute, but it can be done. A small amount of tamarind paste or a puree of red bell pepper and eggplant are two options that provide tomato-like texture.
- Artificial sweeteners are known bladder irritants and are questionable for your health, in any case. It is best to eliminate them.
- Chocolate is a stimulant and can increase the feeling of urgency. We know this is another tough one to eliminate; carob is a decent chocolate-like alternative.
Drink Your H2O
If you’ve been avoiding drinking water throughout the day because you’re worried about triggering UI symptoms, know this: Water is essential for digestion, nutrient absorption, temperature regulation, excretory function, and myriad other bodily functions.
The best way to avoid triggering UI symptoms white staying hydrated is to be conscientious about drinking water steadily throughout the day. Otherwise, the tendency is to gulp large quantities of water when thirst comes on suddenly from dehydration.
Everyone’s water needs are different—the idea that everyone must drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day has largely been debunked as a myth. Also, remember that your daily water needs are met not only from glasses of straight water but from other beverages (provided they’re not diuretics) and the food you eat.
Additional ways to control bladder leakage include:
- Doing Kegel exercises with biofeedback – The muscles of your pelvic floor and your urinary sphincter help control urination. Doing regular pelvic floor exercises helps strengthen these muscles for better control. Using a bladder biofeedback device can help you master Kegels for more effective pelvic floor strengthening.
- Managing medications – Certain medications, including high blood pressure drugs, heart medications, diuretics, antihistamines, sedatives, antidepressants, and others can contribute to bladder leakage.
- Quitting smoking – Heavy smokers are more likely to develop a chronic cough, which can worsen UI.
- Minimizing constipation – Chronic constipation and straining during bowel movements can damage the muscles of the pelvic floor. Exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, and eat high-fiber foods to stay regular.
- Stay active – Aim for at least 30 minutes of low- to moderate-impact activity, which may help to reduce bladder leakage.
PeriCoach: Part of Your Pelvic Floor Strengthening Regimen
Even losing a small amount of weight can relieve pressure from your pelvic floor and ease UI symptoms, but, regardless of your weight, strong pelvic floor (Kegel) muscles are essential for preventing bladder leakage. This is where PeriCoach comes in.
An insertable incontinence biofeedback device that guides you through pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises, PeriCoach helps you improve pelvic floor muscle strength and control over time. PeriCoach is fitted with three biofeedback sensors that detect the contraction of your pelvic floor muscles when you squeeze against the device. The device then sends that information via Bluetooth to your smartphone, so you can see your muscles working in real-time.
PeriCoach is FDA-cleared, which means it has met stringent product safety requirements. A one-time investment, PeriCoach is significantly less costly than taking prescription medications indefinitely.