It’s no secret that many boomers suffer with urinary incontinence. In fact, almost 60 percent of us in our 60s, and 75 percent of us over 75, will experience it.
Whether sporadic or ongoing, one specific type – stress, urge (also known as overactive bladder), overflow, functional – or a combination, it is something that can greatly impact us physically, emotionally and socially. It affects us almost twice as much as men.
Suffer in Silence No More
Many women used to not talk about urine incontinence even with their closest friends or doctors. They just chalked it up to getting older and dealt with it the best they could.
Luckily for our generation, we – and our healthcare providers – are much more aware and open with this health problem and are looking for solutions to it.
As a result, women’s magazines frequently address this issue and you can learn about Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, techniques for training the bladder, surgeries to correct physiological problems, and even implants to help the nerves controlling our bladder do its job better.
We have gratefully come a very long way from having “suffer in silence” be our only option.
We Can Be Proactive
So, my first suggestion to women who may be experiencing urinary incontinence – and remember this is defined as any leakage whether as minimal as a drop or two when we laugh or as significant as not being able to make it to the toilet – is to not ignore it.
This is a medical condition so talk with a competent healthcare practitioner. You should not be any more hesitant to discuss it than you would any other health concern.
My second suggestion is to not overlook the role that diet, nutrition and lifestyle can play in helping you prevent, manage and perhaps even eliminate some types of urinary incontinence. Good nutrition and diet are the cornerstones of a healthier life so it just follows that they can also play a role in managing urinary incontinence.
2 Causes of Incontinence
Obesity is an example of a diet or nutrition related cause of urinary incontinence. It can aggravate or trigger both stress incontinence (which happens when you cough, laugh or sneeze, for example) and urge incontinence (which makes you have a strong, sudden need to urinate).
It does this by putting pressure on your bladder and weakening your pelvic muscles and the surrounding urethral structures. And being obese also increases your risk for diabetes, which can cause nerve damage as well as compromise your immune system, both of which can increase your risk for diseases or conditions that can contribute to incontinence.
Another potentially diet or nutrition-related culprit in triggering urinary incontinence is constipation, which can cause stress incontinence. Much as obesity puts pressure on your bladder, having a stool obstruction in your intestine can reduce the amount of space your bladder has to expand as it fills with urine, which can cause unwanted leakage or reduced bladder control.
Similar to obesity, constipation can also weaken the muscles in the pelvic region. Closely related to, and often the cause of, constipation is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which, in addition to also causing diarrhea, can aggravate urge incontinence.
Other conditions such as urinary tract infections, also known as UTIs, have been linked to stress incontinence and urge incontinence.
Diet and Nutrition Play an Important Role in Urinary Incontinence
The first thing I recommend doing when it comes to addressing urinary incontinence is to check your nutritional status. This usually ensures your body is getting the nutrients it needs – and in the right amounts – to put you in the best stead to manage your weight and help your body defend against disease such as UTIs.
Talk with your healthcare practitioner about getting a comprehensive nutrient test. Checking your vitamin D level is especially important since there is some evidence suggesting that vitamin D deficiency can contribute to incontinence. Once you are armed with the results, you can then determine the best plan of action to address any nutrient deficiencies or imbalances.
In the meantime, take a look at your current diet to get an idea of how healthy it really is (it is often easy to kid ourselves that our diets are healthy when, in fact, they are not).
My diet, for example, is usually rich in plant-based foods. I also try to avoid processed foods, simple carbohydrates and added sugars. The latter is especially important since too much sugar can lead to more frequent UTIs, increased urine production and, of course, weight gain.
Since gluten can irritate the bladder, you may also want to talk with your doctor about eliminating it from your diet. I also make sure I am getting enough fiber, which is not really a challenge given the quantity of plant-based foods I consume.
In addition, I can’t reinforce enough the importance of drinking enough water. I understand this may sound counterintuitive if you are trying to manage urinary incontinence, but it really isn’t. Not getting enough water can make your urine more concentrated, which can irritate your bladder.
Some foods can also aggravate incontinence since they can act as irritants to your urinary system or as diuretics which increase urine production. These include caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, spicy foods, dairy, chocolate, vinegar, soy sauce and citrus fruits.
Don’t Forget Lifestyle
One important lifestyle change you can immediately make to help with urinary incontinence is to stop smoking if you still do. Many smokers develop a chronic cough, and this may worsen stress incontinence.
Exercise also plays a role in managing incontinence by helping you maintain a healthy weight, keeping your digestive system working well and even protecting your immune system. If you are not in the habit of exercise or if the idea of it is overwhelming, let me tell you that even a 15-minute daily walk will make a big difference! The idea is to start easy with something you enjoy and then build from there.
One last note is to review your current medications with your doctor to see if any of them may be causing or contributing to urinary incontinence. For example, some medications used for conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, water retention and insomnia can all play a role in incontinence.
This does not mean you should stop taking medications. Instead, discuss with your doctor other medications which do not have those particular side effects.
Have you experienced urinary incontinence? If so, did you talk with your doctor about it? What did you do to manage it? If you haven’t yet experienced incontinence, and you at some time do, would you feel comfortable talking with a healthcare professional about it? What about talking with your friends? Please join the conversation.