10 Foods to Avoid if You Have an Overactive Bladder

It's not necessarily how much you drink and eat, but what.
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Decreasing fluids is often the first thing tried by someone seeking to control an overactive bladder. After all, if you drink less overall, you reduce the need to use the bathroom often or the chance of having an accident before you can get there. Right?

Yes -- but if you drink too little (fewer than about six cups a day), urine becomes concentrated, which can cause even more bladder irritation. That's why equally important to managing bladder problems is what you're drinking and eating.

Whether you're plagued by the frequent need to pee, actual leaking of urine, or some other form of overactive bladder (OAB) syndrome, eliminating some foods and beverages may provide some relief of your symptoms.

Know that clinical research hasn't proven that avoiding all of these foods improvides overactive bladder symptoms. Every bladder is individual. You'll learn the most about what works for you if you:

  1. Keep a diary of symptoms before and after you eliminate a possible trigger, so you can see whether it has had an impact.
  2. Only eliminate one item at a time. Doctors often recommend eliminating a given food for at least 3 to 7 days.

Still, all of the following foods and beverages are known to exacerbate bladder problems in some people, so it's worth seeing if they have a direct effect on you.

Try Avoiding Oranges, Grapefruit, Pineapple to Reduce Irritation

Citrus is thought to irritate the bladder (even though, in general, it's wise to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for their healthy, vitamin-rich liquid and fiber). Beware especially of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and tangerines. Pineapple, not technically a citrus fruit (even though it often appears in the same tropical salads), is also a culprit because it's highly acidic.

Also avoid citrus in juice form (orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemon juice).

Better: Try substituting nonacidic whole fruits, such as bananas, apples, pears, and berries.

Try Avoiding Chocolate to Help Overactive Bladder

This one may be painful to chocoholics, but chocolate contains caffeine, a substance that in higher quantities may annoy the bladder in some people who are especially sensitive to it. That's why some doctors recommend putting it on your try-to-eliminate list.

Better: Go dark. If you must have your chocolate, have dark chocolate -- above 70 percent cocoa -- as it's more likely to satisfy a choco-tooth in very small (one- to two-ounce) amounts. Beware, though, that dark chocolate has higher caffeine, so portion size matters.

Try Avoiding Coffee and Black Tea (Even Decaf) to Help With OAB

Coffee is a diuretic, which can cause you to urinate more often, and it contains caffeine, which in high doses -- just three cups a day or more, according to recent research -- stimulates the bladder. The surprise: Even decaf versions may have this effect. That's because decaffeinated coffee and tea are seldom caffeine-free. (Avoid iced tea and coffee, as well as hot forms.)

Better: Try drinking herbal tea, which has no caffeine. If your bladder is very caffeine-sensitive, you may notice an improvement in symptoms.

Try Avoiding Spicy Foods for Less Bladder Irritation

Spicy nachos, hot peppers, jambalaya, kabobs, curries . . . some like it hot, hot, hot, though they maybe should not. Among the many physical effects super-spicy foods have on the body (like watering eyes and burning lips) is a tendency to irritate the lining of the bladder. Spicy food can contribute to chronic bladder pain and may affect incontinence symptoms, so see what happens if you avoid them.

Better: Try choosing cooled-down versions of favorite dishes, using herbs, garlic, and other strong flavors in place of spicy ones.

Try Avoiding Sugar and Honey to Help With Overactive Bladder

While it's challenging to completely eliminate sweets, it's worth cutting back, since some urologists believe that sugars stimulate the bladder. Leave the extra spoonfuls out of your cereal bowl or teacup, and read labels to avoid packaged goods that list simple sugars high in the ingredients list. Know that for some people, even artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame) irritate.

Better: Try Stevia, a natural sweetener 100 times sweeter than table sugar. Or even better, aim to adapt over a couple of weeks of withdrawal to a less-sweet taste.

Try Avoiding Tomato Products to Help With Overactive Bladder

Tomatoes are acidic; hence their bladder-irritating quality. The effect varies by individual, but if you're vulnerable, try cutting out all tomato forms, including sauces, paste, juice, spaghetti sauce, taco sauce, and salsa.

Better: Substitute mushrooms and other vegetables, a thin white sauce, beans, or other ingredients wherever you'd use tomatoes or tomato sauce.

Try Avoiding Alcohol to Help With Overactive Bladder

Whether in the form of wine, beer, champagne, or hard liquor, alcohol interferes with brain signals that tell you when to "go." It's also a dehydrator that makes you need to go to the bathroom more. Since reducing overall fluid intake by 25 percent has been shown to improve overactive bladder symptoms, this may be one area you want to try cutting.

Better: Drink cranberry juice on the rocks (unless you're sensitive to cranberry; if so, you could try herbal tea on the rocks).

Try Avoiding Dairy to Help With Overactive Bladder

Dairy products tend to affect people differently. For some, all dairy is a bladder-baddie. Others are bothered only by very rich and creamy milk products, such as cream cheese, sour cream, or aged cheeses.

Better: Tinker to see which products you tolerate best.

Try Avoiding Energy Drinks to Help With Overactive Bladder

You'd think these powerhouse beverages would make you stronger and help you last longer -- but the source of their "energy" is usually caffeine, which bothers the bladder. Read labels carefully. Energy drinks also add extra fluids.

Better: Get enough exercise and sleep to boost your energy naturally.

Try Avoiding Carbonated Drinks to Help With Overactive Bladder

Quenching your thirst with a carbonated beverage (colas, other flavors, fizzy water, seltzer) is counterproductive if you have an overactive bladder. The carbonation is a bladder trigger, an effect that's intensified if the drink also contains caffeine.

Better: Drink straight water on the rocks or flavored (flat) vitamin waters.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio