cup of coffee

Bladder Issues? Consider Your Diet.

Private: Jeannine Miranne, MD, MS
Contributor Jeannine Miranne, MD, MS

Millions of women are impacted each day by urinary symptoms, including frequency (needing to urinate more often than normal), urgency (sudden and strong desire to urinate), bladder spasms, and bladder pain. Did you know that many of these symptoms can be triggered by common bladder irritants in your diet?

“The first approach to treatment for many urinary symptoms, including urinary incontinence, is dietary modification,” explains Dr. Jeannine Miranne, a urogynecologist in the Division of Urogynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We start with limiting fluid intake and identifying which foods and beverages may contribute to bladder irritation.”

A Closer Look at Fluid Intake

Women who are experiencing symptoms like urinary frequency, urgency, or bladder spasms should limit total fluid intake to less than 64 oz a day, with less than two servings of caffeine or alcohol per day.

“It’s important to note that a single beverage container can easily hold two or three servings – depending on its size,” says Dr. Miranne. “Many people don’t realize how much fluid they are actually consuming each day.”

Read on to learn about the most common culprits in bladder irritation and ways to ease urinary symptoms.

Top Bladder Irritants

The substances that are the most irritating to the bladder include:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Carbonated beverages – including seltzer/soda water
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Chocolate
  • Cigarettes/tobacco

Additional bladder irritants include:

  • Select fruits, such as cranberries, grapes, oranges, lemons, peaches, pineapple, plums, apples, and cantaloupe
  • Select vegetables, such as onions, tomatoes, chilies, and peppers
  • Certain dairy products, such as aged cheese, sour cream, and yogurt
  • Rye and sourdough breads
  • Mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, salsa, soy sauce, miso, and vinegar
  • Aged, canned, cured, processed, or smoked meats and fish
  • Walnuts and peanuts

Substitutes to Try

Consider these substitutes for common bladder irritants:

  • Herbal tea (without citrus) or weakly brewed tea
  • Acid-free and caffeine-free coffee
  • Honeydew melon, watermelon, blueberries, and pears
  • Almonds, cashews, or pine nuts
  • Garlic
  • Frozen yogurt

When Dietary Changes Aren’t Enough

For women with urinary symptoms and/or urinary incontinence that persists for two weeks or longer after reducing or eliminating bladder irritants, there are many other treatment options. These include pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegel exercises), pelvic floor physical therapy, behavioral modifications, medications, and surgery. A urogynecologist (a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating urinary symptoms, urinary incontinence, and other pelvic floor disorders in women) can provide a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan that incorporates a wide range of approaches.

Private: Jeannine Miranne, MD, MS
Jeannine Miranne, MD, MS

Jeannine Miranne, MD, MS, is a urogynecologist in the Division of Urogynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. Her clinical and research interests include overactive bladder, pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, and minimally invasive gynecologic surgery.

Before you go,

Get more tips on eating well and learn about the many benefits of good nutrition. Read more nutrition articles.