Overactive bladder treatment has come a long way. Now you don't have to live with the worry that you'll have to rush to find a bathroom, or have an accident, when there are so many different options available to control the condition. Lifestyle interventions such as bladder retraining and pelvic floor exercises and medications are just a few of the methods your doctor might recommend to relieve the urge to go.
Even with so many treatment choices for overactive bladder, you might be curious about what other, alternative options are out there, including herbal remedies. "I think people may turn to these herbal therapies if they've tried other things and they haven't worked, or if they just have a preference for that with their lifestyle choices," says Tomas L. Griebling, MD, MPH, vice chair of the University of Kansas department of urology.
The herbal supplements you've seen advertised on the Internet or lining the shelves of your local pharmacy claim they can relieve your overactive bladder with virtually no side effects. You might have wondered, do these herbal remedies really work for overactive bladder, or are they nothing more than marketing hype?
Herbal Remedies for Overactive Bladder: The Evidence
Ask a urologist which herbal remedies he or she recommends for overactive bladder, and you're likely to get more questions than answers. "The problem is, we don't really know, because a lot of these things haven't been tested in a really scientific way," Griebling says. "We don't have good, objective information about what the risks or dangers are."
As director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU's Langone Medical Center, Geovanni Espinosa, ND, LAc, CNS, specializes in alternative and naturopathic treatments for urinary tract problems, and he agrees that the research on herbal remedies for overactive bladder is virtually nonexistent. "There are herbs that are used traditionally," he says. "Whether or not they work, I don't know."
Without medical studies, he says there's no way of knowing how these treatments affect the urinary tract. "That's the limitation. You don't know exactly how they work until they're looked at scientifically."
Even without solid evidence to support their use, a few herbal remedies are formulated specifically for overactive bladder. Most of the herbal preparations contain not one, but several different herbs combined. Incorporating a variety of herbs is thought to have a synergistic effect, addressing a urinary problem from several different angles at once, Espinosa says.
Here are some of the most commonly used herbal remedies for overactive bladder, and how some experts think they work:
Gosha-jinki-gan: One of the best-studied herbal remedies for bladder problems is gosha-jinki-gan, which is made from a combination of several different herbs. A couple of small studies out of Japan found that gosha-jinki-gan improved urinary urgency, frequency, nighttime urination, and quality of life in both men and women with overactive bladder. Based on animal studies, researchers believe this herbal supplement increases bladder capacity and reduces the number of bladder contractions via its effects on the nervous system.