Herbal Remedies for Overactive Bladder: The Evidence continued...
Buchu (Barosma betulina): South Africans have used preparations made from the buchu plant for hundreds of years to treat a number of different ailments, including bladder and kidney infections. The secret behind this medicinal plant likely lies in its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and diuretic properties. Buchu remedies may act like tonics to improve the overall health of the urinary system, according to Espinosa. "They nourish the bladder tissue -- make it healthier, more supple," he says.
Cleavers: This herb gets its name from the small hooked hairs on its leaves that cause it to "cleave" -- or attach to -- anything that touches it. Cleavers is an ingredient in herbal remedies for treating urinary problems, in part because of its diuretic effect. It also acts as a soothing coating along the inside of the bladder wall that may protect against irritation -- one cause of overactive bladder, Espinosa says.
Cornsilk: Gathered from the silky, hair-like threads of the corn stalk, cornsilk has been a remedy for urinary infections for so long that even the ancient Incas once used it. Cornsilk may have a soothing effect on the urinary tract.
Horsetail: This relative of the fern descends from gigantic plants that existed some 400 million years ago. Horsetail acts as a diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant. It's been used to treat kidney and bladder stones, urinary tract infections, and incontinence, although there isn't much research to prove its effectiveness in humans.
Saw palmetto: Several studies have focused on saw palmetto for urinary symptoms, particularly in men who have an enlarged prostate gland. Doctors aren't exactly sure how saw palmetto works, but they say its benefits might have something to do with its ability to fight inflammation, as well as its effects on testosterone levels (which affect prostate growth).
Sometimes naturopathic doctors recommend herbal remedies to target the underlying processes that may contribute to an overactive bladder, including inflammation and oxidative stress. For inflammation, Espinosa recommends anti-inflammatory remedies such as bromelain or quercetin. To combat the oxidative stress that can irritate nerves surrounding the bladder, he advises his patients to take antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and alpha-lipoic acid.
Before You Go Herbal
Herbal remedies seem pretty innocuous. After all, they're made from plants. However, Griebling cautions that what you see with an herbal remedy isn't always what you get. "Even if something is labeled as 'all-natural,' that doesn't mean it's without a potential risk," he says.
The FDA doesn't regulate herbal remedies like it does traditional medications. "There can be differences in what's in them from batch to batch or even from pill to pill," Griebling says. The ingredients listed on the label aren't always accurate indicators of what you'll find inside the bottle. When they were tested, some herbal remedies were found to contain prescription-strength medications, meaning they could share the same side effects as those medications.