6 Diet Changes to Help You Handle Urinary Incontinence

Medically Reviewed by Stuart Bergman, MD on August 27, 2015
3 min read

What you eat and drink can spare you some trips to the bathroom. Start with these six simple diet changes.

"If you don't drink enough water, you can get dehydrated," says Jennifer Anger, MD, MPH, assistant professor of urology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "But if you have incontinence and drink [a lot], that could also pose difficulties."

"Drinking the often-recommended 6 to 8 glasses of water a day could be a problem," Anger says.

On the flip side, if you drink too little water, your urine can become concentrated and may irritate your bladder. This makes you feel like you have to go.

Ask your doctor about how much water you should drink, Anger says.

"Alcohol has a direct effect on the bladder," says Amy Rosenman, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. You'll need to go more often.

Alcohol also affects the messages from the brain to the bladder that tell it when to hold urine and when to go. "If you have alcohol on board, there is less control over that signaling, and you are more likely to have an accident," Rosenman says.

Most people decide to cut alcohol out completely, but others can handle a small amount, Rosenman says. It's best to stop altogether. Then add it back little by little so you know how much is too much for you.

Soft drinks, teas, chocolate, and even decaf coffee contain caffeine. It makes you feel like you have to go, and it also prompts your body to get rid of liquids.

Your best bet: Remove caffeine from your diet if you can, and reduce it if you can't go cold turkey.

Still crave that cup of joe? Try to have your coffee in the morning instead of at night. Don't drink any coffee past 7 p.m., Anger says. Whether you prefer coffee, tea, or soda, limit yourself to one or two caffeinated beverages per day.

If you have an overactive bladder, avoid eating spicy foods like Mexican dishes, Chinese cuisine, chili peppers, chili, and horseradish.

Spicy foods irritate the lining of your bladder just like caffeine does, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a doctor and registered dietitian.

Citrus foods and tropical juices like orange and pineapple have acid that can bother your bladder and make you feel like you have to go. Tomatoes are also acidic.

Cranberry juice won't help if you have an overactive bladder, Rosenman says. Cranberries, too, are acidic.

Even if fizzy drinks don't have caffeine, they may not be your best choice. "The carbon dioxide in the drink can irritate a sensitive bladder, causing you to have the urge to go," Rosenman says.