Female urinary incontinence is much more common than you think. In fact, one in four women over the age of 18 experience involuntary leakage of urine – and most of these suffer in silence due to misinformation surrounding the condition.
This article attempts to set the record straight on a condition that can be emotionally and physically demanding – starting with some basic little-known facts.
Incontinence is treatable
Urinary incontinence is not an inevitable or untreatable consequence of having children or getting older. While birthing trauma and the menopause can pave the way for the condition, the reality is that most cases of incontinence can be successfully treated.
A holistic approach is needed
While there are many different types of incontinence – overactive bladder syndrome, urinary retention, stress, urge or mixed incontinence – when it comes to treatment, a holistic approach involving diet, exercise and herbs is needed across the board.
This is also true for pelvic organ prolapse – though a more individual approach to treatment is usually necessary in this case.
Stress incontinence, caused by a weak pelvic floor or damaged urinary sphincter after childbirth or the menopause, is by far the most common cause of incontinence, and accounts for around half of all cases in women under the age of 60.
Start with diet
Begin by reducing your intake of bladder irritating foods and drinks (see infographic), and increasing your fluid intake (see ‘NAFC tip’). Herbal teas are a great way to do this.
Food intolerances such as dairy, wheat or high-salicylate foods, if present, can also irritate the bladder. A strict 30-day elimination diet can be helpful here, and is best done under the supervision of a natural health practitioner.
Interestingly, flaxseeds/linseeds have been shown to reduce symptoms of incontinence in post-menopausal women, due to their phytooestrogen content (1). Grind and sprinkle them over your breakfast!
Pelvic floor exercises
A detailed explanation of how to properly perform these exercises can be found on the website of the National Association for Continence (2). But why are they so important?
The pelvic floor muscles – a sling of muscles extending from the pubic bone to the anus and woven around the vagina, urethra and rectum – help control voluntary contractions of the bladder.
When the tone of the pelvic floor has been compromised due to pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, menopause, chronic coughing due to smoking or repeated heavy lifting, any abdominal pressure exerted on the pelvic organs by coughing, sneezing or jumping causes involuntary leakage.
Losing excess weight and stopping smoking are therefore two crucial steps to be taken towards improving pelvic tone, along with the daily exercises.
Herbs for incontinence
Herbs are the icing on the cake when it comes to improving pelvic tone and reducing bladder reactivity. There are a few special ones that deserve a mention, and many more which can help in individual cases, depending on the cause and on the person:
■ Raspberry leaf – this herb is usually recommended in pregnancy to prepare the womb for labour. As an astringent herb, it strengthens the uterine and pelvic muscles and can also help with pelvic organ prolapse.
■ Yarrow – another astringent and bitter herb which, along with toning the bladder and uterus, is also a urinary antiseptic. Yarrow also promotes good circulation to the pelvic area and clears congestion, which can be helpful in certain cases of incontinence.
■ Marshmallow root – once the main ingredient in marshmallows, this herb is wonderfully soothing to the walls of an irritated bladder. Simmer the root for 5-10 minutes before adding the above herbs and leaving the whole lot to infuse for a further 10 minutes to make a well-rounded incontinence tea.
■ Black cohosh – if associated with the menopause, black cohosh can help relieve symptoms of oestrogen withdrawal such as urinary incontinence and recurrent urinary tract infections.
■ St John’s Wort – this herb can help support the nerves supplying the bladder as well as relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression which so often go hand-in-hand with this distressing condition.
All these herbs can be bought as teas from your local herb stall or shop, or as tinctures from a qualified herbalist. If in doubt, consult your nearest natural health practitioner for professional advice and support.
1. Kreydin (2015) Urinary Lignans Are Associated With Decreased Incontinence in Postmenopausal Women. Urology. 86(4):716-20.
2. The National Association for Continence: https://www.nafc.org/
By Poppy Burr
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Poppy, BSc MCPP, is a qualified medical herbalist practising from Aljezur and Praia da Luz. To book a consultation, visit www.poppytheherbalist.com
or call on 969 091 683.