You’re likely familiar with foods that aren’t good for your heart. But when it comes to your bladder, it’s possible that you haven’t considered the correlation between diet and peeing. Unless you’ve had a urinary tract infection, suffered from a leaky bladder, or experienced the need to pee frequently, it may not have crossed your mind.
Some foods and drinks can actually cause bladder irritation or exacerbate symptoms. According to Dr. Anika Ackerman, a urology specialist, “For patients with sensitive bladders or overactive bladder (OAB), it is important to realize that diet can make their symptoms worse.”
What To Know About Different Bladder Issues
Although people might not often talk about peeing-related problems, there are lots of common bladder health issues.
“Incontinence (or ‘leaky bladder’) that accidentally loses urine when you don’t want it to is the most common bladder issue in individuals,” explained Dr. Fenwa Milhouse, a board-certified urologist and specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. “Frequent urination is also a very common complaint in individuals, and can be especially bothersome when this occurs at night or while sleeping.”
Interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome, is a long-term condition that causes pain and discomfort in the bladder, which is often irritated, or in the pelvic area. There’s also a sensation of needing to pee often and urgently. “When patients are experiencing overactive bladder or symptoms of interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, our first recommendation is to limit bladder irritants,” Ackerman said.
The good news is that changing up your diet may reduce your issues. “Often diet alone and elimination of bladder irritants will control the patient’s symptoms,” Ackerman added.
Even if you have a healthy bladder, knowing what foods and drinks are irritants will be beneficial. “Awareness of foods and beverages that can cause irritation can be helpful to prevent bladder symptoms for those that are not currently having concerns,” said Aleece Fosnight, a board-certified physician assistant specializing in women’s health and urology.
Below, urologists and medical experts share the foods and drinks that you should limit or avoid for a healthy bladder.
Love your morning cup or three of coffee? You may rely on it to wake up and stay alert, but your bladder may not be so happy. Coffee contains a couple of irritants ― caffeine and acid.
“The caffeine in coffee is a known diuretic, meaning it makes you produce more urine, increasing bladder frequency,” Milhouse explained. “Caffeine has also been observed to increase the urgency of urination, making it harder to control your bladder and more likely to have bladder leaks.” Ackerman added that “acidic foods and drinks can be irritating and also exacerbate these symptoms.”
But if you don’t want to give up your brew just yet, Milhouse said coffee and tea can be enjoyed in moderation. “If you have no bladder issues, two 8-ounce cups of coffee or less is ideal,” she said.
Those who already deal with pain or frequent urination might need to limit or eliminate coffee until symptoms subside. “Avoiding coffee altogether may be necessary for some individuals who struggle with overactive bladder or bladder pain,” Milhouse said.
Acidity is not a friend to your bladder. Citrus fruits are good for you, but if you’re suffering from any symptoms, you’re better off limiting or reducing them in your diet.
“Grapefruit or oranges, including juices, [are] fruits that have a high acid count,” Milhouse said. “This acidity can cause irritation of the bladder lining and increase painful bladder symptoms.” She added, “I would strongly recommend avoiding these foods if you have active symptoms of a UTI or interstitial cystitis.”
Are you a fan of tomatoes or tomato-based products, such as ketchup, pizza or pasta sauce? It might be best to hold off if you’re experiencing bladder symptoms.
“Tomatoes are highly acidic, which may be a notorious trigger for bladder pain for many individuals,” Milhouse said.
The acid in tomatoes affects urine. ”Tomatoes increase the acidity of urine more so than soda and significantly cause irritation to the lining of the bladder,” Fosnight said. Plus, cooked tomatoes have more acid than fresh tomatoes.
“Tomatoes become more acidic the longer they cook, so tomatoes are less irritating to the bladder when fresh,” Milhouse said. “I would limit or eliminate tomato-based products (especially if cooked) if you have active symptoms of a UTI or interstitial cystitis.”
Love eating cured meats or hot dogs? Reducing the frequency of eating processed meats — such as smoked ham and deli meats — is recommended by urologists.
The additives that extend processed meats’ shelf life and add flavor aren’t good for your bladder. Many of these meats contain nitrates, which are a mixture of compounds of nitrogen and oxygen. “Unfortunately, these chemicals are also a well-known source of carcinogenic or cancer-causing byproducts,” Milhouse said. “The byproducts of nitrites added to red meat are associated with increased risk of bladder cancer.”
Whether you have bladder issues or not, Milhouse suggested being mindful of your intake of processed meats. “I absolutely recommend limiting or avoiding processed meats in everyone, regardless of bladder symptoms,” she said.
Are you a fan of spicy foods, or do you love squirting hot sauce on steak, chicken or eggs to give your dish a burst of flavor? If you’re suffering from bladder symptoms, it’s probably in your best interest to reduce spicy foods in your diet.
“Spicy foods irritate the lining of the bladder and cause an exacerbation of symptoms,” Ackerman said.
And Dr. Seth Cohen, a urologic surgeon and urogynecologist at City of Hope, said, “Spicy foods can be activating for those with interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome, so should potentially be limited.”
The combination of sugar, caffeine and carbonation can be a perfect storm for irritating the bladder. Fosnight encouraged people to decrease their consumption of soda. “It contains caffeine that is a natural diuretic — it causes dehydration and concentrated urine — and sugar that causes an increase of urine acidity, leading to increased risk of bladder infections,” she explained.
Plus, soda is carbonated, meaning it has undergone a chemical process of carbon dioxide. “Carbon dioxide causes bladder irritation, leading to urinary symptoms,” Fosnight added.
Although it’s neither a food nor a beverage, smoking tobacco can lead to bladder cancer. You may associate lung cancer with smoking, but tobacco can be the culprit in myriad cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco can cause “cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon and rectum, and a type of leukemia.”
Fosnight explained that tobacco is the top risk factor for bladder cancer, although it’s not well known. The substances in tobacco are processed and released when a person pees. “The harmful chemicals in tobacco products are filtered through the kidneys and are eliminated in urine,” Fosnight said. “Those chemicals affect the lining of the bladder, causing cellular changes leading to bladder cancer.”
And if you need another reason to quit smoking, the American Cancer Society states: “People who smoke are at least 3 times as likely to get bladder cancer as people who don’t. Smoking causes about half of all bladder cancers.”
What You Can Do
Drink More Water
Most urologists advise drinking plenty of water for a healthy bladder. “I encourage my patients to increase water intake to help avoid bladder concerns,” Fosnight said.
Drinking lots of water when you already have problems may seem counterintuitive, but Fosnight explained the reasoning. “Some of my patients question my intentions behind water intake when they have increased urinary urgency and frequency,” she said. “However, if water consumption is spread out throughout the day, this will not increase frequency and helps with diluting the urine to cause less irritation.”
Listen To Your Body
Although there are foods and drinks that aren’t ideal for a healthy bladder, each person reacts differently to the foods they consume. ”I ask patients to pay attention to their bodies and how they react to certain dietary intake,” Cohen said. “It is a journey of self-discovery.”
If you suffer from any issues, you may want to immediately cut out all foods that can trigger or aggravate symptoms, but it’s better to slowly remove them from your diet. Milhouse said, “Start by eliminating one food or beverage type at a time for at least one to two weeks to see if you notice any change.”
When you take out specific foods or drinks from your diet, you may not see immediate results. “Any diet or fluid change you make may take time before noticeable improvement in your urinary symptoms is seen,” Milhouse said. “Be patient and consistent.”
If you don’t notice any improvements or are suffering from bladder issues, it’s important to seek medical attention. “Do not hesitate to see a urology specialist for further evaluation and treatment,” Milhouse said.