Natural Solutions for Female Bladder Control Issues

Originally Published in Life Extension – January 2004
by Romy Fox

Once out of diapers, we take for granted the ability to control our urination. For decades, the flow starts and stops on command. We can ignore the urge for hours if necessary, and we are absolutely dry between bathroom visits. Some women—only a small minority—have a problem with suddenly voiding while laughing or coughing.

And then, perhaps after bearing a child or a few children, or maybe as we begin to approach menopause, we have a problem. We may find ourselves leaking, or suddenly having to go right now but being unable to make it to the bathroom in the few seconds before the bladder releases. The problem is definitely more severe with advancing age: large numbers of perimenopausal women suffer, with one study finding “25% wearing protection or changing undergarments on several days per week.”

In more extreme cases, diapers become a necessity. According to the National Institutes of Health, 13 million adults suffer from bladder control issues, an embarrassing, annoying inability to keep urine safely in the bladder until—and only until—you want it to leave. Over eight and one-half million of these sufferers are women, who are twice as likely as men to “leak.”

Indeed, many women shrug their shoulders and accept “the wetness” as inevitable. The effects of this “leakage” damage “the social, psychological, occupational, domestic, physical, and sexual aspects” of the lives of many women. Fortunately, there are options.

But when the brain gets the “full” signal from bladder nerves, the muscles switch actions, with those in the bladder wall contracting to force the urine out, and those in the urethra relaxing to allow it to pass through. If the muscles in the bladder squeeze inappropriately, or those of the urethra relax at the wrong time, one will suffer occasional loss of bladder control, such as when one laughs, sneezes, coughs, or moves in such a way as to put pressure on the bladder.

The problem lies in the inability of the sphincter to completely close off the flow of urine. The weakness might develop because the muscles of the pelvic floor weaken, possibly due to childbirth or by the decline in muscle-toning estrogen seen with menopause, allowing the bladder to push down against the urethra.

Some people feel an intense and sudden urge to urinate, and one quickly finds oneself wet. This may happen when you have had a little bit to drink, when you hear or see running water, or even in your sleep. Whatever the reason, the bladder muscles contract and force the urine out at the wrong time.

A physician visit is recommended to ensure no underlying health issues are associated with your symptoms.   With occasional bladder control issues, it may be appropriate to try diet and exercise as a first line of defense.

For instance, keep a bladder diary to track your urination patterns, then time your trips to the bathroom so as to empty your bladder before it usually empties itself.

Try Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. These exercises are recommended for women who have given birth, to firm up their “stretched” muscles and prevent or reduce bladder control issues. The only difficult part is learning to identify the muscle to be squeezed: you can do this by sitting on a toilet and trying to stop the flow of urine, or by inserting a finger into your vagina and squeezing down on it. If you can do either of these two things, you have found the right muscle to exercise.

A new approach based on Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to help the body help itself. Instead of focusing solely on the bladder, Chinese medicine approaches occasional urinary incontinence by improving circulation, regulating neuromuscular function, and modulating hormones. All this, in turn, helps strengthen and tone the various muscles that keep urine in the bladder until it is time to void.

Improving circulation is key, for as women age the blood supply to bladder muscles and connective tissues becomes less efficient. This can be seen clearly in tissue samples taken from women of various ages. Those belonging to young women are healthy and smooth, while those from older women have numerous “holes” or empty spaces indicating tissue with insufficient levels of nourishment. Improving the blood flow in the bladder area provides essential nutrition to the muscle and connective tissues, thus improving the overall health and function of the bladder.

Regulating neuromuscular function—the interplay of nerves and muscles—is also important, for nerves running to and through the bladder influence the muscles that control the flow of urine. A sensation of urgency—that feeling that you have to go right now—may be triggered by spasms of these nerves. These spasms may be alleviated by introducing neurotransmitters that help calm the nerves, or by reducing the sensitivity of the corresponding muscles. This may be how certain Chinese herbs help reduce the feeling of urgency.

Balancing hormones completes the three-part approach. The typical woman with bladder control problems usually begins to notice leakage or other symptoms after hormonal changes that begin with peri-menopause, suggesting that female hormones play an important role in bladder function. Specifically, changes in hormone levels may decrease the mass and tone of the muscle systems that help regulate bladder function. Naturally tilting hormone levels to a more-youthful profile can help strengthen bladder muscles and reduce leakage.

An herbal blend called BetterWOMAN® was developed with these principles in mind. The supplement combines these 20 different Chinese herbs in a special, proprietary formula. Putting BetterWOMAN® to the test, the 20 different herbs in the formula have been used individually for occasional incontinence, improving the immune system, and modulating hormonal balance. But would they work together to help women with occasional urinary incontinence and bladder control issues? Only a clinical study could answer that question.

Thirty-eight women completed such a study testing the effectiveness of BetterWOMAN®. They ranged in age from 35 to 78, and suffered from occasional urinary incontinence, frequent urination (frequency), and urgent urges to urinate (urgency). The reductions in these symptoms were impressive:

At the beginning of the study, 21 of the 38 participants reported that they frequently or always suffered from bladder control issues when laughing, coughing, sneezing or lifting a heavy object. At the study’s end, 76% of those women reported significant improvement in their symptoms.

Twenty of the 38 women noted that they suffered from urinary urgency when the study began. After taking the herbal blend for two months, 70% of them noted a significant reduction in their urgency.

Repeated trips to the bathroom were a problem for 15 of the 38 women in the study when they began taking BetterWOMAN®. At study’s end 73% of them reported dramatic reductions in their frequent bathroom visits.

The researchers noted other improvements during the study. Eighteen of the women participating had complained of fatigue and exhaustion when the study began, and 83% of those had improved energy levels by the study’s end. And of the 11 women, all menopausal, who had reported mental “fuzziness” when the study began, 91% reported more mental clarity after taking the blend of herbs.

Peipei Wishnow, PhD, who headed the study, noted, “This BetterWOMAN® study provides the first clinical evidence that a natural formula can significantly improve three major bladder control issues—during episodes of stress causing urine leakage, urinary urgency, and urinary frequency—that affect the quality of life for millions of women.”

Many women shrug their shoulders when they notice the wetness, or simply reach for the panty liners. They feel that it is not worth mentioning to their doctors, that it is inevitable because they have had children or have gone through menopause, or that there is nothing to be done about it—except surgery, which they do not want to think about. Telling your doctor about your wetness problem is worth your while. And the problem is not inevitable or untreatable

There is much you can do—and the herbs found in BetterWOMAN® can be part of a successful solution.

Note: This is the Abstract of the original article, edited to conform to the dietary supplement regulations.