Herbs the Word: Help for Overactive Bladder
A Word on Herbs
Overactive bladder (OAB) is most commonly treated with prescription medications to control bladder muscles. Yet, herbal remedies are becoming more common as a natural treatment.
You may see herbs as natural ways to prevent bladder problems, but they aren’t always safe and effective. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve herbs as effective treatment methods.
These herbs do show some promise in helping overactive bladder, but you should always consult your doctor before starting any complimentary treatments.
Bladderwrack is a form of seaweed. Due to its high iodine content, this herb is most recognized in treating underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). It is also used in the treatment of overactive bladder.
There is not yet enough evidence to deem bladderwack as an effective treatment method, and you should avoid it if you:
- take synthetic hormones for hypothyroidism
- have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- use other forms of iodine, such as kelp
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
Other herbs have a little more backing from science, like Gosha-jinki-gan. A 2007 study focused on the effects of this herb on bladder activity in rats. According to the study, bladder contractions were lower in the group of rats given the herb.
Researchers concluded that the blended herbal medicine inhibited bladder activity by maintaining balance in the nervous systems. This provides some hope for overactive bladder treatment, but human studies are still needed.
Horsetail is an herb used for a variety of ailments, including these symptoms of overactive bladder:
- urinary leaks (incontinence)
- bladder stones
- urinary tract infections
Horsetail may also be used for “general disturbances” related to the bladder. There still isn’t enough evidence to prove the effectiveness for the overall treatment of overactive bladder. Only the above-ground parts of the plant are deemed safe for human consumption.
Saw palmetto plants are commonplace in eastern parts of the United States, such as Florida. While the tree might look good in your yard, some evidence suggests that it can do your bladder good, too.
The herb is actually derived from saw palmetto berries. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it is most effective for overactive bladder in men with prostate problems. However, saw palmetto should not be used to treat prostate cancer.
Tonics and Mixtures
While there are some stand-alone herbs used to treat overactive bladder, others can be combined with different ingredients. One example is the BioActive Homeopathic Kidney Tonic. This tonic includes some herbs, such as pareira brava and Echinacea, to help decrease urinary urges and frequent bathroom visits. Tonics like this one still aren’t FDA-approved, and they are not recommended for children.
Unwanted Side Effects
Unwanted side effects can be a downside to the natural aspect of herbs. For example, cornsilk, an herb used to prevent bladder infections, also has a diuretic effect on the body. Horsetail may also be a diuretic. Herbs like these may actually increase trips to the bathroom, as well as your urges to go.
Other common herbal side effects can include:
- upset stomach
- sleeping problems
- blood clotting issues
These side effects are more likely when taking more than one herb at the same time.
Most herbs are off-limits during pregnancy and breast-feeding because of transfers to babies.
Are Herbs Worth the Risk?
Misconceptions surrounding safety are among the biggest risks associated with herbal remedies. While herbs are deemed “natural,” they can be just as powerful as conventional medications. This means that seemingly safe herbs can pose side effects, and even interact with other bladder medications. Before choosing an herbal remedy for overactive bladder, discuss all safety aspects with your doctor. Your doctor can talk through dosage, side effects, drug interactions, and more.
- Bladderwrack (2011, December 13). Medline Plus. Retrieved December 15, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/726.html
- Effect of Gosha-jinki-gan, a Blended Herbal Medicine, on Bladder Activity in Rats (2007, February). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved December 15, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17222677
- Horsetail (2012, February 23). Medline Plus. Retrieved December 15, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/843.html#Safety
- Kidney Tonic (2010, October). Daily Med. Retrieved December 15, 2013 from http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/lookup.cfm?setid=35b3e886-bc74-4078-8ee3-d7b24598754c
- Saw Palmetto (2012, April). National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Retrieved December 15, 2013 from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/palmetto/ataglance.htm?nav=gsa