An overactive bladder (OAB) causes the need to suddenly urinate, regardless of how much urine is in the bladder. Some medications your doctor prescribes can help with these symptoms. Alternative treatments such as supplements, herbs, and therapies may also be beneficial, but there is less scientific evidence for them.
Some alternative treatments help address OAB symptoms directly while others promote the general health of the urinary tract.
There’s little scientific evidence that alternative treatments are as effective as traditional treatments like bladder retraining and Kegel exercises. Talk to your doctor before starting any alternative treatment. Some options may cause side effects, especially if you’re taking other medications. Alternative treatments can provide extra benefits, but they shouldn’t replace traditional ones.
Read on to learn about the options.
Supplements and herbs may be “natural,” but they can still interact negatively with medications you are taking. Ask your healthcare provider about herbs and supplements you are considering. This is the best way to avoid side effects.
Some research shows that magnesium hydroxide can reduce spontaneous muscle contractions that cause incontinence. A small study found that magnesium hydroxide improved urinary incontinence in women. But there were also side effects of vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping. You can find magnesium hydroxide supplements in most drug and health food stores.
This amino acid helps create nitric oxide. Nitric oxide plays an important role in the health of the lower urinary tract. There are not a lot of studies that look at L-arginine in overactive bladder. One study found that the supplement Edicare, which contains 115 milligrams of L-arginine, is helpful for OAB in older adults. L-arginine supplements are fairly common and are also available in foods like:
- meat and dairy products
Avoid L-arginine if you have:
- an allergy to arginine
- a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinning medications
- diabetes or hypoglycemia
- hyperkalemia, or high levels of potassium
- an immune system disorder
Children and pregnant women should also avoid L-arginine due to lack of evidence about its safety.
Pumpkin seed extract is a popular natural treatment for OAB. A recent study suggests that pumpkin seed oil may be able to treat or prevent symptoms of OAB and other urinary disorders. Researchers are looking into pumpkin seed oil more. There may be more studies on pumpkin seed oil and OAB in the future.
This climbing plant has been used for centuries to treat skin diseases. Cleavers are also said to be a tonic for general urinary health, according to Collins Alternative Health Guide. They may have anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties that could ease symptoms of OAB.
There are no clinical trials about cleavers and OAB. Discuss this herb with your doctor before trying it. Cleavers has not been studied or tested much in the Western medical community and the side effects are not well-reported.
Other herbs and supplements
These herbs and supplements may work for OAB, but they still lack clinical scientific data and studies to support their effectiveness. These herbs and supplements include:
- gosha-jinki-gan, a Chinese herbal blend, which is shown to improve symptoms, but may also cause nausea and diarrhea
- corn silk, no direct study for OAB
- capsaicin, no direct study for OAB
- kohki tea, not yet studied in humans
You can read more about the studies behind these supplements here.
Mind and body
Mind-body treatments may be very helpful for your OAB. The following approaches may ease symptoms as well as help you cope with symptoms.
Guided imagery is a form of cognitive therapy that alters the way you think. You will be guided by a qualified practitioner to a relaxed state of mind through imagery and thoughts.
This form of therapy may involve soothing music with nature sounds. It can relax your mind and help you cope with both mental and physical conditions. You may even find guided imagery to be helpful for bladder relaxation and reducing the urge to urinate.
Biofeedback is a behavior modification technique that helps people learn to control bodily functions. It can help you re-train your bladder and pelvic floor muscles to minimize the risk of leakage.
Your healthcare provider will use electrodes to gather and display information on a monitor that’s visible to you and your provider. The monitor will show when the pelvic floor muscles are taut. You can use the feedback this method provides to help you gain more control of your bladder.
Chinese medicine can offer a holistic approach to treating OAB. Several studies support acupuncture as a potentially useful option.
Acupuncture involves extremely fine-tipped needles. These needles are inserted in very specific areas of the body. The objective of acupuncture is to improve the flow of “qi” (energy) throughout the body. Treatment can be done once or twice a week for about 12 sessions, or until symptoms improve.
Focusing on your behavior may also help with OAB symptoms. These therapies include:
- behavioral therapy
- meditation involving visualization and relaxation exercises
Research suggests that hypnotherapy isn’t effective when done alone. A pilot study of hypnotherapy and behavioral therapy suggests that adding hypnotherapy can improve how patients feel about their OAB, but more studies need to be done.
Hypnotherapy in the study involved three 60-minute sessions with a hypnotherapist for six to eight weeks. These sessions involved replicating behavioral therapy sessions and going through hypnotic induction using guided imagery and therapeutic suggestion. At the end of the study, those who did hypnotherapy reported greater improvement.
Talk to your doctor
There are many alternative treatments for OAB, but the effectiveness of these treatments have yet to be scientifically proven. You may have additional benefit from trying alternative treatments along with traditional ones.
Your doctor can help you design a treatment plan that includes both traditional and alternative options. Sticking to your provider’s guidelines will help ensure a minimal risk of side effects. Always talk to your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.