Overactive bladder (OAB), a condition that causes a sudden urge to urinate, is most commonly treated with prescription medications to control bladder muscles. However, herbal remedies are becoming more common as natural treatment options.

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) regulates herbs as dietary supplements but doesn’t approve any herbs as medications to treat specific illnesses or medical conditions.

Though these herbs do show some promise in helping to treat OAB, you should always consult your healthcare provider before starting any complementary treatments.

Bladderwrack is a form of seaweed. Due to its high iodine content, this herb is most recognized in treating underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). It’s also used in the treatment of OAB.

At this stage there isn’t enough evidence to deem bladderwrack an effective treatment method. You should avoid it if you:

  • take synthetic or natural 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 over 6 weeks on bladder activity in elderly men with OAB symptoms.

According to the study, significant improvements in OAB symptoms were observed.

Researchers concluded that Gosha-jinki-gan may be a new potential therapy for OAB in men with benign prostatic obstruction. This provides some hope for OAB treatment.

Horsetail is an herb used to treat a variety of ailments. Among them are some symptoms of OAB including:

  • 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 that horsetail is effective for treating OAB. Only the above-ground parts of the plant are deemed safe for human consumption.

Saw palmetto plants are common 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 Integrative Health (NCCIH), it’s been traditionally used to treat OAB in men with prostate problems.

However, an NCCIH study found that saw palmetto did not decrease urinary symptoms associated with prostate problems any more than a placebo treatment.

Unwanted side effects can be a downside to the natural aspect of herbs. 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.

Many herbs are off-limits during pregnancy and breastfeeding because of limited research or potential transfer to babies.

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. It’s also possible for them to interact with other bladder medications and cause adverse reactions.

Discuss all safety aspects with your healthcare provider or a naturopathic doctor before choosing an herbal remedy for OAB. Your provider can talk through dosage, side effects, drug interactions, and more.