When was the last time you thought about your bladder?
As organs go, we pretty much take our bladder for granted. We certainly don’t give it the attention we give, say, our heart or lung health. Unless something goes wrong or you have an overactive bladder, chances are, you rarely think about it at all.
But you really should…
National Cancer Institute statistics show that nearly 82,000 people, mostly men, will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2018.
In women over fifty, bladder function can become more problematic in other ways, leading to health issues ranging from merely embarrassing to painful and potentially life-threatening.
Preventing bladder problems is far easier than treating them. Before we talk about preventive measures, though, let’s understand what happens when things are working correctly…
Your bladder: The basics
Your bladder is an elastic sac that sits just below the kidneys and behind the pelvic bone. In a healthy urinary system, the bladder can hold urine for up to five hours. On average, the bladder can retain up to about 16 ounces of fluid.
Urine produced by the kidneys travels to the bladder through two tubes called ureters, and is stored there until urination, when it passes through the urethra.
A healthy bladder empties completely each time you urinate. When this does not occur, bacteria can accumulate that can lead to bladder infections and other health concerns.
What can go wrong
As the body gets older, there is usually a decline in how well nerves and muscles function to signal the bladder to hold or release urine. In addition, the bladder itself gradually loses elasticity, and can hold less fluid.
This may mean more frequent trips to the bathroom, more getting up at night to urinate, or leakage when you cough or laugh (known as stress incontinence).
But these inconveniences are far less serious than other possible complications, such as:
- Neurogenic bladder – Parkinson’s disease and diabetes are among the conditions that can damage the nerves that control bladder function. In some cases, this is accompanied by an enlarged prostate, which increases the risk of bladder stones.
- Bladder stones – When the bladder doesn’t empty completely, urine crystallizes into painful mineral deposits. Left untreated, bladder stones can lead to more permanent bladder dysfunction.
- Cystitis (bladder infection) – an inflammation of the bladder wall, usually caused by bacteria. Dark, cloudy urine, painful urination, and lower back pain are signs of a bladder infection.
- Prolapsed bladder – When the tissue between the bladder and vaginal wall weaken due to a strain, they stretch and allow the bladder to bulge into the vagina.
- Bladder cancer – the fourth most common internal cancer in males. Under-hydration, as well as arsenic in drinking water, have been cited as risk factors.
How you can keep your bladder healthy
There are quite a few adjustments you can make to your lifestyle that will increase the chances of having a healthy and fully functional bladder for life.
Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” for bladder health:
- Kegel exercises – If you are ‘leaking’ when you laugh or sneeze, try squeezing those vaginal muscles, as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine. It will strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder.
- Stay hydrated – There is evidence that drinking plenty of water (not other liquids) can keep bacteria from multiplying in the bladder and help keep cancer away.
- Wear cotton underwear – Silk or polyester trap moisture, increasing risk of a bladder infection.
- Wipe front to back – to prevent spread of bacteria.
- Get your polyphenols – Cranberries, dark chocolate, and blueberries are high in this antioxidant.
- Stay regular – Constipation can cause the bladder to spasm and not empty completely.
- Support a healthy prostate – An enlarged prostate often causes difficulty in urinating completely. Here are some things you can try.
- Eat some broccoli – Cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts can lower the chances of bladder cancer.
- Take vitamin D – Research has shown that sufficient levels of Vitamin D can lower the risk of bladder cancer.
- Take vitamin B12 – This B vitamin is shown to help your body excrete arsenic, sometimes found in well water. Low to moderate exposure to arsenic is tied to elevated levels of bladder cancer.
- Eat Mediterranean-style – A Mediterranean diet rich in healthy fats protects the prostate (an enlarged prostate will interfere with urination).
- Try Manuka honey – Researchers found that this type of honey prevents the buildup of bacterial film on the inside of the bladder that cause infections.
- Use perfumed bubble baths – or only use them once in a while. They can irritate the bladder.
- Hold it in. Urinate as soon as the urge strikes. Holding onto urine weakens the bladder muscles and increases the chance of a bladder infection.
- Strain yourself – A pulled muscle can cause prolapsed bladder in women.
- Overdo the caffeine – While caffeine doesn’t cause a bladder infection, it can irritate an already infected urinary tract.
- Smoke – Studies show a correlation between smoking and bladder cancer.
- Drink soda – The carbonation and sugar will irritate the bladder.
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