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The Truth About Sugar And Incontinence

Halloween is coming. And as tempting as it may be to start raiding your kid’s candy bucket, if you have incontinence it’s important to take a pause. Yes, those snickers bars are so delicious, but what are they doing to your bladder?

What causes Incontinence anyway?

Simply put, incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine. There are many types of incontinence (you can read all about them here), and many different reasons why someone may develop bladder leaks. Bladder leaks may be the result of weakened pelvic floor muscles from childbirth, certain medications you’re taking, or even nerve damage that developed because of a different condition all together.

(Curious as to what type of incontinence you may have? Take our quiz here!)

Why would sugar make a difference with incontinence?

It may sound crazy, but what you eat has a big effect on how your bladder behaves. While it’s different for everyone, there are many foods that can irritate the bladder. These include things like acidic foods (think citrus or tomatoes), caffeine, and yes, even sugar.  Sugar can stimulate the bladder, causing sudden urges, which may lead to leaks. Even natural sugars, like honey, or artificial sweeteners can cause this irritation. (See this complete list of irritants from John Hopkins Medicine.)

And, let’s be honest. Besides just the effect on your bladder, you probably know that sugar is not great for you anyway.  It can indirectly lead to number of other conditions, which consequently, may then lead to incontinence.

Too much sugar may lead to more frequent urinary tract infections, a condition that sometimes causes short-term incontinence. The bacteria that cause UTIs love sugar. Sugar makes the acid level of your urine higher, creating a better environment for this bacteria, and causing the infection to grow more quickly.

And, eating too much sugar can lead to higher blood sugar levels, which can cause an increase in the amount of urine that is produced by the body. This can then lead to that urgent, frequent need to go, and create the potential leaks.

Eating too much sugar can also lead to weight gain, which places extra strain on the pelvic floor muscles and can cause incontinence. It may also lead to diabetes, a condition where your body has a hard time processing the glucose in your body, causing potentially high blood sugar levels. These high levels of blood sugar can cause a condition called diabetic neuropathy, specifically, neurogenic bladder, which depending on the nerves affected, may cause a bladder to be under or overactive.

Should I avoid sugar completely if I have incontinence?

You don’t have to give up sugar all together, but you should definitely pay attention to the amount you consume.  People are unique and what may be a big bladder irritant for one person isn’t always necessarily one for someone else.  The best thing to do is to keep a bladder diary and track what you’re eating and drinking for a few days, as well as when you have leaks. If you start noticing certain patterns (like always needing a bathroom run after that 3PM sugar fixe), it may be a good idea to cut back.  You can also try an elimination diet by eliminating sugar all together for a period of time, then slowly introducing it back into your system to see if it makes a difference.

Of course, when it comes to sugar, moderation is key for anyone – not just those experiencing leaks. Too much sugar is bad for anyone trying to stick to a healthy diet. If you can, try to stick to naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and limit foods with added sugar as much as possible.

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