Food and Nutrition

‘I’m a Bladder Health Specialist, and These Are the Top 5 Foods and Drinks Linked to Causing Bladder Irritation’

Emily Laurence

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
Dealing with bladder irritation (which can manifest in the form of a urinary tract infection or bladder pain) can ruin any experience. It's like someone talking during your favorite movie or getting incessant calls from your boss when you're on vacation—except worse, because it causes physical pain in addition to mental frustration.

If it's something you're dealing with, it's 100 percent worth it to schedule an appointment with a urologist or primary care physician. (Many now offer virtual appointments, so if you have a bad UTI and aren't comfortable leaving your home, you can chat via video or phone instead.) Sometimes, bladder irritation requires medication and seeing a doctor one-on-one allows them to give personal recommendations related to your individual experience. But according to One Medical primary care physician Natasha, Bhuyan, MD, who treats patients with issues related to urinary health regularly, there are some general guidelines everyone can keep in mind in terms of supporting their urinary health. That includes foods and drinks that help support urinary health as well as minimizing ones that irritate the bladder.

Dr. Bhuyan's number one tip for supporting your urinary health: Drink plenty of water. "This makes sure that the kidneys and bladder are consistently being flushed out," she says. She recommends drinking eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day, plus an extra 12 ounces for every 30 minutes of exercise.

She also says that if you focus on foods that are good for the gut, you're automatically helping your bladder out, too. "Straining for a bowel movement puts strain on pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder. So foods that support regular bowel movements and prevent constipation are great for urinary health," she says.

It's also helpful to know if there are any foods or drinks that are a regular part of your life that could be working against you, in terms of bladder health. The ones rounded up here all top the list as the worst foods for bladder health (and drinks—not everything you hydrate with is considered equal, after all).

The worst drinks and foods for bladder health

1. Coffee

The first one on Dr. Bhuyan's list may come as a shocker but it's true: Coffee can irritate the bladder. "The reason for this is because of the caffeine," Dr. Bhuyan says. Studies back her up, showing that caffeine can increase the feeling of having to pee—similar to the excruciating sensation someone feels when they have a UTI. The researchers of the study recommend people with bladder irritation minimize their caffeine consumption. "In addition to the caffeine, coffee is also acidic, which can also cause irritation," Dr. Bhuyan says. That means coffee has two strikes against it.

If giving up coffee is a non-negotiable, Dr. Bhuyan totally gets that. She just recommends drinking water before and while you sip it. She also says that one cup is likely fine, but if you have two or three cups of coffee a day, you may want to alternate with decaf or an herbal tea.

2. Citrus fruits or fruit juice

You know how Dr. Bhuyan says that one reason that coffee isn't great for bladder health is because it's acidic? The same applies to citrus fruits and drinks, because they're acidic as well. "The reason why acidic foods can irritate the bladder is because of the pH levels in the bladder," Dr. Bhuyan says. "The bladder has a neutral pH and acidic foods an disrupt that." Of course foods like oranges, berries, and lemon are full of health benefits so Dr. Bhuyan says they shouldn't be avoided; in fact, she's all for them. "It really just comes down to moderation," she says.

3. Soda

Soda isn't great for bladder health for a few reasons. One, Dr. Bhuyan says, is because it's caffeinated, and as you now know, caffeine can irritate the bladder. Sugar has also been scientifically linked to irritating the bladder. Even if you go for a diet soda that has an artificial sweetener instead of cane sugar (such as sodium saccharin, acesulfame K, or aspartame), it can still cause irritation as these types of sweeteners have been shown to be irritating too. Here's the good news though: Amazing tasting healthy soda brands are gaining in popularity, and they're often made with herbs that actually support the body. One of our favorites? Spindrift, which is made without added any sugar or other form of sweetener.

4. Foods that are constipating

As Dr. Bhuyan previously explained, there's a connection between gut health and bladder health; you want to keep everything in the digestive tract moving right along. This means that constipating foods are an enemy of bladder health. For many people, this includes fried foods, processed grains (like white bread and pasta), and excess dairy.

5. Alcoholic drinks

You might have guessed this one was coming. "When you drink alcohol in excess, you can end up becoming dehydrated," Dr. Bhuyan says. She's not against you enjoying a glass of pinot or a G&T at happy hour, but she does recommend drinking plenty of water along with your booze. And again, everything in moderation.

If you deal with bladder irritation on a regular basis, the fact that foods and drinks can work for or against urinary health should be welcome news; it gives you some element of control. But Dr. Bhuyan reiterates that it's always a good idea to troubleshoot with a urologist or primary care doctor. It's literally their job to make sure people live bladder irritation-free lives. And they can help you do so in a way where you're still able to enjoy all your favorite foods and drinks, too.

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