Various forms of incontinence, including stress incontinence, or the releasing of small amounts of urine when laughing, sneezing, coughing, or exercising; overflow incontinence, the inability to fully empty the bladder when urinating, with leaking of the urine throughout the day; urge incontinence, triggered by a single glass of water or the sound of water, causing a powerful and sometimes uncontrollable urge to urine; and reflex incontinence, the emptying of the bladder without perceiving the need to urinate beforehand.


What are Bladder Problems?

From Modern Western Medicine

Bladder problems include various forms of incontinence, swelling of the bladder or urethra, and weakness or overactivity of the sphincter muscles. These conditions are can be caused by overactive or underactive bladder muscles, neurological disorders, hormone imbalances, and the side effects of medication. Another common bladder problem is cystitis (the inflammation of the urinary bladder), which is caused by bacterial infection.


From Traditional Medicine

Bladder problems are caused by an imbalance of qi in the water element, usually brought on by highly acidic foods and drinks, spices, stimulants, and other irritants that stress the kidneys and bladder; by pregnancy; by various kinds of birth control devices, such as IUD; and by cigarette smoking.


General Recommendations

  • See Part IV for ways to strengthen kidneys and bladder.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Lose weight. Excess weight stresses the bladder and can contribute to incontinence.


Foods to Eat

  • Whole grains, especially barley, which is an herb for the kidneys, and brown rice. Cook grains with small amounts of sea salt (a pinch per pot). This small amount will alkalize the grain and assist in digestion. It will also make the blood and urine slightly less acidic.
  • Beans, especially black bean, long considered a traditional herb for the bladder and kidneys
  • Leafy greens for their mineral content
  • White fish, which is low in fat
  • Sea vegetables, such as nori, wakame, kombu, arame: mineral-rich and strengthening to the kidneys and bladder. Small amounts, such as 1- to 2-tbsp.-sized servings, daily


Foods to Avoid

Highly acidic foods, such as spices, alcohol (chronic alcohol abuse significantly weakens the bladder), sugar, tomatoes, and hot peppers

Red meat, dairy products, and eggs, all of which raise the uric acid levels of the blood, stress the kidneys and the bladder, and irritate organs

Excess salt. Avoid adding salt or salt-rich foods at the table.

Caffeine-containing foods and drinks, especially coffee. Also avoid tea, soda pop, and cacao-containing foods. (These act like diuretics and weaken the bladder and kidneys.)


  • Kegel exercises daily. Contract pelvis muscles while urinating, causing the urine flow to be halted temporarily. Then release. Stop again. Repeat the process several times while urinating. This strengthens the sphincter muscles in the bladder and provides greater control over the bladder. These exercises are especially helpful to women who have stress incontinence as a result of pregnancy. Do these exercises even when not urinating.
  • Walk daily for 20 to 30 minutes to improve general fitness and lose weight. (See Exercise section in Part III.)
  • Aerobic exercise 20 to 30 minutes per session, three to for times a week. (See Exercise section in Part III.)


Herbs to Treat Bladder Problems

  • Echinacea, especially for bacterial infection that cause cystitis: 15 – 30 drops, twice daily for three to five days. Dried herbs can be drunk as a decoction tea and combined with burdock root and dandelion to make a blood cleansing and kidney-bladder-strengthening decoction or tea   
  • Goldenseal: 15 – 30 drops, as a tincture, twice daily for three to five days
  • Burdock root: strengthens kidneys and bladder, cleanses blood. Can be taken as a tincture or as a dried herb in decoction tea
  • Slippery elm: for cystitis, as a decoction tea from the whole bark, three to four times daily
  • Buchu: for cystitis or inflammation of the bladder; irritation of the bladder; high levels of uric acid; and urine retention. Use as a cold infusion. (Do not boil leaves. Rather, add 3 oz. of herb to water after the water has been boiled, steep for 5 – 15 minutes.) Drink three or four times per day.
  • Uva Ursi: for bladder diseases, bed wetting, cystitis, and kidney and bladder stones. Combines well with buchu. Use as a tincture (10 – 20 drops, three times per day), fluid extract ( ½ – 1 tsp., three times per day), or infusion (standard infusion, steep for 30 minutes), three cups per day