Try these natural remedies for a healthy bladder, includes Q and A with leading natural health experts.
Natural remedies for a healthy bladder include changing to an alkaline diet, turmeric and goldenseal herbs and urinary demulcents.
Read more about natural remedies for polycystic ovaries: Natural Remedies for Polycystic Ovaries.
I am a 50-year-old woman diagnosed with painful bladder/irritable bladder syndrome. Are there any natural remedies you can suggest? To keep symptoms in check, I avoid trigger foods. These include all fruits, tomatoes, anything with vinegar, spicy foods and caffeine. When I do eat these foods, I sometimes wake up six to eight times at night to urinate. I am especially concerned about losing out on the antioxidants and other health benefits that fruit, etc. provide.
Willard responds: The lack of good research in the area of painful bladder/irritable bladder syndrome causes plenty of confusion. It is often classified as a symptom of interstitial cystitis (IC), a painful inflammatory condition of the bladder wall. A chronic condition, it is distinguished by pressure and pain above the pubic area. IC symptoms also include increased urination frequency and urgency from the chronic inflammation and swelling of the lining and interior walls of the bladder. It does not necessarily involve bladder infection, though the exact cause of interstitial cystitis is not known.
Some practitioners think it is an autoimmune disorder associated with fibromyalgia or Sjogren’s syndrome. And for some, allergies seem to be associated. Many researchers also feel there is a psychological aspect to this syndrome.
My opinion is that it can have many different causes, or more likely a combination of the above issues. Both men and women can suffer from irritated bladder or IC, but it is much more common in women. The irritation appears to be in the lining or walls of the bladder. The reason that the mentioned foods irritate your bladder is that all of these foods increase the acidity of the urine in the bladder, thus increasing both negative organism populations and irritation. By adopting a more alkaline diet, high in green vegetables and lower in proteins and citrus fruit, often the acid/base balance can be restored. Drinking plenty of clean water or herbal teas such as corn silk, parsley leaves (Petroselinum crispum) and/or dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale) also will substantially lower the acidity of the urine.
In many respects, this syndrome can sometimes be viewed as a kind of “spiritual (emotional) sickness,” a condition in which a person internalizes an urgent need to resolve anger, resulting in urinary urgency and pain. This concept very much correlates with Chinese medical theory, which suggests that feelings of suspicion and holding grudges can affect the bladder, or will begin to manifest when the bladder is diseased, creating a vicious cycle.
The program I use starts with a detoxification, focusing on an alkaline diet. A Chinese patent remedy called Huang Lian Su at a dosage of 2 tablets, three times daily, has been particularly helpful. To relax the area, try kava (Piper methysticum) tincture, 1 teaspoon, three times daily. (Do not use kava if you have liver disease.) To round out the simple supplement program, add MSM, 2,000 mg, three times daily; reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), 3 grams twice daily; and cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), 2 grams twice daily. Essential fatty acids also are a good addition. I recommend omega-3 oils at a dose of 1,000 to 2,000 mg, twice daily.
We often find other organisms, besides the usual bacteria, associated with this problem. The most common is a candida yeast infection. We always test for the yeast and, if present, treat it. The addition of probiotics usually is required due to the long-term use of antibiotics. I use 6 to 8 billion bacteria (e.g. a mixture of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bacillus bifidum and Staphylococcus faecium), three times daily with meals.
The above program works for approximately 70 percent of my patients. If it doesn’t work, we have to try different combinations of herbs to find the right ones for each individual. The following is a list of botanicals I often try (usually in combination): the urinary tonics mullein root, pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) and shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris); the immunomodulants astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) and schisandra (Schisandra chinensis); and the antispasmodics wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and lobelia (Lobelia inflata).
Khalsa responds: Urinary symptoms, from whatever cause, respond to similar therapies. As Willard stated above, urinary urgency is one of the symptoms in the current criteria for fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Many authorities consider IC to be a condition closely associated with fibromyalgia, and studies have shown that there is an elevated level of urinary disorders in patients with fibromyalgia.
IC is a connective tissue disorder, possibly autoimmune in origin, and, in fact, the Interstitial Cystitis Association lists FMS as a common associated condition, common enough that some people say IC is just FMS in another form. Just as some patients get more muscular, or more digestive or more neuroendocrine disorders in FMS, so some get more urinary symptoms.
Scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine looked at the frequency of female urethral syndrome in women with FMS. Six of 50 female patients with fibromyalgia qualified as having female urethral syndrome, whereas none of 50 controls with other rheumatic diseases did. FMS is not an inflammatory disorder, yet many of the associated conditions, such as IC, do potentially involve inflammation.
To treat IC, herbal medicine practitioners use herbs called urinary demulcents. These demulcents soothe pain in the bladder wall and include such herbs as cornsilk (Zea mays), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), plantain leaf (Plantago major) and mullein leaf (Verbascum spp.). These herbs are used as teas. Use up to an ounce per day, by weight, brewed as tea.
Saw palmetto berry (Serenoa repens) relaxes smooth muscle in the bladder neck and helps reduce tissue enlargement, so that’s also worth a try.
There is some pretty good preliminary scientific evidence for using chamomile (Matricaria recutita) to soothe cystitis. As a bonus, chamomile tea also tastes good and is relaxing.
I also rely on two exceptional herbs, turmeric (Curcuma longa) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), both of which are cooling and anti-inflammatory. Use 1 to 4 tablespoons daily of powdered turmeric, mixed into something mushy, like yogurt, or use an extract with high curcumin content. A 97 percent curcumin extract, in capsules, takes a dose of about 2 grams per day. Goldenseal is antibacterial and astringent, so it will heal the bladder tissue. IC may not involve infection, but if it does, goldenseal will eliminate the bacteria that are usually responsible. Use about 16 grams per day, in capsules, for three to four weeks.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience with medicinal herbs. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild. Khalsa’s book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, page 58.
Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal.
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