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Foods and Chemicals That Irritate the Bladder

by 
author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Foods and Chemicals That Irritate the Bladder
Avoid spicy foods and alcohol. Photo Credit: Jenniferrutledgephotography/iStock/GettyImages

Bladder irritation can occur for a variety of reasons, including conditions such as overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis and bladder stones.

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Certain foods and chemicals can potentially aggravate bladder irritation, provoking symptoms such as the need to urinate more frequently, difficulty holding your urine and/or pain when you empty your bladder.

Foods and dietary chemicals that irritate the bladder vary from person to person, so you might need to experiment to find those that bother you. See your doctor if you experience bladder irritation to determine the cause and best treatment options.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a common bladder irritant. Coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks are among the top dietary sources of caffeine. Some over-the-counter pain relievers — especially those marketed for headache relief — also frequently contain significant amounts of caffeine.

Caffeine is thought to irritate the bladder by increasing the amount of urine you produce and possibly increasing the excitability of the muscle tissue in your bladder wall, as noted in a February 2013 International Urogynecology Journal study report. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, you might want to limit the amount of chocolate in your diet as it also contains caffeine.

Carbonated Beverages

Carbonated beverages, including sodas and sparkling water, can potentially irritate your bladder and contribute to related symptoms. A study reported in the July 2003 issue of BJU International involving among more than 6,400 women found that drinking carbonated beverages was associated with an increased risk of overactive bladder and stress incontinence — urinating a bit when you sneeze, cough, laugh or strain.

It isn't clear why carbonated drinks might irritate your bladder but researchers speculate that sugar, caffeine, and artifical sweeteners, colorants or preservatives in these beverages might be possible culprits, as noted in a June 2013 American Journal of Epidemiology article.

Alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and hard liquor, exert a diurectic effect on your kidneys — meaning they cause you to produce more urine. This effect can aggravate symptoms associated with bladder irritation.

While drinking small amounts of alcohol might not cause problems for you, an analysis of studies evaluating the effect of drinking on bladder-related symptoms found that heavy drinking increased the risk for these symptoms, as reported in a November 2017 Journal of Urology article.

Certain Fruits and Juices

Certains fruits and juices might provoke bladder irritation symptoms. Cranberries and cranberry juice can potentially irritate your bladder, possibly by making your urine more acidic. Citrus fruits and their juices have also been reported to trigger bladder irritation symptoms in some people.

It remains unclear why citrus fruits might cause bladder irritation, although a June 2012 BJU International review article states it is unlikely to be due to urine acidity. Other fruits that might provoke bladder irritation in some people include papayas, cantaloupe, grapes, nectarines, kiwi fruit, pineapples, strawberries and passion fruit.

Certain Vegetables

Most vegetables are considered bladder friendly but some might be irritating in certain people. According to the Interstitial Cystitis Association, likely potential offenders include hot peppers, raw onions, horseradish, pickles, edamame, roasted soy beans and sauerkraut.

Tomatoes and tomato products, such as sauces and tomato-based soups, can also potentially trigger bladder irritation symptoms. As with fruits, it remains unclear why some vegetables prove irritating while others do not.

Spicy Foods and Condiments

Some people with bladder irritation find spicy food aggravates their symptoms. This is particularly true for foods that contain hot spices, including cayenne and red pepper, chili powder, hot curry powder, cloves and/or paprika.

You might also want to avoid certain condiments and ingredients, particularly soy sauce, tamari sauce, vinegar, ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, meat tenderizer and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

MSG is a flavor enhancer found in a variety of packaged and processed foods, such as canned soups, salad dressings and some snack foods. MSG might also be used in restaurant meals and prepared foods from the grocery store.

Other Foods and Chemicals

Foods that contain artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes, including aspartame, acesulfame K, saccharin and stevia, can potentially provoke bladder irritation symptoms. These sweeteners are found in a wide array of foods, such as diet beverages, light yogurt and reduced-calorie frozen desserts.

Other foods identified by the Interstitial Cystitis Association to avoid because of their potential to worsen bladder irritation include:

  • Boxed pasta or rice meal mixes
  • Cured meats, such as salami and pepperoni
  • Sausage, hot dogs and smoked fish
  • Processed cheese products
  • Bouillon cubes and powders, and dry soup and dip mixes
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