I guess you could say your bladder is what keeps you going. Without this handy disposal system, toxins filtered from our blood by our liver and kidneys would back up in our body and we would become seriously ill. Our urinary system is one of the smallest systems in the body, with the fewest of working parts, your bladder being 25% of the structural arrangement. There are only three other parts to this system. Simple as it is, we could not function without it.
As small and simple as it is, your bladder can run in to some pretty serious conditions and diseases. Some conditions that affect your bladder, if not kept in check or eliminated altogether, can travel to, and affect, your kidneys as well.
Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of this system, and some of the diseases and conditions that can occur. We’ll also cover some nutritional tips for bladder health and a few supplements that can keep this system running, worry free.
The urinary bladder is a smooth, collapsible, muscular sac that stores urine temporarily. It is located on the floor of the pelvic cavity. A person’s age and sex, as well as the volume of urine it contains, affect the bladder’s shape. The empty bladder is about the size and shape of a pear.
The bladder has flexible muscular walls three layers thick. As urine leaves the kidneys and fills the bladder, via the ureters, the bladder walls expand. The urge to urinate usually starts when the bladder is about half full. The bladder walls contract to expel urine.
Urine is produced in the kidneys and sent to the bladder for elimination. The need to urinate varies based on what and how much one drinks. In general, the bladder should empty every 3 to 6 hours or 4 to 6 times in 24 hours. The average bladder capacity is 10 to 20 ounces, though this decreases a bit with aging.
Most adults feel no signal to urinate until the bladder is about half full or more. After that first signal, the sensation subsides temporarily. As the bladder gets fuller, the signal returns and gets stronger and more frequent, but still subsides if urination needs to be delayed.
It is not normal to have to rush to the toilet. Even after the first warning, people with normal bladder function can usually postpone emptying the bladder until the appropriate time and place. The first warning of the need to go can occur 1 to 2 hours before the bladder is actually full. Strong urgency can occur if you’ve been ignoring a mounting need to go for a long time, or if you’ve drunk a large amount of fluids or take water pills. Under ordinary circumstances you should not have a strong urgency to urinate.
Many people never wake up at night to urinate, but getting up once or twice, especially if you are older, can be normal. 1
What Makes It Work
Believe it or not, it’s a healthy nervous system that is important to the regular functioning of your bladder. The detrusor muscle is a layer of the bladder wall made of smooth muscle fibers arranged in spiral, longitudinal, and circular bundles. A stretched bladder signals your parasympathetic nervous system to contract the detrusor muscle.
Ordinarily, the bladder continues to collect urine until about 200ml have accumulated. However, beyond this point, stretching of the bladder wall activates stretch receptors. Nerve impulses transmitted to the sacral region of the spinal cord, and then back to the bladder, cause the bladder to go into reflex contractions. 2
DISEASES AND CONDITIONS OF THE BLADDER
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s)
Urinary tract infections are a serious health problem affecting millions of people each year.
Infections of the urinary tract are the second most common type of infection in the body. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) account for about 8.3 million doctor visits each year.* Women are especially prone to UTIs for reasons that are not yet well understood. One woman in five develops a UTI during her lifetime. UTIs in men are not as common as in women but can be very serious when they do occur.
Normally, urine is sterile. It is usually free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi but does contain fluids, salts, and waste products. An infection occurs when tiny organisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body. Most infections arise from one type of bacteria, Escherichia coli (E. coli), which normally lives in the colon.
In many cases, bacteria first travel to the urethra. When bacteria multiply, an infection can occur. An infection limited to the urethra is called urethritis. If bacteria move to the bladder and multiply, a bladder infection, called cystitis, results. If the infection is not treated promptly, bacteria may then travel further up the ureters to multiply and infect the kidneys. A kidney infection is called pyelonephritis.
The urinary system is structured in a way that helps ward off infection. The ureters and bladder normally prevent urine from backing up toward the kidneys, and the flow of urine from the bladder helps wash bacteria out of the body. In men, the prostate gland produces secretions that slow bacterial growth. In both sexes, immune defenses also prevent infection. But despite these safeguards, infections still occur. 3
Urinary Incontinence (UI)
Incontinence occurs because of problems with muscles and nerves that help to hold or release urine. Incontinence will occur if your bladder muscles suddenly contract or the sphincter muscles of the bladder are not strong enough to hold back urine. Urine may escape with less pressure than usual if the muscles are damaged, causing a change in the position of the bladder. Obesity, which is associated with increased abdominal pressure, can worsen incontinence.
Women experience UI twice as often as men with pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, and the structure of the female urinary tract accounting for this difference. But both women and men can become incontinent from neurologic injury, birth defects, stroke, multiple sclerosis and physical problems associated with aging. 4
Urinary retention can be caused by an obstruction in the urinary tract or by nerve problems that interfere with signals between the brain and the bladder. If the nerves aren’t working properly, the brain may not get the message that the bladder is full. Even if you know that your bladder is full, the bladder muscle that squeezes urine out may not get the signal that it is time to push, or the sphincter muscles may not get the signal that it is time to relax. A weak bladder muscle can also cause retention.
Many events or conditions can damage nerves and nerve pathways. Some of the most common causes are:
- vaginal childbirth
- infections of the brain or spinal cord
- accidents that injure the brain or spinal cord
- multiple sclerosis
- heavy metal poisoning
- pelvic injury or trauma
In addition, some children are born with nerve problems that can keep the bladder from releasing urine. 5
NUTRITIONAL TIPS FOR BLADDER HEALTH
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day is essential (unless advised by your doctor) as it will speed up the movement of nutrients throughout your body. Some people believe that limiting the intake on fluids helps in their conquest of bladder weakness, but in reality it can worsen this condition and can be detrimental to your health.
Enjoy Eating a Wide Variety of Nutritious Foods
People who eat a variety of food are generally healthier, live longer and have a reduced risk of becoming obese or developing illnesses such as diabetes (a major cause in bladder weakness).
- Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles) preferably whole grain as these foods contain protein for rebuilding your pelvic floor muscles and dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives, as these foods are rich in protein and used to rebuild and strengthen weak muscles.
- Moderately eat milks, yogurts, cheese and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat varieties should be chosen where possible.
- Limit saturated fat and choose foods low in salt as excess fats and salts increase fluid retention.
- Consume only moderate amounts of sugar and foods containing added sugars as too much sugar can lead to weight gain and obesity which then has the potential to cause bladder weakness.
- Limit or avoid coffee, tea, cola and chocolate. These contain caffeine, which dehydrates the body and irritates the bladder. If caffeinated drinks cannot be avoided, try drinking a glass of water before and after consuming these. This will dilute the caffeine causing less irritation to your bladder.
SUPPLEMENTS THAT SUPPORT YOUR BLADDER
Selenium – A study published in the December issue of Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, suggests that selenium, a trace mineral found in grains, nuts and meats, may aid in the prevention of high-risk bladder cancer.
Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School compared selenium levels in 767 individuals newly diagnosed with bladder cancer to the levels of 1,108 individuals from the general population. Findings showed an inverse association between selenium and bladder cancer among women, some smokers and those with p53 positive bladder cancer. 6
Cranberry – Bacteria can cling to the walls of the urinary tract and multiply, causing painful, frequent urination. Research shows that cranberries contain compounds that stop bacteria from sticking, making cranberry juice a popular way to help treat and prevent infections. But you can get 3 times the antioxidant activity of cranberry juice and none of the sugar with CranRich, Natural Factors highly concentrated natural treatment for urinary tract infections.
Garlic – Garlic contains an amino acid derivative, alliin. When garlic is consumed, the enzyme alliinase, which converts alliin to allicin, is released. Allicin has an antibiotic effect; it exerts an antibacterial effect estimated to be equivalent to 1 percent of that of penicillin. Aged garlic supplements support healthy nerve function and prevent that anti-social “garlic breath”. Garlic also detoxifies the body and protects against infection.
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 9 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.
1. University of California, San Francisco
2. Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology, Seventh Edition, Elaine N. Marieb.
3. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH, http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/utiadult/index.htm
4. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH, http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/uiwomen/index.htm
5. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH,http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/UrinaryRetention/index.htm#cause
6. Selenium May Prevent High Risk Badder Cancer, Science Centric, December 8, 2008,http://www.sciencecentric.com/news/article.php?q=08120815-selenium-may-prevent-high-risk-bladder-cancer