“How about instead of going out to the movies tonight, we stream one at home instead?” Joanna Wen suggested, trying not to disappoint her family by canceling plans completely…once again.
The 50-year-old was often backing out of activities because of her overactive bladder, or OAB, which causes a frequent and sudden urge to urinate that can be difficult to control.
If I don’t get control of this soon, Joanna worried, this is going to keep negatively impacting not only my life, but the life of my family. How am I supposed to live the rest of my life this way?
What were Joanna’s overactive bladder symptoms
For those with the overactive bladder, frequent urination or frequency, or the need to pass urine multiple times during the day and night and urgency, or the sudden urge to urinate, are sometimes also accompanied by nocturia, or waking up more than once during the night to go to the bathroom.
For Joanna, although she dealt with all three symptoms, overactive bladder at night was especially a problem—in fact, she would wake two to three times times throughout the night to tip-toe to the bathroom with an urgency to urinate. Not only was it disruptive, it made it impossible for the working mother and wife to get a good night’s sleep, leaving her groggy and exhausted throughout her busy days while also grappling with the constant urgency to go to the bathroom. (Click through to learn how to outsmart bladder spasms that trigger urgency and leaks.)
By the weekend, Joanna was so exhausted that even simple family activities like taking a walk, watching a movie or even going to dinner were out of the question. Most of the time, she would just end up spending lazy afternoons catching up on her sleep instead of catching up on errands or enjoying time with family and friends.
And whenever Joanna did leave the house, the first thing she did was scope out where the bathroom was, which was embarrassing and intrusive, as she would often feel panicked if a bathroom wasn’t readily accessible nearby.
What causes overactive bladder?
Like many of the up to 33 million adults in the United States who experience overactive bladder, the cause of Joanna’s symptoms were unknown. When a bladder is functioning normally, the brain signals the bladder muscles to empty once it is full, which causes the bladder muscles to squeeze, releasing urine. When the bladder is not full, the bladder is relaxed.
In the case of overactive bladder, the nerve signals between the bladder and the brain do not function properly, causing signaling at the improper time (like when the bladder isn’t full) or creating overactive muscles in the bladder that contract to pass urine, creating an urgent feeling of “gotta go.”
Certain people are at greater risk for overactive bladder, such as those with certain neurologic disorders, who have diseases that affect the brain or spinal cord, such as stroke or multiple sclerosis, those who are undergoing hormone changes and even pelvic weakness or spasms.
But when Joanna realized that her symptoms were consistent with overactive bladder, she knew she had to find a way to cope—and fast.
How Joanna found a home remedy for overactive bladder
About a year ago, Joanna set her mind to losing a few extra pounds and began experimenting with cumin, a spice made from the dried seed of a plant known as Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family, and other spices to her diet.
One of the most popular spices used in Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and India, cumin is touted to boost metabolism due to its unique active ingredient, thymoquinone, a naturally-occurring antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Excited to try it, Joanna began adding cumin into her food, and a week into her tasty experiments, it suddenly hit her: she was making fewer trips to the bathroom—both during the day and at night.
“I wonder if there’s a connection?” she thought to herself as she stood at the counter seasoning her dinner.
How cumin helped Joanna’s overactive bladder
Fascinated at the change in her overactive bladder symptoms, Joanna began researching every spice she had been adding to her diet to help her lose weight and discovered that cumin was in fact a popular Ayurvedic home remedy for an overactive bladder. Joanna read that cumin contains compounds that combat bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections, E. Coli, and it’s rich in vitamins and minerals that help to strengthen and tone up the bladder muscles to support its normal, healthy function.
Have I actually stumbled across a home remedy for overactive bladder? Joanna wondered excitedly. Inspired by the thought that she might be finally able to sleep for more than an hour or two without waking to go to the bathroom each night, Joanna started seasoning her daily meat, fish, stews, soups and chilis by adding ½ teaspoon of cumin powder, (or more, depending on the dish).
She also began drinking cumin tea late in the afternoon four to five times a week—a traditional Indian beverage referred to as a “jeera tea”, which touts multiple benefits for digestion, weight loss, sleep and more. She made it by steeping 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes or more (straining out the seeds before drinking).
Within three days of infusing her daily diet with cumin, Joanna noticed a reduction in the urgency and frequency of her trips to the bathroom. She also woke up later than she had in nearly 8 years and she was only waking once—sometimes not at all—to go to the bathroom during the night. Within a couple of weeks, Joanna was no longer getting up at all during the night to go to the bathroom.
“I’m so thrilled I found a home remedy for my overactive bladder that is so tasty and easy to add to my lifestyle,” Joanna smiles. “It helped me no longer worry about where the closest bathroom is and lets me get 8 straight hours of restful sleep night after night without any bathroom interruption. I wake feeling so refreshed and look forward to exciting weekends filled with family activities.”
Urogynecologist shares 4 other natural overactive bladder cures
1. Stick to water
Coffee, alcohol, soda and diet drinks can increase the spasms and contractions that cause overactive bladder (aka urge incontinence), says New York City urogynecologist Lisa Dabney, MD. “Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, plus they’re very acidic, which irritates the bladder lining. Artificial sweeteners can have the same effect on some women. Skip spicy food and citrus fruit, too; both can also irritate the bladder,” she says. But she also cautions not to over hydrate. Instead of aiming for eight glasses of H2O a day, drink only when you’re thirsty. “Otherwise, your bladder will constantly be full, and you’ll have to go all the time.”
2. Set a schedule
If you only produce a little urine when you go, your bladder may be sending false “gotta go” signals. To overcome “fake” signals, take a bathroom break every two hours — but not in between, Dr. Danby suggests. (Worried about leaks? Wear a thin liner for a few weeks until your body adjusts.)
3. Ease urgency with Kegels
Pelvic exercises are one of the top natural remedies for an overactive bladder, especially for women. Gotta go? Dr. Danby advises doing a few Kegels to help stop your bladder from contracting, buying you extra time to get to the bathroom. To do: Inhale deeply through your nose. When your lungs are comfortably full, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles (the ones you’d use if you were trying to stop peeing midstream) as you slowly exhale. Release and repeat until the urgency eases.
4. Know when to see your doctor
Call your doctor if you’re leaking more than a few times a day or your frequent bathroom breaks don’t respond to the tips above. You may need an Rx and/or physical therapy, says Dabney.
For more ways to help bladder bothers, visit these Woman’s World stories:
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.