Q: Is it true that weight loss can improve problems with urinary incontinence?
A: It may. Urinary incontinence is an involuntary leakage of urine. It can occur as stress incontinence (which comes at a time of some form of exertion or when sneezing or coughing), urge incontinence (which occurs with or immediately following a sense of urgency), or a mixture of both. Excess body fat, especially in the abdominal area, is strongly linked to greater risk of urinary incontinence. Researchers say this could be a physical effect, due to pressure of excess fat pushing down and stressing the pelvic floor. However, since studies show that fat tissue is metabolically active and linked to inflammation and hormonal changes, it’s also possible that these conditions are involved in the link between overweight and urinary incontinence. A recent review pulling together the results of six studies on this link concluded that modest weight loss may help reduce urinary incontinence. The good news is that a 5 to 10 percent weight loss seemed to make a difference, which could mean losing less than 10 pounds for some people..
However, excess weight is far from the only reason for urinary incontinence. It can be related to medications, hormone changes, surgery, childbirth and other causes. It’s unfortunate that many people who experience urinary incontinence are embarrassed and don’t discuss it with their healthcare provider. That is a shame, because in addition to weight loss, other remedies can also be considered. If you are overweight, modest weight loss also can make a difference in controlling or reducing risk of so many other health problems, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Making a few changes in eating habits and activity to support a modest weight loss is a good idea. But don’t leave your doctor or other healthcare provider in the dark as you face this problem.
Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, http://www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.