It’s actually a symptom that’s well worth looking into, as there are many possible causes and risk factors. It has been shown that men who drink at least two cups of coffee per day are at a much greater risk of leaks.
Knowing that, it’s a simple problem to fix!
To start at the beginning, keep in mind that incontinence does not necessarily imply a complete loss of bladder control! Light to moderate incontinence is measured in drops per month and not puddles per day.
Caffeine’s effect on feminine incontinence is already well established. Around 30% of women aged between 30 and 60 experience it, so when you compare that with 1.5% to 5% of men, it’s not really surprising that nobody noticed it sooner.
Incontinence in men
According to a recent study by US researchers, men who consume 234 mg or more of caffeine a day have a 72% higher risk of moderate to severe incontinence than men who drink less or none. To put that into perspective, 234 mg is a bit less than two cups. Contrary to popular belief, drinking water, other drinks and even alcohol has no effect on the incidence of incontinence or the degree of urinary losses. The risk of incontinence increases solely with increased coffee intake.
The study in question noted that coffee increases the risk of incontinence regardless of the prostate’s condition. We know that male incontinence is often related to an enlarged prostate. This phenomenon is known as overflow incontinence: the prostate blocks the urethra and prevents the bladder from fully emptying. When the amount of urine exceeds the bladder’s capacity, uncontrollable leaks occur.
Luckily, caffeine increases the risk of incontinence only as long as it’s being consumed: stop drinking coffee and the problem will resolve itself. Other foods with a diuretic effect can also cause bladder leakage: artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, sugary, spicy or acidic foods, especially citrus fruits.
Constipation also contributes to the problem if hard feces are compacted in the intestine and place pressure on the bladder. Worse, the bladder and rectum share nerves which, if overactive, make you need to pee more often.
To avoid being caught off guard
If you experience leaks, go see your doctor: incontinence is a symptom, not a disease. But there are steps you can take to help prevent leaks:
- Train your bladder. Go to the bathroom regularly whether you feel the need to or not. With time and conscious effort, you can increase the time between peeing to around every three to four hours.
- Do your Kegels! Most women already have an intimate relationship with Kegel exercises, but few people (men or women) know that they’re good for men too! Simply contract your pelvic floor muscle—the scientific name for it is “pubococcygeus muscle” or “PC muscle” for short—for three seconds and then release for three seconds. If you’re wondering which muscles they are, they’re the ones you use to avoid farting! Repeat the exercise for a total of 15 minutes a day. The advantage of Kegels is that you can do them wherever and whenever you want without anyone around you knowing it.
- Keep notes about what you drink and eat and the things you’re doing when leaks occur.
- Urinate twice. Once you’ve finished peeing, wait a minute and try again to avoid dripping later.
- Avoid coffee! (You already got that, right?)
- Drink water. Not drinking will only make the problem worse because overly concentrated urine will irritate your urinary tract.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds can place extra pressure on your bladder.
- Avoid constipation by eating enough fibre and keeping active. Walking is one of the easiest but most effective ways to stay regular.
- If you take medication, check if any of them can cause incontinence as a side effect.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking causes coughing, and coughing can sometimes cause effort incontinence.
Leaks are undesirable, even minor ones. The only drawback to drinking less coffee will be yawning occasionally during the first few days of withdrawal. You might also find yourself with a compelling need for a nap, but a brisk walk outside will set you right. So keep it to one coffee a day. You’ll appreciate it all the more!
A.D. Markland et al. Journal of Urology, June 2013, Volume 189, Issue 6, pp. 2170–2174