Magnesium Treats Urinary Urge Incontinence
Women who suffer from a common urinary problem known as urge incontinence may benefit from taking magnesium supplements, according to a report in Family Practice News (February 1, 2003:46). This study confirms a previous report demonstrating that this inexpensive and safe mineral is helpful for an annoying and often difficult-to-treat problem.
Urge incontinence (also called overactive bladder or unstable bladder) is characterized by a sudden need to urinate, followed by a strong contraction of the bladder, resulting in involuntary leakage of urine. The condition occurs most commonly in women and in the elderly, affecting as many as one of every 50 adult women. While diseases of the nervous system or urinary tract can cause urge incontinence, in most cases the cause is unknown. Conventional treatments include medications that help control spasms of the bladder muscles; pelvic muscle (Kegel) exercises; avoidance of caffeine, spices, and other foods that might irritate the bladder; and biofeedback.
In the new study, 60 women with urge incontinence were randomly assigned to receive 350 mg of magnesium hydroxide (providing approximately 150 mg of elemental magnesium) twice a day or a placebo for one month. Twelve of 30 women in the magnesium group reported improvement in urinary incontinence after one month, compared with only five of 30 in the placebo group. In addition, compared with the placebo group, the magnesium group experienced significantly fewer episodes of urge incontinence, urinated less frequently, and awakened fewer times at night to urinate.
The beneficial effect of magnesium on urge incontinence was discovered accidentally by researchers several years ago, when women who were prescribed magnesium for spasms in their calf muscles remarked that the treatment also helped their bladder symptoms. This incidental observation was followed by a double-blind study, similar to the new study, which confirmed the benefits of magnesium. Although it is not clear how magnesium relieves urge incontinence, this mineral is known to prevent muscle spasms and, therefore, might have a direct effect on the overactive bladder muscles.
Good dietary sources of magnesium include nuts, whole grains, wheat germ, fish, and green leafy vegetables. Approximately 80% of the magnesium is lost when whole grains are refined to white flour. Processed foods typically are low in this mineral, and as many as three-quarters of Americans consume less than the Recommended Dietary Allowance for magnesium. As relatively small amounts of supplemental magnesium effectively relieved urge incontinence in the new study, it is likely that suboptimal dietary magnesium intake is one of the causes of this disorder.
Magnesium is inexpensive and generally safe, although people with kidney failure should not take magnesium supplements without the supervision of a doctor. Taking too much magnesium usually causes diarrhea; this can be prevented by taking a smaller amount.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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