Bladder problems in adults: sensation of incomplete bladder emptying, urinary urgency, urinary incontinence

(for children see our factsheet: Bedwetting, enuresis, urinary urgency, urinary incontinence)
Introduction Foods and food chemicals associated with bladder problems and urinary urgency
Reports from our database
A sensation of incomplete bladder emptying in a young man due to amines
Sensitivity to solanine caused urinary and reproductive symptoms
"To say I felt better would have been the understatement of a new millenium"
Relief for dodgy bladder - urgency and frequency

Scientific references
More information

Keywords: bladder, urinary, urination, urgency, incontinence



When I received the first two reader stories below about young men in the prime of their lives who had been severely bothered by a sensation of incomplete bladder emptying – related to diet – I started to realise the extent of the this condition.

I did a search for "urinary", "urination", "cystitis", "bladder", and "frequency" on our success stories database and was amazed by what I found.

The following food chemicals have been reported by failsafe adults as causing urinary irritation, frequency, sensation of incomplete bladder emptying or incontinence:

  • salicylates
  • amines
  • annatto 160b - check all your food, this natural additive is being used more often as some manufacturers phase out artificial colours
  • bread preservative - I was not surprised by this as I saw urinary incontinence develop during  challenges in two of the children in my bread preservative study. Check your bread labels. Avoid propionate preservatives 280, 281, 282, 283 (in Europe E280 etc) and do NOT eat bread that contains anything cultured" such as Cultured Dextrose - it's another name for bread preservative 280
  • flavour enhancers 635 (consists of 627 and 631, see our 635 factsheet for alternative names)
  • additives in general (artificial colours, preservatives, flavour enhancers)

To find out exactly which food chemicals are causing the problem, we recommend a three week trial of the RPAH (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) Elimination Diet that avoids 50 additives, natural chemicals called salicylates, amines and glutamates, and if symptoms are severe, dairy foods and/or wheat and gluten – supervised by one of our listed dietitians and followed by set challenges to pinpoint which food chemicals are the culprits. See more about this in our Introduction to food intolerance factsheet.

Symptoms often begin to improve within days of starting the diet.

For more about bedwetting in children, see our Bedwetting Factsheet
   Reports from our database

See 18 page story collection on encopresis, sneaky poos/poohs, soiling, wetting, incontinent (includes those below)

[1328] A sensation of incomplete bladder emptying in a young man due to amines (March 2015)

I stopped eating potatoes when I read story [1317] about solanine because I had similar symptoms to that guy (who wrote about " ... very irritable and highly sensitive - not of the pleasant type - symptoms in my penis and testicles and surrounding areas. At times it was painful and made me feel like I did not have full bladder control. Urinating was uncomfortable, not unlike when you have a bladder infection ".)

In my case there was no pain, just a constant wrong signal - it was kind of like "there's fluid in your urethra and you need to hold it in/pee/do something" - not easily defined. Super annoying though. It was worst right after urinating. Fluid intake didn't seem to affect it, there was no burning sensation during urination or anything like that. When the symptoms were at their worst I had a bit of bladder leakage (like a few drops). Only once or twice though.

After three weeks of avoiding potatoes my symptoms were still continuing so that wasn't it.

Then I tried going strictly failsafe again for a few weeks. I didn't realise how much I had slipped up - turns out I've been eating a lot more amines than I realised. I also took a small amount of soda bicarb - half a tsp in a glass of water.  Both of these strategies were extremely effective! My symptoms are gone, and I feel much happier. :) - by email (male, late 20s)

[1317] Sensitivity to solanine caused urinary and reproductive symptoms (March 2015)


My Solanine story goes for 2 years and involves visits to a urologist and even a quick look up the old fella with a surgery of course, not a handy cam!!

Other than digestive issues  I found that I experienced very irritable and highly sensitive (not of the pleasant type) symptoms in my penis and testicles and surrounding areas. At times it was painful and made me feel like I did not have full bladder control. Urinating was uncomfortable, not unlike when you have a bladder infection. It had a negative effect on the bedroom activities too. Not pleasant.

My research taught me thatback in Shakespeare's day they used solanine if they wanted to bump someone off. The levels of solanine are dependent upon whether the plant had late blight, the level of green coloured flesh, how roughly it was treated from harvesting to cooking. Even dropping and bumping down a conveyor belt sets off a reaction in the potato causing an increase in solanine. Deep frying is supposed to reduce the levels of solanine. I cannot confirm this as we do not eat fried food. Rubbing the shoots of a potato is not good. Once they get to this stage the solanine is increasing.

I remember as a kid and even a teenager having these same issues. Mum grew her own potatoes and would frequently rub off the shoots, so this was bad news for me.

Happily, simply not eating potatoes did the trick. If I have a few crunchy chips, I can notice the sensitive symptoms coming back within hours. - by email, Tasmania

Sue's comment: Never eat potatoes that are green beneath the skin or taste bitter and unpleasant. Never eat the sprouts of potatoes.Some people are obviously more sensitive to solanine than others. There may be another possible explanation: to be failsafe (low in salicylates), potatoes must be large, old, white-fleshed and brown or pale skinned -  not red or other colours - and thickly peeled. Even potatoes with cream-coloured rather than white flesh are moderate in salicylates and if eaten regularly or in large amounts can contribute to an overdose of salicylates in sensitive failsafers. More information: and

[125] "To say I felt better would have been the understatement of a new millenium" (September 2001)

Around February of 2000 I was searching on the internet for some clues to my life long digestive problems, when I came across the food allergy section on the website. The featured food allergy topic happened to be salicylates ... just out of curiosity, and for the heck of it, I clicked on the link, and started to read about it … I first off read the list of common symptoms. As I read it the list was all to familiar to me … I answered Yes to every symptom. Needless to say, I started to
follow a salicylate free diet. To say I felt better would have been the understatement of a new millenium...... ALL of my life I have suffered from Very frequent urination, constipation, stomach bloating, short temper, irritability, inability to concentrate, memory problems, severe acne, dry skin (especially on my hands and feet), those restless legs, and more ...<sigh>… The worst of it for me though was the constant urination, and constipation which led to a lot of gas ... Thank you so much for your work, and your book. Both have changed my life forever. I am finally free of a problem which has literally ruined my life. In case you're wondering, I'm 37 years old ... And yes, 36 years is WAY too long to suffer with this health problem. Sometimes I don't know how I made it this long with my sanity intact. - from the USA

[1150] Relief for dodgy bladder - urgency and frequency (October 2012) COURAGE AWARD

I've done 14 day of strict elimination, and am now doing the salicylate challenge.

So far, I have had relief for so many symptoms, the main one being a 'drugged' feeling in the morning, even after 10 hours of sleep ­ felt I needed another 6 or so hours..... Within a few days of starting elimination, this ridiculous lethargy is GONE! My 18yr old daughter has the same symptom, and inspired by my result, she is now doing the elimination diet also. She has also had relief from feeling 'drugged', after a few days.

My biggest triumph is with my bladder though. All my life (I'm now 45), I've had a dodgy bladder ­ urgency and frequency. Often managing to produce only tiny amounts of urine, but have to go NOW. The embarrassments and shame I've endured over the years.....

Anyway, at the end of the first week of elimination diet, I noticed that my bladder was less sensitive. Those 'urgent urges' still come sometimes, but I can hold them off and not have to go to the toilet 3 times in one hour after a cup of tea. My bladder capacity seems set at 250mls though ­ not a lot. At various times, I have tried to do bladder training, which aims to increase the capacity by holding off a bit longer, then a bit longer to 'stretch' the bladder. With my extra-enthusiastic bladder muscles, I just could not manage to do this.

Right now, it's happening! I feel I have some control over my bladder.

I'm hopeful that it will improve more over time, but if it doesn't, I'm very very grateful for the improvement I've had ­ cannot tell you how much this condition has affected my life ­ always looking for a toilet, going 'just in case', embarrassing accidents etc. Bit reluctant to do any challenges, for fear that my bladder will go backwards, even if it's only temporary. But I need more variety of food!

Many years ago, a urologist told me that he couldn't help ­ I'd had all the tests and investigations etc already ­ and he could find nothing physically wrong with me. He said that he saw 6 or 7 women EVERY WEEK with my problem. All of them had, apparently, 'nothing wrong with them'. Yet they still had urgency and frequency.

At various times I eliminated the usual suspects ­ coffee, chocolate, alcohol ­ to no improvement.

No one ever suggested that it was the normal, healthy, every day foods I was eating that might be the problem. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to stumble on a solution and reclaim a part of my life previously spent crossing my legs, rushing rudely away from conversations, desperately hunting for a toilet, desperately queuing for the toilet, weeing in all sorts of embarrassing places due to lack of toilet, actually wetting myself and having to clean up and change clothes, and on it goes endlessly.

I know it is early days yet, but I am just so thrilled to have had the improvement I'm experiencing.

Thank you so much Sue, for your excellent work ­ I will be forever grateful. - by email
   Scientific references
Egger J and others. Effect of diet treatment on enuresis in children with migraine or hyperkinetic behavior. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 1992;31(5):302-7. In this study, 21 children with had migraine or ADHD which was successfully treated by diet also suffered from nocturnal and/or diurnal enuresis.

On diet, the enuresis stopped in 12 of these children and improved in an additional four. In eight of the 12 children who recovered on the oligoantigenic diet and in the four who improved, reintroduction of one or more foods to which they were sensitive provoked a reproducible relapse of the enuresis. Nine children were subjected to a placebo-controlled, double-blind reintroduction of provoking foods.

Dengate S, Ruben A. Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative. J Paediatr Child Health. 2002;38(4):373-6. This is the study I did in Darwin with 27 children. Although we were looking at behaviour I was very surprised at how bedwetting cleared up too and reappeared during challenges. I was doing a house visit when I witnessed first hand that one 5 yo boy who had been dry during the elimination diet had was not only bedwetting but suffered from daytime incontinence as well – since the challenges were double blind and placebo controlled I didn’t know whether he was eating the bread preservative or not – when the codes were broken it turned out he had been, and another 5 year old girl was the same.

   More information

Introduction to food intolerance
Irritable bowel syndrome
Women's health and diet

Sue Dengate’s book Fed Up and The Failsafe Cookbook, also available in libraries and bookstores

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians

© Sue Dengate March 2015