Supplements and incontinence
Ryan Stratford, MD, is a Urogynecologist with The Women’s Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery at Banner Desert Medical Center.
Question: Are herbal supplements a recommended option for treating urinary incontinence?
Answer:This is a great question, because urinary incontinence is a widespread problem among women. At least one-third of all women – and half of all women age 55 and older – suffer from pelvic floor disorders such as urinary incontinence.
Due to such widespread impact and socially debilitating effects, people with urinary incontinence spend a lot of money treating the problem. On average, a woman spends more than $900 a year on hygiene products for severe urinary incontinence. In fact, more than $12 billion in direct costs was spent in the United States on treating urinary incontinence in 2001.
As a result, many companies seeking financial gain have developed some questionable treatment options for urinary incontinence.
Advertisements for herbal products, such as BetterWOMAN and Control X, claim they are more effective than other pharmaceutical and surgical treatment options. They can make these claims because herbal remedies are not monitored by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and are not required to go through the same rigorous scrutiny required for FDA-approved medications.
The effectiveness of herbal products is usually anecdotal and not carefully evaluated. There are more than 20 different herbs in the BetterWOMAN product. Interceuticals, which markets the product, suggests that it reduces symptoms of urinary urgency, frequency and incontinence as much as 76%. The company bases this claim on a clinical trial of 38 women who took the product. This type of clinical trial is very misleading.
In an FDA phase III clinical trial, the medication would need to be given to several thousand patients, would need to be compared to placebo, would need to be given to women with all types of urinary incontinence, and would need to be evaluated for six months to a year of usage.
According to large clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of other anti-incontinence medications, as much as 57% of women who received placebo felt that their incontinence was reduced or cured. So, of the 76% (16 out of 21) of those who found BetterWOMAN to be effective, all but three of those women would have likely felt the same if they had just taken a sugar pill.
Ultimately, I cannot say whether BetterWOMAN or Control X or other herbal remedies are effective treatments of urinary incontinence, but I would caution women from spending a lot of money on something that may not be better than taking a sugar pill. I strongly advise women to consult with a urogynecologist about medically sound options for urinary incontinence.