The natural remedy that’s often effective for calming an ‘irritable bladder’

Recently, the British Medical Journal published an article about the management of ‘overactive bladder syndrome’. Symptoms of this can include the sensation of needing to pass urine urgently, frequent urination and the need to get up at night to pass water. Men with these symptoms are often investigated for an enlarged prostate. Women don’t have prostates, so the emphasis will be on their bladders. However, it is entirely possible for men to have symptoms that actually come from their bladders, and for this to be missed because of we doctors’ preoccupation with the prostate.

Anyway, the BMJ article contained a lot of information about the management of this syndrome, including injecting botox into the bladder muscle to paralyse it. What the article did not do is mention the one approach which I find almost always reaps dividends in practice: magnesium supplementation.

The bladder is essentially a muscular bag. Magnesium is a nutrient that is important for proper muscle function. If magnesium levels are on the low side, this tends to make muscles prone to ‘tension’ and cramping. Low magnesium may there cause muscular cramps, as well as conditions such as ‘tension’ headaches, oesophageal spasm (spasm in the food pipe or gullet) and painful periods (the womb is made of muscle). It can also, in theory at least, cause ‘irritable bladder’.

As magnesium levels rise, the muscle is more likely to remain in an appropriately ‘relaxed’ state, and this can help relieve symptoms of ‘irritable bladder’. I’ve seen it work time and again in practice. There’s even some evidence for it. In one placebo-controlled study, magnesium supplementation was found to be quite effective for relieving the symptoms of irritable bladder [2]. This positive result was despite the fact that the form of magnesium used in this study was magnesium oxide – probably the least useful and absorbable form of magnesium.

In practice, I prefer to use other forms of magnesium such as magnesium citrate, taurinate, glycinate or succinate. A dose of around 400 mg of magnesium is usually what’s required to get good symptomatic relief.


1. Marinkovic SP, et al. The management of overactive bladder syndrome. BMJ. 2012 Apr 17

2. Gordon D, et al. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of magnesium hydroxide for treatment of sensory urgency and detrusor instability: preliminary results. Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1998;105(6):667-9

21 Responses to The natural remedy that’s often effective for calming an ‘irritable bladder’

  1. MikeS 27 April 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Tactically speaking, when is the best time to take the magnesium?

    I’ve also noted that eating something ( I go for high protein or high fat, zero carb snack, so I can fast through the night) can carry me through. My doctor says I have a moderately enlarged prostrate, and is suggesting a urologist, who will no doubt suggest TUMT.

  2. William L. Wilson, M.D. 27 April 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I agree that magnesium is very helpful at relieving overactive bladder symptoms. We also now believe that diet plays a role in this condition. Many patients with an overactive bladder also seem to have “Sugar-Brain”. The medical term for Sugar-Brain is Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome. CARB syndrome is triggered by long-term exposure to excessive fructose mainly from sugar and HFCS and high glycemic carbohydrates. These dietary elements eventually interfere with normal nerves function, including the nerves that control the bladder. Learn more at: http//

  3. Deb 27 April 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    I really appreciate this information as I feel this is what my daughter (15) may be suffering from. The symptoms parallel hers completely. I will try the Mg Citrate. Many thanks.

  4. Robert Peacock 27 April 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Many thanks for this. I certainly experience symptoms of ‘irritable bladder’, and have done for years, but I don’t feel I have a prostate problem, which has been confirmed by palpation and a negative PSA test (for what it is worth). You refer to magnesium supplementation but do not mention natural foods which will contain the required amounts of magnesium. Can you advise, or should I go seek on the internet ? Regards, Bob

  5. Diana 27 April 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Magnesium for an irritable bladder sounds really interesting and I’ll give it go. The other factor that’s often overlooked is the effect of irritating drinks on the bladder, such as caffeine, wine and fruit juice.

  6. Mary 27 April 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Keep up Dr Briffa
    We’ve had a prostate gland for ages now!
    Doesn’t detract from your great advice of course

  7. Judith 28 April 2012 at 12:02 am #

    Dr Briffa, could you post a “magnesium for dummies” – I’m confused about all the different chelates of magnesium, at the moment, I have magnesium, magnesium citrate and magnesium malate – is it all about absorption rates? I’m particularly interested in the muscle relaxant properties (ie have what I think is a globus in my oesophegus), sleep, relaxation. Which is the best? Many thanks.

  8. agnes 28 April 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Very interesting.May you please tell me if i can buy magnesium off the counter ?

  9. dave chandler 28 April 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    I use Magnesium Chloride as recommended by Barry Groves but use it as a spray rather than taken internally.You don’t mention that one Dr Briffa,any reason?
    I heard it was better taken at night to help with sleep.

  10. Monika 28 April 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Although there may be a need for supplementation in some people, for example due to long term deficiencies, many people on an “average western diet” would benefit by adding more magnesium rich foods to their diet; surveys show up to half of the population may be deficient in this nutrient. Before moving straight to supplements, addition of kelp and other seaweeds, nuts, wholegrain and tofu, sesame/ pumpkin/sunflower seeds, almonds and brazil nuts, molasses, wheat/rice/oat bran, dark chocolate (cocoa) and spinach may help some of those with irritable bladders (and other Mg deficiency problems). Many of those foods are also rich in Calcium (and Zinc) – ensuring all the micronutrient bases are covered and can work in synergy together. Also many women who complain of irritable bladder are post menopausal and on calcium supplements that upset the balance of magnesium. In that case calcium should normally be taken together with magnesium – as well as including the intake of foods rich in both. Bathing in epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) the good old fashioned way also improves magnesium (and sulphate) status.

  11. Susan 1 May 2012 at 1:08 am #

    I’ve taken Mg for years, based on the recommendations of the Drs. Eades in their book Protein Power Life Plan. But I’ve had a problem with bladder irritability for quite a while. That is until recently. I’m currently in the middle of a Whole30 ( ) 30-day diet challenge. No grains, dairy, white potatoes, legumes, sugar (real or artificial), or alcohol. Avoid additives such as MSG, sulfites, nitrites, etc. And one of the interesting changes I’ve noticed is much less bladder irritability. I have been pretty consistently low carb for many years, so the biggest change has been the lack of dairy (no cheese on my scrambled eggs, no cream in my coffee, no butter on my vegies). And yet the difference has been striking.

  12. Nadia 1 May 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I find Magnesium Oil (Holland and Barret, Amazon..) to be extremely effective for all sorts of things! I rub it into my feet every night before going to sleep. Not only do I sleep like the dead now (I used to suffer from insomnia), but I never have to get up in the middle of the night anymore to go to the loo either! Great stuff! Highly underestimated!

  13. Tiril 1 May 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    That explains it! Started taking magnesium about a month ago and my overactive bladder is no longer that active 🙂 No more waking up at night having to go to the bathroom, and the muscle cramps in my legs have also stoped.

  14. Peter Turner 17 May 2012 at 8:48 am #

    I have been taking extra Magnesium Citrate for some weeks now but still getting up too many times at night. At 79, It could be reverse diuresis with the kidneys not producing anti diuretic hormone as they used to. What can I do to remedy that? (my prostate has been reduced in size, so there is no restriction there)

  15. Norma 2 January 2013 at 1:52 am #

    Dr. Briffa, Tiril, and others,
    Could you tell me what kind of magnesium and how much you are taking for the over active bladder/urinary frequency?

  16. Lynda Janda 5 January 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    I find Magnesium beneficial. I try to maintain an alkalizing diet. I take Spirulina & Calcium tablets 3 x a day, eat as many veg. as possible, Parsley included. I drink Alfalfa Tea, & Water. At night before bed Magnesium,Calcium & Cod liver oil with a glass of water or Chamomile tea. The added benefit of Magnesium’s muscle relaxing properties is a good nights sleep without having to get up in the night.
    The added benefits of the micro nutrients in Spirulina is a good head of hair, skin & nails. I am 63

  17. Nikki 11 March 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    Can anyone tell me the safest/best way to increase levels of Magnesium for my brave little 3yr old angel? The poor mite has just been diagnosed with Irritable Bladder Syndrome and I am looking at anything (safe) to relieve her pain, discomfort and desperation!

    • Alicia Billingsley 24 July 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      Did you ever get an answer as my 4 year old is going through it now.

  18. Michal Piják, MD 13 September 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    In addition to spasmolytic effect, magnesium may decrease intestinal oxalate absorbtion and prevent urinary oxalate precipitation which play important role in irritable bladder.

  19. stan 30 December 2013 at 12:10 am #

    could someone please provide some advice on magnesium. I have bought pills that are 400mg “magnesium asparte” and 37mg “elemental magnesium”. Do I need 400mg of “elemental magnesium” or any type of magnesium?

    I haven’t taken these types of pills before and couldn’t get any sense out of the person at the store.


  20. christine joseph 17 August 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    I now found out i have a sensitive bladder.Little stuff trigers it off. I can’t drink coffee, tea, juice with sugar no alcohol and no chocolate..I am just having water and Cranberry juice.My doctor put me on Amtriphline for 5 months. I was wondering what can i take when my bladder gets irritated to soothe it??I am really fustrated of having this and i know that i have to live with it..Is there any tablet to stop the irritation?

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