Most women (and many men) have had that “oh, no!” feeling of leaking urine when lifting a heavy object or laughing a little harder than usual. The occasional incontinent moment isn’t a big deal. But when it happens daily, it’s a problem. Prescription drugs such as oxybutynin (Oxytrol) and tolterodine (Detrol) can relieve symptoms of this condition but often cause side effects, including dry mouth and constipation. Natural medicine is safer and can offer long-term relief. The main types of incontinence…

• Stress incontinence and urge incontinence. If you lose urine when the bladder is stressed—as with a big sneeze—that’s stress incontinence. If you have a sudden urge to urinate and lose urine if you can’t get to the toilet almost immediately, that’s called urge incontinence. With both of these types of incontinence, weak pelvic-floor muscles are often to blame. My advice…

Urinate on a schedule: I suggest urinating every two hours while you are awake, whether you feel the urge or not. If your bladder is emptied more regularly, you’re less likely to leak. If nighttime incontinence is a problem, stop liquids four hours before bed. Instead, have a piece of fruit—it’s watery and refreshing but won’t fill your bladder the way a beverage will.

Tone up: If your pelvic muscles are weak, Kegel exercises are the go-to solution…for both women and men. What to do: While you’re sitting or even standing, contract the muscles you would use if you suddenly wanted to stop the flow of urine. Do 10 contractions in a row, three times daily. You should notice a benefit within 10 days. If you hold a lot of tension in your lower abdomen or hip muscles—which often occurs in those who are sedentary—focus on gentle stretching, abdominal massage and deep breathing to help reduce incontinence.

Check for food allergies: Food allergies cause irritation and inflammation. When the bladder wall is irritated, it’s more sensitive and reactive, and this can lead to incontinence. Dairy, wheat and eggs are common triggers. If you suspect that you have a food allergy, ask your doctor about IgG blood testing to check.

• Temporary incontinence. Excess caffeine, alcohol, smoking, a diet high in salt and even acidic and spicy foods can irritate the bladder and cause incontinence, along with such symptoms as urinary frequency and urgency. Avoid the potential irritants above one at a time until you find the culprit(s).

Try botanicals: Corn silk and gravel root soothe bladder tissue and calm the urge to urinate. A typical dose is one-quarter teaspoon (in tincture form) of an equal blend of these herbs, added to two ounces of water and taken three times daily (15 minutes before or after meals) until your incontinence improves. These herbs can be used for a long time, but it’s best to talk to your doctor if you plan to take any herb for more than a month or so.*

Drink enough water: It may seem odd to drink more water if you’re running to the bathroom all the time, but if you don’t drink enough, your urine becomes concentrated, which aggravates the bladder and leads to incontinence. Drinking too much water can do the same. Use this formula—one-half ounce of water per pound of body weight daily. Your bladder will thank you!

*Consult your doctor before using corn silk if you take medication for diabetes, blood pressure or inflammation, or if you take warfarin (Coumadin) or diuretics…and before taking gravel root if you have liver disease or take a seizure drug or the antibiotic rifampin (Rifadin).