Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic bladder condition characterized by pelvic pain, bladder pain, urinary frequency (feeling the need to urinate frequently) and urgency (feeling the strong need to urinate), and bladder pressure. It’s also known as painful bladder syndrome.
What are the different types of IC? The different types of IC are ulcerative IC and non-ulcerative IC. Ulcerative IC patients develop painful Hunner’s ulcers on the inner surface of the bladder. Non-ulcerative IC patients form tiny hemorrhages on the bladder wall.
According to the Interstitial Cystitis Association, about 9 out of 10 cases of IC are non-ulcerative. Regardless of the type of IC, your diet can make a profound impact on your symptoms.
Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis
The symptoms of interstitial cystitis can be painful and difficult to manage.
Some of the most common symptoms of interstitial cystitis are:
- Pelvic pain
- Feeling a strong or frequent urge to urinate
- Weak pelvic floor muscles
- Pain in the perineum
Many of these IC symptoms are also experienced by patients with urinary tract infections. However, UTIs are caused by bacteria and clear up after a course of antibiotics. IC does not.
People with interstitial cystitis are also likely to have a comorbid condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, or vulvodynia. Many of these conditions are caused by autoimmune problems, which also contribute to IC.
IC patients experience significant disruptions in their everyday routine during flare-ups, which is why healthcare providers often focus on preventing flares from occurring.
Can an interstitial cystitis diet help?
No one knows exactly what causes interstitial cystitis, but inflammation certainly plays a role. (Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder.) Autoimmunity, injuries or surgeries, infection, and cross-talk with other pelvic organs may all contribute to the development of IC as well.
Diet is one of the primary ways patients can control their IC flare-ups and even help treat root causes of interstitial cystitis.
Studies have found a strong link between the foods IC patients eat and symptoms. One 2007 study reported that over 90% of participants experienced stronger symptoms after eating certain foods.
Flare-ups can also be triggered by certain foods. IC pain often follows eating trigger foods, which are usually acidic, spicy, or pro-inflammatory.
Foods that make interstitial cystitis worse include acidic foods, foods with artificial sweeteners, and carbonated drinks. Many patients report more pain or flare-ups after ingesting these items. Certain beverages can also exacerbate IC symptoms, including acidic drinks and alcohol.
What is the best diet for interstitial cystitis? The best diet for interstitial cystitis excludes acidic or spicy foods and drinks, and artificial sweeteners. IC patients may want to try an elimination diet with a healthcare professional or dietitian to see which foods aggravate their symptoms.
Foods That Can Trigger An IC Flare-Up
Many foods can trigger interstitial cystitis flare-ups. Some foods, like acidic fruits, spicy foods, and soy, cause more widespread symptoms, while others only affect some IC sufferers. It’s essential to find the foods that have a negative effect on your unique symptoms.
What foods cause IC flare-ups? Some foods that cause IC flare-ups include:
- Acidic foods, including tomatoes (and tomato-based sauces) and fruits high in citric acid like citrus fruits
- Acidic drinks and juices, including cranberry juice
- Artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet), saccharin, and acesulfame potassium
- Spicy foods and foods that contain hot peppers or horseradish
- Soy products, including dairy substitutes
- Artificial preservatives
- Acidic dairy products like yogurt and sour cream
- Foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages
- Soda and other carbonated drinks
- Alcoholic drinks
- Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate (including chocolate ice cream)
- Gluten, which can cause inflammation if you have a sensitivity to it
One drink on the “avoid” list that might surprise you is cranberry juice. Most people think cranberry juice is bladder-friendly because of its reputation as a treatment for mild UTIs. But, it’s very acidic, which can exacerbate bladder symptoms in patients with interstitial cystitis.
It’s important to read food labels carefully, particularly for additives and ingredients like artificial sweeteners, which frequently sneak into foods like salad dressings and low-calorie desserts.
Every person is different, so your food sensitivities may be different from other IC patients’ triggers. That’s why an elimination diet can be beneficial. Elimination diets help you learn what foods you can tolerate and which foods are triggers for a flare-up.
Foods That Can Alleviate IC Symptoms
While the list above can aggravate symptoms of interstitial cystitis, some foods can improve them. It’s often harder for IC patients to tell which foods positively affect their symptoms, but a few foods are consistently used to promote bladder health.
The best diet to promote bladder health and improve IC symptoms will include:
- Water: Drinking enough water helps you void your bladder regularly.
- Chamomile and peppermint tea: Chamomile tea and peppermint tea promote bladder health.
- Vegetables: Leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, gourds (including squash and cucumber)
- Low acid fruit: Pears, bananas, blueberries, melons
- Garlic and turmeric: Garlic and turmeric are anti-inflammatory spices that promote urinary health
These anti-inflammatory, bladder-friendly foods and beverages are typically safe bets for IC patients.
What are some IC diet tips? Some IC diet tips are keeping a food and symptom log (to track potential trigger foods), avoid foods and drinks that commonly cause IC symptoms, and trying an elimination diet to find the specific foods that worsen your symptoms.
Supplements For An Interstitial Cystitis Diet
2 supplements have shown consistent success in treating IC: calcium glycerophosphate (Prelief) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Multiple studies have shown these supplements help improve IC symptoms, particularly when taken with flare-inducing foods.
Other supplements that may help with interstitial cystitis include:
- L-Arginine: L-arginine stimulates the body to make more nitric oxide, which seems to be produced in smaller quantities in patients with IC. Studies also show that L-arginine supplements can alleviate IC symptoms.
- Aloe: Aloe contains glycosaminoglycans, which are part of the bladder’s protective lining, often malformed or damaged in IC patients. Preliminary evidence suggests aloe supplements may effectively treat IC.
- Fish Oil: Fish oil contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which help treat the bladder inflammation that’s the hallmark of interstitial cystitis.
- CBD: CBD oil is used as an effective treatment for comorbid conditions like fibromyalgia and anxiety and can also treat interstitial cystitis. CBD can also treat the pain associated with IC.
- Probiotics: A significant percentage of IC patients report that taking a probiotic helps their symptoms.
- Curcumin: Curcumin, one of the most potent bioactive compounds in turmeric, is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. New studies show that curcumin can help treat the inflammation that leads to interstitial cystitis and its symptoms.
- Boswellia: Boswellia supplements can help heal the lining of the bladder and ease IC symptoms.
What To Have During An IC Flare-Up
If you are having an IC flare-up, it’s imperative to pay attention to the foods you eat. You want to avoid eating any foods that can exacerbate flare-ups, especially acidic foods, spicy foods, and carbonated drinks.
Instead, try to eat food that promotes bladder and urinary health. Eat a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables, avoiding high-acid fruits, tomatoes, and onions. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in fruits and vegetables will help fight inflammation causing the flare-up.
What foods can be eaten during an IC flare-up? Foods that can be eaten during an IC flare-up include most vegetables (just avoid tomatoes, onions, and spicy peppers), fruits with low citric acid, and lean meats. Some patients can also tolerate low-acid dairy (natural cheese and milk).
Food is medicine. The foods you eat can be used to treat many chronic health issues, including irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and gut dysbiosis. Diet can even be used to treat cognitive decline. Interstitial cystitis is no different: diet helps treat IC.
The Bottom Line On An Interstitial Cystitis Diet
Elimination diets are more manageable if you work with a healthcare professional. A clinician experienced in treating patients with interstitial cystitis can guide you through a screening and treatment plan to quickly identify your food and other IC triggers so you can start feeling better.
At PrimeHealth, we specialize in helping our clients treat their medical conditions holistically. We work to treat the root cause of the problem, not the symptoms. In our practice, we combine dietary changes with other holistic approaches like physical therapy to eliminate IC symptoms.
We’d love to create an individualized treatment plan for your interstitial cystitis and discuss how we can work together to treat it with diet. Schedule your free phone consultation today to learn more about our IC treatment options.
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