My Journey to Wellness
I wish I had an easy solution to offer that guaranteed healing in 3 easy steps. Well actually, if I am making a wish, it would be for a single pill that cured ALL your problems in 24 hours. But nothing like this currently exists and it is unlikely that the FDA will ever be presented with this type of medication. Despite this fact, answers do exist and help is available- you just have to know where to find it.
After ten long years of suffering from daily pain, I finally made the switch from conventional medicine to functional/naturopathic medicine. Why? Because I realized that this is where the answers lay. Conventional medicine offered me symptom management and for most of my life, this was truly all I knew. I didn’t hear the word “functional” until I was 40 and then I had to ask for the definition. My journey to wellness took me two years, but with a little help, yours should be much faster!
Functional Medicine 101:
Functional medicine views the body as an integrated system and seeks to address the root causes of illness and disease rather than the symptoms. With this alternative approach to health and wellness, the focus is always on the optimal functioning of the body and its organs. Healing may not be possible if you are unable to identify where the dysfunction is occurring. When the underlying cause is revealed, you and your doctor can come up with a plan of action to address issues head-on and work to reverse symptoms and restore the body to balance. This is the future of medicine!
My “lightbulb” turned on when I stopped focusing on my broken bladder and realized that it was part of an integrated system and the dysfunction was widespread. I began to research what the leading functional doctors had to say and this began my journey to healing. Since this was a new approach for me, I had setbacks. It took me a while to gather the information and equally as long to apply what I was learning. I didn’t have a doctor at the time who practiced functional medicine, and up until three years ago, none viewed my IC through the lens of autoimmunity; which meant I had to be my own health advocate. This caused the journey to take far longer than it should have. I am not complaining, because I learned a great deal along the way. Had I relied solely on a doctor I would not have forged ahead with my own research and for this I am thankful. It’s crazy that I can look back and be grateful for my journey but this is the honest truth.
Everything is Suspect:
The fact that my IC symptoms were directly related to my diet and lifestyle was life changing but there was also a learning curve. For example, it wasn’t until a year and a half in before I realized that my body wash was causing bladder irritation. I had temporarily made the switch to a plant-based one and was feeling better so I switched back to one from Bath and Body Works. Within 15 minutes I discovered that the body wash was causing UTI symptoms. The process of identifying triggers and perfecting the art of tuning into my body took me a while and it will most likely take you some time as well.
I lived in a constant flare for 10 years. My daily pain was constant, with only levels of severity that changed. I tried to keep the pain and symptoms to a tolerable level but they were always present. As I made my way through trial and error, some of the pain began to reverse and my symptoms subsided. This was a double blessing because it meant I got to enjoy life again, but it also meant that I was now able to better identify triggers. The state of pain makes it difficult to identify what is contributing to the pain. This is especially true for IgG responses which are delayed. The “sensitivity” process can take up to three days to manifest, causing the puzzle to be even more challenging. Identification is the key and this is a reason that I’m not a fan of medications that stop the symptoms before they start such as Prelief or Benadryl. These meds suppress the symptoms on a momentary level, but the symptoms soon return along with medicinal side effects.
The Road to Recognition:
It took me two years to realize that my bladder was the most noticeable part of a systemic issue, and the IC was probably secondary. My belief in this direction is due to the long walk that I took between symptoms and education. I learned that 80% of your immune system is in your gut and that autoimmune diseases are affected by a leaky gut. I had to look back into my history and recognize that my health began to derail when I was a child. In junior high and high school my issues included allergies, sinus infections, acne including cystic acne, digestive issues, chronic yeast infections, skin rashes and itching, water retention swelling after consuming too much salt due to “histamine intolerance”, wrestles leg syndrome, anxiety, brain fog, an inability to sit still or focus for long periods of time, headaches, and migraines. My PMS included heavy menstrual flow which I later found out was due to estrogen dominance. These issues continued into my twenties and some grew worse. I began to experience additional problems such as chronic stress, adrenal dysfunction (chronic fatigue), hormone imbalance, a couple UTI’s, constipation, bloating, food and chemical intolerances, and interstitial cystitis. Many of these health problems were addressed with antibiotics and harsh medications, but they never went away completely.
Ending the Vicious Cycle:
Systemic dysfunction can cause the upregulation of the central nervous system which can affect the brain and is also attributed to pelvic pain. The goal is to give the body what it needs so that when your immune system is not quite so stressed it regains tolerance to self as balance is restored. Restoration can happen after autoimmunity issues are addressed. I found that treating my IC as an autoimmune condition brought about real and lasting change. This meant addressing liver dysfunction, leaky gut, hormone imbalance, thyroid issues, adrenal dysfunction, infections, genetic variants, stress, and nutrient deficiencies. When I viewed treatment from this aspect my IC symptoms began to subside as overall balance was restored.
During my wellness journey, I got a UTI which can exacerbate IC symptoms so I reached out to my doctor and asked for pain meds to help me cope and antibiotics to fight the infection. While the meds helped me block the pain for the worst part of it in the first day and a half, by day two I began experiencing increased urgency, pelvic pain, agitation, restlessness, brain fog, fatigue, irritability, nerve pain, constipation, and bloating. I decided to finish out the day with antibiotics and then switched to a natural antimicrobial. My system calmed down as I worked incredibly hard to restore balance and made sure that I sought out a physician to help me with the UTI.
The Learning Curve:
It took time, but I eventually knew that I needed to reduce the burden on my immune system and the stress on my digestive tract. I made changes to a healthy diet and lifestyle and high-quality supplements while working to heal my gut, reducing stress, and heal infections. Reducing the toxic burden brought about real and lasting change, however, this takes time and you will have to be patient as you learn what your body can and cannot tolerate. For example, probiotics are a must but some contain prebiotics that will bother those with SIBO. L-glutamine is needed to help repair leaky gut and leaky bladder but there a couple of brands I personally can’t tolerate. Most notably, gluten, dairy, refined sugar, and processed foods were the most problematic but they were difficult to walk away from and I struggled to commit to eating clean.
Reverse IC Symptoms:
When everything is said and done and you have restored balance you will forever have to remain in a place where you are taking care of your body. You will have to be proactive in maintaining your health. This is the reason that I prefer to say “reverse IC symptoms” rather than “heal IC” because if you fall back into toxicity your symptoms will come back. Leaky gut will return as the gut and bladders microbiome becomes imbalanced. Despite inherited predispositions to certain conditions, our health is primarily in our hands. Through a healthy diet, limiting our exposure to environmental toxins, and taking the correct nutritional supplements, we can suppress the expression of genetic mutations and launch a counter-attack on illness.
If you want to learn how to get to the root of your IC and tackle it head-on my book How I Got My Life Back will provide you with a blueprint to bringing about balance.