Sending IC into remission, or at minimum reducing symptoms, may not be possible for some unless you address the dysfunction and remove the obstacles that are interfering with the body’s ability to heal. The good news is that once you begin to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to bring about real change, your health will begin to improve. The goal is to support the body’s innate capacity to heal by treating the whole person and not just the bladder.
IC is defined as having symptoms perceived or related to bladder urgency, frequency, pressure, or pain, that may also include bladder spasms, nocturia, and pain with intercourse. Causes are multifactorial and may include injury (to the pelvic floor, nerves, or one of the pelvic organs such as the bladder, bowel or reproductive), allergies, defects in the lining of the bladder, mast cell abnormalities, infection, pelvic floor dysfunction, bladder wall trauma, APF, genetics, neurogenic inflammation, and intestinal permeability. Co-morbid conditions or other health problems that people with IC tend to have include IBS, vulvodynia, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disease (s), headaches or migraines, lower back pain, GI issues, poor sleep, food and chemical sensitives, and allergies. Therefore, the best approach is to view the body as a whole, create an individualized plan, and work to bring the body back into balance.
Step One: Find the right doctor and nutritionist
The first step toward healing is to find the right doctors who can work with you on the path to recovery. It is equally important to seek out a nutritionist who can help you customize your diet, taking into consideration your own unique makeup, food and chemical sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, and related health issues. Functional medicine (my go-to) looks at the body as a whole, taking a system-oriented approach. This challenges conventional western medicine, which typically takes a disease-centered focus and operates on symptom management. If we hope to regain our health we cannot simply isolate the bladder or focus on one organ alone. We must view the body in its entirety, as an integrated whole. Having the right doctor makes all the difference, believe me! Find a reputable integrative, functional, naturopathic, or holistic doctor (search for a Functional Practitioner in your area), as well as a holistic or integrative and functional nutritionist. For more information, see Services.
Additionally, you may want to consider making an appointment with a Physiatrist and a trained pelvic physical therapist. According to statistics, 85% of women with IC have pelvic floor dysfunction. PFD can be caused by muscles that are too tense or too relaxed. Those with IC who also suffer from PFD tend to have a combination of muscles that are too relaxed and too tense so that they are effectively working against each other, which can cause the muscles to spasm. Pelvic floor therapy is proven to help in relaxing and desensitizing the central nervous system, which may help to ease symptoms in both the short and long term. If your symptoms include frequent, urgent, or painful urination; incomplete voiding or mid-flow stopping and starting; constipation or painful bowel movements; lower back, pelvic, genital or rectal pain; or pain during or after sex, ask your healthcare provider for a PFD physical therapy referral. It is also highly recommended that you have a Physiatrist evaluate your muscles, joints, spine, and bones. They also treat the central/peripheral nervous system all of which may be a root cause of “IC”.
Step Two: Heal your gut-strengthen your immune system
Few of us truly understand just how important and influential our immune systems are. Protecting us day and night, they can detect a wide range of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They are our first line of defense against disease and infection. In light of this, we need to keep our immune systems strong so that they can continue to create a vital barrier between our bodies and the toxins we’re exposed to in everyday life. Keeping our immune systems healthy helps to ensure that harmful pathogens are detected and destroyed long before we experience any ill effects.
A strong and healthy immune system will also help control inflammation in the body, which is the precursor to most diseases. Our goal should be to maintain zero-inflammation levels, but if our immune system is weak, our inflammation levels will rise. The chronic inflammation often associated with IC indicates that the immune system is overworked and under extreme pressure. The gut accounts for eighty percent of the body’s immune system. As such, a healthy gut equals a robust immune system. When the gut becomes compromised, the tight junctions begin to come apart (known as “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability), toxins, undigested food, and unfriendly microbes can breach the barrier and enter the bloodstream, to our detriment. Leaky gut diminishes the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients because damage to the villi and microvilli reduces the surface area of the small intestine. This means that even if we’re eating a healthy diet, we may not be reaping the full benefits nutritionally. Once leaky gut is in play, we begin to have a host of other issues to contend with because, as the name suggests, it also causes the walls of the intestines to leak. As toxic invaders that have no business entering our bloodstream find their way in, the immune system fires up. It begins producing inflammatory chemicals in response, creating extra antibodies to fight against these invaders.
One of the important ways to strengthen the immune system is to maintain gut integrity which can be done by focusing on a healthy microbiome. The gut relies on trillions of bacteria that live within the intestines. In fact, we possess ten times more microbial cells than human cells. Comprising 100 trillion organisms in total, the microbiome in the gut provides an incredibly diverse ecosystem. Good bacteria in your gut help to ensure gut health by sealing gaps in the intestinal wall and allowing you to digest your food properly. This ecosystem, however, is affected by factors such as diet, chronic stress, infections, antibiotics, and toxins, including environmental toxins. Focusing on a healthy diet and lifestyle will help maintain healthy, balanced gut microbiota, which is directly linked to the health of our immune system. The microbiome is responsible for several functions, none of which should be minimized since each plays an integral part in our overall health and wellbeing. You may be wondering, “what does this have to do with my bladder?” The bladder also has a microbiome, and if it is disrupted, illness can occur. The microbiome of the bladder, vagina, and gut influence and communicate (organ crosstalk) with one another. To help support the bladder and prevent UTIs, we need to focus on the harmony of the gut-bladder-vagina axis. Therefore, the health of the gut is critical.
Remember, functional medicine looks at the body as a whole, taking a system-oriented approach. If we hope to regain our health, we cannot simply isolate the bladder or focus on one organ alone. We must view the body in its entirety, as an integrated whole. Having the right doctor makes all the difference! Find a reputable integrative, functional, naturopathic, or holistic doctor, as well as an integrative and functional nutritionist, and pelvic physical therapist. For more information, see Services.
- GI Map
- SIBO Breath Test
- Standard Blood Test
- DUTCH Test
- Comprehensive Thyroid Assessment
- Micronutrient Test
- Liver Detoxification Profile
- Inflammatory markers (usually added on to a comprehensive standard blood test)
- Comprehensive General Blood Test
- Mediator Release blood test (MRT), the most clinically proven test for food and food-chemical sensitivity.
- DNA testing (consider Genetics Made Simple and find a doctor in your area at www.gettoknowyourdna.com)
- Bioflims, microbial DNA sequencing for chronic infections.
- Organic Acids Test (Oat)
Supplement recommendation for gut and bladder health:
- Collagen Powder
- Digestive enzymes (Take 20 minutes before you eat)
- L- Arginine
- Omega 3
- NAC (N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine)
- Multivitamin(should be bladder friendly)
- Marshmallow Root powder
- Bone Broth (Consume 1-2 cups per day)
- Fermented Foods (Kombucha, no more than 4 oz a day)
- Aloe Vera
Step Three: Diet and lifestyle changes
As it turns out, what we eat can make or break us when it comes to our health. Diet can both cause and contribute to chronic inflammation and is believed to play a part in a number of illnesses. The foods we choose to eat can either increase inflammation in the gut and bladder and irritate it further, or decrease inflammation, providing the bladder with an opportunity to heal. We need to acknowledge that things like preservatives, artificial additives, chemicals, and GMOs are unhealthy and are making us sick. Eating clean while decreasing your toxic burden and maintaining a healthy microbiome will offer your body the support it needs to detox itself, ridding the cells of damaging buildup while increasing its ability to absorb the nutrients it needs from proper whole foods. This will allow the cells to repair themselves and assist in the body’s overall healing, reducing inflammation and restoring balance.
Removing inflammatory foods such as gluten, conventional dairy, refined sugars, non-organic soy, caffeine, alcohol, common cooking oil, trans fats, conventionally raised beef, processed foods, refined grains, and artificial food additives are a must if you hope to reduce your IC symptoms. The focus should be placed on making the right choices when selecting foods. Eating clean simply means that your diet primarily consists of organic whole foods that are as close to their natural state as you can get them. To learn more about the bladder-friendly foods you should be eating, check out our Diet Protocol. If you need additional help and support with your diet, our 30 Day Recipe Guide To IC Bladder Health is the perfect place to start. For safe bladder-friendly recipes see our newly released cookbook The Complete IC Diet Cookbook, which will provide you with over 70 delicious and nutritious recipes that you can feel good about (AIP inspired). We also have our 10 Day IC Reset Cookbook which contains low-oxalate and low-histamine recipes.
Our future health depends on a number of factors, including our diet and our human microbiome. Begin by eating a clean diet that is full of organic whole foods and seek to remove any foods considered inflammatory. Additionally, seek to reduce your toxic burden and restore balance to your body. The goal is to maintain a zero-inflammation level, which will allow your body the time it needs to rest. In a continued effort to strengthen the immune system, you must work to increase your microbial exposure. Our immune systems depend on exposure to both good and bad organisms otherwise, they are thrown off balance. The human microbiota is shaped by our diet, lifestyle, and microbial exposure to the environment.
Get outside, drink plenty of water, and eat whole foods that are rich in probiotics, fiber, and healthy fats. Additional supplements or nutrients will likely be necessary in order to address deficiencies and imbalances, so talk with your doctor and nutritionist about which ones you should be taking and in what quantity.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and do not know where to start, our newly released 8-week online course The Complete IC Basics Course will walk you through everything you need to know to identify your root causes and restore balance to your body. Additionally, you may find more information about interstitial cystitis in my book How I Got My Life Back. This book provides inspiration and insight into my personal journey with IC as well as a blueprint for reversing IC symptoms. To learn more CLICK HERE