Can diet help with interstitial cystitis?
Reviewed by our clinical team
Interstitial cystitis (IC) also known as bladder pain syndrome (BPS) is a chronic health condition that causes pelvic pain, sudden and strong urges to urinate and needing to urinate more than usual. Although it’s not fully understood why certain people develop interstitial cystitis, there are instances when symptoms can go away and then flare up again.
In this article we’ll explore possible causes and lifestyle factors that can cause BPS as well as flare ups and how to manage them.
What causes interstitial cystitis?
The exact cause of interstitial cystitis is unknown, but it’s thought that a variety of factors can contribute to the health condition. Women are more commonly diagnosed than men, with 9 out of 10 cases being in women. Your age can be a factor too as people in their 30s and older are usually affected. If you have another chronic pain condition, like IBS or fibromyalgia you may be more likely to experience interstitial cystitis.
Other potential causes for interstitial cystitis:
- Damage to the lining of the bladder, this could cause urine to irritate the bladder and nerves surrounding it
- Issues with pelvic floor muscles
- Inflammatory reaction caused by your immune system
- Undiagnosed long-term UTIs
Interstitial cystitis is often misdiagnosed as cystitis, as the symptoms are similar. However, IC isn’t caused by bacteria and can’t be cured with antibiotics. If you experience recurring cystitis speak to your doctor as this may be linked to other health concerns.
Diet and interstitial cystitis
You may find that there are times when your symptoms are less severe or there are instances when they flare up. Certain foods and drinks can make symptoms worse. If you’re experiencing a lot of pain, altering your diet could help. Keeping a food and symptom diary can help you to recognise what is causing flare ups and how you can avoid these in the future.
Interstitial cystitis foods to avoid
Some people find that avoiding certain known triggers, such as foods can help to control symptoms. Foods that can make symptoms worse include:
- Acidic foods like citrus fruits, apple juice
- Foods high in vitamin C like tomatoes
- Chilis, spicy food and spices
- Carbonated drinks
- Pickled foods
- Caffeine including chocolate, tea and coffee
- Artificial sweeteners
If you think certain foods or drinks make your condition worse, you could remove these from your diet. Then begin to eat them again one at a time, making note of how your body feels when you do and if your symptoms worsen. Make sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes, and drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated.
Diet for interstitial cystitis
Interstitial cystitis diets don’t need to be overly restrictive, it’s advised that you avoid acidic foods and any other foods that trigger your symptoms. Staying hydrated is important when it comes to managing symptoms, you should aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. There are drinks that can aggravate symptoms such as caffeine and alcohol so you’d want to avoid these as well.
It’s difficult to prescribe a standard interstitial cystitis diet that’s suitable for everyone. However, you’d want to focus on foods that help to promote healthy gut bacteria such as legumes, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and probiotics. Find out what else you can do to improve your gut health in our article.
Once you have identified the foods that flare up symptoms, you can create a diet that suits you. There are studies that suggest that consuming calcium glycerophosphate and/or sodium bicarbonate before you eat or drink trigger foods may help to reduce sensitivity. Your doctor will be able to help you find a diet that works for you.
Benefits of the interstitial cystitis diet
Eliminating foods and beverages that are known to aggravate symptoms can help interstitial cystitis be more manageable. In a 2015 study it was found that for over 50% of the BPS patients, dietary changes helped to control symptoms.
The patients also kept food diaries over three days, these showed that painful bladder symptoms increased within 2-4 hours of eating foods and drinks that are known to exacerbate interstitial cystitis symptoms.
Although it may be difficult to adapt your diet and stop having some of the things you love. There are benefits to adjusting what you eat and drink.
Potential negatives of the interstitial cystitis diet
For some, changing your diet to eliminate foods that trigger flare ups and pain can be difficult. Especially if you have a history of disordered eating, if you find cutting out certain foods or food groups difficult, speak to your doctor.
You may also find the IC diet difficult if you eat a limited diet to begin with. The diet could mean you cut out nutrient rich foods that make up most of what you eat. This could be the case if you’re vegan, vegetarian or neurodivergent and have a safe list of foods. You should speak to your doctor to find a diet that works for you.
Home remedies for interstitial cystitis
To help improve your symptoms, you could try to:
- Manage your stress levels
- Stay hydrated
- Keep a food diary
- Stop smoking
- Exercise including stretches
- Wear loose clothing that doesn’t put pressure on your stomach
- Over the counter painkillers
How to treat interstitial cystitis
Treatment for interstitial cystitis varies depending on the severity of symptoms. You may have to try a number of treatments to find the ones that work for you.
- Medicines and painkillers
- Bladder instillations
- Supportive therapies such as physio
- Surgery and other procedures
Once you have been diagnosed with IC your doctor will discuss the treatments options with you.