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Unlocking Relief: How an Elimination Diet Can Ease Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

An elimination diet can be a helpful approach for individuals with interstitial cystitis (IC) to identify and manage potential trigger foods that exacerbate their symptoms. Although we don’t believe in the “traditional IC Diet,” we know that dietary triggers play a role in symptom exacerbation for many individuals. Many trigger foods for IC have irritant properties that can cause inflammation in the gut and bladder. By eliminating these foods, you reduce the potential irritation, decreasing IC symptoms such as pain and urgency.

Food intolerances vary from person to person, which makes a one size fits all IC diet impossible. The best approach is through the elimination diet process, which allows you to identify specific food triggers unique to your condition. This personalization will enable you to create an individualized diet plan that avoids your particular trigger foods, helping you manage your IC symptoms.

Food intolerances can vary from person to person, but there are several common food intolerances that many individuals experience. Here are some of the most prevalent food intolerances:

  1. Dairy: By removing lactose and casein from the diet, individuals with dairy intolerance may experience reduced inflammation within the digestive system and throughout the body. This can improve various symptoms associated with inflammation, such as digestive discomfort, joint pain, skin issues, bladder irritation, and overall well-being.

  2. Gluten: Gluten intolerance, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, involves an adverse reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The body’s response to gluten often impacts the mucous membrane lining in the bladder. Recent findings have revealed that gluten sensitivity can contribute to symptoms in the urinary tract, including a potential link to interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS). It is possible that gluten proteins present in urine could trigger an inflammatory reaction in the bladder wall, resulting in symptoms like frequent urination, urgent need to urinate, pressure, and/or pain, and may also include digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, and joint pain.

  3. Soy: Soy intolerance is characterized by an adverse reaction to soybeans and products derived from soy. Symptoms can range from digestive problems to skin rashes, headaches, and nasal congestion.

  4. Eggs: Some individuals are intolerant to eggs, particularly the proteins in the egg whites. Symptoms may include digestive discomfort, skin rashes, and respiratory issues.

  5. Nuts: Nut intolerance, especially to peanuts and tree nuts, can cause allergic reactions. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, including hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and even anaphylaxis.

  6. Histamine: Some individuals have histamine intolerance, where the body has difficulty breaking down histamine, leading to an accumulation of this compound. Foods high in histamine, such as aged cheese, alcohol, avocado, chocolate, legumes, nuts, fermented foods, and certain meats, can trigger symptoms like headaches, hives, nasal congestion, bladder irritation, and gastrointestinal issues.

  7. Oxalates: are naturally occurring compounds found in many foods. In individuals with interstitial cystitis (IC), oxalates have been identified as potential irritants to the bladder. Oxalates can exacerbate IC symptoms and contribute to bladder irritation when consumed in high amounts or for those with heightened sensitivity. Oxalates can bind with calcium and form crystals, which may lead to the development of painful bladder stones or the deposition of these crystals in the bladder lining. This can trigger inflammation, causing increased urinary urgency, frequency, and discomfort. For individuals with IC, reducing dietary oxalate intake may be beneficial in managing symptoms and reducing bladder irritation.

  8. Raw vegetables: in some instances, such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), raw vegetables may pose challenges for individuals. Raw vegetables, particularly those high in fermentable fibers known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), can worsen symptoms in individuals with SIBO. Bacteria easily ferment these fibers, leading to gas production, bloating, abdominal discomfort, bladder irritation, and altered bowel movements. In SIBO, a low-FODMAP diet is often recommended to help reduce symptoms and decrease bacterial overgrowth.

  9. Sugar: Though sugar is not typically considered a food intolerance, consuming excessive sugar can negatively affect overall health and should be avoided during an elimination diet. Excessive sugar intake can worsen IC symptoms by acting as a bladder irritant, disrupting the balance of gut bacteria (which impacts the bladder’s microbiome), and promoting systemic inflammation. Limiting sugar intake, particularly refined sugars, and artificial sweeteners, can be beneficial for managing IC and promoting bladder health.

Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Interstitial Cystitis Elimination Diet

Step 1: Educate Yourself Before starting an elimination diet, gather information about common food allergens and potential triggers. Familiarize yourself with symptoms associated with food sensitivities or intolerances. This knowledge will empower you to make informed decisions throughout the process.

Step 2: Consult a Healthcare Professional. It’s crucial to consult a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian or nutritionist, to guide you through the elimination diet. They will assess your medical history, provide expert advice, and ensure you follow a balanced diet while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Step 3: Identify Your Goals. Define your goals for undertaking an elimination diet. Are you aiming to identify specific food intolerances or general triggers? Clear objectives will help you stay focused and motivated throughout the process.

Step 4: Plan Your Elimination Phase. During the elimination phase, you will eliminate specific foods from your diet for a predetermined period, typically 2-4 weeks. Start by eliminating the most common triggers, such as dairy, gluten, soy, certain nuts, sugar, and foods high in histamine. Remove one food group at a time to accurately identify potential triggers.

Step 5: Design a Balanced Meal Plan. Crafting a balanced meal plan ensures you meet your nutritional needs during the elimination phase. Focus on nutrient-rich alternatives and include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and gluten-free grains. Experiment with new recipes to keep your meals interesting and enjoyable.

Step 6: Track Your Symptoms Maintain a detailed food and symptom journal to track any changes you experience during the elimination phase. Record the foods you eat, the symptoms you encounter, and their severity. This documentation will be valuable when reintroducing eliminated foods.

Step 7: Reintroduction Phase After the elimination phase, gradually reintroduce one eliminated food group at a time, ideally every 3-5 days. Observe any symptoms that arise and assess your body’s response. If a reaction occurs, it indicates a potential trigger, and you should remove that food group from your regular diet.

Step 8: Evaluate and Assess Results. Once you have completed the reintroduction phase for all eliminated food groups, evaluate the results. Consider the impact of each reintroduced food on your symptoms and overall well-being. This analysis will help you determine your long-term dietary choices.

Step 9: Seek Professional Guidance. Based on the results of your elimination diet, consult your healthcare professional for further insights. They can provide guidance on interpreting the outcomes and recommend an appropriate long-term diet plan tailored to your needs.

Step 10: Customize Your Diet. With a clearer understanding of your body’s response to different foods, you can customize your diet accordingly. Incorporate the foods you tolerate well and avoid those that trigger adverse reactions. Maintain a balanced, varied, and nutrient-dense diet to support your overall health.

Wrapping it up

Embarking on an elimination diet requires careful planning, patience, and professional guidance. By following this step-by-step guide, you can conduct an elimination diet correctly, identify potential triggers, and make informed dietary choices that optimize your health and well-being. Always consult a healthcare professional to ensure your elimination diet aligns with your unique circumstances and needs.

In addition to dietary modifications, other lifestyle changes such as stress management and pelvic floor physical therapy may also be beneficial for managing IC symptoms. Working with the right healthcare team can provide a comprehensive approach to addressing IC and improving overall well-being.


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