I’ve stated a number of times that diet is important to getting better for most people. One diet that is recommended to Interstitial Cystitis [IC], and perhaps also to overactive bladder and chronic cystitis, sufferers the world over is the ‘IC Diet’.
Is this diet really everything it’s cracked up to be? Let’s take a closer look…
What exactly is the ‘IC Diet’
The IC diet is a form of elimination diet that is designed to bring relief to those suffering from interstitial cystitis. It is based on surveys that identified the most common trigger foods and drinks for IC sufferers.
The following foods and drink are generally eliminated on the diet:
- Coffee, tea, chocolate
- Citrus juices, and cranberry juice
- Citrus and other acidic fruits, including tomatoes and products made from them
- Artificial sweeteners, MSG
- Chillies and spicy foods
As you can see, these are generally foods and drinks that can aggravate inflamed tissue because of their acidity or heat – consuming them is like pouring vinegar or rubbing chillies on a wound – ouch!
Is the diet effective?
We don’t have any double-blind studies on the IC diet (generally considered the gold standard of evidence) – quite understandably, those kind of studies are very hard to do on diets generally.
So we rely on self-reported data from patients.
A survey conducted by the Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) on over 2000 IC sufferers showed that the majority (around 86%) found the IC diet helpful . However, an elimination diet that generally removed individual trigger foods was even more effective .
So it seems that the diet is quite good at helping IC symptoms and it makes sense, as most IC sufferer’s bladder walls are inflamed and therefore those foods and drinks would be aggravating.
So in terms of relieving symptoms, the diet seems to be helpful – however, it seemed to become less helpful the longer someone had suffered from IC .
The problems with the diet
Overall, I don’t think the diet is overly restrictive and shouldn’t be overly hard to follow (although I know many people mourn the loss of coffee and tea!).
Most clients I have worked with so far were following the diet or had tried it at some point at least and found that taking out most of the restricted foods didn’t really affect their symptoms but they followed the diet anyway because it is what everybody recommends for IC.
When I studied nutrition, one concept I was taught is that whether a food acts acidic or alkaline in the body generally depends on one’s metabolic type (based on the ‘Metabolic Typing Diet’) whether this is true or not, I’m not sure – but it could explain why things like citrus or coffee aren’t a problem for everybody.
There are a few points I consider problematic with the diet:
- It mainly addresses symptoms and not root causes. Most of the eliminated foods have not caused the condition (although I think that soda and artificial sweeteners can generally contribute to ill health) but rather they have become a problem because of the condition.
- Because the diet is mainly designed to reduce symptoms, it has to be followed indefinitely (since IC is considered an incurable condition).
- It is one-size fits all. Everyone is different, so the same diet cannot work for everybody.
- It is restrictive, but not restrictive enough. In order to allow the body to recover from ill health, we need to remove substances that are harmful and instead add all the ‘raw materials’ the body needs to do its job. The IC diet doesn’t specifically tell us to remove processed foods, for example.
To be fair, the ICA generally recommends to note one’s individual problem foods and eliminate them. They do state that gluten, for example, can be an issue for a small amount of people but their plate recommendations include a quarter of grains  and also dairy products, both of which I consider problematic for many chronic illness sufferers. I personally didn’t see improvements in my condition until I removed those from my diet.
Gluten, for example, has been shown to increase intestinal permeability  and not just on those suffering from Celiac disease. If gluten affects the bladder wall as well we don’t know, but we do know that increased intestinal permeability affects the immune system (by letting things into the bloodstream that shouldn’t normally be there), which in turn could affect the whole body.
So generally I would say there is no harm in trying the IC diet and if it works for someone then great, stick with it! If it doesn’t make a difference though, then there’s no need to follow it just because it is the diet everybody recommends for IC.
There are several elimination diets that could be just as useful for IC sufferers, for example a low-histamine diet or a low-oxalate diet. What works best will depend completely on the individual!
Pin it for later:
Now I’d like to hear from you: Have you tried the IC diet and how did you get on? Let me know in the comments!
ICA Interstitial Cystitis and Diet May 2016 https://www.ichelp.org/living-with-ic/interstitial-cystitis-and-diet/elimination-diet/least-and-most-bothersome-foods/
- O’Hare, P. et al Interstitial cystitis patients’ use and rating of complementary and alternative medicine therapies Int Urogynecol J (2013) 24:977–982 DOI 10.1007/s00192-012-1966-x
- ICA The IC Plate May 2016 https://www.ichelp.org/living-with-ic/interstitial-cystitis-and-diet/what-to-eat/icplate/
- Hollon, J. et al Effect of Gliadin on Permeability of Intestinal Biopsy Explants from Celiac Disease Patients and Patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity Nutrients 2015, 7(3), 1565-1576; doi:10.3390/nu7031565 https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/7/3/1565/htm