The Interstitial Cystitis Diet
Interstitial cystitis is a functional disorder and as such may have different causes. But most chronic orders are linked to diet and lifestyle to some degree.
Our bodies need the right building blocks to carry out repair and maintenance functions. These building blocks are nutrients, found in natural foods.
I generally recommend a primal/ancestral diet (as outlined in the recommendations for cystitis) to anyone who wants to optimize their health. People with interstitial cystitis can try this approach and see if it improves their symptoms.
If these protocols are too restrictive for you and you only want to manage symptoms with diet, you can follow a standard Interstitial Cystitis diet and avoid the main trigger foods.
However, because of the nature of this disorder and a possible link to autoimmunity, a stricter approach may be needed. The high amount of inflammation present calls for a high amount of healing.
Luckily, there are already some successful strategies out there. The two protocols I can recommend for interstitial cystitis are the GAPS diet or the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) protocol. Both protocols are designed to be extremely nutrient-dense, whilst being very soothing for the mucosal tissues of the body .
I personally healed from interstitial cystitis on the GAPS diet but found that this protocol has some limitations. I therefore recommend the AIP protocol, which is backed by extensive research.
How can AIP help Interstitial Cystitis?
- Supporting the health of the mucosal lining of both the bladder and the gut are of prime importance. Bone broth is one of the best foods to support the GAG layer of both the bladder and the intestines and is one of the main things that helped me recover from interstitial cystitis.
- We need to correct nutrient imbalances in the body to support optimal healing and remove any toxins and allergens from the diet that could cause further inflammation in the bladder.
- Supporting the immune system and a strong gut and genital microbiota are also important.
The AIP protocol is very restrictive but don’t worry – it typically only needs to be followed until the symptoms have disappeared.
We’re all individuals and not one thing will work for everybody. Customizations need to be made on an individual basis and there has to be some trial and error. You may be completely fine on some of the foods restricted on AIP but your symptoms may flare up when certain other food groups are consumed. This page contains an extensive list of all possible trigger foods. You don’t need to restrict them all – just pay attention to your body and see if you react to any of them.
Before you make any changes to your diet make sure you also read my post on how to customize your interstitial cystitis diet.
For thorough explanations about the how and why of the AIP protocol please visit thepaleomom.com.
- Grass-fed meat, organ meats and offal, game, wild-caught fish and shellfish, free-range pork and poultry (in moderation)
- Most kinds of vegetables – eat the rainbow
- Sea vegetables (excluding chlorella and spirulina as they stimulate the immune system)
- Quality fats from avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, grass-fed animal fat, oily-fish
- Low fructose fruit in moderation
- Probiotic foods – such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, coconut or water kefir, coconut yoghurt
- Bone broth
- Sea salt
- Fresh herbs
- Filtered water
Consume in moderation:
- Coconut products
- DG licorice
- Rooibos tea, green tea, black tea
- All vinegars
- Coconut water
- Cooked vanilla extract
Consume very occasionally:
- Natural sweeteners: Maple syrup, honey, date sugar, coconut sugar
- Dried fruits
Foods to avoid
- Grains, especially gluten (including corn)
- Legumes (including peanuts)
- Refined sugar
- Vegetable oils and margarine (hydrogenated oils)
- Processed foods and food chemicals
- Eggs (mainly the whites)
- Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, cayenne, red pepper, tomatillos, goji berries, spices derived from peppers, ashwaghanda)
- Gluten cross-reactive foods (all the forbidden foods plus chocolate, coffee and yeast)
- Fructose: keep under 20 grams/day
- Non-nutritive sweeteners (e.g. stevia, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, aspartame etc)
- Food additives (including emulsifiers and thickeners)
- NSAIDs (aspirin etc)
Get used to reading ingredient labels. Don’t buy anything with ingredients you don’t recognize – they are probably not good for you!
Other Potential Trigger Foods
Apart from the foods already restricted, some people may experience a worsening of their symptoms when they consume foods high in oxalates. I experienced this and although it has gotten less severe, I sometimes still suffer from slight bladder discomfort when consuming a lot of high-oxalate foods. Oxalates are molecules found in plants that protect the plants. They can combine with minerals in the gut, carrying them out of the body and can also form sharp compounds that can be extremely irritating to certain susceptible people.
If your symptoms worsen after consuming any of the following foods you may benefit from a low-oxalate diet. You may need to avoid high-oxalate foods and limit moderate-oxalate foods until symptoms improve.
- red currants
- figs, dried
- grapes, purple
- lemon/lime/orange peel
- beans (green, wax, dried)
- beets (tops, roots, greens)
- spring greens
- mustard greens
- peppers, green
- summer squash
- sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
- cinnamon, ground
- pepper, more than 1 tsp/day
- cocoa, chocolate
- green beans, waxed and dried
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
- brussels sprouts
- potatoes, white
- apples with skin
- black currants
- cranberries, dried
- beef kidney
- cranberry juice
Mould poisoning is a very real and overlooked problem. A lot of buildings are water damaged and have mould growing in walls etc. Mould can also be present in the environment and in foods. Some foods are more contaminated than others due to their origin (i.e. if they’re from a tropical country) and storage methods. My health problems started when I lived in a mouldy room and I still experience a flare of symptoms when eating contaminated foods. If you feel that you may be affected by mould try to eliminate the following foods from your diet (most of them are not recommended on AIP anyways):
- Powdered spices, especially black pepper (although it may be negligible in the small amounts used)
- Some coffees, cacao/chocolate
- Pistachios, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, cashews
- Maca powder
- Dried fruits
- Tomato products
- Over-ripe vegetables and fruit
- Aged cheese
- Wine and vinegar (Apple-cider vinegar is okay)
- B-complex –vitamins
- Digestive enzymes (use pancreatic enzymes instead)
- Smoked meats – ham, bacon
- Packaged fruit juices
Salicylates are chemicals in plants that protect the plant from being eaten by insects or being attacked by microbes. They are toxic in high doses but normally consumption of plants does not pose a problem. However, Salicylates are used in many commercial products and drugs like aspirin. Some people are highly sensitive to it and may be reacting to processed foods, hygiene articles, cosmetics and aspirin. If you find you’re one of them, high-salicylate foods may or may not be a problem.
- Canned Green Olives
- All dried Fruits
- Almond, Peanuts with skins on, Water chestnut
- Coconut Oil, Olive Oil
- Cider Vinegar
- White Vinegar, Wine Vinegar
- Cayenne, Celery powder, Cumin, Curry, Dill, Fenugreek, Garam masala, Ginger, Mace, Mint, Mustard, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric, White pepper, Black pepper
Acidic foods may intensify the burning feeling patients with interstitial cystitis experience. They can be irritating to already inflamed tissues. Therefore, you may want to limit acidic foods until the inflammation has improved. Fermented foods should be fine in small quantities. Acidic foods are:
- Sour fruits, especially citrus
- Carbonated drinks
- Raw onions
- Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) – can be buffered with calcium carbonate
- Spicy foods
- Coffee, tea
Amino Acids: Tyrosine, Tryptophan, Tyramine, Phenylalanine
The four amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, tyramine, phenylalanine can be triggers for interstitial cystitis patients because of their action on certain neurotransmitters that are not metabolised properly by some of these patients. A strong indicator would be foul smelling urine.
Foods high in Tyrosine, Tryptophan, Tyramine, Phenylalanine
- Brewer’s yeast
- Chicken liver
- Some legumes
- Sour cream
- Soy sauce
Histamine is an inflammatory compound usually secreted from mast cells in response to an antigen. Mast cells have been found to be increased in the bladder of IC patients. High levels of histamine increase inflammation and ‘leakiness’ of mucosal tissue. Histamine can also be found in certain foods. Increasing histamine in the bladder by consuming foods high in histamine could potentially exacerbate symptoms.
Foods high in histamine
- Aged foods: cheese, cured meats, fermented foods, vinegar
- Over-ripe fruit and vegetables
- Broad Beans
- Green Beans
- Eggplant (Aubergine)
- Sweet Potato
- Packaged salad mixes
- Packaged peeled vegetables
- Stone fruits
- Canned fish
- Shellfish, roe
- Curry Powder
- Hot Paprika (Cayenne)
- Unpasteurized honey
Pin ‘The Interstitial Cystitis Diet’ for later:
- Carnahan, Jill The Low Mold Diet Feb 2015 http://www.jillcarnahan.com/2015/02/08/low-mold-diet/
- Marinkotitch, Vincent Fungal Hypersensitivity 2002 http://www.anapsid.org/cnd/diffdx/marinkovitchapp.html
- Dionne, Mari J. The Oxalate & Salicylates Foods Lists http://www.pkdiet.com/pdf/oxalate%20lists.pdf
- Bellantyne, Sarah What is Salicylate Sensitivity/Intolerance? Oct 2012 http://www.thepaleomom.com/what-is-salicylate-sensitivityintolerance
- Bellantyne, Sarah The Autoimmune Protocol http://www.thepaleomom.com/the-autoimmune-protocol/
- Gillespie, Larrian You Don’t Have to Live with Cystitis (New York: Avon Books, 1996), p.246-250
- Joneja, Janice Vickerstaff The HISTAMINE and TYRAMINE Restricted Diet MASTOCYTOSIS SOCIETY CANADA 2012. Available at: http://www.mastocytosis.ca/MSC%20HT%20Restricted%20Diet%20Nov2012.pdf
- Healing Histamine Histamine’s Role In Chronic Bladder Inflammation (Or Intersitial Cystitis) 2016 http://www.healinghistamine.com/histamines-role-in-chronic-urinary-tract-infections-or-intersitial-cystitis/