In previous posts, you will discover that I attribute most of my healing to diet change. This is a huge part of it, but I also want to emphasize that it is only one factor. There are so many other lifestyle aspects that need to be in balance to create a happy & healthy body. And when one is off, especially for long periods of time, it will create imbalance and disease. These other factors include joy, social life, home environment, physical exercise, spirituality, creativity, finances, career, education, relationships, home cooking, water consumption, and sleep - just to name a few!
The first step in healing IC naturally is all about perspective. Upon diagnosis, western medical doctors tell their patients that this is a disease you will have for the rest of your life, and offer very minimal suggestions on how to "manage" symptoms. This is so frustrating, misleading, and provides you with no hope! Well, I am here to tell you that healing is possible and you will NOT suffer for the rest of your life. Believing this is the first step. Once you disregard the limiting diagnosis from the doctors, you will shed the box they put you in, and step into the path of the strong health warrior. All my life, I was brought up in a way that as soon as you start to feel ill, you make a doctors appointment. I always looked to the doctor for answers and never tried to first look at my body to see what was going on. This led to a life of pills, procedures, and expensive doctor bills. Not to mention a disconnect between my mind and body. It wasn't until I was faced with debilitating, life-altering pain, that I finally realized that I could be my own doctor. The only person who knows my body the best and the most is ME! Not some random dude who sees me for 15 minutes every couple of months. My ill health was a huge wake up call that my body needed help - and I was the only one that could do it. My bladder and pelvic region was literally screaming at me. Once you take on the role of being your own doctor, of choosing to no longer be a victim and FIGHT, you are well on your way to healing.
Step two is getting support. Friends and family are great for this, but if they do not have IC, sometimes it feels as if they do not really understand. If you feel the need for hope, inspiration, anecdotal evidence, or support, I encourage you to seek it out! You are not alone. There are so many others who are healing naturally, some have already succeeded and are spreading the word, and others are still in the process and documenting it. I suggest you join our Facebook group, Healing Interstitial Cystitis Naturally. Read the stories there & interact with others, read my blog, read the many books out there about others who have healed their IC. Not only will this build your confidence that you can heal, but it will help you learn ways to heal. Which brings us to the third step in healing....
Research! There are so many different methods in healing IC naturally. The beautiful dilemma here is that every body is different - so what works for some, may not work for others. IC is a complex condition that covers a wide variety of symptoms and most likely has a wide combination of causes, that vary in each individual. Your task is to find out what is causing your IC and address those causes. This can be done by tuning in and listening to your body and intuition. If this is a challenge for you, or the idea perplexes you, consider taking up yoga or meditation to cultivate a practice of being able to feel and understand your body. Many times, I get desperate messages from IC patients asking me, "What do I eat?!??" And I can not answer that question for you! I can guide you, but the only person who can figure out what works best for you is you. You have to do the work! By reading books and researching the internet, your knowledge about the body and different natural healing techniques will expand, and provide you with a library of healing tools. The next task is to take the tools that resonate with you, and start experimenting with them to see if they help you. For example, start making dietary changes, or taking a new herb, drinking more water every day, or implementing stress reduction techniques in your life. I recommend not doing everything at once, but making subtle changes, one at a time, allowing space in between to observe any changes. (Remember in elementary school, we need to have a control group and the experimental group, so we can accurately conclude if the object in question is having positive or negative effects.) Keeping a journal will be helpful in keeping track of what you have tried & how it effects you, so that you can make decisions in the future about what your long-term healing plan will look like.
The final step is perseverance on the path, as well as seeking medical support. Experimenting with different diet, herbs, and techniques can be exhausting, confusing, and may not lead to immediate success. This is all part of the process. Healing naturally is tricky business, and quite different from the quick fix pill society most Americans have been raised in. It takes time, patience, and persistence to heal naturally. After all, it took the body many years of abuse and imbalance to become sick, so it may take many weeks, months, or even years of proper care and balance to restore the body back to it's healthy state. Feel like you've hit a brick wall? You've tried everything and nothing has worked? Seek outside assistance. A fellow IC warrior, health counselor, naturopathy doctor, or nutritionist may be able to help you, offer new ideas, guidance and support into your next step. On my personal healing path, I discovered a raw food diet and marshmallow root tea worked really well in healing IC. However, after 6 months of this plan, and completely eliminating IC symptoms, I had other strange symptoms arise, that were sort of dull and in the backdrop of IC because they were not screaming at me as loud as my bladder was. But once my IC healed, I noticed them. I decided to go to a naturopathy clinic, where they took some blood tests, which revealed some very important information I needed to continue on my healing path.
**While I am an advocate for being your own doctor, I am not saying to disregard medical practitioners altogether. Their support and guidance can be very helpful! I encourage you to find the right one that listens to you and wants to work together with you to heal, not just manage your symptoms. This may mean shopping around quite a bit, and branching out from the western world into more naturopathy and integrative medicine. But always, always, listen to your body and intuition, and if a doctor recommends you do something that you do NOT want to do, or that you are nervous or afraid about, you don't have to do it! Seek a second opinion, do your own research, and make an educated decision that is best for you.**
Now, to get into more specifics. These are all methods I used to heal. I can dive so deep into each of these topics, but will just provide a brief overview. Take note - I am suggesting these things as healing tools - not necessarily things that should be implemented for a life-time. The body is always changing, and as such, you may need to adjust protocols accordingly as you continue on your healing path.
The IC Diet: I believe that this diet list is a good, general list on foods that may hurt the bladder. However, I do not think it is a good diet to follow if you want to heal. There are many items on the "safe" list that can cause acidity, inflammation, and disease in the body (ie. dairy, gluten).
Natural, vegan diet: Free of artificial ingredients, preservatives, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, processed foods, meat, dairy, sugar and common allergens like corn, soy, wheat (gluten), eggs. Also, cutting out grains may be worth exploring.
Raw food diet: Eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouts.
Acid/Alkaline Balance: Eating an alkaline diet.
Anti-Candida diet: Low in sugar, no refined sugar, no yeast, NO alcohol, low fat.
Allergies: Consider the idea that you may be allergic to some of the foods you are consuming. They may be contributing to the pain and inflammation in your body. Explore an elimination diet and/or look into food intolerance testing.
Marshmallow Root: Catherine Simone discusses this herb in her book. It can be very healing and soothing to your intestines, moving all the way through to your bladder and urethra. For best results, take in a tea form, as a cold decoction overnight, or by pouring hot water over the loose leaf material in a tea ball. The pill form is not as effective & may be of poor quality or have negative effects. Slippery elm is very similar and can be used as a substitute if you can not find marshmallow root.
Herbal tea is an extremely beneficial, healing tool, and their are tons of good herbs out there that may help you out! If you feel that you may be able to tolerate different herbal teas, I encourage you to look into other herbs specific for your needs. (i.e. peppermint tea for acid reflux, ginger for digestion, etc.)
Cysta Q: This is a blend of natural supplements including bioflavonoids made specifically for bladder health. It's had good results in many studies. I took it for about 4 months. It seemed to help, but I feel as if I no longer need it.
Probiotics: These are live microorganisms, or good bacteria, that aid in healthy digestion. They are found naturally in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and some other foods. I eat it and also take it in pill form. Probiotics help with gas, cramping, diarrhea, lactose intolerance, and other digestive issues. They also help balance out the bad bacteria in your gut that may contribute to problems such as a lowered immune system, candida overgrowth, IC, IBS, inflammatory bowel diseases, etc. So much of your immune system and health reside in your gut!
Digestive enzymes: Along with IC, I struggled with leaky gut and candida overgrowth. This will be a whole other post, but it is important to note that digestive enzymes were so helpful for digesting and assimilating much needed nutrients into my sick body!
Yoga: I have slowly but surely become obsessed with yoga. Ever since I have started, it has had many positive benefits on my life. Yoga has taught me how to listen to my body and recognize the pain, where it is coming from, and how to deal with it. It has taught me how to control, minimize, or simply look past the pain. It has taught me to breath, relax, and manage stress (which also decreases pain), which has carried on into my everyday life. And it has taught me many different stretches that help relieve pelvic pain. If you can not afford yoga at a regular studio, check out youtube or online videos. Look to see if there are community donation classes in your area. (If you live in Portland, I offer them!) Yoga mats are cheap! The book I would recommend to beginners is Heal Pelvic Pain by Amy Stein. Stein is a physical therapist that specializes in pelvic pain and this book provides a couple different programs along with great information. It was recommended to me by other IC patients and I love it.
I know it's hard to think about movement when you're in so much pain, but it will make you feel better! Start slow. Fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity will help heal your body. Get outside, get some sun, go for a walk, ride a bike. Yoga is a very low impact exercise. For the days you are feeling extra tender, look into gentle, yin, or yoga nidra.
Want more? Stay tuned for details about my upcoming book, which will have all this info in more detail, as well as much, much more. Also, I will be offering health consultations soon!