Case Study: Interstitial Cystitis

This month’s case study is 33 year old ‘Sophie’ who came to the Clinic with Interstitial Cystitis


I had been suffering from a very painful bladder with urgency to urinate. I kept going to the GP but each time I provided a urine sample there were no bacteria. It was really getting me down because I was in constant discomfort, which was actually very exhausting physically and emotionally. The GP said I had a condition called Interstitial Cystitis (IC). He explained IC was a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder, rather than cystitis which is bacterial. The lining of the bladder becomes incredibly inflamed and irritated. The bladder wall is naturally coated in mucous membranes which protect it from toxins in the urine. With IC this protective layer has broken down, allowing the toxins to irritate the bladder wall. The bladder then becomes inflamed and does not store urine properly.


I asked what could be done about it and he was a little vague and referred me to see an urologist. I had a procedure called a cystoscopy (a tiny camera passed into the bladder via the urethra) which confirmed what my GP had said – that the wall of my bladder was very ‘raw’ and inflamed and this was literally how it looked on camera. The urologist prescribed me a drug to calm the inflammation and have an antispasmodic effect. He said in the long term if my condition got worse and the symptoms became unbearable I may have to have an operation. This really frightened me so I started searching on the internet to see if there was anything I could do for myself.


I came across lots of links to diet and nutritional support for IC, but I knew it was something I would need professional help with. I wanted to go to a reputable clinic. By chance, one of my work colleagues mentioned she had been to The Dr Marilyn Glenville Clinic for nutritional support to help her menopausal symptoms – and she said it really worked! She gave me the phone number and I called straight away to book an appointment.


The receptionist was very helpful and managed to book an appointment for me for 2 weeks time. In the meantime she sent me a detailed questionnaire to complete and return before meeting the nutritionist. It was suggested that I perform a mineral deficiency test before my first meeting – just to give the nutritionist more information about my nutritional status, allowing her to prescribe more specifically for my needs. For the first time in months I was feeling very motivated and excited about treating my IC; being proactive rather than just waiting for my condition to get worse and then have to have surgery, which I really didn’t want. The mineral deficiency test was incredibly straightforward and just involved taking a sample of my hair and posting it off to a laboratory for analysis.


My first appointment with the nutritionist was great – she had really taken the time to go through my questionnaire and it felt like she was actually listening to me and not just trying to ‘fob me off’! She explained what she thought was going on and she confirmed what my GP and urologist had said. The nutritionist did say that it was unclear as to why IC develops, which is why it makes it slightly more complex to treat.


She explained that the nutritional approach is to calm the irritation and inflammation of the lining of the bladder by reducing intake of foods and drinks that can have this effect. She said the main foods/ingredients that can irritate the bladder and cause inflammation include caffeine from tea, coffee, cola and chocolate; spices, like chilli; sugar; artificial sweeteners; oranges; tomatoes and alcohol. She then went on to talk about some of the foods and ingredients which can calm irritation and are naturally anti-inflammatory. These included oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, walnut oil, turmeric and ginger.


This was very interesting as my diet was high in the ‘offending’ foods. I had always been weight conscious so would have lots of artificial sweeteners in one form or another and I lived on coffee as I had a stressful job and it was the only thing that would get me through the day. I wasn’t eating any of the foods that are helpful for calming inflammation – particularly the fats because of my weight worries. The nutritionist explained just how important the fats are, not only for IC but even for maintaining a healthy weight, so this reassured me.


We went through the results of my mineral deficiency test and the major mineral I was low in was magnesium. She explained just how important magnesium was for IC because it helps to relax the bladder and calm the spasms associated with it. Magnesium is found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, kale and broccoli, which I was rarely eating – a time factor more than anything. The nutritionist gave me lots of practical tips and suggestions on how I could get these foods into my diet and alternatives for coffee and sweeteners.


She gave me a recipe for barley water, which she explained was naturally supportive of the urinary system. She told me to avoid cranberry because, although traditionally thought to reduce symptoms of bacterial cystitis, some anecdotal evidence suggests it can aggravate IC. Again this was interesting because my GP had told me to drink a pint every day and somehow I knew it didn’t feel right!


The nutritionist put together a plan for taking specific nutritional supplements and herbs to support my bladder. She recommended an essential fatty acid, I had heard of omega 3 and 6 but I was not familiar with omega 7, which she was prescribing. She explained that omega 7 is derived from Sea Buckthorn and research has shown that it is specifically supportive of the mucous membranes that line the bladder.


Magnesium was added because of my deficiency picked up by the hair mineral analysis and she said once again it was a natural muscle relaxant, so would help to relax the bladder.


Finally, she gave me some herbs in tincture form and as a tea. The herbal tincture contained dandelion and marshmallow – dandelion being a diuretic and marshmallow having wonderful ‘soothing’ properties. Similarly, the parsley and cornsilk tea is supportive of the urinary tract, calming the inflammation of the lining of the bladder. The tea tasted lovely and I had soon forgotten about my coffee. In fact, looking back I think the coffee used to have an immediate effect on my symptoms, but I was too busy to stop and take note!


I felt really excited by the end of the consultation – I couldn’t wait to get started. My shopping list was so different to how it had been and it certainly made food shopping more interesting, I used to get into such a rut buying and eating the same things week in week out. I started eating avocados, lots of oily fish and I had stopped the coffee. It was unbelievable, but what motivated me to carry on was the significant reduction in pain within the first 10 days. After 3 weeks there was even more improvement.  For the first time I no longer had the dragging sensation around my bladder and my urgency to urinate had reduced drastically. It is hard to explain but my bladder felt less ‘hot’ and burning. I had even lost weight – without dieting!


Six months on and my symptoms are largely under control. I know what triggers an attack, so in the main I try to be quite disciplined with my diet. I never imagined that I would be able to treat my IC naturally and even my GP was pleased that I have managed to control my symptoms without the need for drugs or surgery.


Marilyn’s Comment


Sophie is an inspiration! We saw how debilitating the symptoms of IC can be. Sophie totally turned her diet around and was diligent about taking her supplements and she has managed to control her condition and maintains it six months on. As the nutritionist explained, IC is still largely misunderstood. In some, the response is not as dramatic as we have seen with Sophie but certainly symptoms can be reduced. My advice is to take control of your health, whether that’s in conjunction with conventional medical treatment or on its own.



If you would like to find out more about our clinics and the mineral deficiency test, then please see the Resources Page.


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