Getting Past the Pain


Getting Past the Pain

Interstitial cystitis affects millions of women in North America. Integrative medicine has several effective treatment methods, including diet and supplements.

If you’ve ever suffered from a urinary tract infection, you know the burning pain. Now imagine that pain doubled, tripled, or quadrupled. And imagine that the pain is not relieved by antibiotics.

This is not an imaginary condition. It’s a bladder disorder called interstitial cystitis, or IC, that affects millions of North Americans, 90 percent of them women. Characterized by intense pain in the bladder and pelvic area, IC sufferers usually experience a frequent, urgent need to urinate.

Medical science hasn’t yet figured out the exact cause of IC, but they know it is not a bacterial infection because it does not respond to antibiotics.

The Yeast Connection

The late Dr. William Crook, a pioneer in treating yeast overgrowth, theorized in The YeastConnection and Women’s Health (Professional Books, 2004) that IC is “part of a universe of symptoms of chronic yeast overgrowth.”

He cited a 1997 study that showed many people with IC also have allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, skin sensitivities, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia, all health problems that have been associated with chronic yeast overgrowth.

Complementary Therapies

Conventional medicine has little to offer IC sufferers except pain medications, painful infusions of medications into the bladder, electric nerve stimulation, and in extreme cases, surgery to remove the bladder.

In contrast, integrative medicine has several effective ways of addressing this painful condition.


About one in three people with IC report relief when they avoid acidic foods, including caffeine, carbonated beverages, chocolate, citrus fruits, alcohol, tomatoes, artificial sweeteners, and highly spiced foods.

Dr. Crook also recommended avoiding simple carbohydrates such as sugar. Experts recommend keeping a food and symptom diary and systematically eliminating irritating foods until you discover your own food irritant profile.


L-arginine is the most commonly recommended supplement for IC because it helps produce nitric oxide, relaxing blood vessels and increasing blood flow. Quercetin, a flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antihistamine properties, may also help.

Since any treatment for IC should be done under medical supervision, it’s best to work with your natural health practitioner to determine the optimal dosage.

Stress Reduction

Yoga exercise to gently stretch the pelvic floor, diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, exercise, and self-hypnosis can all help reduce the stress of this chronically painful condition. Biofeedback and specific types of massage have also proven to help relieve IC pain.


Balancing energy flow in the body with the traditional Chinese medicine technique of acupuncture improved symptoms in a 2001 study reported in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

IC is definitely treatable. The experience of thousands of research subjects shows that half or more get some relief from the complementary therapies mentioned here. One may work for you. It’s worth a try.

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