The Myth: There is a standard "IC Diet" that all patients should be following.
The Truth: Your diet will be unique, and should focus only on eliminating your specific trigger foods and having a healthy diet.
Myth Origin: The vast majority of patients with IC, between 80 and 95%, realize that their symptoms can be 'triggered' by certain foods and beverages. Unlike some of the other myths we have examined, it's not as clear that there is a specific origin to this myth.
The myth may have originated for some patients and practitioners with a 2009 list that the Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) put out, with a comprehensive list of foods that had been reported to be triggers. This food list was developed informally, and meant solely to be a resource for patients, but may be misconstrued to be a formal 'IC Diet' by some.
"There is limited evidence to support a formal IC diet. With the exception of a handful of common trigger foods, IC patients report that there is great variation [in] which foods and beverages, and how much of them, might cause IC flares...
...The [IC Food] list is not a dietary guideline or a meal plan. There are no scientific studies supporting this list; it was developed very informally."
- Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA), IC Food List
Debunking the Myth: All major experts and nutritionists - including the ICA, where they myth may have originated - support using an elimination diet to identify and eliminate only your specific trigger foods. In fact, a survey of more than 2,000 patients conducted by the ICA showed that simply eliminating individual trigger foods was just as effective as following a highly restrictive IC diet!
The majority of patients with IC are sensitive to only a handful of foods - common culprits including caffeine, alcohol, tomatoes, citrus fruits and juices, artificial sweeteners, and exotic foods - and don't need to drastically change their diet in order to have a positive impact on the condition.
Impact of the Myth: Trying to follow a strict 'IC Diet' can be exhausting and nearly impossible. Restricting too many foods can lead to nutritional deficiencies, at a time when you need your body to be as healthy as possible.
The myth of the 'IC Diet' leads many patients with the condition to spend all of their focus and willpower on a draconian diet, instead of simply working to find and eliminate trigger foods while eating healthy. Diet is a very important aspect of controlling interstitial cystitis symptoms, but it should be only one part of a holistic treatment plan.
Read on to find out the truth about these myths, and feel free to join the online Facebook community Finding Pelvic Sanity for support and resources!
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. Nicole was named the 2017 IC Physical Therapist of the Year, was the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, and is the author of the award-winning book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University.