When she was just 19, Kristen started having bladder symptoms and was soon diagnosed with IC. After suffering for years with bladder discomfort, painful sex, and urinary frequency, especially at night, she was anxious and depressed. But after taking it upon herself to seek out a personalized, natural treatment plan, which included studying holistic nutrition, she began to see real improvement. Today she is continuing to heal, and helps many others through her IC wellness coaching.
In a recent email interview, I asked Kristen about her experience with Interstitial Cystitis and learned about her success with self-healing.
1. For how long did you suffer with the symptoms of IC?
I began experiencing symptoms of IC when I was 19 years old, 11 years ago. It was first year university and I was living in residence. I remember there was one night where I woke up with a sharp pain that felt like it was coming from my pelvic region. I realized I had to pee. The pain dissipated as quickly as it came and I never experienced that particular type of pain again. After that night I began to have frequent urination during both the day and night.
When I went home during a break from university I went to see my doctor and was referred to a urologist. He performed a cystoscopy with hydrodistention and determined that it looked like a case of early interstitial cystitis. There was no UTI present and to this day I have never been diagnosed with a UTI.
2. Do you consider yourself cured?
No, I do not consider myself cured. I get quite a few emails from my subscribers asking me if I am 100 per cent cured. I always explain that I do not even use the word cured. I believe that I am healing. I haven’t felt well on some level since I was about 13 years old, so there are a lot of deep-seated health patterns going on. I believe that it is a process, and although my IC doesn’t rule my life like it used to, I still have more frequent urination than the average person, and in times of extreme stress I can experience an increase in nighttime urination. I believe that my bladder can heal completely, but it’s always a whole-body thing and we can’t just address the bladder. We have to bring our whole system back into balance and this can take a lot of time, dedication, and ups and downs.
3. What steps did you take towards healing yourself?
About six years ago, while living in South Korea, I began to dig deeper into more natural approaches to dealing with IC. My IC was at its worst and I knew that the mainstream medical community only offered Band-Aid approaches at best. I began to come across stories of people who had healed their IC or made significant improvements using things like diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes. This was the first time I began to consider that I may be able to heal from IC and I was not doomed to live with the condition forever. It was an exciting discovery!
At this point, I was attempting to follow the standard IC diet and eat gluten-free, which is not easy when living in a foreign country like South Korea. Since I didn’t always know what I was eating, I relied a lot on Prelief. I also tried a supplement called Cystoprotek. I can’t say I noticed much difference, but at the time I was still drinking alcohol and staying up too late on the weekends. Anyone who has ever been to South Korea as an English teacher knows that it has a very lively party scene that is very difficult to avoid!
When I got home from Korea I found myself doing more reading about natural approaches to healing IC and I became really interested in the healing power of foods. I went on to study holistic nutrition and it is during that time when I really began to modify my diet to promote healing and started to incorporate more supplements. I eliminated all of the common allergens and focused on eating more vegetables to increase my alkalinity. I bought a juicer and started juicing, although I will admit that I didn’t stick with it. I also began to take an active role in reducing stress and started practicing yoga and listening to guided meditations.
I continue to take steps towards healing myself and I formed a website and nutrition practice geared towards helping people with IC find relief and regain balance using diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
4. Do you have any theories on what causes IC?
Yes, I certainly do. IC is a complex condition and as I mentioned, it’s never just about the bladder. Everything is connected. Here is a list of some of the factors that I believe can contribute to the development of IC:
- unresolved infant and childhood trauma
- chronic stress
- endocrine/hormonal imbalances
- leaky gut
- autoimmune disease
- viral and bacterial infections, candida, parasites
- allergies and sensitivities
- trauma in the pelvic region
- GAG layer defect
- nerve problems
Remember, everything that I listed is interconnected and every individual must work towards uncovering the root causes of their IC. I go over some of these in detail in a 3-part series I wrote, called What Causes Interstitial Cystitis?
5. Any hunch on what cures the condition?
I don’t believe there is one particular diet change, remedy or lifestyle change that can cure the condition. As I said before, I think of it more as a healing process. We are all unique, and you very quickly learn that what helps one person with IC may harm another. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to heal the condition, but at the same time it is a blessing because it really forces you to get to know yourself on a deeper level in order to uncover your own unique healing path!
6. Do you think Western medical treatments are helpful (instills, medication, hydro-distention, etc.)?
I think that Western medical treatments do have their place and I work with clients who absolutely cannot function without their pain medications at this time. These types of treatments can work well for symptom-reduction and temporary relief, but they do not provide long-term solutions or work to resolve the underlying imbalances that caused the IC in the first place. I think that it is up to the individual to decide whether or not they are comfortable with Western medical approaches. I urge those with IC to make sure the treatments they select are not causing more harm than good. It’s also a good idea to work towards improving your diet and lifestyle while using these types of medical approaches in order to support your body’s natural ability to heal.
7. What do you believe is the most important step for someone to take who is newly diagnosed with IC?
I absolutely believe that the first step to take for someone who is newly diagnosed with IC is to clean up their diet. This has made the biggest impact for me. Since we are all different, we need to find out what foods trigger our symptoms. The IC diet is a great place to start, and then from there you can begin to take on a more holistic approach and start considering things like what foods are causing inflammation and allergic reactions in your system. I created a free course, 4 Weeks to IC Relief that will give you further instruction on how to modify your diet for IC healing.
8. What do you believe is/are the most important steps(s) towards true healing?
If I had to sum it up, I believe the most important step towards true healing is to do some serious soul searching, reflecting, and journaling in regards to what has led you to this current state of health. Anyone who works with me is asked to fill out a timeline with important events and milestones they believe led up to their diagnosis of IC. When you do this you need to consider your past and present from all angles – mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical. Once again, it’s all connected! Once you figure out how you got to where you are, it is easier to map out a plan to get you back to optimal health.
Yes! Three IC-specific books that made a huge impact on me and contain really helpful information on healing IC naturally. They are: Along the Healing Path by Catherine M. Simone, Solving the Interstitial Cystitis Puzzle by Armit K. Willis, and The Better Bladder Book by Wendy Cohan.
The Interstitial Cystitis Association and the Interstitial Cystitis Network both have extensive websites that can be a good starting point for someone who is newly diagnosed, or for those looking to stay up to date on news in the IC community. Keep in mind, they are predominantly coming from a Western medical perspective, although I have seen some holistic-minded content woven in there, too. Just don’t stop there – keep searching for alternative opinions and treatment options for IC.
I also have several blog posts on my website that cover various aspects of IC from a holistic perspective.
10. Any other tips or words of advice or encouragement for the IC patient?
Sure! One additional tip I’d like to emphasize is to not underestimate the influence of stress on your IC. I know for myself and for many of my clients, stress is one of the main triggers! While it can be one of the most difficult triggers to work with, because let’s face it, you can’t entirely eliminate stress from your life, there are certainly effective strategies out there for stress reduction. The key is finding out what works for you and then using it on a consistent basis to bring your stress levels down. For one person it may be guided visualizations and for another it may be going for a walk in the forest or doing something creative, like painting.
Lastly, never give up hope! I know that IC can feel like it has taken over your life and it is certainly a brutal condition to live with, but it can get better. Changes take time and by focusing on one small step at a time, you will be slowly building health and giving yourself the best chance possible at getting better! Just keep going no matter what. A combination of effort and hope is key. Even if you have been doing well for some time and then you slip back into a flare, keep moving foreword! Seek out family, friends, and practitioners who can support you on your journey, and never give up.
For more tips and advice from Kristen, visit her website: HealingInterstitialCystitis.com.