Treating Cystitis with functional medicine

The word cystitis means inflammation of the bladder. It is most often used to describe a bacterial infection of the bladder. The most common cause is a type of E-Coli bacteria. This natural resident of the bowel can get transferred to the urinary tract where it can cause the symptoms of cystitis.

These include:

  • Pain or a burning/stinging sensation when urinating.
  • A need to urinate more frequently than normal, even if you’ve just been to the toilet.
  • Urine that’s dark, cloudy or strong-smelling.
  • Pain in the pelvic area.
  • Feeling generally unwell, achy, sick and tired.
  • Blood in your urine.

Pain in the side or back or a high fever could indicate that the infection has spread to the kidneys. If either of these symptoms occurs medical help should be sought.

In general, cystitis is more common in women. This is because the female urethra (the pipe the pee comes out) is closer to the anus than in men. It’s also a lot shorter so it’s easier for the bacteria to climb up into the bladder.

Other risk factors include: frequent sex, having a catheter fitted, using the diaphragm method of contraception, and wiping from back to front after going to the toilet. All of these increase the risk of transferring bacteria from the anal area to the urinary tract. Men who have an enlarged prostate are also at increased risk. This is because the enlarged prostate makes it difficult to establish a strong flow of urine, or to fully empty the bladder. As a result, bacteria are not forced out of the urinary tract as easily.

Cystitis can be treated with antibiotics but mild cases often resolve on their own. However, if symptoms are regularly reoccurring it’s important to investigate further. A functional medical practitioner can help by:

  • Implementing dietary changes to ensure the urinary system is a less desirable home for the bad bacteria
  • Recommending supplements that help to stop the E-coli bacteria from attaching to the inside of the bladder.
  • Suggesting natural antimicrobial herbs that work on the urinary system
  • Supporting the immune system with dietary changes, herbs and supplements to help it to fight the infection.
  • Providing support for any underlying medical conditions such as an enlarged prostate or diabetes which may be making the sufferer more prone to cystitis.

Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a type of cystitis that is not caused by bacteria. Instead, it’s a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall.

Diagnosis of IC is based on the following:

  • Chronic irritation of the bladder and frequent urination with intense pelvic pain
  • The urine tests negative for bacteria
  • Examination of the bladder with a camera called a cystoscope shows small areas of bleeding after the bladder has been full
  • Bladder capacity is reduced and the bladder lining may have become less stretchy and more fibrous

IC is commonly associated with other diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

There is no established drug treatment for IC, it is normally a mix of painkillers, nerve relaxants, bladder relaxants and anti-histamines. Surgical treatments may be helpful in some cases.

The cause of IC is not fully understood but there are a number of different factors thought to contribute. These are:

  • The lining of the bladder becoming leaky – this makes the nerve endings more sensitive creating a constant urgent needs to pee and pain during urination.
  • An initial infection that sets up a post-infection inflammation.
  • Antibody complexes from autoimmune diseases such as lupus irritating the bladder lining.
  • Irritant chemicals in urine from bad bacteria in the gut or from food intolerance reactions.
  • A lack of activity of an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase – this creates nitric oxide which helps to relax bladder muscles.
  • Excessive release of the inflammatory chemical histamine from immune cells in the bladder

While conventional medicine often provides little relief for IC sufferers functional medicine can work on these causal imbalances. A functional medicine practitioner can:

  • Suggest supplements to help repair the bladder lining.
  • Use dietary changes and supplements to reduce levels of inflammation and histamine.
  • Identify food intolerance reactions that are triggering the symptoms and design a personalised elimination diet.
  • Assess the health of the gut flora and rebalance as necessary.
  • Work on improving the function of the nitric oxide pathway to restore proper bladder relaxation.
  • Implement an program to assist with the management of autoimmune disease.