By Austin B. Hahn
According to the Interstitial Cystitis Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for improved treatments and research on a cure for Interstitial Cystitis, twelve million people in the United States suffer from this bladder disease. Interstitial Cystitis, also known as IC, is a condition associated with bladder pain and urinating frequently and urgently (MedlinePlus). As someone who has suffered from IC, I know the frustration a person may experience when seeking treatment. I took numerous medications: doxycycline, azithromycin, rocephin, uribel, and ciprofloxacin. Unfortunately, none of them worked. After consulting with my general practitioner, seeing a naturopathic doctor, and visiting a urologist, I knew I had to find other methods of treatment. After researching online, I found several herbs for IC that could work in conjunction with acupuncture. For those who are suffering or have loved ones who are plagued by this chronic condition, I am delighted to share this information, and I hope it helps you along your journey of healing and recovery.
I. Grapefruit Seed Extract
During my research, I learned about grapefruit seed extract (GSE) and ran across several articles about its effectiveness in treating IC. My experience confirmed its efficacy. Grapefruit seed extract is used “for bacterial, viral, and fungal infections including yeast infections” (“Grapefruit Overview”). According to a report by Xiaowei Su and Doris H. D’Souza from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Tennessee, GSE treatments resulted in significant viral reductions. You can view the report here. The article mentions that one study, “found that GSE at 1 mg/ml could cause 99% inhibition in the growth of Staphylococcus aureus,” which is a bacteria responsible for staph infections. GSE’s antibacterial properties are also effective against E.coli and salmonella (Souza and Su 2). Furthermore, a recent study conducted by Microbiologists from the University of Georgia showed that GSE is an “effective non-toxic disinfectant” (”Benefits of Grapefruit”). The herb has been reported as non-toxic at “50 to 100 mg per day” (Souza and Su 2).
II. Uva ursi, marshmallow root, and corn silk
Uva ursi, also known as bearberry, is used for urinary tract disorders “including infections of the kidney, bladder, and urethra; swelling (inflammation) of the urinary tract; increased urination; painful urination; and urine that contains excess uric acid or other acids” (WebMD). Kathi Keville, Director of the American Herb Association, mentions in her book, Herbs for Health and Healing, that uva ursi can be taken with marshmallow root to help fight infection and to soothe the urinary tract (119). The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that although only a handful of scientific studies examining the effects of marshmallow have been done, one study did confirm that it helps “soothe irritated mucous membranes” (”Marshmallow”). Once symptoms of IC have subsided, several herbs can be used to heal the urinary tract, but I have only had experience with corn silk. Corn silk is also used for other urinary disorders such as dysuria, prostatitis, urethritis, and “for acute and chronic inflammation of the urinary tract” (Spiteri 41). While uva ursi may provide some relief from IC, it “should not be used for more than 2 weeks, and no more than 5 times a year” (EBSCO). For more information on side effects and interactions with medications, visit webmd.com.
As someone who has suffered from interstitial cystitis, I recommend trying garlic. Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties and may be beneficial for people with auto-immune diseases to incorporate it into their diet (Coles). I also use garlic whenever I have a yeast infection since it’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal (Higdon and Drake). However, I advise using fresh garlic extract rather than garlic powder because it’s more effective against candidiasis, which is a fungal infection that results from yeast overgrowth (Lemar, et. al; “Candidiasis”).
Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that’s usually administered by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners who insert needles along certain points of the body in order to re-balance the flow of energy which is also known as qi (“Acupuncture”). Although acupuncture doesn’t specifically target a disease in the way Western medicine does, it “is suited to treating the manifestations” and is “effective for prompt alleviation of acute symptoms” (Dharmananda). In one study, women who received acupuncture treatments four times a week for bladder-related complications “had significant improvements in bladder capacity, urgency, frequency, and quality-of-life” (Emmons and Otto). In addition, as a male, I can also attest to acupuncture’s efficacy. I was prescribed herbs and treated by an acupuncturist for interstitial cystitis, and, ten months later, my symptoms had subsided. Acupuncture is a wonderful remedy.
V. Enterococcus: A Root Cause?
There are multiple theories concerning the cause of IC, ranging from autoimmunity to inflammation of the bladder, but I want to focus on an antibiotic resistant bacteria known as Enterococcus (WebMD; Fraser, et. al). Over several years, I noticed people with chronic urinary tract infections reporting on online forums that their urine culture tested positive for Enterococcus, so I decided to research it. Enterococci are found in the intestinal flora and in human feces, but “the genus Enterococcus includes more than 17 species, although only a few cause clinical infections in humans” such as Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium (Fraser, et. al; Boehm and Sassoubre). Enterococci can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), and it has become difficult to treat due to its acquired resistance to penicillin and other antibiotics (Fraser, et. al). Moreover, enterococci can replicate in environments “such as on beach sands and in water containing kelp” and can survive on common hospital items which includes scrub suits, lab coats, and hospital privacy drapes (Boehm and Sassoubre; Neely and Maley). Unfortunately, Enterococcus species can temporarily withstand temperatures of 60°C, and E. faecium has spread in hospitals and communities across five continents in the last two decades (Fraser, et. al). On a personal note, these findings underscore how easily Enterococcus can be transmitted and the vulnerability of hospital patients and healthcare workers. Treating enterococcal urinary tract infections “should be guided by urine culture and susceptibility results” (Alangaden and Swaminathan). There is currently no cure for interstitial cystitis (“IC Treatments”).
While I do not claim to be an epidemiologist, “a public health professional who investigates patterns and causes of disease and injury,” I believe Enterococcus has the potential to threaten the well-being of the human race (“Epidemiologists”). Its resistance to antibiotics and ability to survive in a variety of environments thwart the efforts of physicians, leaving them with few treatment options. Despite numerous online reports from people whose urine culture came back positive for Enterococcus, I have only found a few articles discussing a possible link between enterococcal infections and IC. Although I acknowledge the advancements that have been made in medicine, this resistant bacteria calls attention to what we do not know in the fields of medicine and science. Even though I am no expert, I contend that if we don’t find a cure, more people could become infected, which might lead to mutations and make infections harder to treat. With the emergence of Enterococcus, there’s little to wonder as to why people are turning to alternative medicine.
For more information on herbal medicines, you can access Maria Spiteri’s book from the University of Malta online at: https://www.um.edu.mt/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/148975/herbalmonographs.pdf
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