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4 Common Mistakes People with IC/BPS Make When Trying Herbs

I hear from a lot of my clients who have Interstitial Cystitis / Bladder Pain Syndrome that they feel like they have tried everything, but nothing seems to help. You may be in a similar situation where you have been to tons of doctors, tried different supplements, and you are losing hope. One thing I wish I could tell everyone is that just because you have tried a lot of things, doesn’t mean you have tried the right things for you. Here are some common mistakes that people make, and suggestions for how to avoid these pitfalls.

1. Using herbs that target an infection in the bladder

Maybe you have been to your local health food store or searched online for herbal products to support bladder conditions. You might have found something that helped a little, but not dramatically. While I am beginning to see some supplements on the market that are specific to Interstitial Cystitis, most bladder formulas are created to address urinary tract infections, not IC/BPS. Urinary tract infections involve bacteria as an underlying cause of symptoms, so these formulas will contain herbs that are specifically antimicrobial. Since IC/BPS is not mediated by bacterial infection, these products may not be very helpful.

2. Using herbs that don't address your specific underlying factors

IC/BPS is a multifactorial condition. That means that there are usually several factors that contribute to the condition and that every case is unique. You may read or hear about an herb that is helpful for IC/BPS symptoms, then try it yourself and find that it doesn’t do anything. This is most likely because it isn’t addressing your specific underlying factors. Just because something is helpful for one person with IC/BPS, doesn’t mean it is helpful for everyone.

For example, many people learn about the benefits of Aloe vera for soothing and healing the bladder. This herb can be very helpful for people who have loss of mucosal membrane integrity inside the bladder. But it really won’t be effective if the underlying condition is pelvic floor tension, which is a contributing factor in 80% of IC/BPS cases. Additionally, there is a huge variation in the quality of Aloe products available, as well as the part of the plant used in different products. I recommend caution with Aloe unless you are educated on the product you are purchasing, and the safety issues involved.

3. Using herbs without addressing underlying causes in other ways

Because IC/BPS is multifactorial, that often means that diet and lifestyle can have a big impact. While herbs can provide support without making broader changes, it can be like putting a band-aid on a wound that never heals. For example, I have seen many times that when a trigger food is removed, the bladder heals quickly. What follows is that the need for acute herbal formulations to reduce pain and irritation is significantly reduced or eliminated entirely. Another common example involves pelvic floor tension. Herbs can definitely be helpful for relaxing pelvic floor muscles and nerves, but if this is your underlying cause, getting the proper pelvic floor physical therapy can greatly reduce your need for daily herbal support.

4. Dosage, method, or quality of herbs is not sufficient

As with any condition where herbs are being used, the dosage, method of extraction, and quality effect the results. I often find that clients have found the right herbs to use, but they need support with how to use them effectively, or where to purchase high quality products. For example, marshmallow root can be very useful for soothing and healing the mucosal membrane in the gut and bladder, but it is not a low-dose herb. In fact, you need quite a substantial dose to make a difference. So, taking a couple of capsules a day may not be very effective. Whereas, making a cold infusion tea and drinking several cups per day can be highly effective.

I find that herbs can be very effective in reducing acute bladder irritation, inflammation, and tension, and can help prevent IC/BPS flares when used properly. The important things to consider for success are:

  1. Use herbs that address the underlying factors of Interstitial Cystitis / Bladder Pain Syndrome, not urinary tract infections.

  2. Use herbs that address your specific underlying factors.

  3. Address underlying factors through diet and lifestyle.

  4. Use high quality herbs in the correct dose and method.

If you are dealing with IC/BPS, I wish you well on your journey. You got this! But, if you want support along the way, I encourage you to find a practitioner who can help guide you. I specialize in working with people who have Interstitial Cystitis / Bladder Pain Syndrome, and I’d be happy to support you on your journey too.


About me

My name is Jillian Bar-av and I am a Registered Herbalist and Licensed Nutritionist. I specialize in supporting people who have complex urinary tract conditions, such as Interstitial Cystitis, with a comprehensive holistic approach that helps people to increase their quality of life. I’ve seen how healing herbs can be for the urinary system and how much they can help people to feel well again. Working with herbs is not only deeply healing, but part of my philosophy that it takes healthy people to create a healthy planet, and I want to make a difference for both.

If you are interested in learning about my clinical practice, or scheduling an appointment, you can do that here:

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