Alkaline Diet & IC

Does an alkaline diet help control interstitial cystitis (IC) symptoms? Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) Medical Advisory Board member, Barbara Shorter, EdD, RD, CDN, says, “There is some controversy here, but we don’t have any proof that it’s the acid or the alkaline that makes a difference in the bladder." The alkaline diet aims to reduce inflammation associated with IC by balancing intake of acid and alkaline foods. Proponents of the alkaline diet believe that you can control the pH—and prevent your body from becoming too acidic—by limiting intake of animal protein, sugar, caffeine, and processed foods. The theory is that by eating a diet of primarily alkaline foods, you can neutralize the acid that is causing your symptoms.

What foods are acidic? An acidic food is one that lowers the pH (increases the acidity) of your urine. A basic, or alkaline, food is one that raises the pH (increases the alkalinity and reduces the acidity) of your urine. The effect of the food on your urine may be quite different from the acidity of the food itself. For example, orange juice is an acidic food with a low pH. After your body metabolizes the OJ, however, the pH of your urine is elevated. In other words, orange juice which many IC patients find problematic reduces the acidity of your urine and is thus included on some alkaline diet food lists. High protein foods such as meat, fish, and poultry—which are not acidic by nature—lower the pH of your urine (make it more acidic). Most IC patients do not find that these protein foods worsen their symptoms.

Also, even if you consume large quantities of these foods, the changes in your body pH are only nominal because your body has a built in system for controlling pH. This control adjusts for shifts in high acid or alkaline changes and automatically maintains a stable pH. Therefore, it is very unlikely that you can maintain a high alkaline body pH for long periods of time.

There are no clinical trials supporting the alkaline diet theory for IC and it is challenging to design a study to measure the concept. Thus far the studies that have been done as test tube trials. Data on the impact of this diet on people has not yet been collected.

At this time, the Interstitial Cystitis Association does not recommend an alkaline diet for IC. Alkaline diets restrict many foods. Getting the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy is very challenging with the alkaline diet, because the it limits large groups of foods, such as grains, protein foods (like meats), sugars, and dairy products. This diet puts you at risk for many nutritional deficiencies. 

Posted April 08, 2011