Research findings suggest that functional compounds found in foods such as prebiotics/probiotics, Omega fatty acids, and antioxidants may be effective complementary treatments that can aid in healing and a general sense of well-being.


Many studies have examined the use of complementary therapies for managing interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS) symptoms and flares. For example, some doctors recommend drinking water with a tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to help sooth an IC/BPS flare. Plus, some individuals with IC/BPS report that over-the-counter supplements such as calcium glycerophosphate (Prelief®) and aloe vera supplements (Desert Harvest Aloe Vera®) help control symptoms.

New research findings suggest that functional compounds found in foods such as prebiotics/probiotics, Omega fatty acids, and antioxidants may be effective complementary treatments that can aid in healing and a general sense of well-being.

Vitamins and Minerals

Given the need to restrict certain foods, many people with IC/BPS wonder about taking vitamin and mineral supplements. There is not a lot of research about the need for vitamin and mineral supplementation; because it is better to get the vitamins and minerals you need from foods. Following an eating method such as the IC/BPS PlateTM, you will be more likely to get the vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber you need to keep your body healthy.

Vitamin C

Many patients report that vitamin C causes bladder flares when they take supplements. There are studies that found vitamin C supplements can trigger the “need to go” in women. However, vitamin C naturally found in foods may not cause the same kind of bladder symptoms. Check out the list of IC-friendly fruits and vegetables that tend to not cause flares but that are high in vitamin C.

For patients that feel like they need to supplement vitamin C in their diet, a pH-balanced (acid-neutralized) version of vitamin C, may be an alternative to try. Remember to test your sensitivity by starting with small doses. So if you decide to try it.

Vitamin D

Research suggests that low levels of vitamin D may weaken the pelvic floor and lead to chronic pain, and the pain associated with pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD). Research findings also suggest that women with at least one pelvic floor disorder and women with urinary incontinence, regardless of age, have significantly lower vitamin D levels.

It is sometimes difficult to get the amount of vitamin D you need from foods. If you have PFD, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level and find out if you need a vitamin D supplement. Please note: Do not exceed 2000mg. vitamin D/day unless prescribed by your doctor.

Iron Supplements

Iron supplements can cause constipation, which can be very problematic for those with IC/BPS. If you are having irregular bowel movements and take an iron supplement or a vitamin and mineral pill with added iron, it may be contributing to IC/BPS flares. Talk with your doctor and find out if you need to continue to take the supplement, or if there are alternatives available such as a time-released supplement. Read more about combatting constipation.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics are fibers found in foods that our bodies cannot digest. But, we need them to help promote the growth of good gut bugs (beneficial bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tracts). Prebiotics are the food for probiotics. So, what are probiotics? They are a kind of good gut bugs, needed to keep our bodies healthy.

Some people with IC/BPS, especially those who also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), report that probiotics help keep their gastrointestinal symptoms in check. Though some of the research looks promising, we still don’t know for sure that taking pre/probiotics is helpful. Scientists are trying to figure out exactly which probiotics are best for which health conditions. In addition, food manufacturers are working on how to keep these bugs alive in various products. The bottom line: Talk with your doctor before you take a pre/probiotic supplement. See below for a list of food that contain pre and probiotics.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Researchers are exploring the benefits of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Our bodies needs certain fatty acids for many functions such as normal growth of cells and functioning of our brains and nerves. There are different types of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties. In turn, Omega 6 fatty acids can promote inflammation in the body. The typical Western diet of snack foods like chips, popcorn, crackers, etc. are made with various vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, and sunflower oil that are the primary sources of Omega 6.

Our body cannot produce Omega 3 or Omega 6 fatty acids. Instead, we get these fatty acids from the foods we eat. Although both are essential, we need to get more Omega 3 fatty acids for good health. These are found in salmon, tuna, mackerel and other cold-water, oily fish. Omega 3 fatty acids come from both animal and plant sources. However, your body does not use the plant sources as efficiently as animal sources which make the Omega 3 fatty acids from fish better. However, vegetarians should still try to increase their intake of Omega 3 fatty acids through food. Two, three-ounce servings of a fish per week, such as salmon, can provide those needed Omega 3 fatty acids. Below is a list of IC/BPS-friendly foods that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids.


Antioxidants are compounds that naturally occur in foods such as blueberries, green peppers, spinach, kale, and walnuts. The three major antioxidants in foods are vitamin C, beta carotene and vitamin E. Studies show that eating foods high in antioxidants can improve your immune system and relieve inflammation. A good rule of thumb in selecting foods high in antioxidants is: the deeper the color of the food, the more antioxidant rich the food.

IC/BPS-Friendly Foods with Functional Compounds



Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Prebiotic Foods

  • Asparagus
  • Banana (raw)
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Leeks
  • Oats
  • Onions

Probiotic Foods

  • Kefir
  • Milk enriched with acidophilus
  • Miso*
  • Sourdough Bread*
  • Yogurt*
  • Yogurt Drinks*


  • Align®
  • Culturelle®
  • Psyllium husk (Metamucil®)
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Artichoke
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Dates
  • Greens (collard greens, spinach, kale)
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Pumpkin
  • Radishes
  • Raisins
  • Squash (winter)
  • Watermelon
  • Yams

DHA /EPA Omega 3

  • Fish: Salmon, Tuna, Trout, Sardines, Halibut, Herring, Mackerel**
  • Eggs (fortified)
  • Milk (fortified)

ALA Omega 3 ***

  • Beans (Pinto, Navy)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Nuts (Walnuts, Pecans, Macadamia)
  • Oil (Canola)
  • Parsley
  • Spinach
  • Squash (Winter)
*Reported by some IC/BPS patients as a bothersome foodstuff.**These are the best sources, because they are most efficiently used by the body.***Plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are less efficient than those found in fish.
SOURCE: Urological and Gynecological Chronic Pelvic Pain: Current Therapies [Moldwin R, ed]. Springer Publishing: USA. [Pending publication, expected release 2016].