Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interstitial Cystitis and Potassium

Are you concerned about ingesting potassium with IC? In the past, many patients and even clinicians thought that avoiding potassium was important to help IC patients control their symptoms. I am not exactly sure where this comes from, but maybe it started when doctors started instilling a potassium solution in the bladders of people suspected to have interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome. If the solution causes the patient pain, the assumption is that the person has a damaged bladder lining--likely IC.

We can debate the process itself another day, but suffice it to say, if a person experiences the pain of a potassium sensitivity test, I can hardly blame them when they are afraid to consume anything that has a significant amount of potassium in it.

If a person avoids all high potassium foods, however, they can quickly put their lives and wellbeing in jeopardy. Potassium is a vital nutrient for humans, and an essential part of the "electrical" system of the body, responsible for nerve and muscle health including those that keep the heart beating properly. Some IC patients, thinking they were doing the right thing by avoiding potassium rich foods, have even ended up in the emergency room with erratic heart beats. (I actually have to take a potassium supplement at times to prevent going too low!)

In addition to muscle and nerve function and cardiac health, potassium is a critical element in the prevention of osteoporosis, hypertention (high blood pressure), and strokes.
Less serious, but definitely warning symptoms of low potassium include weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, and constipation.

IC Safe High Potassium Foods
Most interstitial cystitis patients have some food sensitivities to fruit, including bananas and oranges which are considered good sources of potassium. The good news is that other high potassium foods are generally well tolerated by those with a painful bladder:
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes, in particular white beans
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Whey protein
If you suspect that your potassium is low, or you are uncertain about how much potassium you should consume, your doctor can perform a simple blood test to find out what your current levels are.

For more information: Food and Nutrition Magazine: Potassium

Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate

Helping Yourself Is the First Step to Getting Well

For step by step guidance for creating your own personal interstitial cystitis meal plan, see: Confident Choices®: Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet.

For some basic, family-style, IC bladder-friendly recipes, see: Confident Choices®: A Cookbook for Interstitial Cystitis and Overactive Bladder

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  1. I'm fortunate enough to be able to eat bananas, as well. Thanks for a great article!

  2. I'm surprised to read that avocados are safe. I had been replacing mayonnaise with mashed avocados until I realized that I was flaring every time I ate it. I also flare if I drink too much milk as well. I wonder if there is something other than the potassium in these items that makes me flare.

    1. What might be okay for some may not be okay for you. IC works like that unfortunately. Some milk products have a higher Vit C content so look at the vitamin content of the milk you buy, and possibly switch brands to see if one is better than the other. I think avocados is one of those maybe okay or may not be okay. Good luck!!

    2. Just so everyone is clear, milk doesn't have ANY vitamin C. I don't know if you are talking about emulsions like soy or almond "milk," but dairy doesn't have vitamin C. :-)

  3. I was told by my IC specialist to avoid all acidic foods, especially orange juice, cranberry juice, vitamin C, multivitamins, caffeine, coffee, tea, lemonade, and many other food and drink items. But I was told under no certain conditions for me to take potassium by moth in supplement form. I have to have potassium by IV to keep me at a good level. Why is there such a wide range of opinions on what we can and cannot have? ANY of the above sets me on fire. So why is it ok to take.

  4. I have always been puzzled by the IC patients who say "I can't HAVE potassium; I have IC!" because I couldn't figure out the "why" and wondered, too, if it was because of the potassium sensitivity test and an unproven assumption that potassium levels in their body would equal high potassium urine.

    I'm glad you're clarifying this. Potassium is very important to keep in adequate amounts. I can't do potassium supplements or a LOT of high potassium foods in a given day or week because my high blood pressure medication artificially maintains higher potassium levels (it is an angiotensin inhibitor with a diuretic). I have never worried about "going over" though - I just make sure I don't eat too much potassium in a given day. :)

    I'm one of those weird IC patients where food has never been a consistent trigger for me. When I got your book I started out with the flare diet for several days to hopefully get to a "baseline" and didn't notice much change in pain or frequency (and pain was honestly my biggest problem). I then started adding the only safe list and STILL noticed no change.

    There are times when I 'cheat' where things get really bad and times when I can 'cheat' with the same item and have no reaction whatsoever, which honestly makes me wonder if it is a combination at a given time, or if it is an unrelated increase in pain that just conveniently happens with the 'cheating' item.

    SO - I do eat bananas.. ;-)

    1. I have the same situation whereby sometimes I can get away with eating something and it doesn't flare up and other times it does. I can't figure it out either. I wonder if it is cumulative and can tolerate an item now and then but cannot if it reaches a certain level in a small amount of time, i.e. day or week. This makes it hard to determine what you can/cannot eat. I try to be more dilegent away from home. Sounds like we both have a similar issue.

      I just tried a bp diuretic that increases potassium also and had to stop as it not only didn't reduce my bp, but I got inflamed. Not sure if it was increase of potassium. It's trial and error.

  5. Anonymous, one thing we know for sure about IC and food is that it is very individualized. It a person has a more severe case of IC or she or he is flaring, food might not "seem" to make a difference. Keep at it though, especially avoiding the foods you know can be a problem, and you will likely feel better faster.

  6. I was diagnosed with ic back in 1989. I was also told that the potassium foods like bananas,potatoes and avocados were all bad. I'm fortunate enough that i can eat them. When i discuss my ic with other people and tell them i'm not suppose to have it They don't understand it because everyone needs potassium to survive. I also would like to put out a warning for anyone with ic that comes down with the flu and goes to an urgent care. You mention them you have i.c and many don't have a clue what it even is. I had a very bad experiance. I went to urgent care to be treated for constant vomiting and diahrea. My file says i have ic and they should of realized to not give me a potassium iv but they didn't. I immediately went into a full blown on ic attack. It was horrible! They made me worse than when i went in. So please beware of this what i call the poisonous potassium iv drip.