What is the pelvic floor?
You might not be able to see it, but chatter is swelling around the pelvic floor, a nexus of muscles, nerves, ligaments and connective tissues located between your tailbone and pubic bone. This floor serves as a “hammock” for your bladder, uterus, bowels and spine, and its health is critical to the function of many of your body’s organs. Until recently, it was often ignored, but with research and discussion picking up, we thought we’d tell you a little more about your pelvic floor.
What does it do?
Supporting every organ it carries, your pelvic floor does a ton of heavy lifting. A stabilizing force, it works with your hip muscles, lumbar spine and diaphragm to stabilize your hips and trunk, helping you stand upright and move about. Your pelvic floor is also responsible for spinal support and sexual function (in both men and women), plays a pivotal role in supporting child-bearing, and most importantly, it is responsible for the control over your bladder and bowel function. Yes, this means that weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to digestive issues such as finding it hard to completely empty your bladder or bowels, incontinence and even pain in your pelvic area.
What weakens the pelvic floor?
A few things hinder the strength of your pelvic floor. Among the most common are:
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Constipation or straining on the toilet
- Heavy lifting
How can this affect my health?
Did you know that poor bowel health can lead to Pelvic Floor Disorder? Since they are so close to each other, the domino effect isn’t surprising. While research is ongoing, there is ample suggestion that the health of one affects the other. Initial studies have even shown women with IBS as more likely to report symptoms of PFD than those without.
How can I keep it healthy?
Unseen but always felt, there are a few ways to work your floor, and many of them double up on benefits. Exercises like squats and glute bridges build both your wall and backside at the same time. Ab work brings similar sized benefits. Since the floor regulates internal pressure in the abdominal cylinder, it is an integral part of your core. Additionally, seeing as the pelvic floor makes up the bottom of the trunk, and the diaphragm is at the top, the coordination of these through breathing exercises can also help with staying in touch with your floor health. Women can also activate these specific muscles by squeezing and drawing them in, repeatedly.
Can food help?
Absolutely! As with the rest of your body, diet plays a significant role in the health of your pelvic floor. Foods high in sugar and artificial sweeteners, as well as highly acidic produce, carbonated beverages and alcohol can lead to digestive problems, which in turn exacerbate the bladder and negatively impact your pelvic wall. By contrast, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as low-acidic produce and caffeine-free drinks cause less irritation to the bladder. And while we don’t suggest restricting your diet to these foods alone, alternating them regularly will definitely help keep your pelvic power at hand for when you need it most.
Phytoestrogens for pelvic floor health
Phyto what? Phytoestrogens are compounds that naturally occur in plants. If you eat fruits, veggies and legumes, you’re getting phytoestrogens in your diet. One of the strongest phytoestrogens is soy and soy products such as tofu, tempeh and miso. Phytoestrogens, or dietary estrogens, weakly bind estrogen receptors in the body and can help support hormone levels during stages of estrogen decrease such as perimenopause and menopause. In studies, phytoestrogens have been found to increase cell reproduction in the pubic fascia, and improvement in the connective tissue, showing benefits in urinary incontinence. Say bye-bye to peeing a little very time you laugh or cough!
- Burgess, L. What are phytoestrogens? Benefits and foods. Medical News Today. January 17, 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320630
- Cardenas-Trowers O, Meyer I, Markland AD, Richter HE, Addis I. A Review of Phytoestrogens and Their Association With Pelvic Floor Conditions. Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg. 2018;24(3):193-202. doi:10.1097/SPV.0000000000000559