When any patient walks through my door, one of the things I ask them about is their bowel habits. I often get strange looks or questions, which then gives me the opportunity to explain! Bowel health is ESSENTIAL, not only for the pelvic floor, but for our overall health!
Patients often come see us for pelvic pain or especially pelvic floor weakness. What they don't realize, is that bowel habits (straining, constipation) can actually contribute to poor muscle habits as well! If you are straining or constipated, this puts significant pressure on the pelvic floor organs and muscles, which, over time can contribute to pelvic floor prolapse (dropping of bladder and bowel near vaginal canal) and especially muscle weakness. The great thing, is that we can IMPROVE this with good gut health.
Why is gut health so important? I loved this article by a physician from a Harvard Health blog about "Leaky Gut". Leaky gut is a new term that is being talked about in the medical community, but if you read his blog you would read that functional medicine has actually been practicing gut healing for centuries. When our gut microbiome is off, it can cause problems such as autoimmune disease, systemic inflammation, chronic pain, IBS, acne, and much more. Our gut relates directly to the immune system and health.
So what is considered a "normal" bowel movement? Normal depends on the person. Going 3x a day to 3x a week can be normal! It is not normal, however, when you have to strain, sit more than ~8 minutes to go, or you have very watery or very hard, pebbly stool. So how do we improve this or get to "normal"?
The typical American diet is full of sugar, processed foods, and very low on fiber. For this reason, one of the first things I talk about with patients is how to improve bowel habits with fiber. Fiber often gets a bad name because people think it makes them gassy or constipated. The reason for this is that when people are told to take fiber, they will often buy Metamucil or Benefiber (which is fine!) but take the recommended daily dose the very first time.
This is often TOO much if we have not had enough fiber in the diet! Fiber needs to be added slowly, and you also must have a sufficient amount of water intake as you add fiber to the diet. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are so important in order to help bulk the stool, which helps it move through the intestines easier! Fiber can also help normalize blood sugar.
I always suggest to try to add fiber to the diet before using OTC fiber. My favorite go-to for people is flax seed! It is SUPER nutritious and great for digestion! Fruits and veggies are obviously always a great thing to add to diet and can also help with fiber content.
Probiotics can be essential to healing a leaky gut. When someone is experiencing "IBS" or leaky gut symptoms, this can be because the gut microbiome (bacteria) is not full of good bacteria. Bad bacteria can stay in the gut when it is fed sugar and a poor diet, so probiotics can't fix EVERYTHING, but they are definitely a piece to the puzzle to improve your gut full of good bacteria! Unfortunately, probiotics can be expensive, so eating greek yogurt, milk kefir, or even learning how to ferment your own foods or make your own kombucha can be cost effective! Below are some probiotics I suggest!
JUST THRIVE PROBIOTIC (use code "ali15" for 15% off!)
PLAIN GREEK YOGURT- Plain so YOU can control the sugar content! I will typically add some local honey, flax seed, berries, chia seeds, and almonds to mine!
WATER KEFIR SODA - I love kefir soda! My friend, Suzanne, gave me my first starter and unfortunately I let it go for too long without feeding it. It is SO easy to keep up with once you have it going! I would love to do this again!
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (Home-made or unfiltered, raw store-bought!)
See this article from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to learn more about probiotics. At this time, according to the article, several studies have proven probiotics to be effective to heal leaky gut in healthy individuals.
If you have an autoimmune disorder or histamine intolerance, probiotics and fermented foods may not be right for you. Always refer to your physician before attempting to change or add supplements into your routine! As always, whole foods (fruits, vegetables, grass-fed/organic meat) are the BEST option to change your gut health.
Diet is obviously the most important factor in improving your bowel movements and bowel health! One thing that is commonly overlooked is consistency. Our bodies like homeostasis (balance), so eating around the same time every day is extremely helpful for our digestive system. Did you also know that COMPLETELY chewing your food can improve digestion and decrease symptoms of leaky gut? It is a lot harder than you would think! Make sure that the majority of your diet is full of fruits (berries are great- high in antioxidants). I have found that weekly grocery shopping has helped improve my eating habits so that I can meal prep on Sundays in order to prepare my lunches for the week! That way, I am much less tempted to eat out at work, and I consistently control my portions and food intake. Water intake is also a significantly important part of diet! 1/2 your body weight is a good rule of thumb.
Of course, back to the Squatty Potty. Refer to my post on toileting for a full tutorial on how to improve bowel movements by reducing intra-abdominal pressure through breathing and use of your abdominal muscles, as well as mimicking a squat to relax the pelvic floor muscles. Remember, straining is NEVER a good thing!
So, feel ready to tackle gut health now? Remember, it is easiest to start with small goals and make little changes instead of everything at once in order to create sustainable habits. The gut can heal us, we just have to provide the tools for it to do so!!
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This content is created in order for individuals to learn more about the pelvic floor. I am in no way giving medical advice or medically assessing the pelvic floor through this blog. If you ever have any health questions or concerns, please consult with your physician or midwife. If you are ever unsure if you are performing exercises correctly, it may be beneficial for you to get a referral from your physician to a pelvic floor therapist for further evaluation. My blog posts are for educational purposes only!I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information.