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5 Foods That Can Exacerbate Pelvic Health Problems

February 01, 2021

5 Foods That Can Exacerbate Pelvic Health Problems

You’ve all probably tried a diet or two in your life for various reasons, and they all recommend both good foods (veggies!) and also ones to stay away from. Thinking about your diet with pelvic health in mind is no different. We’ve already touched on some helpful foods (like plenty of water, bananas, omega-3 fatty acids / fish oil, or Vitamin D) and here we’re going to look at a few that don’t play nicely with various aspects of your pelvic health.

According to the National Institute of Health, a quarter of the population suffers from pelvic floor dysfunction. Luckily, this can often be improved with simple lifestyle tweaks like adopting a healthy diet and pelvic floor exercise routine (in fairness, seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist or starting your kegel exercise routine is often a more impactful place to start than changing your diet, but every bit helps!). 

Before you read on, though, heads up: we’re not trying to say that you need to cut any (or all) of the foods below out of your life cold turkey, or even that you should necessarily change your eating and drinking habits. It’s all about awareness -- if you know a bit more about which foods can cause problems, that might help you get a head start on sorting things out if you find yourself having pelvic health issues.

So without further delay, here are 5 foods that can have a negative impact on pelvic health.

1. Coffee & Caffeinated Drinks 

Caffeine is a diuretic which can cause excess urination. It can also be irritating to the kidney, bladder, and urethra. 

Furthermore, caffeine is a stimulant that can trigger urinary urgency, i.e. the feeling of needing to urinate but overworking your pelvic floor muscles to “hold it”.

On the other side of the coin, it can also contribute to dehydration which may not be helpful if you tend to have issues with constipation.

2. Fizzy Drinks

Sadly, this includes all carbonated drinks: sodas, sparkling water, club soda, and even “no sugar” or “zero sugar” sodas.

Carbonated drinks can challenge your bladder

Carbonated drinks can cause overactive bladder, urgency or irritation. Also, keep in mind that a bottle of soda often isn’t just carbonated, it also may contain a ton of caffeine and sugar (more on that later).

Even if your pelvic floor challenges aren’t urinary-related, you might be surprised at how caffeine and carbonated beverages are affecting your overall pelvic health.

3. Alcohol

Although alcohol doesn’t directly cause incontinence, it can be a trigger for those who already suffer from incontinence (particularly on your, shall we say, more memorable nights). It can also cause inflammation in pelvic organs and, like caffeine, it is also a diuretic that can increase the acidity of your urine and be a bladder and urethra irritant (red wine can be particularly bad on this front).

4. Artificial Sweeteners

At this point many people are probably aware that certain types of artificial sugars can be bad for us. And, knowing they’re contributing to pelvic floor dysfunction and bladder irritation can be added to the list of why aspartame, sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners might be worth cutting out. They are bladder triggers, causing urinary urgency, frequency, incontinence, and irritation to the bladder and urethra.

As Healthline suggests, consider reaching for stevia-sweetened products as an alternative. The National Association for Continence also says that stevia doesn’t appear to cause bladder irritation.

5. Acidic or Spicy Foods

This is gonna be hard for many people, because who doesn’t love spicy food? Acidic and spicy foods can be irritating to the bladder, though — causing your urine to be too acidic or irritating to the bladder lining (or making for some fiery bowel movements).

Some foods that can be particularly problematic for some people in terms of their acidity include:

If you think this might be a problem for you, you'll probably have to experiment for yourself with what spicy foods your body can handle and which ones trigger problems. And if you have interstitial cystitis, you might have to cut out spicy foods altogether, unfortunately. 

6. Sugar (Bonus!)

We were going to keep it to 6 foods but couldn’t resist adding one more. Sorry folks, but sugar is one of the major recommendations to cut out of your diet if you are having issues with certain types of pelvic dysfunction. It can cause a variety of problems that lead to a weakened pelvic floor, from an overactive bladder to urinary incontinence.

Sugar can exacerbate pelvic floor dysfunction

In this women's health study, the relationship between insulin resistance and the pelvic floor muscles was studied, using both subjects with and without insulin resistance. The authors found that women who were not insulin-resistant had better pelvic floor muscle tone and better muscle function.

Increased sugar consumption can also lead to elevated cortisol levels, which can impact sexual function, for example by interfering with sexual arousal.

The Bottom Line

So, we admit that reading the above can be a downer. And we’re definitely not saying that everyone needs to cut out all caffeine, carbonation, alcohol, sugar and spicy food from their life! (Some prices are too high... ;-)

But as with everything in life, balance is key. Our hope is that by knowing a bit more about which foods can (sometimes) have a negative effect on various aspects of your pelvic health, you’ll be better equipped to make good dietary decisions for your own body (especially if you find yourself having problems). 

And remember, your diet can definitely have a negative effect (or a positive one) on aspects of your pelvic health like bladder control, pelvic pain and your sex life. But what you eat and drink is just one piece of the puzzle. So keep the information above in mind when you’re doing your meal planning but also remember to pay attention to exercise and other options so that you can get the most out of your pelvic health!

(Lastly and as always, if you have pelvic floor issues or experience pelvic or back pain, it's never a bad idea to talk with a pelvic floor physical therapist to help determine what type of diet, exercise or physical therapy routine might be best to help you keep a healthy pelvic floor.)

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