From bitters to breathing, here are FIVE things I bet you're not doing to help your gut and pelvic health struggles
The gut (pink area #3) and the pelvis (green, #4) are CLOSELY related neighbors.
When once is in suboptimal condition, often the other suffers!
These two important parts of the body are so tightly linked to one another as well as OTHER systems in the body.
Therefore it’s in our best interest to “zoom out” , stop hyper-focusing on our pelvic floor struggles, begin to look for other problems that we can address in the body to improve the health and function of our pelvic tissues.
Today I’m giving you FIVE action steps you can take to improve gut and pelvic health and restore balance to the body!
Let’s start with adding more bitters to your diet
What are bitters?
Bitter greens like chicory, dandelion, arugula, radicchio, endive and burdock.
Licorice, gentian root, artichoke leaf, mugwort, black walnut leaf, sarsaparilla and there are manyY more!
What do they do?
We are STILL learning about the many benefits of bitters, but the quickest explanation is that because they have a strong and pungent taste, like a poison, but do not have an poisons properties, the brain signals to the digestive tract to GET TO WORK!
The liver begins to detoxify and digestive juices start flowing to help the body process what’s coming down the pipe.
Bitters are “cooling” so they help to reduce inflammation which can results in anything from a reduction in stress to pain!
Why are the beneficial?
Consuming bitters stimulates the release of gastrin, a digestive hormone that signals to the body to secrete saliva, hydrochloric acid, pepsin (a digestive enzyme that breaks down food), and intrinsic factor (responsible for vitamin B12 absorption).
The liver and the gallbladder produce and secrete bile in response to bitters, ALSO helping with the digestive process.
If you’ve read my other blogs on the gut/pelvic floor connection, then you KNOW that digestion is DIRECTLY related to the health of the pelvic floor.
Tissue health confers structural stability and responsiveness to neural signaling and requires adequate nutrient absorption and nourishment.
The better we digest and absorb nutrition from our diet, the better our tissues and muscle health.
When we are malnourished, we see muscle wasting and a lack of regeneration of tissue.
Additionally, sluggish, inefficient digestion causes constipation or a viscous cycle of diarrhea and constipation.
Straining in the bathroom applies lots of pressure to the pelvic floor.
Anyone struggling with rectocele OR an over-recruited pelvic floor, knows how important, easy, routine elimination is for their pelvic health and comfort.
Bitters stimulate the liver and therefore help it to better do its job!
Because bitters are a “cooling” chemical, which means they can fight inflammation that is causing your pelvic or abdominal pain. (reference)
For more reading about the benefits of bitters click here and here.
How to incorporate bitters?
First! Always ask your healthcare provider/functional medicine doctor before starting any supplements.
1.Drink dandelion root tea daily. This is a SUPER mild and low dose of bitters that you can easily incorporate into your diet. There is such things as too much of a good thing, so read the box to see how many cups per day are recommended and START slow!
2. Eat more bitter greens! Arugula, radicchio, chicory, and artichoke leaf can all be easily added to a salad and grown in your own yard or container garden on a balcony!
Moving on to training the parasympathetic nervous system…
I can not stress enough how important it is to train your body to spend LESS time being stressed.
I have ALL of my clients train activating the parasympathetic nervous systems throughout their days and in their workouts!
Many of us, especially those with Type A personalities like me!, are living our lives in a chronically stressed state.
We have shallow breathing patterns.
We tense our bellies.
We clench our jaws.
We go, go, go until we crash.
You and I, we need to train ourselves to spend MORe time in the parasympathetic mode of our nervous system, rest and digest, vs. FIGHT OR FLIGHT!
Why is this important?
When we are in the sympathetic mode of the nervous system (fight or flight) our body chemistry changes. We create more acid, cortisol, and adrenaline.
This makes our muscles tense and twitchy. We are over-stimulated and often times have difficulty being present or mindful of our decision.
Blood flow is diverted away from the intestines to the heart, muscles and brain so that we can ReSPOND quickly, but health of the gut, digestion and nutrient absorption suffers.
When we chronically produce adrenaline and cortisol, over time the body becomes LESS sensitive to them and we then have to resort to stimulants like caffeine, sugar, lots of exercise and taking on more and more projects to feel good and energized.
Why does this impact pelvic health?
Well it impacts your pelvic health in any number of ways.
Digestion and elimination is compromised which again causes lack of nourishment to the tissues and elimination struggles like constipation.
The health of the gut microbiome suffers too because the loss of blood flow and constant stress kills your good bugs. Your good gut bugs reduce stress and inflammation in your pelvic tissues and hormone regulation. Without them you can experience and increase in pelvic pain or symptoms of prolapse.
Fight or flight mode means shallow, short breaths and the diaphragm is NOT moving through its full range of motion. This impedes adequate relaxation and recruitment of the pelvic floor, pelvic position and core stability (check out my handout here) which will increase or worsen you symptoms, stall your rehab!
What can you do?
In extreme cases, some individuals (and this is becoming more and more common) need vagal nerve therapy. The vagus nerve is what tells the body whether it should be in the parasympathetic or sympathetic state of the nervous system.
When it comes disregulated from trauma, surgery or chronic stress, sometimes it needs to be “reset” so that the body can re-learn how to move smoothly in between the two modes of the autonomic nervous system.
But let’s say you don’t have signs of vagus nerve dysfunction, here are THREE more things you can do YOURSELF to stimulate the parasympathetic mode of the nervous system.
3. Stomach massage
Massaging your own belly and manually moving around abdominal contents can help to relieve stress, and tension and relax the body.
Massage in a counter-clockwise direction and don’t every push on anything painful.
Working with a bodywork specialist and having them demonstrate how you can self-massage is a GREAT idea!
Click here for more info!
Bonus, if you’ve been struggling with digestion or constipation this should help!
If you are experiencing an increase in prolapse symptoms or over-recruitment, this can help to relax the tension in the belly and pelvic floor and take pressure off of your pelvic organs too!
4. Diaphragmatic breathing practice.
Breathing with the diaphragm (tongue on the roof of your mouth, inhaling through the nose) is a sure way to calm the body and get into Rest and Digest mode!
If you are prone to stress, it’s a good idea to do some diaphragmatic breathing right when you wake up, before you go to sleep, before your workouts, and periodically throughout your day. Set an alert on your phone!!
When I feel symptoms of pelvic floor tightness or prolapse OR feel like my digestion is suffering, breathing has ALWAYS helped to decrease the symptoms and calm more mind and body.
If you’re never practiced it, start here and here.
5. Start ROCKING daily!
Rocking on all fours creates space in the pelvic and abdominal cavities. It calms and soothes the body and it’s how you learned posture and alignment in the first place as a baby!
Rocking can be a TOTAL game changer, if you do it consistently.
It will calm you AND set you up for future diaphragmatic breathing success, because of how well it aligns your body and facilitates the movement of the diaphragm.
Get started with it here!
Sarah Smith is on a mission to help women conquer their pelvic health struggles and build STRENGTH and SKILLS!
She is a strength coach, RKC2 Kettlebell Instructor, Original Strength Pro Instructor, certified personal trainer, postnatal fitness specialist and pelvic floor and gut health advocate with a Masters in Soil and Agricultural Science.
Sarah works online and in Raleigh, North Carolina.
She is a Believer, wife to her best friend, Jeremiah, a mom to three boys and one English Bulldog.
She loves soil, coffee and not folding laundry.
Come follow her on Instagram or Facebook.