- Urinary or faecal incontinence can be debilitating
- It is possible to manage both conditions through lifestyle changes and diet
- Fibre is overlooked in many diets
Incontinence can refer to the involuntary leaking of urine (urinary incontinence, which signifies a problem with the bladder) or faeces (faecal incontinence, which points to an underlying problem in the bowels).
Both can be equally debilitating and embarrassing, but there is no reason why both urinary and faecal incontinence can’t be managed. Your diet as one of many lifestyle factors is often overlooked when it comes to managing incontinence. And there is one component of your diet that may help manage both urinary and faecal incontinence.
Why your body needs fibre
Fibre, an important yet underrated part of any healthy diet, plays a key role in the way your body functions. This is the indigestible part of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and legumes and is key in keeping your digestive system healthy.
As fibre absorbs water, it helps to keep us fuller for longer, and helps to lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels, which can help prevent conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular problems and diabetes.
Fibre and the bowels
But if fibre is meant to make your bowel movements more regular, isn’t this defeating the purpose of helping to manage faecal incontinence?
Actually, quite the opposite.
When dietary fibre is not digested, it adds more bulk to the stools, which helps you stay more regular and avoid constipation, which can lead to faecal incontinence. Chronic constipation may lead to faecal incontinence, as the constant strain on the rectum can damage the surrounding nerves.
As the rectum and intestinal muscles stretch from too much straining to pass stool, they can eventually become weak, which allows the watery stool deeper in your intestines to seep through.
As fibre absorbs water, it can also bulk up faecal matter, which causes less watery stool.
Fibre and the bladder
Although we don’t associate what we eat with bladder health, diet can have an effect on the severity of urinary incontinence, which is usually the symptom of an underlying cause such as nerve damage.
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of urinary incontinence. Fibre is an important aspect of weight management and a healthy balanced diet, as it keeps us fuller for longer. Therefore, including fibre in your diet can indirectly increase your overall health and improve your weight, which is important in the management of urinary incontinence.
But the bowels and constipation can also cause urinary incontinence – when bowel movements are strained, extra pressure is placed on the pelvic floor muscles, which can weaken them and affect bladder control. This is referred to as stress incontinence.
A full bladder can also cause pressure, leading to urge incontinence, which makes you feel the need to urinate frequently, or cause your bladder to leak. This is referred to as overflow incontinence.
If you are experiencing urinary incontinence, it’s important to discuss with your doctor whether you are also experiencing chronic constipation, as these two conditions can be linked.
How to include more fibre in your diet
If you suspect that you are not eating enough fibre, it’s important not to overdo it in the beginning, as too much fibre can cause unwanted side-effects such as bloating and gas. If you suffer from any food allergies or conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, you should also discuss this with your doctor or a registered dietitian to help you determine a way to eat more fibre.
Here are ways to gradually add more fibre to your diet:
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as these are excellent sources of fibre.
- Swap the white, unprocessed pastas, breads and cereals for the whole-grain versions.
- Add more beans and legumes to your diet.
- Snack on nuts.
- Drink more water to aid digestion and bowel movement. If you are concerned about urinary incontinence and your water intake, remember that it’s still important to be properly hydrated, as concentrated urine can aggravate leakage.
According to the Simon Foundation for Continence, fibre therapy is a great way to alleviate incontinence and increase your overall health. This should, however, not be seen as a complete cure, and other treatment options and management methods under the guidance of a healthcare provider should also be considered.
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