What's Collagen Got To Do With My Pelvic Floor? (Turns Out, Quite A Bit)
If you've never given your pelvic floor a passing thought, boy, do we have news for you: Pelvic floor health is vital, regardless of your age or gender. While commonly associated with menopause or pregnancy, the pelvic floor simply refers to the group of muscles, nerves, and organs that make up the lower abdomen. It's involved in vital processes from bladder function to sex drive, posture, and more. These functions can affect everyone at any stage of life, so we repeat: It's always a good time to prioritize your pelvic floor.
Kegels are the best-known strategy for strengthening the pelvic floor—but did you know that what you eat also plays a role? That's right, experts say certain foods are key assets in pelvic floor health.
While better known for its skin perks, collagen makes up the structure of all your tissues, including the ones in your pelvic floor muscles. Which leaves us wondering, can consuming collagen help keep the area strong? Like many other collagen-related queries, it's not a simple yes or no, but it turns out, our predictions aren't so far off.
Collagen & pelvic floor health.
First, let's discuss what the pelvic floor does, exactly: "The pelvic floor is made up of muscles, skin, and fascia," explains urogynecologist and pelvic floor expert Betsy Greenleaf, D.O. "It is this tissue that is responsible for keeping all of our organs from dropping out the bottom, such as bowels, bladder, and reproductive organs in women." Think of your pelvis like an open bowl constructed from your hip bones—while it creates a sturdy structure, Greenleaf notes, little is holding your organs inside. "It is a desperate fight against gravity." That's why it's important to strengthen those pelvic floor muscles so you can better support your continence (aka bladder control), sex drive, and more over time.
Now collagen, as you may know, helps make up the structure of your skin, bone, fascia (aka connective tissues), and muscle (it's the most abundant protein in the body, as a matter of fact).* So it likely doesn't come as a shock that collagen plays a key role in pelvic floor health: "Collagen composes the tissue, such as fascia and ligaments and adds to the strength against gravity,"* notes Greenleaf. Specifically, your pelvic tissues contain mainly type I and type III collagen1.
But, sigh, collagen levels deplete over time, due to things like aging, smoking, genetics, and a host of other factors. Your pelvic floor also happens to weaken over time as you lose muscle mass (plus, gravity afflicts us all at some point), and according to Greenleaf, natural collagen decline can speed up that process.
"Weakening of the pelvic floor is a combination of thinning of the collagen in the fascia and muscles and weakening the muscle fibers," she says. Essentially: "It is double trouble for the pelvic floor with decreasing collagen and decreasing muscle mass." Research even shows that collagen content is lower in women who need to strengthen their pelvic floor2; an increased breakdown of collagen is also tied to stress urination in women3 (aka, whenever a physical activity—laughing, sneezing, coughing, etc.—puts stress on the bladder and causes it to leak).
Can collagen supplements help?
Here's the thing: While we have plenty of research demonstrating the link between collagen and pelvic floor health, the jury's still out on the impact of oral supplementation on this specific area of our physiology. So, the answer remains a resounding maybe. That seems to be the response to many up-and-coming collagen-related questions of late (looking at you, oral care), probably because consuming collagen supplements for their array of health benefits is a much younger science in general—the bulk of the research only dates back about two decades.*
Theoretically, though, it makes sense that restoring collagen through supplementation can aid pelvic support and strength over time.* Collagen supplements have been studied in the context of building muscle: In one small human study, men who took collagen daily while participating in an exercise program gained more muscle mass4 than those who only did the exercise program.* This makes us curious whether high-quality collagen peptides paired with some pelvic floor exercises can help support those pelvic muscles—but, again, there's no hard data on the matter (yet!).
However, there is a fair share of research demonstrating collagen's benefits for gut health: One of the main amino acids in collagen, glutamate, supports digestive health because it's a major fuel source5 for the cells in the intestine.* Our gut lining also uses proline and glycine6 (two other amino acids in collagen) for energy.* And anything that's good for your gut ultimately trickles down to support pelvic health, too. "Our gut is so connected to our other organs…especially the pelvic floor," Greenleaf says on an episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
Greenleaf also recommends getting your fill of nutrients that help preserve your natural collagen layer, like vitamin C, vitamin E, astaxanthin, etc. "It appears taking supplements that support collagen formation may have some benefit,"* she adds. In one study, researchers found that postpartum women who took a multivitamin supplement in addition to high-potency zinc, leucine, and omega-3 fatty acids had improved recovery of the pelvic floor after vaginal delivery7.
The bottom line? Collagen makes up the structure of your fascia tissue, which makes it an integral part of pelvic floor health.* As for how collagen supplements can help, we need specific research measuring the link between oral supplementation and pelvic floor strength. But your pelvic floor is intimately connected to a nutrient-rich diet, muscle mass, and gut health—and collagen supplements are a worthwhile addition for all of the above.*
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.