Most people don’t realize that there is a strong connection between gastrointestinal health and fertility. This is because the health of the gut affects the reproductive system in many subtle ways.
The obvious signs of digestive problems include constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or acid reflux, abdominal bloating, sharp or dull abdominal pains, gas, and urinary irritation. But many other symptoms show up when the gut isn’t working properly, including chronic sinus, ear, or vaginal infections; joint pain; headaches; foggy thinking; fatigue; and mood disturbances. All of the systems of the body are interconnected, and subfertility or infertility can definitely be related to gut issues as well.
Here are six ways that gut problems can cause a decline in fertility:
1. Poor nutrient absorption:
If your gut isn’t working properly, then you won’t be able to fully digest your food or absorb all of the nutrients from it. You can end up with nutritional deficiencies because your body can’t fully process the food you’re consuming. This can adversely impact many systems of your body, including your immune system, your liver, and your reproductive system, because of shortages of the trace minerals and vitamins needed to support those intricate processes.
2. Suboptimal hormone production:
A significant part of the body’s hormone production actually happens in the gut. If there are shortages of nutrients due to malabsorption, then the body will be lacking the building blocks needed to make those hormones. Furthermore, if the endocrine cells in the gut are damaged, then they can’t do their job of producing hormones, including reproductive hormones. Moods are also affected since the gut cells manufacture many key neurotransmitters.
3. Toxic buildup:
The digestive system is designed to eliminate wastes fairly quickly, so that they don’t linger in the body. Healthy bowels should move after every meal, so constipation is a cause for concern, particularly if bowel movements aren’t occurring daily. If the gut is sluggish, then the wastes held in the colon for extended periods of time can result in toxins being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. When wastes accumulate without being excreted, this creates a drain on all systems of the body.
4. Leaky gut syndrome:
When healthy, the intestines are coated with a protective mucus membrane that only allows very small pre-digested molecules to pass through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream. When the gut is chronically irritated, as in the case of food allergies or conditions such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, the protective barrier gets eroded and large food molecules get through to the bloodstream when they shouldn’t.
This can lead to chronic inflammation in and around the gut as the immune system attacks these foreign substances that shouldn’t be passing through to the blood stream. This puts the immune system on a constant state of high alert, which isn’t conducive to fertility, since the body’s resources are diverted away from reproduction to deal with the ongoing threat of invasion, thereby compromising hormone balance and the quality of sperm and egg production.
5. Food allergies or intolerances:
It’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation with food intolerances and a leaky gut, since these conditions are related and can exacerbate one another. Allergic foods contribute to inflammation in the gut, which damages the gut lining and creates those ‘leaks.’ Similarly, a leaky gut causes undigested food molecules to get into the bloodstream, which stimulates the immune system and can create a chronic allergic reaction to that food due to prolonged exposure. Gluten in particular can be correlated with reduced fertility because gluten can suppress thyroid function, and undiagnosed thyroid issues frequently show up in cases of so-called “unexplained” infertility.
Did you know that there are 10 times more bacteria in the human body than there are human cells? Our bodies operate in a symbiotic partnership with healthy bacteria. The microflora in the gut can help digest food, synthesize nutrients, break down toxins, improve immune function, and protect us from dangerous or infectious microorganisms. If the healthy bacteria in the gut are compromised or overwhelmed by harmful bacteria, this leads to a state of microbial imbalance or dysbiosis. This imbalance can affect the entire body.
Where reproductive health is concerned, vaginal flora keeps the pH balance in the vagina at a healthy level and helps ward off infections from yeast and other pathogens. Frequent vaginal infections, bladder infections, or cervical inflammation can be a sign that the body’s microbes are out of balance. It’s important for women to address this before giving birth, since recent research shows that a vaginal birth inoculates a baby’s immune system and digestive system with microbes that will affect that child’s health for decades to come.
Recommendations For Gut Health:
Chew every bite of food thoroughly. This pre-digests your food and cues your gut to release the right digestive enzymes to process what you’re eating. It also makes meals a more calming experience.
Drink the recommended eight glasses of water a day. Chlorine is toxic to the healthy bacteria in your gut so if you drink tap water, make sure to filter it.
Follow a nourishing whole foods diet that emphasizes fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and healthy meats and fish. Choose organic produce and free-range, organic, antibiotic-free meats wherever possible.
Replenish healthy gut bacteria by taking probiotics or eating unpasteurized traditionally fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, or kombucha.
A hearty daily fibre intake keeps your digestion running smoothly. The proverbial “apple a day” provides soluble fibre, and ground flax or psyllium husk added to smoothies can help cleanse the colon.
Trust your gut and notice your reactions to foods. If something doesn’t sit well with you, pay attention, even if the reaction is subtle.
Often, your allergic foods are the ones that you are addicted to. Do you have a favourite food, something you could never give up and would drive through a snowstorm to get? If so, this could be a red flag for a toxic food addiction.
Remove foods from your diet that harm the gut or feed the bad bacteria. These include anti-nutrients such as refined sugar, refined flours, alcohol, trans fats, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners, and all of your personal allergenic foods.
If you do need to take antibiotics for any reason, be sure to replenish your gut flora by taking probiotics and consuming traditionally fermented foods.