The Gut-Fertility Connection
What Does Gut Health Have to Do With Fertility?
Your gut does much more than just digest, absorb, and excrete food. Your gut influences the health of every system in your body. It’s responsible for the proper function of your immune system, how you think and feels, how you synthesize and excrete hormones, and it influences your fertility too. The bottom line is when your gut isn’t functioning properly, other body systems suffer immensely.
That said, if you’ve been struggling with infertility, understanding and fixing the gut-fertility connection is ESSENTIAL. Moreover, if you’ve been dealing with unexplained infertility, it might be time to turn your attention to a very likely culprit – your gut.
The Gut-Fertility Connection – A Quick Look at the Research
You’re probably wondering how could these two systems be so closely related? There are actually a number of mechanisms by which these two systems work together. Here’s what the most recent research has uncovered about the gut-fertility connection:
- Recent research has found that women with recurrent pregnancy loss show a higher prevalence of undiagnosed gut disorders. In particular, women with recurrent pregnancy loss were found to have abnormal gut permeability, which was found to contribute to inflammatory reactions in the body. The researchers hypothesized that the inflammatory reaction caused by leaky gut may be contributing to miscarriage pathogenesis. The authors recommended the proper diagnosis and treatment of intestinal disorders in order to improve pregnancy outcomes in women with recurrent pregnancy loss1.
- Moreover, the gut microbiome is responsible for converting bound estrogen to free, active estrogen via the enzyme B-glucuronidase. According to a recent review, without a healthy microbiome, estrogen metabolism and function becomes impaired and can lead to a number of health consequences including endometriosis, PCOS, endometrial hyperplasia, and infertility. Authors of this review concluded that treating the gut microbiome to modulate estrogen levels should be considered as a new future treatment for estrogen-mediated diseases including infertility2.
- Interestingly, a meta-analysis completed in 2016 found that women with unexplained infertility have a 3.5 times higher odds of having Celiac Disease. In fact, it’s been estimated that 6% of women struggling with unexplained infertility actually have undiagnosed Celiac Disease. Additionally, it’s been suggested that unexplained infertility may be the first sign of Celiac Disease in some women3,4.
- Last but not least, gut health, and namely the gut microbiome plays a vital role in immune function. When our immune system isn’t working optimally as a result of poor gut health, our bodies may enter a state of chronic inflammation. As mentioned above, chronic inflammation may impact recurrent pregnancy loss1. Chronic inflammation may also cause decreased progesterone levels leading to implantation failure5, the development of autoimmune processes impacting fertility6, and the development of antisperm antibodies preventing fertilization6. Luckily, probiotic supplementation to support gut health has been shown to decrease chronic inflammation and improve immune function7.
Gut Health: A Common Misconception
You might be thinking this does not pertain to me because I have NO gut symptoms. Unfortunately, the absence of gas, bloating, and stomach pain does not indicate good gut health. Although the token symptoms of gut dysfunction do indicate something is wrong, a complete absence of symptoms does not indicate a properly functioning digestive tract. You might be having regular bowel movements, no cramping, no gas, but it by no means guarantees that your gut is in good shape. In fact, you could feel pretty great but have a poorly working digestive system underneath the surface.
Some Non-Gut Symptoms to Look Out For
That said, what are some non-gut symptoms you might notice if your digestive system isn’t working properly? Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms we see with poor gut health.
- Allergies including seasonal allergies as well as food allergies
- Frequent colds and flu
- Constant hunger or cravings, especially for carbohydrates/sugar
- Brain fog and diminished memory
- Skin issues including eczema, acne, or rosacea
- Joint and muscle pain
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic yeast infections
- Symptoms of estrogen dominance or deficiency
- Sinus congestion
- Unexplained infertility
Of course, if you are having FRANK symptoms of digestive upset, it is also important to get to the root of the issue!
How to Diagnose Asymptomatic Gut Issues
There are a number of specialized tests Naturopathic Doctors can requisition to get to the bottom of your gut issues. Again, if you’ve been struggling with infertility, and namely unexplained infertility, it’s SO important to get a proper and thorough evaluation completed so we can understand what is going wrong. The following tests are our most utilized, however, this list is by no means exhaustive!
- Comprehensive Stool Analysis – This test allows us to evaluate the presence of beneficial and harmful microorganisms in the gut including bacteria and yeast. It identifies which specific beneficial and harmful microorganisms are present so that we can target treatments specific to your gut. The analysis also allows us to see how well you are digesting and absorbing food if there is any inflammation in the gut, and the status of gut-immune function. This test can help to diagnose as well as monitor treatment progress.
- Food Sensitivity Testing – This test identifies specific food sensitivities, and therefore allows us to determine which foods are damaging your gut. The foods that we eat highly influence the health of our gastrointestinal tracts. If we are constantly consuming foods that our gut can’t handle, we damage it and become trapped in a state of chronic inflammation that impedes fertility. By identifying specific food sensitivities, we can tailor a diet to optimize gut health and fertility.
- Serum Antibodies – Last but not least, transglutaminase antibodies and anti-gliadin antibodies should be tested to screen for Celiac Disease. This is incredibly important for women suffering from unexplained infertility since unexplained infertility may be the first sign of Celiac Disease in some women3,4.
How to Heal the Gut
So if you’re struggling with infertility and are now concerned about the gut-fertility connection, don’t panic! Healing the gut and optimizing gastrointestinal function is something Naturopathic Doctors EXCEL at. Here are some ways we can help heal the gut:
- Remove inflammatory foods from your diet. For example limit refined grains, sugars, dairy, processed and pre-packaged foods, and soda. Better yet, complete a food sensitivity test to find out which foods you are specifically sensitive to!
- Consume a diet rich in gut-healing foods such as bone broth, fermented foods, probiotics, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables! For more info on diet, check out our Optimal Fertility Diet, and Optimal Fertility Diet Common Mistakes
Supplements & Botanicals
All of these products can help heal the gut. There are many others that can help as well. See a Naturopathic Doctor for product and dosage recommendations.
- Digestive Enzymes
- Licorice Root or DGL
- Marshmallow Root or Slippery Elm Powder
- Limit gut-damaging medications such as NSAIDs and antibiotics. Both medications disturb gut health and can lead to dysbiosis, gastritis, and ulcers to name a few. Only take them when absolutely necessary and recommended by your physician!
- Meditate regularly! Gut health is easily influenced by stress. Ensure you are managing stress to optimize gut function!
There are many strategies, products, and protocols out there when it comes to gut health. It’s important to visit your Naturopathic Doctor to receive treatments that are tailored specifically to you!
A Final Word on the Gut-Fertility Connection
We know there is a lot here to digest, but this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the gut-fertility connection. If there is one thing to take away from this, it’s that gut health highly influences our reproductive potential! The gut-fertility connection is undeniable.
If you want to learn more about what you can do, check out our Natural Fertility Program. One of the first steps of this program is restoring health to your gut!
Need Help Fixing Your Gut?
If you’re struggling with unexplained infertility and think your gut may be to blame, we at Awaken Life are here and happy to help!