Fertility

Gut Health and Fertility – Is the Route to Conception through the Gut?

Kirsten Oddy, Registered Nutritional Therapist  |   17 Jul 2023


Gut Health is a part of wellbeing that is often discussed and promoted in the media that surrounds us in everyday life. But what exactly is it? And what about gut health and fertility, and our trying to conceive game plan? To tell us more about how to look after our gut and the best foods for fertility, we reached out to Kirsten Oddy, a UK Registered Nutritionist.

Over to Kirsten Oddy…

www.kirstenoddy.com | @kirstenoddynutrition

If You’re Struggling to Conceive, You’re Not Alone

About 1 in 8 couples have issues trying to conceive and need fertility help. (1) Whilst it can be a complex issue, new evidence reveals that gut health could be playing a surprisingly significant role. In fact, for some people, an improvement in gut health could be the missing link to an otherwise unexplained fertility concern. Here’s what science can tell us about the fertility-gut microbiome connection:

Firstly, What is the Gut Microbiome?

The gut microbiome is an ecological community that harbours the most diverse and abundant organisms in the body, with over 100 trillion bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract alone, providing a broad range of functions (2). Most importantly, the bacteria in the gut can help digest food, synthesise nutrients, break down toxins, improve immune function, protect us from harmful micro-organisms, and, crucially, put you on the path to pregnancy (3).

Related Read- Vegan Recipes to Fuel Fertility – Our Top Picks

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How Does the Microbiome Affect Fertility?

Inflammation

Inflammation can be the driver for many chronic health conditions and unfortunately that also includes infertility. If the healthy bacteria or processes in the gut are compromised or overwhelmed with harmful bacteria, this can lead to a microbial imbalance. This imbalance, particularly in those who are overweight or consume a high fat diet, can in turn lead to an increase in chronic inflammatory responses, contributing to poor egg quality, as well as impaired embryo development in women (4). By enhancing and optimising your gut bacteria, you can greatly reduce inflammation and support fertility.

Vaginal Health

The gut microbiome is not an isolated or closed system; it can also influence the diversity of the reproductive tract microbiome. In fact, the same probiotic species found naturally in the gut are also found in the vagina. This includes a variety of lactobacillus species which contribute to promoting a healthy, supportive environment for implantation. Not only by their presence but also by their production of lactic acid, lactobacilli lowers the vaginal pH and makes it an unfavourable habitat for harmful pathogens to thrive (5). For this reason, experiencing frequent thrush, urinary tract or bladder infections could be signs that your gut is not in the condition it needs to be in – and if the vaginal microbiome is altered, fertility could be affected too.

Oestrogen Metabolism

Oestrogen plays a key role in reproductive health and fertility in both females and males, and surprisingly, your gut health can have a big impact on this hormone. The gut microbiome is one of the main regulators of oestrogen and it does this via an enzyme called ‘beta-glucuronidase’, however, if the gut microbiome is imbalanced, this process can be impaired and interferes with the detoxification of oestrogen, subsequently leading to an increased risk for elevated oestrogen levels, otherwise known as ‘oestrogen dominance’ (6). This oestrogen dominance may then contribute to the development of conditions related to reproductive health and infertility, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome in women (7) and reduction in sperm production for males (8).

Luckily, modulation of the gut microbiome through nutrition has been shown to alleviate many of these oestrogen-driven conditions.

Read More about Sex Hormones – TTC – Charting Your Sex Hormones with Temperature

What are the signs that your gut health may need some TLC?

  • You suffer with abdominal bloating or frequent gas
  • You have regular heartburn or belching
  • You have frequent diarrhoea, constipation or both
  • You feel nauseous or vomit regularly
  • Your stools are messy or greasy
  • You suffer with (un)known food sensitivities
  • You have frequent thrush or urinary tract infections
  • You have PCOS or endometriosis
  • You are overweight and/or struggle to lose weight

Read Article about PCOS – Fertility Help – What is PCOS? By The Women’s Wellness Centre

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Gut health and fertility – how can we optimise?

The composition of the gut microbiome can be influenced by many variables, but the good news – there are many ways you can optimise your gut health for fertility right away. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Probiotic foods – Include fermented foods rich in probiotics and enzymes (kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and natural yoghurt), to repopulate and promote beneficial microbial balance of the gut (9).
  2. Prebiotic foods – Include prebiotic fibres (onions, garlic, artichokes, bananas, legumes, asparagus, chicory and apples), to feed the friendly bacteria in the gut. The increased fibre intake from these foods will also help to promote the excretion of excess oestrogen (10).
  3. Anti-inflammatory diet – consisting of lean protein (beans, chicken and lean beef), oily fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel), healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado), wholegrains (quinoa, brown rice and spelt) and an abundance of vegetables (from all parts of the colour spectrum), to help promote a healthy gut microbiome, enhance intestinal integrity and reduce inflammation (11).
  4. Limit processed foods, sugar and alcohol – these can promote inflammation and an imbalanced gut (12). Eat whole, fresh foods and swap alcoholic drinks for water or herbal tea.

Related Article – Male Infertility – Calling all Fathers-In-Waiting – Everything You Need to Know about Male Factor Fertility by Clinica Tambre

Your gut undoubtedly lays out the foundation for conception – and a healthy gut means a healthier, more fertile body! So, make sure to choose foods that help with fertility. Kirsten is offering our FHH Readers 10% off her nutritional programmes. Find out more and book here, quoting code ‘fertilityhelphub’.

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