How Gut Health Influences Fertility and Pregnancy Chances

Unidentified woman worried about fertility with hands in heart shape on gut

By Judith Johnson, RD

The health of your gut influences the health of every system in your body, including your fertility.  It is responsible for proper function of your immune system, how you think and feel, and how you synthesize and excrete hormones.  It is one of the building blocks of your fertility foundation.

Your gut health is your key barometer to systems that might need help – including your reproductive system – and your gut health may even affect your ability to conceive or have a healthy pregnancy.  Getting your gut right is the gateway to improving every other system in your body, including your reproductive system.

How are gut health and fertility related? 

  1. Inflammation

Some inflammation is good – it helps to fight off the bad stuff.  But, too much inflammation can cause major oxidative damage in cells, the largest of which is a woman’s egg cell.  Recent research shows that women with recurrent pregnancy loss were found to have abnormal gut permeability, which contributes to inflammatory reactions in the body.  The study suggests that the inflammatory reaction caused by leaky gut may contribute to miscarriage.[1]

A healthy gut also helps reduce inflammation, likely improving fertility.  Research also shows that chronic inflammation may affect fertility by causing decreased progesterone levels leading to implantation failure[2], the development of autoimmune processes impacting fertility[3], and the development of anti-sperm antibodies preventing fertilization.[4] The good news is that probiotic supplementation to support gut health has been shown to decrease chronic inflammation and improve immune function.[5]

Celiac Disease is associated with an inappropriate immune response to part of the gluten protein gliadin.  This immune response causes inflammation, which damages the body’s organs and tissues and leads to the symptoms of celiac disease.  A 2016 meta-analysis found that women with unexplained infertility have 3.5 times higher odds of having Celiac Disease and 6% of the women that struggle with unexplained infertility may indeed have Celiac Disease.  In fact, unexplained infertility may be one of the first signs of the disease in some women[6],[7].

  1. Insulin Sensitivity

The health of your gut can also have a profound negative effect on insulin sensitivity, and therefore your fertility foundation.

Insulin is a hormone that controls glucose metabolism. It is secreted by the pancreas in response to blood glucose levels. If glucose levels are high for too long, the pancreas has to produce too much insulin, which leads to insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is strongly associated with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), affecting steroidogenesis in the ovaries, and increases free testosterone levels, which can impact fertility.[8]

  1. Mood & Methylation

Our gut is our second brain: if your gut is not happy, your mood is affected. Your gut is where you produce 90% of your serotonin which we all need to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Your mood can also be an indication that the biochemical process for methylation are compromised.  The body is a complex machine, with various gears and switches that need to be all functioning properly to operate optimally. Methylation is a main mechanism that allows the gears to turn, and turns biological switches on and off for a host of systems in the body, including the reproductive system.

Most importantly for fertility, methylation helps regulate hormone activity and your immune system – both key for a solid fertility foundation.

  1. Impaired Estrogen Metabolism

Without a healthy gut microbiome, estrogen metabolism and function becomes impaired, which has a negative affect on fertility.  This can lead to a number of health consequences including endometriosis, PCOS, endometrial hyperplasia, and infertility. A 2017 review of the literature concluded that treating the gut microbiome to modulate estrogen levels should be considered as a new future treatment for estrogen-mediated diseases including infertility[9]

How do I know if my gut needs work? 

It’s probably time to do some hard work on cleaning up your gut, and start rebuilding your fertility foundation,  if you feel the following symptoms:

  • Regularly constipated
  • Bloating after a meal
  • Heartburn before going to bed
  • Hayfever/Sinus Congestion
  • Stomach pain
  • Regular gas
  • Feeling tired all the time or sleep disturbances
  • You eat a high sugar diet
  • You’ve had unintentional weight changes

But I don’t have any gut symptoms.  My gut must be ok, right? 

The absence of symptoms may not necessarily  indicate good gut health.  You might be having regular bowel movements, no cramping, and no gas, but that doesn’t mean your gut is in good shape.  You could feel pretty great but have a poorly working digestive system underneath the surface.

What are some non-gut symptoms to look out for?

This is often harder to establish without proper tests, some common non-gut symptoms include:

  • Unexplained infertility
  • Mood changes (including depression/anxiety)
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trouble focusing
  • Brain fog & diminished memory
  • Headaches (from resorption of cellular toxins back into the body)
  • Chronic yeast infections
  • Frequent colds/flu
  • Constant hunger or cravings, especially for carbohydrates/sugar
  • Skin issues (eczema, acne, rosacea)
  • Symptoms of estrogen dominance or deficiency
  • Joint pain
  • Sinus congestion

Is there any way to know my gut is ok?  Are there any tests I can do? 

If you lack the symptoms above, go with your ‘gut feeling.’ You may be fine but the only accurate way to check is through proper testing.

Many functional medicine practitioners and nutritionists can help you understand your gut on a deeper level through the use of diagnostic testing including:

  • Stool testing – This test evaluates the presence of harmful and beneficial microorganisms in the gut including yeast and bacteria.  It might be gross to consider, but this test is full of helpful information.
  • Food sensitivity testing – This test helps identify what foods you may be sensitive to and which foods may be damaging your gut.
  • Serum Antibodies – You can be tested for specific antibodies (Transglutaminase and anti-gliadin) to screen for Celiac Disease.  Research shows this could be a potential cause for unexplained fertility.

How do I fix my gut health?

The good news is that through thoughtful steps, you can repair your gut in order to improve your fertility and pregnancy chances.  We work with a number of industry leading nutritionists, reproductive specialists and functional medicine practitioners – reach out to us at info@fertilitynutraceuticals or send us a DM on Instagram at @fertilitynutraceuticals and we can put you in touch.

In our next post we’ll address, Four Steps to Build a Solid Fertility Foundation with your Gut.

 

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=recurrent+pregnancy+loss+leaky+gut

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137456/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4845518/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4845518/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2701523/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25564410; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216449/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772050/

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28778332