Gut health plays a role in virtually every system of the body, meaning, it’s not so surprising to see how many issues stem for poor gut health. There’s a huge link between digestion, gut health, and fertility.
I see many women in clinic that come to me struggling with hormonal imbalances and struggling to get pregnant. When we go through their symptoms, they almost always have some kind of digestive distress. From bloating to constipation to diarrhea, tons food sensitivities, eczema, mood issues, or even autoimmunity. All of these issues stem from the gut.
We really need to understand how the microbiome is affecting our bodies in order to be in control of our fertility.
The gut is housed in the small and large intestines. In the large intestine we have a “microbiome”. A microbiome is simply a colony of bacteria. We have microbiomes in our gut, on our skin, and even in our vaginal canal and vagina. A colony of bacteria, just like any other colony, has both good and bad bacteria, like a teeter-totter, but we always want to have more good bacteria than bad bacteria.
When we have excess poor bacteria, that’s when we see symptoms of digestive distress, like bloating, discomfort after eating, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, skin issues, immune system issues, and constipation or diarrhea.
The gut or microbiome has huge effects on our entire body. In our gut we produce hormones and neurotransmitters which are crucial for fertility. 70% of our immune system is also housed in the gut! When our gut isn’t happy, our body isn’t happy!
How do we get more bad bacteria than good bacteria?
Bad bacteria can take over for so many reasons and none of them are your fault! We can rebuild, rebalance, and support our microbiome with a few simple steps.
Some of the reasons that we may have more bad bacteria than good are:
- Antibiotics: wipe of good and bad bacteria, then bad bacteria can have a chance to take over
- Conventional Personal Care Products: similar to antibiotics, the chemicals in conventional shampoo, hand soap, cleaning products, etc wipe out all bacteria, good and bad
- Stress: has a huge effect on the microbiome. The brain and gut communicate with each other and together they help to control and regulate mood and hormones as well as immunity. Stress impacts how well the body is absorbing and assimilating nutrients, when the body is under stress we don’t uptake or use nutrients effectively which impacts fertility greatly. Digestion is also compromised when we’re under stress causing inflammation and bad bacteria to take over.
- Pesticides: on fruits and veggies and conventionally grown food can be toxic to the human body and can kill good bacteria in our gut causing bad bacteria to proliferate.
- Lack of Variety: when we eat the same foods over and over again, we see a decline in beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is because food feed our microbiome and bacteria, and different foods give different nutrients to the bacteria to help them flourish. Plus, eating a the same foods over and over again get BORING!
- Poor Diet: high sugar, low fibre, lots of processed foods, high in refined carbohydrates. These types of foods feed bad bacteria and starve good bacteria.
The Missing Link:
Fertility + Gut Health
Your digestive system has many jobs, including breaking down food, absorbing and assimilating nutrients, making certain nutrients, and eliminating toxins and waste products effectively. These functions are essential for healthy fertility. A healthy digestive system ensures your body is assimilating crucial nutrients for reproductive health. Your body can’t use what it doesn’t absorb!
Poor gut health and digestion is a common cause for nutrient deficiencies, mineral imbalance and inflammation. Poor digestion can also impact your hormone levels. How well your body absorbs fat is also especially important for reproductive health. Essential fatty acids are the building blocks for your hormones and are needed to support normal inflammatory response in the body.
Additionally, poor digestion can mean that your body isn’t eliminating harmful toxins and excess hormones effectively, this can compromise fertility. Excess hormones, like xenoestrogens can also depress thyroid function, a known fertility blocker. Gut bacteria are involved in converting T4 to T3 for thyroid hormone synthesis. Research has shown a connection before small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (aka SIBO) and hypothyroidism or poor thyroid function (subclinical hypothyroidism).
We all suffer from occasional digestive symptoms, we’re human after all and sometimes poor food choices, stress, or illness takes over. But, it’s important to listen to your body, keep track of your digestive symptoms and take them seriously is they are happening regularly.
Signs it’s Time to Give Your Digestion Some TLC
- Bloating and/or gas
- Digestive pain, loud gurgling or spasms
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Messy or greasy stools (a sign of poor fat absorption)
- Blood in the stool (may be related to an ulcer or hemorrhoids)
- Frequent skin problems like eczema or dermatitis or acne
- Candida yeast infections (imbalanced yeast in the digestive tract)
- Signs of leaky gut (lots of food sensitivities, brain fog, autoimmune issues)
- History of gallbladder problems (can often be traced back to wheat or dairy allergy or poor fat digestion/absorption)
The 4 R Protocol: Rebalancing the Microbiome
This step is all about removing the stressors that negatively affect the environment of your gut and digestive system. In this step, we want to eliminate allergenic, chemical, and inflammatory irritants. If you’re unsure of which foods to remove, start by slowly removing cow’s dairy and gluten. Some people do really well when eliminating all grains, beans and legumes, it’s best to start slowly and see how you feel. Eliminating a lot of different foods from your diet can be overwhelming and stressful, which affects digestion as well, so it’s best to start slow and try to avoid the overwhelm.
This step also involves eradicating pathogenic bacteria, yeasts, or parasites that may be hanging out in your gut and causing symptoms like bloating, constipation, brain fog, abdominal discomfort, and mood disorders. Depending on your symptoms it may make sense to eliminate all sugar for a period of time (even natural ones like raw honey and fruit), which is the f
ood source for these organisms. In addition to starving these organisms by removing their food source, you can also fight them with a combination of anti-fungal herbs and supplements such as oil of oregano, wormwood, black walnut husk, grapefruit seed extract, caprylic acid, and by adding lots of raw garlic to your food.
Lastly, emotional stress can also have devastating effects on your GI tract and can’t be overlooked. Take time to rest and relax, and only eat when you’re mentally calm.
This step refers to adding back or replacing all those factors that may be missing or lacking in the body and diet. In order to digest our food properly we need sufficient amounts of enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile which are all compromised by poor food choices, medications, various diseases, aging, and other factors.
You can think of this step as doing everything you can to support your digestion – and it will vary from person to person. Some people will do well supplementing with a digestive enzyme, and possibly one with hydrochloric acid if acid is low – often mistaken for too much stomach acid. Another remedy for low stomach acid is to drink lemon and water, or 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar in a little water before your meals to see if your symptoms improve.
Our intestinal tracts are host to over 500 different types of bacteria. In fact you might be surprised to know that you have more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body! In a healthy gut there should be a ratio of about 80:20 “good bacteria to bad bacteria”. Due to poor diets, overuse of antibiotics and medications, environmental stress, diminished soil integrity, among other factors, most people have the opposite ratio with the “ good guys” being outnumbered by the “bad guys”.
This step involves replenishing the gut with healthy flora through the use of supplemental probiotics and/or fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso, which are all naturally rich in probiotics.
Supplementing with a good quality probiotic is especially important during and after antibiotic treatment. Just be sure to take your probiotic away from any of the anti-fungal herbs.
Once your diet is in check and stressors is limited, you can begin to repair the damage done. To repair the damage and regenerate the mucosal lining of the digestive tract we use specific nutrients.
Overtime, the lining of the intestinal tract becomes damaged due to all the irritants and stressors. As the integrity of the intestinal lining is lost, a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome can ensue. This is where the intestinal lining becomes permeable allowing substances such as large undigested food particles, pathogenic organisms and other chemicals to pass or “leak” through the barrier and into the bloodstream. These substances are recognized as “foreign invaders” to the body and can trigger an autoimmune response. This can manifest as a myriad of unpleasant symptoms, or can contribute to or worsen a number of health conditions such as fertility issues, Crohn’s disease, IBS, chronic fatigue syndrome and eczema to name just a few.
There are a number of supplements that can be used to help repair the intestinal tract lining. The best one is L-Glutamine, since this is the preferred food source of the cells of the small intestine. Others include collagen, Deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL), Slippery Elm Bark, Marshmallow Root, Vitamins A, C and zinc.
You can also continue to use probiotics, consume foods naturally rich in probiotics. Consuming lots of fibre will help to ensure you are eliminating unwanted bad bacteria, excess hormones, pathogens, and toxins. If you have bouts of poor digestion, try sipping on a cup of peppermint or spearmint tea to help fight bloating or ginger tea which is anti-inflammatory and great for fighting upset stomachs.
Happy Gut = Happy Body
It’s astounding how big of a role digestion plays in your health and fertility. The suggestions in this article can help turn around your digestive health, even if you’ve been suffering for a long time.
In addition, remember to use stress relief therapies. So many of us eat on the run or when we’re stressed. This can upset healthy digestion. Think of eating under stress as another way you’re swallowing your feelings. In the end, your digestion and gut health suffers. Try to eat when you’re relaxed. Eat mindfully. Chew your food and take time to savor the nutrients you’re eating. This is just as important as another change you make.
We’re here for you if you have questions or need help. Healthy digestion means a healthy, more fertile body!
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