When we think about the digestive system, we think about a simple system that helps us digest the food we eat and excrete unwanted substances. However, the digestive system is far from simple. The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract or digestive tract(also referred to as your gut) and the liver, pancreas, and bladder.
Behind the curtains, the gut does a lot more than help in digestion— It plays a role in our immune system and fertility. In fact, 70% of our immune system is housed in the gut.
What is gut health all about?
You have many bacteria in your body, and no, not all bacteria are harmful. The gut microbiome, home base to over 100 trillion bacteria, is made up of both beneficial and harmful microbes.
For a healthy gut, both the beneficial and harmful microbes should have an appropriate ratio. Anything that offsets this balance can impact your gut health. The main drivers that influence changes in your gut health include alteration in stomach acid, gut immunity, and gastrointestinal flora.
An imbalance can occur when your gut has more harmful bacteria than beneficial bacteria. Scientists call this imbalance: dysbiosis. Studies have linked dysbiosis or a reduction in bacteria diversity to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and insulin resistance.
The gut health-fertility connection
You might be wondering what your gut has to do with you being fertile—the truth is the gut does more than digest the foods you eat. The gut microbiome plays an important role in the overall bodily health, including fertility in both males and females.
Several studies have revealed that infertile women host a different microbiota in the upper and lower reproductive system compared with fertile women.
Let us look at some connections between your gut health and fertility.
Development of PCOS
PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility. In fact, PCOS contributes to 80% of infertility cases in women with little or no ovulation. The reasons for infertility in women with PCOS have largely been linked to insulin resistance and excess androgen levels.
New data from research involving animals and humans reveal how changes in the gut microbiome in women can lead to the development of PCOS symptoms. One study suggests that an imbalance in the gut microbes may be sufficient for women to develop PCOS symptoms.
Interestingly, scientists are using this relationship between PCOS and gut health to develop new therapeutic opportunities for PCOS.
Maintaining gut equilibrium may be a step in the right direction in finding relief for your PCOS symptoms. You can talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist to get a personalized nutrition, diet, and lifestyle plan which includes the appropriate amount of fiber, prebiotics, or probiotics to help you maintain this balance.
Gut health Influences Obesity
Women who are obese are at increased risk of infertility, ovulation problems, decreased rates of conception, and congenital disabilities.
Beyond digestion, research suggests that our gut may determine if we become obese or not. Studies have shown that the gut microbiome may influence how energy is utilized from a diet, along with its use and storage. In addition, the microbes in the gut help break down soluble fiber and produce vitamins such as biotin, folate, and vitamin K.
Furthermore, research has linked obesity to gut health in humans. One study found that in people who are overweight, there was low fecal bacteria diversity which was associated with increased fat cells and lipid levels. The researchers also found that changes in the gut microbial composition in obese individuals compared to lean individuals. These studies revealed that people who are obese had less microbial diversity and higher levels of a group of organisms called Firmicutes.
New research suggests that dietary manipulation such as that of prebiotics, probiotics, or synbiotics may present a new avenue for treating obesity and related disorders.
Gut microbiome and estrogen regulation
Scientists say there is a link between your gut health and hormones. A shift in the equilibrium of the gut microbiome may result in an imbalance of your hormones, especially sex hormones like estrogens and androgens.
Poor gut health increases the risk of estrogen-related conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, and infertility. In fact, the gut microbiome is known as one of the chief regulators of circulatory estrogens.
The gut microbiota regulates estrogen by the secretion of an enzyme called β-glucuronidase. An imbalance in the gut microbiome may impair the level and function of circulating estrogens. The downside, as a result, is it may prevent ovulation, making it difficult for you to get pregnant.
The gut microbe also plays a role in androgen overdrive, which is a central feature of women with PCOS. The gut microbe may result in the formation of excessive androgens when there is an imbalance in the microbes. For example, an excess of the hormone clostridium scindens has been found to lead to excess production of androgen. Excess androgen is a common cause of anovulatory infertility.
Gut health and inflammation
The gut microbiome may regulate inflammatory conditions. In addition, the presence of certain bacteria is linked to inflammatory molecules that may bring about inflammation in various body tissues.
Prolonged inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, a major cause of PCOS and infertility. Reducing this inflammation is a proven strategy for improving egg and sperm quality and may increase your chances of getting pregnant.
A microbial imbalance can occur when the beneficial bacteria in the gut are overwhelmed by the harmful ones. This imbalance is high in overweight people or people who consume a high-fat diet. In fact, some researchers now consider obesity as a state of low-grade inflammation. This is why dietary management plays a significant role in reducing inflammation.
What to do with all this information?
With all this new and maybe scary information about how your gut health may trigger your infertility, you are bound to be overwhelmed. However, the bottom line is that fixing your gut health is an important part of your fertility journey. One of the best ways to improve gut health is through dietary changes and supplementation with probiotics or prebiotics. In addition to exercise, superfoods such as walnuts, beetroot, green juices, yogurt, fermented foods, and lean protein diets help improve gut health which in turn promotes fertility.
Book a free consultation call today to get a nutrition, dietary, and lifestyle plan to help improve your gut health, which in turn may help increase your chances of getting pregnant.
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