Digestion plays a role in the health of virtually every body system. Did you know that around 70% of your immune system cells reside in the gut wall? Gut and digestive health are important for all couples trying to conceive. Enhancing digestion can greatly aid men and women with fertility concerns. For some people, an improvement in gut health may be the missing link to solving an otherwise unexplained fertility concern. Do you have digestive problems? This article can pave the way for relief and new power over your fertility.
How Does Digestion Impact Fertility?
Your digestive system is in charge of breaking down food, absorbing and producing nutrients, and eliminating toxins that affect 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. Your absorption of fat is especially important for reproductive health. Essential fatty acids form the building blocks for hormone production and support the development of a normal inflammatory response in the body.
Additionally, poor digestion can decrease the elimination of harmful xenoestrogens or excess estrogen that can affect fertility. It can depress thyroid function, a known fertility blocker. Gut bacteria are involved in converting T4 to T3 for thyroid hormone synthesis. Research from 2014 reveals there may be a link between hypothyroidism and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
We all suffer from occasional digestive upset from a day of poor food choices, high stress or minor illness. However, it’s important to take digestive symptoms seriously if they’re frequent or chronic.
Signs your digestion needs some TLC:
- Excess bloating, gas
- Digestive pain, loud gurgling or spasms
- Diarrhea and/or alternating 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
- Candida yeast infections (imbalanced yeast in the digestive tract)
- Signs of leaky gut (food allergies, mind fog, and autoimmune reactions)
- History of gallbladder problems (can often be traced back to wheat or dairy allergy)
What is the Microbiome?
The digestive system is home to 500 different species of bacteria (microbiome). The microbiome of the digestive system weighs around 3 pounds! It must maintain a very delicate balance of the right types of bacteria to ensure proper gut functioning.
What Imbalances your Microbiome? A poor diet is a major factor. A lack of fiber, too much sugar, and processed foods alter your gut bacteria in favor of harmful microbes. This leads to dysbiosis and/or candida yeast overgrowth. Further, certain medications can affect your microbiome – some of the worst offenders are antacids, antibiotics, antifungal medications, and oral contraceptives.
Adjusting or changing a problem medication with help from your doctor can help turn around some digestive problems. The Fertility Awareness Method can be a good option for women seeking to get off hormonal contraceptives.
The Role of Digestion in Immunological Infertility
Immunological Infertility is a confusing and heartbreaking problem. How does your own body decide to fight against what you want so badly? The answer for some may lie in their gut health. Leaky gut syndrome is a frequent contributor to autoimmune and allergy reactions. If the gut wall becomes permeable related to allergies, poor enzyme activity or certain medications, it leads to a cascade of harmful events.
Toxins are allowed to pass through the gut wall into the bloodstream, creating inflammation and pulling the immune system from its normal tasks. Undigested proteins also slip through the gut wall, again triggering an immune response, inflammation, and reactions to substances that wouldn’t normally be harmful. As the syndrome progresses, the body may react to nearly all foods, creating a weakened system, where fertility is unlikely to thrive.
If you suspect poor gut health may be a factor in an immune-related fertility problem, there is so much you can do to improve your digestion. You can even restore the integrity of the gut lining naturally. See my suggestions for mucilaginous herbs and supplements like L-glutamine in the following section.
How To Restore Gut Health and Normal Digestion For Your Fertility
Part 1. Cleanse
Start with a gentle cleanse. Try a 24-hour juice fast to help clear toxins clogging the digestive tract. A few tips:
1. Have a mixed vegetable juice 3 times daily. Use carrots, beets, dark greens, cucumber, celery or the veggies of your choice.
2. Eat crunchy vegetables or organic apples to help you feel full while promoting cleansing.
3. Enjoy herbal teas and infusions throughout the day.
4. Finish your cleanse with a nutritional yeast or miso broth in the evening. Add a little onion, garlic or organic shiitake mushrooms for extra benefits.
5. Drink plenty of water during your cleanse. It’s the key to feeling your best while promoting natural detoxification.
Note: Stick to a short cleanse for the best results to start with. Try this 24-hour juice cleanse, work to rebalance the microbiome, and then consider a Fertility Cleanse. Longer cleanses can be counterproductive, especially if the body is weakened from illness or poor nutrient absorption.
Part 2. Rebalance and Rebuild
1. Follow the Fertility Diet! Eliminate or reduce your consumption of processed foods, which disrupt gut microbiome. Eliminate refined sugar and gluten foods – common triggers for allergies, inflammation, and an imbalanced immune response.
2. Focus on cultured/fermented foods. Organic yogurt or kefir, kombucha or raw Sauerkraut promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and vagina. Add prebiotic foods, which act as a food source for healthy bacteria. Some good choices: Jerusalem artichoke, endive, garlic, and onions.
3. Eat fiber! Include more high fiber foods like broccoli, artichoke, and quinoa to keep digestion strong. More fiber in your diet also helps eliminate toxins and excess estrogen. Learn More: Fertility Health Benefits of Eating Fiber.
4. Take herbal bitters before meals. It’s amazing how big of a difference this one change can make. Herbal bitters stimulate the natural production of HCl (hydrochloric acid) in the stomach. HCl improves nutrient absorption, and reduces bloating, heartburn and gas. While there are many, common herbal bitters are:
- Dandelion rt. (Taraxacum officinale)
- Yellow Dock rt. (Rumex crispus)
- Gentian rt. (Gentiana lutea)
5. Control this unwanted symptom. If you have painful gas after meals, have a cup of Spearmint (Mentha spicata) or Peppermint (Mentha piperita) tea. All species of mint have carminative action. This means they allow trapped gas to pass more easily and with less discomfort.
6. Learn about mucilaginous herbs. To support gut lining integrity, try mucilaginous herbs. Mucilaginous herbs soothe and coat the mucous membranes. A few of the best mucilaginous herbs for digestion are:
- Marshmallow Rt. (Althaea officinalis)
- Licorice Rt. (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
- Slippery Elm bark(Ulmus rubra)
These herbs can be taken as teas, extracts or in capsules. I make a slippery elm gruel from the inner bark when I have digestive issues. Just add a handful or two of dried slippery elm bark and add hot water (like you would oatmeal). Add a dab of honey or cinnamon to taste. It’s easy to digest for almost everyone!
7. Try L-glutamine. For long-term leaky gut syndrome, consider the amino acid, L-glutamine. L-glutamine promotes the regeneration and repair of cells in the intestinal lining. Similar to mucilaginous herbs, L-glutamine coats the intestinal wall, helping to re-establish a barrier, so larger proteins or invaders can’t pass into the bloodstream. A good daily dosage: 2 to 5 grams daily.
Healthy digestion means a healthy, more fertile 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 any other change you make.
Don’t ignore a digestive concern while working on your fertility. You may want to work with a naturopath or fertility herbalist if you need step-by-step guidance. We’re here for you if you have questions or need help. Healthy digestion means a healthy, more fertile body!
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- Gonzales, A. (2016, May). Digestion & Fertility: What You Don’t Digest May Hurt You. Retrieved from: http://www.feedyourfertilebody.com/digestion-fertility/
- Çekici H (2018) Current Nutritional Factors Affecting Fertility and Infertility. Ann Clin Lab Res Vol.6: No.1: 225. doi:10.21767/2386-5180.1000225. Retrieved from: http://www.aclr.com.es/clinical-research/current-nutritional-factors-affecting-fertility-and-infertility.php?aid=22276#15
- Boost Fertility with These Five Tips. (2017). Body Ecology. Retrieved from: https://bodyecology.com/articles/boost-fertility-with-these-5-tips
- Trentini, D. (2015, Oct.). Dysbiosis and Thyroid Function. All Roads Lead to the Microbiome. Retrieved from: http://hypothyroidmom.com/dysbiosis-and-thyroid-dysfunction-all-roads-lead-to-the-microbiome/
- Patil, A. (2014, May/June). Link between hypothyroidism and small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Indian Journal of Endocrinology Metabolism; 18(3): 307–309. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056127/