Can Digestive Issues Affect Your Fertility? Part 1
Can your digestive complaints be affecting your fertility?
The short answer to this question is a big YES! In my practice, when a woman comes in to improve her fertility and is having digestive complaints, this is one of the first places we look at improving. Because when digestion is off, it is a red flag that fertility is not optimal. Our digestive system is a marker of our overall health, and the way it functions can either contribute to creating an environment of a strong body or one of poor health.
So, if you have issues with not pooping regularly (constipation, diarrhea, incomplete sensation, etc), bloating, gas, abdominal pain, or nausea, then this article is for you. In part 1, I’ll break down just why & how our digestive health is connected to our fertility. Then, in part 2, I’ll share some of the reasons you may not realize are contributing to your digestive complaints, and then offer some natural treatments which can help heal your digestive tract. You’ll walk away feeling a little more empowered, maybe a little pissed off that no one has ever told you about this important connection, and especially hopeful that by fixing your digestion you can improve your fertility.
What Is Leaky Gut?
To begin, let’s talk a little bit about leaky gut. Because if you experience tummy troubles, you most likely have it. You may have heard the term leaky gut before and wondered just what the heck it really means. Leaky gut is also known as increased intestinal permeability, which basically means the cells lining our intestines have begun to separate a bit from each other.
Each cell in the lining of our gut is supposed to be tightly joined to the cell beside it - this allows certain things into our bodies (like nutrients) and keeps other things out. I like to think of a healthy intestinal lining as similar to a very tightly woven web. These tightly joined cells also have a protective gate between them, called a tight junction. This protective gate should stay closed at all times, barring any intruders (things like toxins, bacteria, undigested proteins, fat, carbohydrates, and cellular waste) from coming in. However, these tight junctions (or gates) can weaken in response to a poor diet, high stress levels, environmental toxin exposure, etc. When this happens, it can cause those protective gates to be more permeable - leakier - than normal. So when you have leaky gut, it allows the harmful intruders into our bodies that should not get in.
Why is this such a big problem?
When these intruders get into our bloodstream through the opening of those protective gates in our gut, it triggers our immune system to kick in. Those leaked bits of intruders mimic a food allergy, and our body reacts accordingly. It mounts a response to try to attack the invaders, and this causes increased inflammation in the body. This in and of itself is not such a bad thing if it just happened once in awhile. However, with leaky gut, this process is happening constantly. So, not only are foreign invaders getting past that intestinal line of defense and causing problems, but the body becomes more and more inflamed, and the immune system in a constant state of hypervigilance. This is what can lead to a whole host of health issues.
Here are some of the health issues leaky gut is associated with:
Thyroid issues including Hashimoto’s
Inflammatory bowel disease
Neurological issues (like multiple sclerosis)
Other autoimmune conditions
How Does Leaky Gut Affect Fertility?
This chronic inflammation that happens with leaky gut can affect our hormone balance, endometrial environment, and our fertility overall. When the body is in a state of constant inflammation, it is not able to receive the optimal flow of nutrients into cells and also get the cellular waste products out. This is a big deal when we are working on creating the best environment for our eggs to grow in (inside the ovaries) and embryos to implant in (inside the uterus). Additionally, this inflammation puts the immune system in a state of overdrive, which can make us feel tired, achy, and trigger various autoimmune issues.
Because those protective gates in the cell wall are open, undigested food is passed into the bloodstream. In addition to causing inflammation, this undigested food also causes a state of nutrient deficiency in our body. This happens because once it passes through the intestinal wall, it also passes the area in our body where our food is broken down and the nutrients are absorbed. So, it sets up the body to be in a state of nutrient deficiency. When we don’t receive those optimal nutrients and vitamins from our food, the health of our hormones, egg quality, and endometrial environment is affected.
Since this connection between leaky gut and fertility is multi-faceted and largely not understood in the traditional medical community, there is a lack of research studies. However, a small 2018 study aimed to find out if there was a link between recurrent pregnancy loss and leaky gut. They looked at markers for intestinal permeability and uterine inflammation in both women with recurrent pregnancy loss and in women without a history of loss. They found that in the group of women with recurrent pregnancy loss, there were increased markers of intestinal permeability and markers of endometrial inflammation. They concluded that the presence of pro-inflammatory molecules in women with leaky gut created an environment of endometrial inflammation which contributed to miscarriage.
Digestive issues are many times a very early warning sign that things are off balance in the body. Leaky gut starts a chain reaction of inflammatory symptoms, food allergies, autoimmune problems, and nutrient deficiencies in the body - all of which can cause issues with fertility.
Hopefully you are beginning to see that our gut and fertility are intimately linked. In part 2 of this article, we’ll review potential causes for leaky gut (many of which may surprise you!), how to test for leaky gut, and some effective remedies to help heal your gut to improve your fertility.
Until then, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite easy gut supporting recipes below.
Are you a woman trying to naturally boost your fertility and looking for help? Book a FREE 30-minute Fertility Breakthrough call with me here. I’d love to help you get started!
Recipe: Braised Greens with Turmeric (serves 4)
2 bunches leafy greens (kale, chard, collards), washed and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp turmeric
2 dashes salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the greens and a splash of water.
Sauté until the greens start to wilt.
Remove from heat and sprinkle with lemon juice, turmeric, salt and pepper.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Serve this as a side dish (hot or cold) or add to soup.