By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
A healthy gut is essential for overall health and wellbeing. If nutrients are not properly digested and absorbed from our food, it will impact all organs and systems in the body. Healthy digestion means ‘the absorption of nutrients from food without distressing symptoms’. Digestion and overall health are harmed by poor nutrition, toxic substances, and damage anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract. We are truly what we absorb, and the term “bioavailability” refers to how much of what we eat becomes available for our biological processes to function properly.
It is important to ensure that the gut is full of healthy microbes which are diverse and balanced, as these form an ecosystem that work closely together forming many interconnections. This finely tuned ecosystem (the microbiome) is important for a healthy body and mind as it is involved in the effective absorption of vital nutrients, enhancing the immune system and helping to reduce inflammation in the body, turning off genes, turning on enzymes, helping in the reduction of anxiety and depression and the ageing process, in the synthesis and excretion of hormones (and that’s just a few examples!). Stress, consuming inflammatory food, antibiotics, some medications and being born by caesarian section can reduce the levels of ‘good’ bacteria which can cause an imbalance to the microorganisms in the gut (microbiome) – this is known as Dysbiosis.
Why is a healthy gut important in relation to fertility?
The gut microbiome can also impact our reproductive system if it is out of balance. There is some evidence to suggest that gut dysbiosis may be linked to endometriosis, a chronic inflammatory reproductive disorder. Endometriosis is caused by cells from the uterine lining (endometrium) migrating to other parts of the body. Increased oestrogen levels have been linked to an imbalance in the gut microbiome, according to studies. Increased oestrogen stimulates these misplaced cells, causing them to react similarly to those in the womb, causing them to build up, then break down and bleed, resulting in an abnormal inflammatory reaction. A recent study compared the gut, vaginal, and cervical microbiota between women with Stage 3/4 endometriosis and healthy controls. Researchers found differences in the genus of bacteria between the two groups. The main differences noted were an increased presence of Gardnerella bacteria in the cervical microbiota, and increased Escherichia and Shigella bacterial presence in the gut of patients with endometriosis compared to the controls. It’s possible that the bacterial composition within the gut is different in women with endometriosis compared to controls. Further research is required.
In different studies, it was found that women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss have a higher rate of undetected gut disorders. This group of women were shown to have abnormal gut permeability, which was linked to inflammatory reactions in the body. The researchers theorised that leaky gut’s inflammatory response may play a role in miscarriage pathogenesis. In order to enhance pregnancy outcomes in women who have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss, the authors suggested that intestinal abnormalities be properly diagnosed and treated. Chronic inflammation could also result in low progesterone levels, which may lead to implantation failure, autoimmune processes that affect fertility, and anti-sperm antibodies that impede fertilization. Probiotic supplementation has been found to decrease chronic inflammation and improve immune function.
Did you know that our gut is home to more than 70% of our immune system? It even has its own nerve network that is a part of our autonomic nervous system. Our bodies may acquire a state of chronic inflammation when our immune systems aren’t functioning properly as a result of poor gut health. Chronic inflammation, as previously mentioned, may play a role in recurrent pregnancy loss.
5 top tips on how to improve your gut health:
• Consume a good variety of prebiotic foods as these will help to support probiotic bacteria.
• Consume some fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kefir to support gut flora.
• Consume foods containing probiotic bacteria.
• Consider taking a probiotic supplement
• Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables of a variety of colours each day (ideally at least 7 portions)
Ata, B., Yildiz, S., Turkgeldi, E., Brocal, V. P., Dinleyici, E. C., Moya, A., & Urman, B. (2019). The Endobiota Study: Comparison of Vaginal, Cervical and Gut Microbiota Between Women with Stage 3/4 Endometriosis and Healthy Controls. Scientific reports, 9(1), 2204. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39700-6
Brazdova A, Senechal H, Peltre G, Poncet P. Immune Aspects of Female Infertility. Int J Fertil Steril. 2016;10(1):1-10. doi:10.22074/ijfs.2016.4762
Sirota, I., Zarek, S. M., & Segars, J. H. (2014). Potential influence of the microbiome on infertility and assisted reproductive technology. Seminars in reproductive medicine, 32(1), 35–42. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0033-1361821
Tersigni C, D’Ippolito S, Di Nicuolo F, Marana R, Valenza V, Masciullo V, Scaldaferri F, Malatacca F, de Waure C, Gasbarrini A, Scambia G, Di Simone N. Correction to: Recurrent pregnancy loss is associated to leaky gut: a novel pathogenic model of endometrium inflammation? J Transl Med. 2019 Mar 15;17(1):83. doi: 10.1186/s12967-019-1823-5. Erratum for: J Transl Med. 2018 Apr 17;16(1):102. PMID: 30876477; PMCID: PMC6419413.
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