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The role of digestive health when trying for a baby

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We are often asked about the role digestive health can play when trying for a baby, so ahead of World Digestive Health Day we wanted to highlight its importance when trying for a baby, whether naturally or going through IVF treatment.

While it may be a complex issue, there is increasing evidence that shows how gut health and the microbiome could play a significant role in helping you to get pregnant.  

The microbiome is the official term used to describe the genetic material of all the microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi that live inside our bodies, including your gut microbiome. There are trillions of these microorganisms living inside us, mostly in our gut but also on our skin, up our nose, in our lungs, vagina and throughout our reproductive tract. Despite playing a critical role in our overall wellbeing, it was not until relatively recently that scientists began to characterise and better understand the human microbiome and how it can help put you on the path to pregnancy.

Vaginal Health
The gut microbiome is not an isolated or closed system; it can also influence the diversity of the reproductive tract microbiome. In fact, the same friendly bacteria species found naturally in the gut are also found in the vagina. This includes a variety of lactobacillus species which contribute to promoting a healthy, supportive environment for implantation.

Not only by their presence but also by their production of lactic acid, which can lower the vaginal pH, leading to harmful pathogens thriving. For this reason, experiencing frequent thrush, urinary tract or bladder infections could be signs that your gut is not in the condition it needs to be – and if the vaginal microbiome is altered, fertility could be affected.

Inflammation
Inflammation can be the driver for many chronic health conditions and unfortunately that also includes fertility issues. If the healthy bacteria or processes in the gut are compromised or overwhelmed with harmful bacteria, this can lead to a microbial imbalance. This imbalance, particularly in those who are overweight or consume a high fat diet, can in turn lead to an increase in chronic inflammatory responses, contributing to poor egg quality, as well as impaired embryo development in women.

Oestrogen Metabolism
Oestrogen plays a key role in reproductive health and fertility in both women and men and, surprisingly, your gut health can have a big impact on this hormone. The gut microbiome is one of the main regulators of oestrogen and it does this via an enzyme called ‘beta-glucuronidase’, however, if the gut microbiome is imbalanced, this process can be impaired and interferes with the detoxification of oestrogen, subsequently leading to an increased risk for elevated oestrogen levels, otherwise known as ‘oestrogen dominance’. This oestrogen dominance may then contribute to the development of conditions related to reproductive health and infertility, such as endometriosis or PCOS in women and reduction in sperm production for males. 

How to optimise digestive health for fertility?
The composition of the gut microbiome can be influenced by many variables, but, fortunately, modulation of the gut microbiome through nutrition has been shown to alleviate many of these conditions – and a healthy gut means a healthier, more fertile body. 

  • Friendly Bacteria foods – Include fermented foods rich in probiotics and enzymes (kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and natural yoghurt), to repopulate and promote beneficial microbial balance of the gut.
  • Prebiotic foods – Include prebiotic fibres (onions, garlic, artichokes, bananas, legumes, asparagus, chicory and apples), to feed the friendly bacteria in the gut. The increased fibre intake from these foods will also help to promote the excretion of excess oestrogen.
  • Anti-inflammatory diet – Consisting of lean protein (beans, chicken and lean beef), oily fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel), healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado), wholegrains (quinoa, brown rice and spelt) and an abundance of vegetables (from all parts of the colour spectrum), to help promote a healthy gut microbiome, enhance intestinal integrity and reduce inflammation.
  • Limit processed foods, sugar and alcohol – These can promote inflammation and an imbalanced gut. Eat whole, fresh foods and swap alcoholic drinks for water or herbal tea.

Further reading

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