When we say that our gut impacts everything, we really mean it. Not only does our gut microbiome impact our digestion, it also has a profound impact on our mental health, skin and immunity, particularly as we age.
The list doesn’t stop there. As The Beauty Chef’s resident Customer Care Manager & Nutritionist Latoya Cruz explains, our gut health can have both a positive and negative impact on our hormones, which can then affect a woman’s fertility.
Around one in six Australian couples of reproductive age will struggle to conceive. Whilst this is a complex issue with many factors to take into consideration, as Latoya explains, there is growing evidence that the gut-fertility connection can play a substantial role in our reproductive health and outcomes.
How Is Gut Health Connected To Fertility?
Our gut health can have either a negative or a positive impact on our hormones depending on the state our gut microbiome is in. Poor gut health can lead to an imbalance of hormones, thus having a negative impact on a female’s fertility.
Our microbiome and our hormones are always talking to each other. Estrogen influences gut microbiota and our gut microbiota can also influence estrogen levels—which can drive conditions such as endometriosis. Our gut health can also impact things like androgens, insulin levels, PCOS and obesity, which can all play a role in impacting a woman’s fertility.
There is currently a lot of new research emerging around gut health and fertility. We are really starting to see and understand that disease begins in the gut. A 2021 study on The impact of the gut microbiota on the reproductive and metabolic endocrine system noted that “changes in the gut microbiome may influence the development and pathology of the endocrine systems of women”. The study also investigated links between gut health and things like estrogen, PCOS, thyroid conditions, obesity, insulin resistance and outlines how gut dysbiosis can be a driver for these conditions, thus affecting a woman’s fertility.
What Are Some Of The Signs Of A “Fertile Gut”?
According to this study, healthy-looking cervical mucus is a good indicator of both a healthy gut and vaginal microbiota, along with reduced bloating and flatulence, decreased hormonal imbalances and managed symptoms of endocrine disorders such as PCOS and endometriosis. Healthy, regular periods and regular bowel movements are also good signs.
What Are Some Of The Signs Of Poor Gut Health That Could Impact Fertility?
There are a number of ways that poor gut health can manifest in the body and when these conditions occur, there’s a chance that fertility could be impacted. This includes poor vaginal microbiota leading to reoccurring thrush, urinary tract infections, poor cervical mucus, gut dysbiosis, IBS, IBD, irregular periods, anxiety, reflux, brain fog, fatigue, poor immunity, autoimmune conditions, as well as endocrine disorders, such as PCOS, insulin resistance and obesity. Nutritional deficiencies can also be a sign of poor gut health, as the gut is unable to absorb nutrients efficiently from food.
What Advice Or Practical Steps Do You Have For Anyone Wanting To Improve Their Gut Health?
When it comes to improving gut health, I always recommend starting with the basics. Some basic tips to follow are:
—Increase fibre intake through the form of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans. This means ramping up your usual intake of fibre. A form of fibre should be present at every meal and snack.
—Reduce sugar, alcohol, refined carbohydrates and excessive amounts of caffeine as this can disrupt the gut bacteria.
—Implement stress management strategies into your day as stress can wreak havoc on your gut. Things like deep belly breathing, meditation and journaling work wonders on both the mind and the gut.
—Consume fermented foods such as fermented veggies, kefir, yoghurt, kombucha and kimchi.
—You may also like to take a good probiotic to add some good bacteria into your gut.
When Is The Best Time To Start Implementing Dietary & Lifestyle Changes Before Trying To Conceive?
I personally like to recommend 12 months out from conceiving to start implementing strategies to improve gut health, hormonal health and overall wellbeing. It can take time for your health to be at its optimum and so you want to ensure that your gut health is in its prime prior to falling pregnant. By doing so, this will ensure that your gut can absorb nutrients and feed it onto you baby effectively. A thriving gut microbiota in pregnancy can also prevent food allergies in bub according to this study, as well as prevent constipation in pregnancy. Working on improving gut health 12 months out from when you plan to conceive can also increase your chances of falling pregnant as you become more fertile and work to improve egg quality.
Do You Have Any Tips On How To Eat For A Fertile Gut?
When it comes to fertility, it’s just as much about how you’re eating something as it is what you’re eating. I always recommend following a wholefoods diet rich in plant-based foods, lean cuts of protein, eggs and poultry, complex carbohydrates and good fats; however, it’s also the way we consume these food sources that matters.
Having a form of protein, fibre, carbs and fats present in each meal and snack is important as it will help to stabilise blood sugar levels, increase mood, support hormones, nourish the gut and supply the body with all the nutrients it needs to function optimally. These things in turn will help to reduce risk of obesity, hormonal imbalances and therefore support fertility.
Another big thing to note is to never skip out on good fats. Think avocado, good quality oils such as extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, fatty fish like salmon, eggs, olives and natural nut butters. Consuming fat in our diet helps to support our hormones which prevents hormonal imbalances occurring, particularly since our sex hormones need fats.
Eat to nourish your gut by including a diverse range of coloured fruits and veggies in your diet. Eat the rainbow, as they say. This will ensure you are consuming a variety of different nutrients and fibre.
As mentioned earlier, reduce gut disruptors such as refined carbohydrates and sugars as this can also have a negative impact on fertility.
Lastly, act as though you are already pregnant. This means cutting out alcohol and smoking, avoiding excessive amounts of caffeine as well as implementing lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, ensuring you are drinking adequate amounts of water, getting enough sleep each night, exercising regularly and not pushing yourself to the point of burn out. By acting as though you are already pregnant, this will help to support fertility and keep your gut in check.