Could Poor Gut Health Be Leading to Infertility?
Deciding to add a new baby to your family should be one of the happiest times for you and your partner. Picking out baby clothes and agreeing on a name for your new addition is an exciting feeling.
But the struggles and frustrations of not being able to conceive can really take a toll on this happy time for you.
Even the mention of yet another friend or family member getting pregnant before you can make it worse. You might feel as though you’re suffering alone – but you aren’t.
Infertility in both women and men is actually common – about 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility. And over half of women will meet the standard criteria of infertility at least once during their menstruating years.
Fortunately for those struggling with infertility, this means there’s ongoing research to crack the case.
Infertility doesn’t necessarily refer to a permanent state. It just means the inability of a couple to conceive a child after 12 months or more of unprotected intercourse.
Infertility is a complex issue and hormonal imbalance is one of the leading causes of infertility in both men and women.
When it comes to fertility, your gut microbiome can make a significant difference.
New research shows how poor gut health can cause an estrogen imbalance which may lead to infertility issues such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and testicular dysfunction.
Estrogen’s Role in Fertility
One hormone out of the many you produce and secrete plays a major role in fertility in both females and males. Estrogen has always been considered a female dominant hormone for reproductive health, but this hormone is actually involved in male reproductive health as well.
In females, estrogen plays an essential role in fertility through the following ways:
- Menstruation – Estrogen is needed for proper ovulation and thickening of the uterine wall for pregnancy.
Too much estrogen may cause irregular periods and can prevent you from ovulating resulting in infertility. Estrogen dominance has also been linked to infertility issues in women such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.
An estrogen deficiency in women can also cause amenorrhea – abnormal absence of menstruation which leads to anovulation. Disorders of ovulation account for about 30% of infertility and present mainly with irregular periods or amenorrhea.
In males, estrogen acts on multiple organs and tissue by affecting their reproductive system in the following ways:
- Libido – The pre-optic nerve area and anterior hypothalamus contain high levels of aromatase and estrogen receptors which regulate male libido. Too much or too little estrogen can hinder a man’s sex drive.
- Erectile function – The penile vasculature and urothelium contain estrogen receptors and depend on estradiol, a predominant form of estrogen, for erectile function. Too little estrogen may lead to erectile dysfunction
- Spermatogenesis – An inappropriate increase in estradiol has been shown to lead to a decrease in testicular size and sperm production.
Hormones in your body are always in a balancing act. Too much or too little of one hormone and your body signals other organs to stop producing or to produce more of a certain hormone.
If one of your organs is not functioning properly this balancing act gets thrown out of whack. And the “forgotten organ”, your gut, is a key regulator in circulating and eliminating estrogen so it’s important to focus on gut health in infertility.
How Gut Health Affects Infertility
Your gut microbiome contains many different microorganisms and their genetic material which occupy your intestines. Within this diverse ecosystem in your gut, resides a specific group of gut microbes capable of metabolizing estrogen.
This hormone regulating family is called your estrobolome.
Your estrobolome gut bacteria are able to regulate estrogen through the secretion of beta-glucuronidase.
This is a specific enzyme that deconjugates estrogens into their active form to recirculate estrogen back into your bloodstream.
Studies show when this process is impaired through gut dysbiosis, it can alter estrogen homeostasis – leading to either an abnormal decrease or increase in estrogen.
An imbalance in your gut bacteria known as gut dysbiosis may be caused by the following:
- Medication such as antibiotics, antacids, and NSAIDs
- Diet high in sugar, processed foods, and gluten
- Chronic stress
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Environmental toxins such as pesticides
When your estrogen regulating gut bacteria are healthy these microbes help to maintain the perfect balance of estrogen.
But through gut dysbiosis, they can either excrete too much estrogen out of your system or cause estrogen-dominance within your body.
Other Gut-Related Issues Involving Infertility
Nutrients and minerals are important in the balancing of hormones and reproductive health.
And an unhealthy gut such as in leaky gut syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can lead to chronic inflammation and malnutrition.
Inflammatory bowel diseases have been shown to affect reproductive and sexual function, especially in males. Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease affect male fertility through inflammation and malnutrition.
Studies show the presence of proinflammatory cytokines could lead to cytokine-mediated infertility effects in males.
In another study, malnutrition from zinc was linked to a possible cause of poor sperm function affecting fertility in males with an inflammatory bowel disease.
Leaky gut syndrome refers to a condition when your intestines are chronically inflamed causing your protective gut barrier to become damaged. Unwanted particles and pathogens are able to leak into your bloodstream where they don’t belong.
This has been shown to lead to autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s which affect your hormonal balance for fertility.
This can make it hard to get pregnant.
But the good news is – leaky gut is reversible and you can still get pregnant by optimizing your gut health.
Feeding Your Gut for Optimal Fertility
Your gut microbes play a vital role in your overall health and may even be affecting your fertility.
When there’s an imbalance in your gut bacteria from certain environmental and lifestyle factors such as medications, stress, and diet it can upset your estrobolome.
And the health of these certain gut bacteria in your estrobolome and their estrogen regulating abilities is important for fertility. Once gut health is affected, infertility from hormonal imbalances may occur.
Keeping your gut in optimal health creates a healthy gut microbiome which can positively affect fertility. Feeding your gut bacteria polyphenol prebiotics such as the ones in Atrantil promotes better digestive health.
Polyphenols do wonders on balancing your gut bacteria by increasing the number of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Not only do they promote the growth of healthy bacteria, but they also inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria – now that’s a win-win!