A Holistic Approach to Fertility: Inflammation and Gut Health
Today we have a wonderful guest blogger, Emily, who is a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist gone crunchy stay at home mama and blogger at crunchymamascience.com. She loves encouraging others to enjoy a life of holistic health and natural living through knowledge and awareness, she believes in knowing the science and research behind her natural lifestyle, and she thinks that education is empowering. Also, she craves the simplicity of eating real food, do it yourself household products, and an eco-friendly existence. She has a passion for helping others be informed and educated in their decisions, and to embrace true holistic wellness physically,emotionally, and spiritually. Join her at Crunchy Mama Science for more tips on natural living, natural health talk, and of course a little crunchology!
She is going to tell us today how the gut health correlates with fertility!
How to Prepare Your Body for Conception
I have spent a great deal of time thinking about fertility lately. As a breastfeeding mom of a thirteen month old, I am beginning to plan for baby number two. When I became pregnant with my first baby, I was loosely following the fertility awareness method and I did not have to try to get pregnant. However, this time around it is harder because I’m still nursing, so I’m spending a lot more time researching and learning what happens in the body to achieve a pregnancy. I want to prepare my body holistically to increase the change of conception. There are many things that boost fertility naturally, including nutrition, hormones, and environment. Surprisingly, the immune system is intricately involved in fertility, conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. I had always assumed inflammation was a negative occurrence in regard to conception, but it is not.
Inflammation is an essential component of a healthy female reproductive system. Based on the research I’ve read and my understanding of the human body, it is my opinion (I am no doctor, midwife, or fertility expert) that keeping your immune system functioning well is important for a healthy reproductive cycle. When you start examining the body with a holistic mindset, you will find everything to be closely knit together into a beautiful system. When one area is functioning poorly, it may affect all other aspects of health. It is important to look at not only your reproductive health but your immune health, gut health, sleep, stress, and nutrition status when considering a pregnancy.
How the Immune System is Involved
Normal reproductive processes including ovulation, menstruation, implantation, and childbirth are dependent on healthy immune system (2). These are all pro-inflammatory conditions, meaning the body has elevated levels of inflammatory cells and mediators in circulation. Inflammation responds to destruction of tissue; during normal ovulation, the ovarian surface ruptures to release the egg, thus signaling an inflammatory process (2). Inflammation is also involved in ovulation, endometrial preparation, implantation, and creation of the placenta (2). In fact, the embryo itself produce pro-inflammatory signals which induce modification of the uterine wall to become suitable for implantation (2). In the third trimester, the amount of inflammation in a healthy pregnant woman resembles a patient with an infection of their blood (1).
However, despite the positive impacts of inflammation, it is important that it is kept under control. Regulatory anti-inflammatory molecules prevent excessive inflammation, which can lead to many problems directly impacting fertility and conception (2). For example, frequent miscarriage may be linked to autoimmune defects and decreased pro-inflammatory signals in the endometrium (2). Excess inflammation is a major cause of infertility effecting all components of reproduction, and inflammation plays a role in endometriosis and polycystic ovarian disease (1). Although fertility and conception are complex processes, failure of implantation, placenta problems, and miscarriage are believed to originate in disturbances of the immune system (1).
Healthy Immune System
So, is inflammation good or bad? Well, the answer is both. The main point here is that an unbalanced immune system that is not regulated properly may result in problems with conception. The inflammatory processes must be under tight regulation and resolution for conception and pregnancy to occur (2). Regulation of the immune system is an intricately complex topic that is far beyond the scope of this article, but it makes sense to me that keeping your immune system healthy will positively impact the chances of conceiving. How do we get a healthy immune system? Keep your gut healthy, chose natural anti-inflammatory remedies such as turmeric instead of medications, control stress, get good sleep, and eat nutritious food.
The gut is closely related to the immune system, which as we learned earlier is involved with fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth. About 70% of the body’s immune cells reside in the gut (3). This system is delicately balanced and complex because the bacteria living in the gut are capable of both inducing inflammation and preventing it (4). Even when a single microbial species is removed or added, this unbalanced gut can tip the scale from normal function to abnormalities in the body (3). Naturally, it would make sense that a healthy gut would equal a healthy immune system and therefore boosted fertility.
Probiotics are the new darling of the gut health world. Probiotics may help improve digestion, boost the immune system, and improve the balance of bacteria in the gut (8). To keep stable levels of probiotics in the gut, one must intake supplements or fermented foods on a daily basis (8). A whole food, unprocessed, well balanced diet with an emphasis on vegetables and healthy fats is generally a good place to start when eating for gut health. Nutrition goes a long way in supporting the body’s natural processes. If pregnancy is something you desire, now is the time to start building up the stores in your body.
Lower Stress Levels
Chronic stress can be detrimental to the body’s reproductive capabilities. Not only does it impact and exacerbate an already unbalanced gut bacteria and contribute to systemic inflammation, stress also induces the release of hormones including cortisol which decrease hormones that impact ovulation (5). Stress also induces the release of another hormone which further suppresses the ovulatory hormones (5). This double attack on the hormonal balance required for ovulation may very well stop reproduction in its tracks. It is essential, for many more health reasons than just this, to get stress under control through whatever physical, emotional, and spiritual treatments are needed.
Sleeping in a dark room during normal nighttime hours is important for maintaining a circadian rhythm and achieving optimal fertility. Circadian rhythm is based on the melatonin cycle which is related to ovulation; melatonin is an antioxidant which can be produced in the ovary and placenta (6). Some studies even show that when the mother’s circadian rhythms are abnormal, it may negatively impact her fetus (6). Melatonin protects the egg and developing fetus from oxidative stress, and is essential to fertility (7). Levels of melatonin are decreased by interruptions in sleep including white lights; to optimize your sleep you should turn your phone off, get a red light clock, and use only red light nightlights in hallway.
Natural Ways to Prepare Your Body for Conception and Pregnancy
Chose Natural Anti-Inflammatory Remedies
Get Your Gut Healthy
Sleep in the Dark
Focus on Nutrition
Conception is a complex process, with many factors involved. The female body is delicately controlled by numerous hormones than may be impacted by environmental triggers, poor health and nutrition, and genetics. If you are struggling with infertility, it is important to talk to a specialist who can help you pinpoint the specific cause. I am not a doctor, midwife, or doula; I am just a medical scientist, a mother, and a woman who is trying to conceive. That being said, a healthy diet, good sleep, and a well balanced gut are important not just for fertility, but overall holistic wellness.
Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider before making any health changes, especially if you have a specific diagnosis or condition. The information on this site should not be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to be a consult with a healthcare provider or provide medical advice. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits from food or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease.