People are often confused when they hear that I recommend a stool study as part of their work up for fertility. It is true that the connection between gut health and fertility is not readily apparent. Yet this connection is so vital that I now include a comprehensive functional stool test as part of my new fertility couple package.
The thing is, some of the most frequently overlooked common culprits of fertility issues are autoimmunity, inflammation, impaired metabolism, and toxin overload. And an unhealthy gut can contribute significantly to all of these culprits! Today’s post will outline how an unhealthy gut can lead to autoimmune responses that negatively impact fertility. Future blogs will dive into the three other common culprits of sub and infertility.
Functions & health of the GI tract
Most of us are aware that the gastrointestinal tract is designed for digestion, absorption and elimination. These are absolutely important functions for a healthy body. When these functions are impaired, many people feel sluggish or simply unwell. But there is so much more to gut health beyond the everyday digestive processes.
To understand the role of the gut in overall health, we need to turn to key players that you may not be aware of: the trillions of microorganisms that are making a home in your gut. Collectively, these bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in your digestive tract are known as your gut microbiome. They are not simply foreign invaders, but play an essential and beneficial role in our digestion, immunity, stress, and metabolic functions.
Both good and bad bacteria find their home in the gut, but having a healthy gut is closely related to having a good balance between the beneficial bugs (microbiome) and the potentially pathogenic bugs. When there is an imbalance between the beneficial and the potential pathogenic bugs, that is called “dysbiosis.”
What is autoimmunity and its relationship to infertility?
Well, let’s first define autoimmunity. Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system mistakenly targets its own tissues for destruction. There are many autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (immune system is attacking its own thyroid tissues), rheumatoid arthritis (immune system is attacking its own joints), inflammatory bowel disease & Celiac’s disease (immune system is attacking intestinal tissues).
Unfortunately, the incidence of autoimmune disease has been rising over the past few decades. And many autoimmune diseases such as Celiac’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have been found to be more prevalent in women with infertility than in the general population.
Additionally, scientists are noting that autoimmune processes are contributing to many infertility-related conditions such as endometriosis, recurrent pregnancy loss, premature ovarian failure (POF), and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Connection between autoimmunity, gut health, and fertility
We should recall that the intestinal cell lining is made up of only a single cell layer. That means only one layer of cells separates us from our outside world! In order to defend our body from foreign invaders, the gut has a robust protection system--our immune system. In fact, at least 70% of our immune system is located inside our gastrointestinal tract.
And our immune system needs to recognize what is self and what is foreign, and what is friend versus what is foe. Research over the past decades has shown that gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in regulating our immune system. And repeatedly, patients with certain autoimmune diseases have vastly different gut microbiota when compared with normal adults. So it seems that when our gut microbiome is disrupted, our body can’t properly regulate immune function in the gut, and this can contribute to autoimmune processes, which can ultimately lead to infertility.
By taking a deep dive into your gut health, we can identify hidden causes of infertility. Addressing dysbiosis in order to establish a health gut microbiome is an important step to optimize likelihood of naturally conceiving.
Hopefully this article helps you see the connection between gut health and fertility!
If you are interested in finding root causes of fertility problems, and you live in California, you can Schedule a Fertility Insight Session with me.
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