There are so many factors that can contribute to infertility. Regardless of your unique struggle–whether it’s recurrent miscarriage or needing to balance your hormones or genetics or something else–improving your digestion can boost your fertility.
The link between digestion and fertility surprised me when I first learned about it. I read about it in Alissa Vitti’s book WomanCode, a fantastic how-to guide on how to eat and live for better hormone balance.
When you think of your fertility, you probably think of the reproductive system, right? Ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes…
Obviously your reproductive system is a huge part of the equation, but what if it’s not the most important part?
How digestion affects your fertility
The truth is that each of our bodily systems works together, with no one system being completely separate from any the others. Fertility is not your body’s highest priority–it’s not the system crucial to your own survival.
So your body will usually prioritize problems in other systems over your fertility. One of the most important systems for its effect on fertility is the digestive system.
If you experience any of the following, then poor digestion may be affecting your fertility.
- heart burn or indigestion
- food allergies or sensitivities
How, specifically, can poor digestion affect your fertility?
1. Poor digestion prevents your body from eliminating excess hormones and toxins
Over the course of your cycle, your body creates new hormones to regulate each distinct phase, from menstruation to ovulation to the luteal phase. (You can read more about the hormones that regulate your cycle in my article on natural family planning.)
But what happens to those hormones when your body is done with them?
If they were left to just float around in your body for the rest of your life, you’d experience hormonal overload and imbalance.
This is similar to the kind of overload you can experience from “fake” hormones overloading your system as a result of endocrine disruptors in your environment. And when endocrine disruptors are combined with poor digestion, the results can be catastrophic.
Digestion is your body’s cleaning system
To keep your hormones balanced, your digestive system works to eliminate this hormonal waste.
Ideally, the process works something like this:
- your liver breaks down unneeded hormones and other toxins into water-based waste and passes it on to the gallbladder
- the gallbladder combines the waste with bile and then hands the mixture off to the large intestines
- in the large intestines, the waste combines with fiber from your diet
- you pass the whole waste mixture through a bowel movement
So what happens if any component of this system isn’t working like it should?
Let’s say, for example, your liver is storing too much fat. In that case, the liver is less able to break down toxins (including excess hormones), and those toxins don’t exit your body as quickly as they should.
Or what if the waste is building up in blocked intestines? Did you know the lining of your large intestine allows molecules to travel through it? That means the built-up waste can travel right back into your system and into your bloodstream if it’s not taken care of quickly enough.
How quickly should waste pass through your digestive system?
Alissa Vitti says you should feel the urge to have a bowel movement “within about twenty minutes of waking.”
She says that your liver is in “self-cleaning mode from 3 P.M. to 3 A.M.,” so that morning bathroom break is a result of your liver’s work on the previous day’s waste.
2. Poor digestion prevents your body from absorbing needed nutrients
If your body cannot access the nutrients it needs, it will not be healthy enough to maintain a pregnancy.
In severe cases, a digestive disorder can cause weight loss. Since your body uses fat cells to store estrogen, drastic weight loss may prevent ovulation.
Three major digestive disorders that can significantly affect fertility are
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). In addition to being painful and potentially causing weight loss, these diseases can cause inflammation of your reproductive organs.
Celiac disease, a gluten allergy, can prevent your body from absorbing the nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
3. Healthy gut bacteria promotes healthy hormones
The good bacteria in your intestines perform a number of functions that positively affect your hormones.
- they guide inactive estrogen out of the body
- they help create nutrients and break down toxins
- they help with thyroid production, important because thyroid imbalance (such as Hashimoto’s) can be linked to miscarriage
On the other hand, an overabundance of bad bacteria in your digestive system can reactivate the estrogen your body is trying to get rid of. They can also cause infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, that may contribute to miscarriage.
How to improve your digestion and boost your fertility
So what can you do if your digestive system isn’t working the way it should?
1. Eat a healthy diet
Diet is where your digestive health (and all your other health) begins.
Make sure you’re getting plenty of good protein, fruits, and vegetables from minimally processed foods. These foods will give your liver the nutrients it needs to break down toxins.
Related: Template for a Healthy Diet
Linalool (found in cilantro and several essential oils) is also an important component for cleansing the liver.
To support your large intestine, be sure to eat plenty of fiber from sources such as oats, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your intestines and keeps the whole process running smoothly.
Don’t overdo it on the dairy and gluten. These foods can cause inflammation. Dairy, too, can be a source of phthalates, which negatively affect fertility.
If you have a digestive disorder, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, you may want to take a look at the GAPS diet. This diet has been effective for many people suffering from digestive disorders.
2. Slow down to eat
Ever notice that food “sits heavy” in your stomach or you’re just not hungry when you’re nervous?
When you’re rushed and stressed, your body puts its attention on other systems. As a result, your digestive system will not release the stomach acid, bile, and enzymes that it needs to fully digest your food.
3. Take a short walk after meals
The idea is not to do any kind of aggressive exercise, just enough to get your blood moving. Shoot for 100 steps.
I find that cleaning up the table and kitchen as soon as we’re done eating is an effective way for me to get moving after meals without overdoing it.
4. Add digestive enzymes
If you find you’re still having difficulty digesting, taking a digestive enzyme supplement before you eat can help prep your system for food. Digestive enzymes can improve your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from your food.
This supplement is a great choice for helping you digest fats, proteins, fiber, and carbohydrates.
5. Eat plenty of probiotics
Probiotics help replenish your gut’s healthy bacteria.
You can find probiotics in fermented or cultured foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. Just make sure the ingredient list includes “live and active cultures.”
6. Reduce your sugar intake
Your liver works hard to prevent blood sugar imbalance. If you’re eating too much sugar (so easy on the Standard American Diet!), it may not be able to do the rest of its digestive jobs as effectively.
Excess sugar will also feed the bad bacteria in your gut.
7. Reduce saturated fats.
You want healthy fats in your diet. They are the building blocks of your hormones. But heavy, saturated fats are harder for your body to digest and put strain on the digestive system.
8. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning.
Try warm water with lemon to gently get your digestive system going.
9. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Generally, you need about half your body weight in ounces of water daily. So if you weigh 140 pounds, you’ll want to drink 70 ounces of water daily.
When you become pregnant, you may need to drink more to keep up with the increased blood volume.
10. Try essential oils for digestive support.
11. Reduce the toxins in your environment.
When your liver is working hard to flush toxins, it can’t keep your digestive system running strong.
Toxins are everywhere, and it’s impossible to completely eliminate them, but you can do your part by using natural makeup and personal care products that are free of endocrine disruptors and irritants, such as phthalates, parabens, and SLS.
Digestion and your fertility
It’s clear that the systems of our bodies are not completely separate pieces. Rather, they are a unified whole, working together with every part affecting every other.
When your digestion is not running smoothly, everything else about your health, including your fertility, can suffer. These tips can help improve your digestion and boost your fertility.
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