No, we're not talking about that friend that is so fertile they 'didn't even try and just got pregnant' (this takes me back to the oh so many times I felt that intense mix of emotions you have to internalise while smiling on the outside. We have all been there!).
The fertile friends we are talking about are with you every day. You carry them with you everywhere you go. You are even responsible for feeding them and how happy they are.
Yes, we are talking about your gut bugs! The community of microbes that reside in your gut provide a foundation for your fertility. If you would like to get to know them better, here are four facts about these little guys and some tips to nurture them for pregnancy success!
Microbes are in Charge of Your Immunity
Are you often sick, fatigued or stressed? These can be signs that your immune system is not firing on all cylinders.
Our gut microbes are critical to healthy immune function so it’s no surprise that when our gut is out of balance, our immune defences suffer. Did you know our gut houses over 70% of our immune cells?!
If your gut microbes are out of balance for a long time, this has even been associated with the development of autoimmune conditions that impact fertility, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Things that disrupt our gut microbiota may make us more susceptible to illness and dampen our viral immunity, while a healthy gut community affords protection against infection.
Diets rich in antioxidant whole foods that nurture your gut diversity can boost your immune system and dampen inflammatory markers by more than 50%. Exercise is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and this in part is attributed to the beneficial changes at the level of the gut microbiota.
A healthy gut can help reduce infections and keep your immune system in check, so it is ready unleash its anti-inflammatory defences.
Your Microbes Regulate Sex Hormones
Our gut microbes are essential in regulating our sex hormones that control ovulation, and sperm production. The metabolic activity of your microbes can increase or decrease circulating concentrations of oestrogen and in males a more diverse, healthy gut community is associated with increased testosterone concentrations.
There are over 60 species of bacteria living in our gut that can regulate estrogen concentration. The collection of these bacteria is called our oestrobolome. One way we get rid of oestrogen from the body is in our faeces. How much oestrogen we excrete from our body, or how much we reabsorb back into our blood stream, is influenced by who is living in our gut, or our oestrobolome.
If you have lots of bacteria that produce β-glucuronidase enzymes, these bacteria can deconjugate oestrogens in the gut so they are reabsorbed back into the circulation. On the other hand, if you don’t have enough of these bacteria that produce β-glucuronidase, then oestrogen gets excreted and circulating levels can be low.
A diet rich in fat or protein is associated with reduce gut diversity and higher β-glucuronidase activity, whereas prebiotics have been shown to reduce this and rebalance oestrogen. This is one way diet impacts endometriosis, where there is disruption of the gut microbiome and higher oestrogen levels may drive the growth of endometriotic lesions.
In females imbalances in gut microbiota can also contribute to increased androgens, elevating testosterone in conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Nurturing gut microbiota supports lowering of androgens and menstrual cycle regularity! It also increases sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar and is essential for ovulation and implantation.
Your Microbes Manage Your Mood
One important job of your gut microbes is to produce neurotransmitters such as GABA, which are essential for mood. Beneficial bacteria can calm the mind and lower levels of stress hormones.
In conditions where the gut microbiome is disrupted such as with endometriosis, PCOS and infertility, there is a greater risk of anxiety and depression.
Have you ever eaten lots of processed foods and sugar and felt really blah (brain fog- cravings - fatigue - mood changes)? Well, there is a science to explain how food can influence your mood!
Your gut talks to your brain so keeping your gut bacteria fueled with prebiotic foods is a great step to boosting mental wellbeing. Getting microbiota accessible carbohydrates and key gut loving nutrients into your diet has been shown to improve brain health and reduce depression.