Can your digestion hold the key to your fertility?

I talk a lot about nutrition and the role that it plays in fertility- you need macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) and micronutrients (vitamin d, essential fatty acids, etc) to build a healthy egg, sperm, and baby!  But if you struggle with digestion, then all of that good nutrition could be, well, flushed right down the toilet!

You see, digestion holds the key to how you break down food and how efficiently you extract the necessary components of food to absorb them into your bloodstream and allow them to even access your cells where they can do their good work.

Let's chat briefly about the basics of digestion:

Stomach: After chewing in the mouth, food travels down your esophagus into your stomach first, where it is exposed to a very acidic environment plus sloshing around.  This breaks down your food further to prepare it for the intestines, where the goodies can be absorbed.  Common problems include: acid reflux/GERD, stomach ulcers, acid deficiency.

Small intestine:  From the stomach, food travels to the small intestine.  The small intestine is the primary place where food is broken down into its most basic forms and nutrients are absorbed.  In the first section of the small intestine, enzymes are added from the pancreas and bile from the gall bladder which breaks down food into it's most basic building blocks.  The latter parts of the small intestine absorb macronutrients, then some select vitamins.  There are tons of folds for good surface area, and the small intestine is also colonized probiotic bacteria which assist with digestion and absorption. What is left after this is primarily waste.  Common problems include: celiac disease and other malabsorption syndromes, gall bladder dysfunction, pancreatic dysfunction, enzyme deficiencies (ie lactose intolerance), infections or bacterial imbalances.

Large intestine (aka the colon): The colon is home of the most bacteria in the gut, and is responsible for processing, compressing, and eliminating waste from your food and from your metabolic processes of the rest of your body.  In the colon, remaining water is absorbed and stool is formed, then excreted.  Common problems include: diarrhea, constipation, colon cramping & pain, infections.

If you have trouble with pain, irregularity, or any other aspects of digestion- if you have undigested food in your stool or don't go to the bathroom at least daily, you could have digestive issues.  

How does this impact fertility?

In so many ways, unfortunately!

one- poor absorption of nutrients (macro or micronutrients).  These are the building blocks of health!  if you lack the enzymes, the nervous system's control, or anything else affecting function of the digestive tract, you could be stuck eliminating food that has not been fully digested, and not released all of the helpful nutrients within!

two- the digestive tract is actually the primary home of the immune system.  if things are awry there, than the immune system can be triggered and can cause inflammation not only in the gut, but elsewhere in the body.  Triggers for inflammation from the gut include food allergy exposures, probiotic imbalances, and a weak gut lining that is allowing food proteins to be absorbed that really shouldn't be in a healthy gut.  This is believed to also be a major trigger for autoimmune disease, which is a major driver of infertility.

three- elimination.  I see a lot of constipation.  Whether due to diet, dehydration, or stress, if you're not eliminating, you're holding onto harmful waste and recirculating it in your body rather than sending it out!  This is so pertinent because "waste" can include toxins that you're exposed to through food and water, metabolic waste products, and even hormones!  

Digestive diseases like celiac disease, Crohn's disease and colitis have been clearly linked to infertility, but so have less severe digestive dysfunctions like probiotic imbalances, irritable bowel symptoms and more. 

If you're having digestive issues, be SURE to bring these up with your naturopathic doctor or integrative fertility provider.  Getting to the root of good digestion should be the start of the "yellow brick road" to perfect fertility!