The old adage “trust your gut” exists for a reason: according to Psychology Today, guts have “millions of nerve cells” and an almost-literal “mind of [their] own.” Think about how nervous you get just before a big presentation or before asking your boss for a raise. Those butterflies in your stomach are not, of course, literal butterflies, but rather signals your brain sends throughout your body, indicating that something may be off. Because your gut is so in tune with the rest of your body, it is imperative that you take good care of your gut health , especially while you’re trying to conceive.
In addition to those millions of nerve cells, your gut is also lined with bacterial microbes that produce the chemical serotonin (also known as the “happy chemical”). Serotonin allows us to convert the food we eat into energy for our bodies — energy that should be used in our mini-me-making process. It makes sense that the food we eat that will later be converted into energy should help promote a fertile environment for a fetus to thrive in.
There isn’t just one kind of bacteria taking up residence in your gut; there are actually 300 — 500 different kinds of bacteria living there, as well as 2 million+ genes. All of that is matched up with viruses, fungi, and other microscopic organisms, making up your microbiota, or microbiome. One of the most fascinating pieces to the puzzle of your gut health is knowing that every single gut is unique. No one’s bacteria is quite like your bacteria, which is actually determined based on your mother’s bacteria, your lifestyle, diet, and how much/how often you exercise. This bacteria can affect a plethora of issues, from your metabolism to your propensity for illnesses like Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease, to your ability to conceive.
How gut health impacts fertility
Gut health should be a major concern for couples trying to conceive, especially for those couples who may have one of the following conditions:
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
All of the above are conditions originating in your gut and can be extremely painful. These health conditions can make it difficult to conceive for both men and women and can cause a decreased sex drive. Specifically, some studies have found that if a woman has ulcerative colitis and has the surgery to correct it her odds of conception can be lowered.
According to other research, gut health can also affect fat storage in your body, which means that what you eat is a direct line to your gut microbes. Those microbes either help you gain weight or help you remain at a steady constant, weight-wise. Two factors arise by this logic:
- Bad bacteria makes us gain weight
- An overabundance of bacteria makes us gain weight
Another fertility issue, of which little is known, is leaky gut syndrome. Basically, it means that you’re having stomach issues that have yet to be diagnosed by a doctor. For being the largest immune system organ, so much of the gut is still a mystery to many medical professionals.
How hormones and proteins impact gut health
A 2013 study at Texas A&M University has shown that a complex and varied diet plays an important role in gut health. When the scientists in said study fed female mice complex, fiber-rich diets enhanced with estrogenic compounds (i.e., estrogen hormone receptors), their gut health seemed to be much better, versus the mice that were fed a simpler, more sugar-filled diet. We can then theorize that estrogen (a hormone that plays a critical role in your fertility) and probiotics promote a healthy gut and an overall healthy and happy body.
How can you tell if you have poor gut health?
If you have been diagnosed with any of the previously mentioned conditions, or are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign that you have poor gut health.
- Fertility issues. Loss of a sex drive is a fertility issue common in both women and men who have bad gut health and can be a symptom of much larger issues, like the aforementioned diseases.
- Simply put, your stomach hurts. Diarrhea, bloating, constipation, nausea, and heartburn are all signs that you have some bad microbes floating around inside your gut.
- Wanting those sweets. Craving simple foods with sugar could be another sign of bad bacteria.
- You’re losing or gaining weight. This could mean that your small intestine is not properly absorbing fats, minerals, and nutrients.
- The onset of depression or anxiety. If you’re feeling down, it could be due to your gut. Remember that little chemical called serotonin? When it’s not being properly produced in — guess where? — your gut, it can have a negative effect on your overall mood.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could be due to a gut imbalance, because of, again, the lack of serotonin, which also aids in sleeping.
- You’re getting rashes. If you have an eczema issue that keeps flaring up, it could actually be because of your gut health.
- Your autoimmune condition is getting worse. When there’s an imbalance in gut bacteria, it can cause flare-ups for conditions like multiple sclerosis.
How to improve gut health and increase your odds of getting pregnant
Improving your gut health and increasing serotonin levels starts with a healthy diet. Incorporate protein, fiber, fruits, and veggies into your diet, and eliminate processed foods and sugars. At the very least, keep sugar and animal fat intake to a minimum. While lowering those, work to increase your fiber consumption; a high-fiber diet is imperative to having great gut health, especially if you are having fertility issues.
Some foods to add into your diet that improve gut health and fertility include prebiotics, like bananas, oats, pistachios, quinoa, and chia, and probiotics/fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, kefir (these naturally contain probiotics).
To help you get started in healing your gut and improving your fertility, we rounded up three easy, delicious recipes. They contain prebiotics and probiotics and fit right into a complex, nutrient-rich diet.
Mango Cardamom Kefir Lassi from Food, Pleasure, & Health
Why we love it: Ok, so this is not exactly a meal, but the mango Cardamom Kefir Lassi drink can be traded in for your early morning coffee, giving you a much-needed energy boost at the start of your day. As you’re trying to conceive, you should probably cut down on the caffeine, anyway. Kefir is also one of those key ingredients in promoting great gut health — it has good gut bacteria that is thought to be better than the bacteria in yogurt.
Eggplant Yogurt Salad With Pita Chips from The Delicious Crescent
Why we love it: The eggplant yogurt salad with pita chips is the perfect midday meal, so make sure you pack this for lunch. The dish is deceptively hearty, perfect for getting you through that 3 p.m. slump. It’s also filled with probiotics from yogurt. Fertility-wise, the Omega-3’s from the walnuts help aid in your future baby’s brain function and eyesight. A recent study found that a group of mice who had been bred to have “healthy ratios of omega 3 fatty acids” developed more egg reserves, hence they were more likely to become pregnant with a fertilized egg.
Quinoa with Salmon and Pesto Dressing from Alison Clark, BSc via Love Your Gut
Why we love it: Of course, quinoa, being an ancient-grain food, is good for your gut! If it was good enough for our ancestors, it’s good enough for you. This perfect dinner is packed with omega-3’s, protein, vitamins, and minerals — all good for your gut, and all factors that will get your energy up.
Of course, gut health and fertility are invariably linked — a healthy, happy gut means that you are more likely to be in the mood for sex and have higher energy levels. The above recipes and foods are great for gut health and can also improve your fertility changes. Healthy eating, in general, aids in creating a healthy baby. Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your burgeoning family, so be sure to create meals that are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and proteins. You can even make a date night out of a meal: cook healthy dinners for one another to get that gut flora thriving and some romantic bonding time in.