The Fertility & Digestion Connection

The importance of digestive health has been a hot topic in the wellness community for a number of years. Probiotics are one of the most widely sold supplements on the market today. There are countless books describing the gut-brain connection as well as what in the heck those billions of bacteria are doing in our stomachs anyway. All of this information is fascinating (at least to me) but its also backed by scores of medical studies. The question is, what does your digestion have to do with getting pregnant? One would think they are completely different systems in the body doing completely different tasks. However, once we take an integrative view, we can see that the health of your digestive system is integral to allowing the natural reproductive processes run at optimal levels.

THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM 101

The health of your digestive system is essential to ensure proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as to support the function of other body systems, such as the immune system. The health of the gastrointestinal system, particularly the gut microbiota, even impacts mental health through its connection with the central nervous system, often referred to as the gut-brain axis. 

The digestive system is made up of digestive organs, such as the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon), as well as accessory organs, such as the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder, and various chemical compounds, such as hormones, stomach acid, bile, and digestive enzymes. The gut microbiota, a community of live microorganisms found in high concentrations in the colon, are also essential to digestion and gut health. Several lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, staying hydrated, managing stress, and supporting your health with dietary supplements, can help you maintain digestive wellness.

*www.fullscript.com


THE FERTILITY CONNECTION

Many integrative health physicians and wellness advocates summarize fertility in both men and women as SECONDARY.  What they mean by that is that the number one function of the body, including the digestive system, is to keep YOU alive and thriving. The theory goes that if the body becomes stressed at one point, then pregnancy is only going to add more stress to the body. You can see examples of this in times of famine. The lack of food puts enough stress on a population that fertility rates plummet (Hasell, 2018). In physiological term, once there is a breakdown in one of the systems, the endocrine system will down-regulate hormones that facilitate and promote the chance of pregnancy.

While the SECONDARY theory makes a ton of sense, the oversimplification might have us missing out on a few important details. The gut is operating the main nutrient distribution system, if you will. It is absorbing nutrients via the stomach and intestinal linings as well as assimilating them for active use. Egg and sperm health are vastly dependent on a number of key micronutrients that we get from our foods. Hormone production and balance are also greatly affected by nutritional stores. In addition, the microbiome plays a major role in reproductive hormonal balance.  Lastly, the implantation process and embryo development will not be optimized if lacking its nutrient factors and cofactors. Thus, when you influence digestive health, you  impact egg & sperm quality, implantation and embryo development, and hormone balance as well as pregnancy and birth outcomes.

The GI system is not only integral in optimizing fertility, but it is also very important for keeping a baby healthy in the womb and outside of the womb. Research has shown that an unhealthy microbiome population has been correlated to higher risk factors for preterm birth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and excess weight gain (Dunlop, 2015). Thus, a maternal stomach full of good bacteria can promote a smoother and safer pregnancy for mom and baby. Secondly, researchers have recently discovered that the placenta (the organ which provides all nourishment to baby) transfers its own microbiome (aka bacteria) to the baby (Aagaard, 2014). This means that a healthy bacteria population from mom is actually given to the baby during the baby’s 9 month stay. A baby with a well balanced microbiome inside of the womb will be well on his way to his own gut health outside of the womb. What more reason to keep eating those fermented pickles and whole milk yogurts.

The ideal scenario is to ensure the cellular function of the GI track and microbiome is working at tip top shape during the preconception stage. Once the baby moves in, he will thank you for all the prep work! Check out the bottom of the article for the Savage Solution for digestive health.

The Savage Solution for OPTIMIZING Fertility through Digestive Health:

Eat fermented, probiotic foods such as grass-fed cow-milk yogurt, goat’s milk yogurt, kefir, komucha tea, saucerkraut, pickles (check label for additives), or aged cheeses. Include a serving or two of these foods every day.

Eat prebiotic, fiber rich foods such as vegetables, nuts, seeds, coconut, beans, and berries. These superfoods should fuel you throughout the day and make up the majority of the diet. 

Supplement with a quality probiotic. Look for a high number of probiotic stands (15 billion to 100 billion) and over 10 different strands. Also be sure to check the expiration date on the bottle. Be sure to research what strains are in each supplement: Lactobacillus and Bifidus are top picks. 

Avoid the overuse of antibiotics in both medicine and food supply (ie antibiotics in meats).

Avoid the overuse of such medications as antacids, steroids, acid blockers, and birth control.

Avoid excess processed sugar in your diet.

 

I have teamed up with FULLSCRIPT to provide my catalog of supplements relating to gut health. As always, I have to point out, REAL FOODS should be the number one way to keep the system running in top condition, but if needed, supplements can help fill any gaps. Also, supplements should be discussed with medical providers once becoming pregnant.


Probiotics

Probiotics are fermented food products or dietary supplements that contain beneficial microbes, including bacteria, bacterial spores, or fungi (yeasts). When consumed, they offer health benefits to the host, both by colonizing the gastrointestinal tract and by transient activity when passing through the body. Probiotics have been studied for their therapeutic benefits in a number of health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), autoimmune diseases, obesity, and mental-emotional disorders. The health benefits of probiotics can vary significantly depending on the specific strain or strains included. 

Read more about probiotic supplements here.

 Top probiotic supplements on Fullscript:

MegaSporeBiotic by Microbiome Labs

Ther-Biotic Complete Probiotic by Klaire Labs


Digestive enzymes

Enzymes are substances that increase the rate of chemical reactions in the body (catalysts). Specifically, digestive enzymes are secreted by the digestive tract to aid in digesting fats, proteins, and carbohydrates consumed through the diet. Enzyme supplementation may be beneficial for individuals with food sensitivities, such as lactose intolerance, and certain gastrointestinal disorders. Enzyme supplements may include a variety of enzymes from different sources, such as pancreatic enzymes (e.g., porcine or bovine sources), plant-based enzymes (e.g., bromelain from pineapple, papain from papaya), and microbe-derived enzymes. Each enzyme breaks down a specific component of food, for example, lipase aids in the digestion of lipids and protease aids in the digestion of proteins. 

 Top digestive enzyme supplements on Fullscript:

Digestive Enzymes Ultra by Pure Encapsulations

Digestzymes by Designs for Health


Fiber

Fiber is an umbrella term for the carbohydrates found in plant foods that resist digestion and absorption in the human small intestine. High-fiber foods include vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

The two main forms of fiber are soluble fibers, which dissolve in water and slow transit time in the human digestive tract, and insoluble fibers, which do not dissolve in water, speed up transit time in the human digestive tract, and increase fecal bulk. In addition to supporting digestion, research has shown that a high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity. 

Prebiotics, one type of soluble fiber, possess unique characteristics and health effects. Prebiotics act as a source of fuel for beneficial microbes, promoting a healthy microbial profile, and providing a number of associated health benefits. Research is increasingly confirming the numerous health benefits of prebiotics. 

Read more about the difference between probiotics and prebiotics here.

 Top fiber supplements on Fullscript:

FiberPro by Karuna

FiberMax Powder by Advanced Naturals


L-glutamine 

L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. The small and large intestines use l-glutamine as a substrate (material) for energy production. L-glutamine also plays a role in liver cell reproduction and energy metabolism in the liver. L-glutamine supplementation may reduce intestinal cell death that normally occurs with exposure to stress, such as intense heat and exercise. It may also benefit individuals with certain digestive conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and short bowel syndrome. 

Research has shown that the health benefits of L-glutamine may be attributed to its ability to modulate inflammation, protect against cellular stress and death, and regulate the reproduction of intestinal cells.

Top L-glutamine supplements on Fullscript: 

L-Glutamine powder by Pure Encapsulations

L-Glutamine Powder by Klaire Labs  

NOTE: L-glutamine should not be continued during pregnancy as evidence of its safety is lacking. 

NOTE: THE ABOVE SUPPLEMENTS ARE RECOMMENDED FOR PRECONCEPTION PERIODS ONLY. PLEASE DISCUSS ANY SUPPLEMENTS WITH HEALTHCARE PROVIDER BEFORE CONTINUING DURING PREGNANCY.

 

 

 


Works Cited:

Aagaard, K. e. (2014). The placenta harbors a unique microbiome. Science Translational Medicine, 237.

Dunlop, A. L. (2015). The maternal microbiome and pregnancy outcomes that impact infant health: A review. Advance in Neonatal Care: Official Journal of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, 377.

Hasell, J. (2018, April 03). Do Famines Check Population Growth. Retrieved from Our World In Data: http://www.ourworldindata.org.https://ourworldindata.org/do-famines-check-population-growth

Nichols, L. (2018). Real Food for Pregnancy.USA: Lily Nicholas.

Eating for TWO

In today’s world, consuming a healthy diet can be challenging enough; eating a healthy diet that will not only provide every thing a woman needs but also all the building blocks needed to make another human is overwhelming. Having a nutritional plan eases a mom’s mind that she is nourishing her growing baby with all the love and food one can get.

Why does what you eat during pregnancy matter?

Research continues to conclude that the first 1000 days of a child life, conception to 2 years, are critical for the health and wellness of the child throughout adulthood. This means that what mom eats effects the health of the baby well into the future. Baby depends on mom for their calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fluid. Including evidence-based strategies can help baby grow healthy organ systems, assist in brain development and mental health, and promote appropriate birth weight.

Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE paints a beautiful metaphor in her book Real Food for Pregnancy: “Anyone who has ever had a garden understands that when you plant a tomato seed, you can expect a tomato plant to grow (not a pea vine or a broccoli plant). The seed has the blueprints, and even if you’re not a very good gardener, that seed will grow given the bare essentials: some soil, water, and light. However, what separates a novice from a master gardener is their attention to optimal conditions. They have learned that amending the soil with nutrient-dense and microbe-rich compost will provide the plant with more of the raw materials for growth. They understand that there’s a sweet spot in the amount of water and light that helps a tomato plant not just survive, but thrive. Ultimately, they know that with a little TLC, they will have a healthier plant with vibrant green leaves and plentiful, delicious tomatoes.” (Nichols, 2018).

To peak interest even further, one recent Oregon State University study found that when pregnant mice were fed the same phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower, the offspring had a significant decreased risk for certain cancers (Kaur, Shorey, Ho, Dashwood, & Williams, 2013). As a nutritionist, this study makes me want to jump for joy. It shows how much power food really has! As a mom, it makes me feel confident that I can actually have a little bit of control over the future health of my child.

What can improving nutritional intake do for you?

By implementing simple, evidence-based practices, you and your baby can ease through the first stage of life together. Mom can avoid or, at least, lessen the dredged symptoms of constipation, nausea, swelling, and heartburn. Baby can thrive on essential nutrients that will not only help them in the womb but out in the real word too. Food is a powerful medicine.

Resources:

Kaur, P., Shorey, L., Ho, E., Dashwood, R., & Williams, D. (2013). The Epigenome as a Potential Mediator of Cancer Prevention by Dietary Phytochemicals: the Fetus as a Target. Nutrition Review, 441-457.

Nicholas, Lily. (2018). Real Food for Pregnancy. USA

Prepping for Baby

Fertility is about more than just having a baby. It is a sign of HEALTH and VITALITY. — Ayla Barmmer

The dreaded/happy/excited/nervous/dreaded again “TTC” period of life…. Trying To Conceive. Unfortunately, there is so much emotion behind this phase. The anticipation, the excitement, and of course, the perceived lack of control.

However, there are other avenues you can employ to take control when planning for those precious little fingers and toes. You can take the bull by the horns now and focus on YOUR health and YOUR wellbeing. After all, a healthy and happy baby comes from a healthy and happy momma. Implementing simple eating and clean living strategies into one’s daily routine can be a game changer when trying to conceive. Having go to strategies in place before pregnancy also ensures that mom’s body is primed to grow another little one.

Unfortunately, more and more women are experiencing fertility issues. To be frank, the medical model has only strategy for you: medication. Medication is only part of the puzzle. While is it effective, it cannot fix the root problem of infertility that could ultimately cause issues in the future. The body is such a wonder. When one part of the human body is not functioning correctly, the hormonal system down regulates fertility capabilities. The theory goes if your body does not believe it is thriving then it’s not going to put itself in harms way by becoming pregnant and having to support another being. If you are under oxidative stress or chronic inflammation, your immune system or digestive systems are not functioning appropriately,  your body is storing toxins, or you are just plain stressed out becoming pregnant is simply going to be an uphill battle. The good news is that nutritional strategies can help pave the broken roads and lead you to the ultimate goal of having a little angel of your own.

 

Breastfeeding Nutrition

Breastfeeding is an incredible and selfless gift and can provide benefits that last a lifetime. Though no matter how beneficial, breastfeeding is also one of the most challenging, most labor intensive, and most exhausting periods in a woman’s life.  Having a nutritional game plan that emphasizes milk supply but also focuses on ease and convenience is key to survival for both you and baby.

The first year of my son’s life, I was completely consumed with every nuance of breastfeeding. After all, breastfeeding was something I had really looked forward to. With my background as a nutritionist, I was just plain excited for this intimate journey with my son. Let me tell you personally, I was not prepared for how hard it truly was. I went through times of low milk, times of difficulty latching, and buckets, upon buckets of tears. To put it mildly, breastfeeding was the hardest job I had ever completed.

In my experience, most women feel just as I did. The struggle is real. That puts me in the unique position of knowing how hard the job is day in day out but also knowing the demands both you and your baby is under nutritionally. Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE, whose work and research I so admire and put into practice, expresses what my goal as nutritionist during breastfeeding should be. She states,

“Rather, I simply want to encourage new mothers to eat as much nutrient dense, real food as possible, so you can both replete your nutrient stores after pregnancy and produce the most nutritious milk for your ridiculously hungry, rapidly growing baby. This is about self care and nourishment for both of you. It’s about ensuring that you have the ability to heal from childbirth and handle the stresses of motherhood without burning out, while your baby gets optimal nutrition to develop and thrive.” (Nichols, 2018).

My goal during this stage of motherhood is to focus on you, the mother. You have just been through a storm and now asked to climb up the side of a mountain in the same wet clothes you had on during the storm. You need support. You need easy, simple, mindless eating tips and tricks.

 

 

Resources:

Nicholas, Lily. (2018). Real Food for Pregnancy. USA

 

Postnatal Return

After a woman grows and births a baby, her body has gone through a terrific amount of changes. While those changes have produced such a joyous outcome, the same changes can wreck hormonal homeostasis and deplete nutrient levels. Hormones are the main operators behind the child bearing process. Returning a woman’s natural hormonal rhythms post baby can be quite tricky and frankly depressing without nutritional support.

Similar to hormonal changes, a woman’s body must give a significant amount of her own vitamin and mineral reserves to her new baby. Getting those reserves back to a healthy baseline is critical not only to having energy today but also prepping for future offspring tomorrow.

Ingredient Find: Stevia

One of the fastest newcomers in the sugar substitute marketplace is stevia. The all-natural stevia is derived from the South American stevia leaf. Stevia (in the raw) has been consumed for 1500 years by native South Americans. Glycosides, including stevioside and rebaudioside A, are the two compounds that contribute to its sweet profile.

When considering stevia products, one question is imperative: Is this product an extracted glycoside, usually rebaudioside A, combined with other chemically altered compounds? Or is this a whole-leaf stevia product with no other additives?

Due to increasing popularity, food manufactures have engineered the natural extract with harmful additives such as a chemically altered erythritol or more ubiquitous components as natural flavorings. These additives have much of the same harmful effects on the gut as Splenda. In contrast, whole-leaf stevia has been shown to have no negative impact on gut health.

One issue remains with whole-leaf stevia: intense sweetness. On the surface, this issue is the goal of the product and should not be problematic. However, when examining why the brain and tongue perceive something as sweet, the problem comes to light. The brain craves the sensation of sweet when energy is needed in the body. When a person consumes sugar, say in the form of fruit, the GI tract breaks the sugar down and releases energy for the body. The brain is satisfied. When consuming something that is extremely sweet but non-caloric, such as an artificial sweetener, the brain does not receive its reward in the form of energy. Thus, sugar cravings continue to flood the thoughts and the eventual effect is weight gain. This phenomenon has been largely studied with diet soda.

The Savage Solution:

Make sure the package label states “whole-leaf stevia”.

Be on the lookout for other additives such as dextrose or “natural flavorings”.

Consume less then 2 – 3 tablespoons per day. 

5 minute Arm Toning

One of the best looks for fall is a good pair of jeans and a silky sleeveless top. Having a great pair of arms to show off is the icing on the cake. Toning the biceps, triceps, and shoulders do not have to involve a heavy set of dumbbells or massive amounts of reps. There is not even a push up in sight for this routine. Instead, the idea of using muscle positioning by placing the wrists and shoulders in specific directions will do just the trick to trim and tone.

 

 

To start, sit or stand and follow along the guideline below.

Gear: Timer

Time Move Description
0:00 – 0:30 Forward arm circles Arms straight out, making small circles to the FRONT, pushing wrist down during each circle
0:30 – 1:00 Screwtop Arms straight out, turning one arm from shoulder to ground as other arm is twisted to sky, alternate
1:00 – 1:30 Backward arm circles Arms straight out, making small circles to the BACK, pushing wrist down during each circle
1:30 – 2:00 Screwtop with single arm W pulse Screwtop arms with sky twisting arm coming into waistline with bent arm for 2 pulses, alternate
2:00 – 2:30 Head hug taps to extension Wrap arms behind head, tap opposite shoulders, move hands to tap same shoulders, extend with palms facing up
2:30 – 3:00 W pulses Arms bent to waistline, palms to sky, pulsing into waist with focus on the bicep
3:00 – 3:30 Twisting pulls to W pulse Arms reach front in diagonal position, bring arms back to W position, alternative sides for diagonal reach
3:30 – 4:00 Innerward prayer to side arm extension Hands in prayer position with fingers pointing to heart, extend arms out leading with elbows
4:00 – 4:30 Air dips Arms extended down and to back of body, hands flexed, small pulses by bending elbow and extending out
4:30 – 5:00 Spanish arms Arms rounded downward on body, reaching arms to front of body and overhead, twist wrist at top so palms face sky