Boost Fertility With A Healthy Microbiome
By now you may have probably heard the word “microbiome” which refers to the human body hosting millions of microorganisms that work together with our own cells to influence our health. (It is literally a few pounds worth of bacteria that would fill up a soup can!!!) You may know the microbiome influences digestion and mood but did you know that it can also have a major impact on fertility–including conception, pregnancy and the health of baby.
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome describes all of the micro-organisms that live in and on us (often called microbiota) and their collective genetic makeup. Reproductive organs are not sterile—microbiota are found in the vagina, cervix, uterus, and semen and these are the most relevant to fertility. The microbiota includes many strains of beneficial bacteria but occasionally “bad” bacteria, viri, yeast and parasites will also get in the mix and cause problems.
Why is the microbiome important for fertility?
Having a healthy microbiome is so important because this can protect against bacterial overgrowth and infection that can decrease conception rates. A healthy microbiome also prevents against pre-term labor, miscarriage and pregnancy complications that are associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV) and sexually transmitted infections.
The benefits to sperm have not been well studied but we know the testes are not sterile and contain microbiota. One recent study showed men with impaired fertility had less diversity in their testicular microbiome so it will be interesting to see what additional research shows in the future.
The microbiome and fertility treatments
There are several different types of vaginal microbiota, but Lactobacillus gets the most attention for its positive effects. New research shows when lactobacillus are in low numbers, conception rates actually DECREASE when using in-vitro fertilizing (IVF) techniques. One study showed that only 9% of the women with BV who completed IVF got pregnant vs. the 35% overall clinical pregnancy rate.
Hormones have been shown to impact vaginal bacteria so altering hormones by giving medications as part of a fertility treatment to may also be impacting the microbiome. We have yet to work out the details but this is a good reason to support the vaginal microbiome when using fertility treatments.
How does the microbiome impact your baby’s health?
During a vaginal birth (and likely even before birth) baby’s gut is seeded with bacteria from mom as baby travels through the birth canal and this helps forms baby’s microbiome. These bacteria perform essential duties for baby related to digestion, immune system development, behavior and cognition. Basically everything!
So now that you are excited to have amazing microbiota, here is how you can support your microbiome and boost fertility:
- Take a probiotic with strains of bacteria that support fertility including lactobacillus reuteri, lactobacillus rhamnosus, and lactobacillus plantarum.
- Eat all the fermented foods! Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Coconut Kefir are a few favorites.
- Exercise! This has been shown to have a positive impact on the microbiome.
- Eat a Mediterranean diet high in FIBER to feed your microbiota. Meat heavy diets low in fruits, vegetables and grains have been shown to have a negative impact on the microbiome.
- See your doctor if you have vaginal symptoms including a change in the color of or smell of vaginal discharge, vaginal itching/redness/irritation or pelvic pain. A simple swab/urine test can give more details on your microbiome and diagnose an infection.
- If you don’t currently have symptoms but you have a history of vaginal infections (yeast/BV) it could be useful to also test before trying to conceive.
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