Preparing to welcome a new baby into your hearts and home should be one of the happiest times of life. But if that little minus sign keeps appearing on your pregnancy tests month after month, it can be painful to even walk past baby clothes on display at the mall—and hearing that yet another friend is expecting is sometimes even worse.
Indeed, this experience can make what started as the sweetest dream begin to feel like one of those awful nightmares where you frantically try to wake up into a better reality.
If you’ve had trouble becoming a parent, you’re not alone. About one in eight couples find themselves in the same boat—and over 7 million women have sought services for difficulties with fertility at some point during their lives. Fertility struggles affect men about as often as women, with approximately a third of these challenges tracing back to each gender respectively, and the remaining third attributed to both partners or unknown causes.
While fertility is clearly a complex issue, new evidence reveals that digestive health plays a surprisingly significant role. Here’s what science can tell us about the fertility-gut microbiome connection.
Gut Microbiome Basics
When you’re trying to have a baby, probably the last part of your body you’re focusing on is your digestive tract! But within your gut is an active community of trillions of bacteria known collectively as your microbiome. And when it comes to fertility, microbiome composition can make a real difference.
You see, not all bacteria are harmful—ideally, about 85% of the human microbiome contains friendly bacteria called probiotics. These friendly microbes crowd out undesirable bacteria and work with your immune system to encourage glowing health in lots of ways—including fertility.
Your microbiome has evolved over trillions of years as a means of encouraging survival of our entire species, and it turns out our bodies actually contain more bacteria than human cells! This is why maintaining gut health is so essential, and why taking good care of your microbial balance ultimately benefits fertility as well.
How the Microbiome Affects Fertility
If you’re having trouble conceiving, you likely know that so many factors may be at the root, and sometimes multiple issues are involved—making it extremely challenging to understand and solve. The good news is that prioritizing your microbial health can positively impact a variety of common fertility roadblocks to encourage a happy outcome:
Unwanted bacterial strains and yeast can affect a woman’s ability to have a baby, whether couples are trying the old fashioned way or through IVF.1, 2 Not only do these undesirable microbes negatively impact sperm, they can also make a woman’s body less hospitable to her newly conceived child. Supporting the gut microbiome helps crowd out harmful microbes throughout the body, including those that may impact fertility.
Introducing probiotics directly to the vaginal area may also be helpful. An IVF study involving healthy women showed promising results after vaginal colonization with L. crispatus.3 And research with mice found that intravaginal application of L. plantarum improved the chances of successful reproduction, even when certain troublesome strains were also added to the mix.4
When temporary inflammation occurs due to irritation, injury, or unfriendly microbes, it may affect a woman’s cycles and immune system, which can make it more difficult to conceive and carry a baby.5 A number of probiotic strains are associated with supporting immune function though, and some also show potential for supporting healthy fertility.6, 7 Research involving 33,000 Norwegian women found that supplementing with milk-based probiotics reduced temporary inflammation and some associated pregnancy issues.8
The more densely populated with sperm a man’s semen is, and the faster those little guys can swim, the better his odds of contributing his DNA to a brand new life. And it turns out the composition of semen microbiome actually affects sperm vitality!
One study involving couples who had been unable to conceive revealed that when friendly Lactobacillus dominates the semen microbiome, the sperm is much more likely to be healthy and normal.9 Additional research with mice found that taking the probiotic L. reuteri orally increased sperm count and testicular mass, as well as kept aging reproductive organs healthy.10
Carrying more than your optimal body weight can compromise health in many ways, not the least of which is a negative impact on both male and female fertility. For men, those unwanted pounds may change levels of testosterone and other hormones, which ultimately harms sperm health. Extra weight in women can also lead to hormonal changes that affect her cycles, as well as whether or not pregnancy progresses smoothly.
But what’s a couple to do if they’ve tried every diet and exercise plan imaginable and the pounds still aren’t coming off? Recent research reveals that the gut microbiome is an important factor in healthy weight management.11,12 So, something as simple as introducing friendly probiotics to the digestive tract can make it easier for your body to manage weight for healthy fertility.
Easy Ways to Nurture Your Gut
In addition to lavishing attention on your significant other, showing your gut some love, too, will help support glowing fertility:
• Supplement With Probiotics: Get your microbiome ready for motherhood with a high-quality women’s probiotic such as PRO-Moms. And supplementing with a formula with targeted strains to support men's health, like PRO-Men, is a smart way for dads-to-be to support robust fertility.
• Relax: It’s not always easy (especially when it feels like the stakes are so high) but de-stressing encourages your friendly flora to dominate your microbiome.13 And it turns out the relationship is cyclical—when your gut is balanced, those probiotics help raise levels of “feel good” neurotransmitters, as well as the “cuddling hormone,” oxytocin, which will help you feel even calmer.14 So whether it’s meditation, QiGong, yoga, or just curling up with a good book, anything that relaxes you helps prepare your mind and body to become a parent.
• Get Moving: Since active people tend to have more diverse, balanced microbiomes than those who those who are inactive, adding exercise to your daily routine can help get your gut in its best possible shape to encourage fertility.15 You’re more likely to stick with a fitness plan if you you actually enjoy it, so find something fun—perhaps dancing, swimming, a team sport, or even just walking in nature.
• Eat Clean: A healthy diet full of fresh produce and whole grains (preferably organic), along with natural cultured and fermented foods, can have an amazing effect on the microbiome, sometimes even within just a few hours of eating!16 And prebiotic foods like asparagus, bananas, cabbage, apples, beans, and onions help maintain gut health by supplying just the right nourishment friendly flora need to thrive and multiply. But, keep in mind that it’s not always easy to eat enough fiber to keep your microbes happy—this is where a daily organic prebiotic powder supplement can help fill in the gaps.
When all is right with your microbiome, your entire mind and body will benefit, which in turn helps create the best possible conditions for expanding your family. And the real bonus is that your newfound gut health will have a positive impact on your baby’s microbiome as well, giving him or her a valuable gift with lifelong benefits.
1. Haahr, T. (2016). Abnormal vaginal microbiota may be associated with poor reproductive outcomes: A prospective study in IVF patients. Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 115, 47-48. doi:10.1016/j.jri.2016.04.144
2. Pelzer, E. S., Allan, J. A., Waterhouse, M. A., Ross, T., Beagley, K. W., & Knox, C. L. (2013). Microorganisms within Human Follicular Fluid: Effects on IVF. PLoS ONE, 8(3), e59062. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059062
3. Sirota, I., Zarek, S., & Segars, J. (2014). Potential Influence of the Microbiome on Infertility and Assisted Reproductive Technology. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine, 32(01), 035-042. doi:10.1055/s-0033-1361821
4. Bhandari, P., Rishi, P., & Prabha, V. (2014). Potential of Probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum 2621 for the Management of Infertility. British Microbiology Research Journal, 4(12), 1585-1596. doi:10.9734/bmrj/2014/12129
5. Weiss, G., Goldsmith, L. T., Taylor, R. N., Bellet, D., & Taylor, H. S. (2009). Inflammation in Reproductive Disorders. Reproductive Sciences, 16(2), 216-229. doi:10.1177/1933719108330087
6. Groeger, D., O’Mahony, L., Murphy, E. F., Bourke, J. F., Dinan, T. G., Kiely, B., . . . Quigley, E. M. (2013). Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 Modulates Host Inflammatory Processes Beyond the Gut. Gut Microbes, 4(4), 325-339.
7. Bhandari, P., Rishi, P., & Prabha, V. (2016). Positive effect of probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum in reversing LPS-induced infertility in a mouse model. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 65(5), 345-350. doi:10.1099/jmm.0.000230
8. Brantsaeter, A. L., Myhre, R., Haugen, M., Myking, S., Sengpiel, V., Magnus, P., … Meltzer, H. M. (2011). Intake of Probiotic Food and Risk of Preeclampsia in Primiparous Women: The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 174(7), 807-815. doi:10.1093/aje/kwr168
9. Weng, S., Chiu, C., Lin, F., Huang, W., Liang, C., Yang, T., … Huang, H. (2014). Bacterial Communities in Semen from Men of Infertile Couples: Metagenomic Sequencing Reveals Relationships of Seminal Microbiota to Semen Quality. PLoS ONE, 9(10), e110152. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110152
10. Poutahidis, T., Springer, A., Levkovich, T., Qi, P., Varian, B. J., Lakritz, J. R., … Erdman, S. E. (2014). Probiotic Microbes Sustain Youthful Serum Testosterone Levels and Testicular Size in Aging Mice. PLoS ONE, 9(1), e84877. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084877
11. Sanchez, M., Darimont, C., Drapeau, V., Emady-Azar, S., Lepage, M., Rezzonico, E., . . . Tremblay, A. (2013). Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women. British Journal of Nutrition, 111(08), 1507-1519.
12. Zhang, Q., Wu, Y., & Fei, X. (2016). Effect of probiotics on body weight and body-mass index: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 67(5), 571-580.
13. Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2012). Regulation of the Stress Response by the Gut Microbiota: Implications for Psychoneuroendocrinology. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(9), 1369-1378.
14. Poutahidis, T., Kearney, S. M., Levkovich, T., Qi, P., Varian, B. J., Lakritz, J. R., . . . Erdman, S. E. (2013). Microbial Symbionts Accelerate Wound Healing via the Neuropeptide Hormone Oxytocin. PLoS ONE, 8(10).
15. Clarke, S. F., Murphy, E. F., O'Sullivan, O., Lucey, A. J., Humphreys, M., Hogan, A., … Cotter, P. D. (2014). Exercise and Associated Dietary Extremes Impact on Gut Microbial Diversity. Gut, 63(12), 1913-1920. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2013-306541
16. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., … Turnbaugh, P. J. (2013). Diet Rapidly and Reproducibly Alters the Human Gut Microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563. doi:10.1038/Nature12820
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.