I see around 80 patients a week who are struggling to get pregnant. I could spend hours and hours going into all the dynamics of what is likely causing their issues.
Some have a clear diagnosis. Most, however, fall into the “unexplained” bucket. Meaning that medical science has yet to find a way to detect a problem with the reproductive axis (i.e. estrogen, progesterone, FSH, LH, AMH, thyroid, prolactin, and the reproductive anatomy).
Many of these patients end up being told “it’s just stress”. Then, they’re kind of written off or told they need to take clomid, and/or pursue IUI or IVF right away.
In my clinical practice, what I’ve discovered is that, basically, ANY PHYSIOLOGICAL IMBALANCE CAN POTENTIALLY BLOCK FERTILITY.
Yes, you read that right. Anything can potentially block fertility.
Stress? Check. A sluggish liver? Check. Poor sleep? Check. Subtle blood sugar imbalances? Check. Adrenal fatigue? Check. Overactive inflammatory system? Check. Impaired circulation? Check. Suboptimal metabolism? Check.
But, there’s one cause I seem to see more than any other. It’s what I call “subclinical inflammatory bowel disease”. And, it’s DEVASTATING to fertility.
Chinese Medicine has, for centuries, emphasized the central role the stomach and intestines play in bodily health. In fact, your “Stomach Qi” as it is called, is not just necessary for you to extract energy from food and hence make the blood that nourishes all your glands and tissues (including your reproductive organs), there is also the Large Intestine which, according to the Chinese Medical Sages, is a critical barrier, a boundary that both protects and allows the exit of wastes.
The fact they described this 2000 years ago is impressive. They knew that the inner lining of the digestive tract was in contact with the outside world via the foods that came in and the wastes that came out. Common sense that didn’t quite become standard knowledge in the West until maybe 200 years ago.
Our modern diets, replete with processed, refined carbohydrates (and many other foods) that irritate and challenge this gut boundary, have caused an epidemic of sorts. The epidemic of unhealthy gut boundary.
I don’t like to call it “leaky gut” because, honestly, it’s become a “buzz word” and buzz words always lose their meaning and become overused.
So, this unhealthy gut boundary is caused by both poor diet rich in animal dairy products as well as refined grains (the biggest offender being wheat flour — both white and brown), along with refined sugars. Nobody in the United States (except for those who are intensely involved in healthy eating) escapes these foods. And, most of us are exposed to severe amounts of all of them on a daily basis starting from early childhood, even infancy.
The symptoms are actually very basic. So basic, in fact, that most people don’t even realize they’re having a problem. They think it’s minor, just “to be expected”, or “just how my digestion works”. Any of the following may indicate you have subclinical inflammatory bowel disease:
- Bowel movements are irregular and less than once daily on average
- Days where you have several bowel movements a day, and some days with none
- Frequent heartburn or indigestion
- Bloating after meals
- Frequent and persistent gas and bloating
- Often feeling tired after meals
- Strong cravings for sugar on a daily basis
- Frequent bouts of bowel urgency with or without cramping/discomfort
- Frequent or persistent loose stool or diarrhea
The bottom line is that natural bowel function is to have a well-formed, easy bowel movement after each meal. That’s right. AFTER EACH MEAL. Think about your pet cat or dog. After they eat, they poop. It’s that simple, and it’s supposed to be like that for us.
If it’s not, you technically have an imbalance in your gut. Now, I’m not saying you can’t be healthy if you’re not having 3 bowel movements daily. I’m just saying that, if you aren’t, your gut is not functioning optimally.
The Vicious Cycle of Subfertility
When your gut isn’t healthy, there can be devastating impacts on your entire endocrine system and, specifically, your reproductive system.
Here’s how it typically goes:
- Gut function is impaired, and the boundary or barrier isn’t functioning properly.
- More toxins get into the “portal circulation” which is the blood flow from the bowel to the liver.
- The liver has to work harder to filter the blood of things the bowel is supposed to be removing. Guess what… ONE OF THESE THINGS IS ESTROGEN. And, there are a LOT of other steroid hormones cleared through the gut.
- The compromised boundary activates the immune cells around the gut, and in an attempt to handle the problem, the adrenal glands are recruited into action.
- Your adrenal glands secrete cortisol, among other substances. Cortisol has dramatic impacts on both inflammation and immune function. But, guess what, it also profoundly shifts blood sugar and circulatory patterns. The way gut inflammation shifts these patterns DOES NOT IN ANY WAY benefit reproductive hormones or your egg / sperm quality.
- As your adrenals become more taxed, sleep patterns, energy levels, resilience to stress, mood, and other critical functions are disrupted.
- On top of this, your gut plays a critical role in the function of your nervous system. I won’t go into detail on how the Chinese Medical model outlined this relationship over 500 years ago, but they did know about it. Bottom line is that over 90% of your body’s serotonin is manufactured in your gut. Low or altered serotonin levels have been linked to poor sleep and clinical depression, among other things.
So, gut problems can lead to low energy, a toxic, overloaded liver, unstable blood sugar, low serotonin, brain fog, poor sleep…
And, all of the above can be potentially DEVASTATING to egg quality as well as the health of the uterine lining.
So, take proper care of your gut if you’re trying to get pregnant. It might just be the entire “explanation” for your “unexplained” infertility.