Nurture Your Microbes to Fuel Your Fertility

Written by Clare Carrick ANutr (BHSc)

Scientifically reviewed by Dr Fathalla Ali, PHD Paediatrics

18/05/2022

We never think it will happen to us.

We spend our 20s being paranoid about periods that show up one day late or sore boobs that threaten an unplanned pregnancy…We’re absolutely certain that that one, random, unprotected night has led to pregnancy… but then our period arrives… ‘Phew…we dodged a bullet’, we think…

So, it’s understandably difficult to fathom that pregnancy doesn’t always happen on the first try when we decide that we do, in fact, want a baby…

 

School Sex Ed 

If you were born before the turn of the century, you most likely had some version of school Sex Ed that focused on avoiding pregnancy and STDs…yep, pregnancy and STDs got lumped into the same discussion of ‘Things to avoid’! Yes, you probably learnt how pregnancy happens, but were you taught how to nurture a healthy pregnancy? That your fertility will decline after a certain age? That miscarriage is more common than you can imagine? That your diet and lifestyle can impact your fertility?

 

Treat Your Microbes With Respect

Although the gut microbiome is by far the most ‘famous’, it’s not only the microbiome in our gut we should be paying attention to before trying to fall pregnant…We are the host to trillions of tiny microbes who hang out (hopefully harmoniously!) in several nooks and crannies, including our vagina, uterine cavity, seminal fluid, amniotic fluid, and placenta…all of which have their own unique set of bugs, and play their own roles in us getting pregnant (1). 

 

Gut Set for Success

There are loads of factors that come into play in regards to fertility. Some, like our genetics, can’t be changed, but others, like our diet and lifestyle, are more modifiable, and can have a significant impact on successful conception (1). Our diet and lifestyle plays a key role in the composition of our gut microbiome, a big influence on pregnancy outcome (1). An unhealthy diet consisting of high levels of refined carbs, trans fats, and added sugars, can cause an imbalance in the gut microbiome, meaning the less beneficial bacteria overrun the more beneficial bacteria, and this negatively impacts fertility (2). In contrast, a Mediterranean-style Diet, characterised by high intakes of fibre from plants, omega 3 fatty acids from seafood, vegetable protein, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals, has a positive influence on fertility (2). The moral of the story – don’t neglect your gut bugs in your baby preparation!

 

The Harmonious Vagina

Our vaginal microbiome is ever-dynamic, affected by age, medication, hormones, lifestyle, and diet (3). There is evidence that a nutrient-dense diet, with adequate folate, vitamin A, and calcium, a low glycemic index, and lower fat intake, can reduce the risk of bacterial vaginosis, a condition associated with increased infertility (3, 4, 5). 

A diet high in betaine, found in wheat bran, seafood, and spinach, has been shown to increase the levels of Lactobacillus in the vaginal microbiome (6). A vaginal microbiome dominated by Lactobacillus is considered a crucial player in fertility, and is associated with better chances of a successful pregnancy (3, 7). 

 

Seminal Semen

Men are absolutely not off-the-hook when it comes to prepping for pregnancy success (8). Healthy semen is indicated by a Lactobacillus-dominated semen microbiome, and this can, again, be influenced by diet and lifestyle (8). A healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, offers key nutrients that will help boost the quality of sperm, and the chances of a successful conception (9)

 

Can’t I Just Do it With a Pill?

Probiotic supplements may offer an easy way for us to manipulate the composition of our various microbiomes and counteract any imbalances that may contribute to infertility (1, 3). They are generally considered safe for use, but the key word here is ‘supplement’ – a probiotic will not override a poor diet and should be used alongside a healthy and balanced diet to best support fertility (3). 

 

Knowledge is Power

In our current system, there is little education focusing on how to look after our bodies to give ourselves the best chance for a successful conception and pregnancy. For anyone who has experienced the gut-wrenching pain of negative pregnancy tests over-and-over again, it is ludicrous to think that, although the science is out there, this kind of knowledge is not readily available in mainstream healthcare. Knowledge, and the subsequent preparation that this knowledge gives, really is power. 

References

  1. Schoenmakers S, Steegers-Theunissen R, Faas M. The matter of the reproductive microbiome. Obstetric medicine. 2019 Sep;12(3):107-15. 
  2. Skoracka K, Ratajczak AE, Rychter AM, Dobrowolska A, Krela-Kaźmierczak I. Female Fertility and the Nutritional Approach: The Most Essential Aspects. Advances in Nutrition. 2021 Nov;12(6):2372-86.
  3. Lehtoranta L, Ala-Jaakkola R, Laitila A, Maukonen J. Healthy Vaginal Microbiota and Influence of Probiotics Across the Female Life Span. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2022 Jan 1;13.
  4. Thoma ME, Klebanoff MA, Rovner AJ, Nansel TR, Neggers Y, Andrews WW, Schwebke JR. Bacterial vaginosis is associated with variation in dietary indices. The Journal of nutrition. 2011 Sep 1;141(9):1698-704. 
  5. Neggers YH, Nansel TR, Andrews WW, Schwebke JR, Yu KF, Goldenberg RL, Klebanoff MA. Dietary intake of selected nutrients affects bacterial vaginosis in women. The Journal of nutrition. 2007 Sep 1;137(9):2128-33. 
  6. Tuddenham S, Ghanem KG, Caulfield LE, Rovner AJ, Robinson C, Shivakoti R, Miller R, Burke A, Murphy C, Ravel J, Brotman RM. Associations between dietary micronutrient intake and molecular-Bacterial Vaginosis. Reproductive health. 2019 Dec;16(1):1-8. 
  7. Hyman RW, Herndon CN, Jiang H, Palm C, Fukushima M, Bernstein D, Vo KC, Zelenko Z, Davis RW, Giudice LC. The dynamics of the vaginal microbiome during infertility therapy with in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer. Journal of assisted reproduction and genetics. 2012 Feb;29(2):105-15. 
  8. Weng, S. L., Chiu, C. M., Lin, F. M., Huang, W. C., Liang, C., Yang, T., Yang, T. L., Liu, C. Y., Wu, W. Y., Chang, Y. A., Chang, T. H., & Huang, H. D. (2014). Bacterial communities in semen from men of infertile couples: metagenomic sequencing reveals relationships of seminal microbiota to semen quality. PloS one9(10), e110152. 
  9. Skoracka K, Eder P, Łykowska-Szuber L, Dobrowolska A, Krela-Kaźmierczak I. Diet and nutritional factors in male (in) fertility—underestimated factors. Journal of clinical medicine. 2020 May;9(5):1400.

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