Fertility is popular topic among women, both nowadays and throughout history. Ancient civilizations have always observed a figure, goddess, or other deity that was said to be the one in control of fertility. People worshiped and offered sacrifices to these supposed fertility gods in order to be blessed with a child. I often wonder if women of ancient history struggled to become pregnant and maintain a pregnancy. Female reproduction is such a complex and delicate process that it wouldn’t surprise me if those women used remedies, prayers, and other interventions to increase their fertility, just as we do now.
Many things affect fertility, including nutrition, environment, hormones, genetics, and the immune system. The immune system is, in fact, a main player in ovulation, conception, and pregnancy. Surprisingly enough, inflammation can be a positive occurrence during the body’s preparation and maintenance of a pregnancy. A healthy female reproductive system relies on normal inflammatory processes to function properly. Keeping the immune system healthy and functioning well is important for optimal fertility and conception. The body is a holistic network of systems, closely knit together into one. When one area is functioning poorly, it may affect all other aspects of health. It is important to not only look at reproductive health but immune health, gut health, sleep, stress, and nutrition status when looking at fertility.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not intended as medical advice; please consult a qualified healthcare professional for any diet changes or questions about infertility.
The Immune System Involvement
Normal female reproduction includes ovulation, menstruation, implantation, and childbirth. These normal processes are dependent on a healthy immune system (2); in fact, they are all pro-inflammatory conditions, meaning the inflammatory cells and mediators in circulation are increased during these processes. During normal ovulation, the ovarian surface ruptures to release the egg, thus signaling an inflammatory process which includes inflammation (2). Inflammation is also involved in endometrial preparation, implantation, and creation of the placenta (2). After conception, even the embryo produces pro-inflammatory signals which cause the uterine wall to begin preparing for implantation (2). The level of normal inflammation in the body of a pregnant woman is so high that in the third trimester, the amount of inflammation in a healthy pregnant woman resembles a patient with an infection in their blood (1).
Inflammation is important for many factors of reproduction; however, it must be well regulated during these processes. Anti-inflammatory molecules produced by the body regulate and prevent excessive inflammation, which may lead to problems directly impacting fertility and conception (2). Excess inflammation is a possible cause of infertility affecting all components of reproduction (1). For example, frequent miscarriage may be linked to autoimmune defects and decreased pro-inflammatory signals in the endometrium (2), and excess inflammation plays a role in endometriosis and polycystic ovarian disease (1). In some cases, failure of implantation, placental issues, and miscarriage are believed to be related to disturbances of the immune system (1).
The immune system is an incredibly complex topic; however, keeping the immune system healthy may positively impact the chances of conceiving. How do we support the immune system? Establish good gut health, choose natural anti-inflammatory remedies instead of medications, control stress, get good sleep, and eat nutritious food.
Controlling Inflammation from Outside Sources
Although we are often taught to believe inflammation is all bad, it is necessary for healthy reproduction, as stated earlier. It is an unbalanced and out of control immune system which may result in problems with conception. The normal inflammatory processes must be under tight regulation and resolution for healthy conception and pregnancy (2). It is important to keep inflammation at bay when it arises from outside sources such as autoimmune disease, food allergies and sensitivities, chronic stress, poor gut health, or other environmental factors.
You should be working with a qualified healthcare professional if you believe you have excess inflammation in your body. I recommend working with a holistic nutritionist to pinpoint any food related inflammation and gut health problems you may be experiencing. Use natural anti-inflammatory remedies instead of drugs if you are trying to conceive, as drugs can decrease normal inflammation too much and may interfere with conception (2). Turmeric and chamomile are excellent choices for this purpose.
Eating for Gut Health
About 70% of the body’s immune cells reside in the gut (3), and as we learned earlier the immune system is closely related to fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth. This system is delicately balanced and complex because the bacteria living in the gut are capable of both inducing inflammation and preventing it (4). Poor gut health, chronic stress, and excess inflammation may all lead to a condition called leaky gut, which could further impact the immune system negatively (9).
Probiotics, a popular supplement of good bacteria, may help improve digestion, boost the immune system, and improve the balance of bacteria in the gut (8). To keep stable levels of probiotics in the gut, one must intake supplements and/or fermented foods daily (8). (Do remember to check with your healthcare professional before starting any new supplements or diet changes as this is not intended as medical advice.) A whole food, unprocessed, well balanced diet with an emphasis on proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats is a good place to start, but gut health can be complicated for many reasons and working with a holistic nutritionist to conquer any gut issues is a wise idea. Nutrition goes a long way in supporting the body’s natural processes and if pregnancy is in your future, now is the time to focus on preparing your body. A healthy gut and nutrition status means a healthy immune system, and that can only be a positive in regard to fertility.
Chronic stress can be detrimental to the body’s reproductive capabilities. Not only does it contribute to leaky gut, poor gut health, and contribute to systemic inflammation, stress also induces the release of hormones including cortisol which may negatively affect ovulation (5). It is important for many reasons including healthy fertility to control stress through whatever physical and emotional treatments are necessary.
Fertility, conception, and pregnancy and extraordinarily complex processes, with many factors involved that are far beyond the scope of this article. The female body is delicately controlled by numerous hormones than may be impacted by environmental triggers, poor health and nutrition, and genetics. If you are struggling with infertility it is important to work with a qualified professional who is able to help pinpoint the reasons. However, do not forget to address excess inflammation, gut health, and nutrition status in your conversations with them. A well balanced diet, controlled stress, and a healthy gut are important for not only fertility, but overall whole body wellness.
Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider before making any health changes, especially if you have a specific diagnosis or condition. The information on this site should not be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to be a consult with a healthcare provider or provide medical advice. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits from food or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease.
Emily is a Medical Laboratory Scientist gone stay at home mama who writes about simple, healthy living at crunchymamascience.com.