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Is Poor Gut Health Leading to Infertility?
We as a human race may become infertile. No, this isn’t Chicken Little yelling that the “Sky is falling.” Infertility among western men has doubled in the last 40 years, with the infertility rate steadily increasing 1.4% each year. Women are not impervious to this drop as well, as 11% of women within reproductive age are infertile, These statistics may be alarming but it doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom.
Our recent research on this complex issue found a strong correlation between gut microbes and chronic inflammation with men’s health and women’s health. Let’s take a look at what is causing this probable impending crisis and how poor gut health may have something to do with this uptick in unexplained infertility cases.
What is Causing This Increase in Infertility?
In order to fix this problem, we need to get to the bottom as to why these changes are happening in the first place. Let’s take a look at when the decline in fertility started happening. It was just as the Industrial Revolution began its boom.
Let’s face it, we are living the high life of convenience, and it may be at a detriment to the future of our species. In order for the supplies to reach the demands (and for businesses to make a top profit), a lot of shortcuts were taken.
We’ve been given a false narrative that mass-produced foods are cornerstones in healthy diets. Fast food joints started frying low-quality meat in partially hydrogenated oils with saturated fatty acids. Artificial sugars and preservatives were used in place of natural flavors to extend the shelf life of foods, as well as the profits of manufacturers and stores.
A lot of these shortcuts have come with severe ramifications to our digestive health. These issues have evolved as our diets got worse. Infertility and gut bacteria diversity alike started to decrease in human bodies across the globe.
Our over-reliance on plastic products has caused a major environmental and health crisis. Research shows that Bisphenol-A (BPA) and other parabens mimic estrogen 3. These synthetic molecules can leach into water in bottled water.
In turn, we acclimate the BPA into our gastrointestinal tract. Our microbes confuse these particles for estrogen. This confusion can cause problems for both men’s health and women’s health.
For men, they might not produce enough testosterone, have less potent sperm, or a lack of interest in sex. Estrogen dominance in women can cause thyroid dysfunction. Women also become more susceptible to strokes and blood clots.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Gut health and infertility have a strong link. That’s because our gut bacteria play a significant role in regulating the endocrine system. When we consume genetically modified organisms (GMOs), these inorganic molecules interact with our organic stomach flora. Since our gut microbiota don’t recognize these microorganisms, it might trigger an immune response.
A meta-analysis of the impact GMOs have on fertility rates found,
“The results of most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects and may alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters 4.”
This meta-analysis also concluded that there is a link between GMOs and increased insulin growth factor (IGF-1) in the human system. High levels of IGF-1 are common for people who are diagnosed with endometriosis 5.
This condition causes unpleasant digestive issues for people because it involves abnormal and inflamed tissue in the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, gut lining, and small intestine. As you’d expect, endometriosis is strongly linked to infertility.
Meats and Dairy Treated with Hormones and Antibiotics
Animal agriculture requires animals to reproduce continually. They need calves to remain pregnant, so they always produce milk. Plus, their babies are used for beef, veal, and other red meat products. The only way to keep this cycle going is through hormones.
Red meat isn’t the only industry that implements hormones in their feed. Pigs, chickens, and many other animal-based products use these farming techniques. Also, hormones aren’t limited to females. Males are given growth hormones to produce more meat.
These hormones live in meat that gets broken down in the digestive tract and small intestine. Animal hormones then enter the bloodstream, like other nutrients in our food.
One meta-analysis looking at these practices also noted that antibiotics are regularly used, too 6. Antibiotics stop cow udders from bleeding into milk as machines milk them and keep chickens from spreading diseases to one another. Unfortunately, these antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistance and destroy healthy gut bacteria.
Pesticides in Produce
Even the “healthier foods,” like fruits and vegetables, can be contributing to our infertility issues. The majority of farmed produce is grown with the use of pesticide.
In vitro studies and in vivo animal studies have confirmed various pesticides can influence:
- Hormone Synthesis
- Hormone Release and Storage
- Hormone Transport and Clearance
- Hormone Receptor Recognition and Binding
- Hormone Postreceptor Activation
- Thyroid Function
- Central Nervous System
Pesticides can affect gut health and hormone production every step of the way 7. They can disrupt our digestive system, immune system, and metabolic functions. In turn, our moods, sex drive, and fertility are negatively impacted.
Side Effects of Medications
We noted how antibiotics could impede on the gut biome and cause issues with conception. However, other medications can also have long-term side effects that include trouble with pregnancy.
One study looked at medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and how long-term use can impact sperm production 8.
An in-depth analysis of over 1,000 common prescription labels found that 65 common drugs impact sperm production. The most common side effect was epididymitis. Epididymitis is when the tube carrying sperm becomes inflamed. Therefore, the sperm might not be viable by the time they reach the eggs.
While 65 out of 1,000 sounds like a small number, millions of people are on these prescriptions. Plus, 65 out of 1,000 medicines is a 6% rate. 6% is in between the estimated 10% to 15% infertility rate.
If nature didn’t sweeten it up naturally, look the other way. Artificial sweeteners are not friendly for pregnant women with gestational diabetes, and they’re not ideal for women trying to conceive.
While different artificial sweeteners affect the system differently, they all seem to cause poor quality eggs 9. These concerns are heightened for those who participate in an embryo transfer during the final stages of in vitro fertilization.
Artificial sweeteners not only impact women’s health and reproductive technologies. They might also adversely influence male reproductive organs, too. Embryos need genetic information from male sperm cells. If these cells are carrying inorganic messages, the embryo might miss out on pertinent information necessary for the growth into a fetus.
Synthetic Food Coloring
Starting to notice a trend here? Your diet plays a vital role in the ability to conceive, just as it has a significant impact on a healthy gut microbiome.
As parents, we pass our DNA onto children. However, artificial food coloring might harm that DNA, which can make it more challenging to procreate.
One study involving pregnant mice tested DNA throughout their digestive tracts after being administered three different artificial red dyes 10.
Results found DNA damage in:
- Glandular Stomach
The study did note that organs outside of the digestive tract and the embryo didn’t get DNA damage from the experiment. However, these issues can definitely complicate the chance of a future pregnancy.
Not to mention, the new baby will inherit some of the unhealthy qualities of the parent caused by long-term dye consumption. That’s why studies suggest artificial dyes can cause mental health red flags in children.
Estrogenic FoodsSome foods are rich in plant compounds known as phytoestrogens. Just as phytocannabinoids in CBD syrup mimic our endocannabinoids, phytoestrogens mimic our estrogen. When we consume too many of these foods, it might disrupt our natural hormone production process.
Foods high in estrogen include:
- Garbanzo Beans
- Dried Fruit
Consume fattier foods with higher levels of protein to offset high estrogen levels. Combine them with nitric oxide-rich foods like beets, dark chocolate, and leafy greens to improve blood flow to the nether regions.
We live in a world that’s always connected, especially following the rise of Covid-19. That means Bluetooth, wi-fi, and other microwaves are continually coming into contact with us.
Unfortunately, too much screen time can impact the futures of our family lineages. One study looked at the growing dependence on cell phones over the last 20 years and a rise in male infertility rates 11.
- 1 McKie, Robin. “The Infertility Crisis Is beyond Doubt. Now Scientists Must Find the Cause.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 July 2017, www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/29/infertility-crisis-sperm-counts-halved.
- 2 Office of Communications. “How Common Is Infertility?” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Feb. 2018, www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo/common.
- 3 Huo, X., Chen, D., He, Y., Zhu, W., Zhou, W., & Zhang, J. (2015). Bisphenol-A and Female Infertility: A Possible Role of Gene-Environment Interactions. International journal of environmental research and public health, 12(9), 11101–11116. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph120911101.
- 4 Dona, A., & Arvanitoyannis, I. S. (2009). Health risks of genetically modified foods. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 49(2), 164–175. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408390701855993.
- 5 J.S.L. Cunha‐Filho, N.A. Lemos, F.M. Freitas, K. Kiefer, M. Faller, E.P. Passos, Insulin‐like growth factor (IGF)‐1 and IGF binding protein‐1 and ‐3 in the follicular fluid of infertile patients with endometriosis, Human Reproduction, Volume 18, Issue 2, February 2003, Pages 423–428, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deg077.
- 6 Jeong, Sang-Hee, et al. “Risk Assessment of Growth Hormones and Antimicrobial Residues in Meat.” Toxicological Research, The Korean Society of Toxicology, Dec. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3834504/.
- 7 Bretveld, R. W., Thomas, C. M., Scheepers, P. T., Zielhuis, G. A., & Roeleveld, N. (2006). Pesticide exposure: the hormonal function of the female reproductive system disrupted?. Reproductive biology and endocrinology : RB&E, 4, 30. https://doi.org/10.1186/1477-7827-4-30.
- 8 Ding, J., Shang, X., Zhang, Z., Jing, H., Shao, J., Fei, Q., Rayburn, E. R., & Li, H. (2017). FDA-approved medications that impair human spermatogenesis. Oncotarget, 8(6), 10714–10725. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.12956.
- 9 “Expert Reaction to Poster Presentation (Unpublished Work) on Artificial Sweeteners and Fertility from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Meeting.” Science Media Centre, 17 Oct. 2016, www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-poster-presentation-unpublished-work-on-artificial-sweeteners-and-fertility-from-the-american-society-for-reproductive-medicine-asrm-meeting/.
- 10 Tsuda, S., Murakami, M., Matsusaka, N., Kano, K., Taniguchi, K., & Sasaki, Y. F. (2001). DNA damage induced by red food dyes orally administered to pregnant and male mice. Toxicological sciences : an official journal of the Society of Toxicology, 61(1), 92–99. https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/61.1.92.
- 11 Gorpinchenko, I., Nikitin, O., Banyra, O., & Shulyak, A. (2014). The influence of direct mobile phone radiation on sperm quality. Central European journal of urology, 67(1), 65–71. https://doi.org/10.5173/ceju.2014.01.art14.
- 12 Maryann Kwa, Claudia S. Plottel, Martin J. Blaser, Sylvia Adams, The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor–Positive Female Breast Cancer, JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 108, Issue 8, August 2016, djw029, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djw029.
- 13 Lee, H. K., Lee, J. K., & Cho, B. (2013). The role of androgen in the adipose tissue of males. The world journal of men’s health, 31(2), 136–140. https://doi.org/10.5534/wjmh.2013.31.2.136.
- 14 “Overweight & Obesity Statistics.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Aug. 2017, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity.
- 15 “Bacterial Vaginosis and Fertility.” American Pregnancy Association, 20 Aug. 2020, americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/bacterial-vaginosis-and-fertility-68826.