Digestive Enzymes, Probiotics and Fertility

foods good for fertility

Digestive enzymes, probiotics and fertility- how are these connected?

Why do I want to upgrade a fertility diet that has done such amazing things for my body so far – like shorten my menstrual cycles, increase my energy, eliminate my acne and regulate my digestive system?

Because it seems like there’s still a piece of the puzzle missing.


Something is Not Quite Right

My cycles are still too long (at 36 days), I have a few days of spotting before my period each month, my luteal phase is short (at around 10 days), I still have an occasional bout of fatigue, and my hands and feet are extremely dry and cracked.

And for the last, more information than you wanted, observation: my stool sometimes looks very undigested. Why am I not totally digesting my food? It’s normal to see certain food in your stool, like corn (which is a good way to test the transient time of your digestive tract), but I can see all kinds of veggies. OK, I’ll stop with the ‘too much information’.


But How can I Improve My Digestion?

I turned to the books on my shelf that harbor a wealth of information. Expecting to be immersed in them for weeks to find out how to improve my digestion, I spotted a new book that I’ve been meaning to crack open for weeks: Diets for Healthy Healing.

With only a half-hour before I planned on heading to bed, I thought I’d just flip through the chapters to get a start on what the topics were. An hour-and-a-half later, I was still glued to the book.

I love when a crystal clear picture emerges.

It hit me that two of the five things the author recommended for improving digestion were missing from my diet: probiotic bacteria and digestive enzymes.


Digestive Enzymes, Probiotics and Fertility

Probiotic Bacteria

probiotics and fertilityProbiotic bacteria are the friendly bacteria that live in our digestive systems. They are vital to our health and well being and are responsible for breaking down our food, manufacturing many vitamins like the B-complex vitamins and producing antibiotics that prevent colonization of the harmful bacteria.

And it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that probiotic bacteria could affect our fertility: indirectly through proper digestion and directly since these bacteria break down and rebuild hormones such as estrogen.

Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are also critically important to our bodies. They’re found throughout our digestive system and are responsible for breaking down food to make the nutrients available to our bodies.

Our bodies produce digestive enzymes, however, enzymes are also found in certain foods.

Without enzymes our bodies can become depleted and we suffer from gas, indigestion, bloating, discomfort, undigested food in our stools, undigested fat in our stools and food sensitivities.


What Do the Experts Say About Enzymes, Probiotics and Fertility?

The funny thing is that probiotic bacteria and digestive enzymes aren’t new to me. I’ve come across them before as an essential part of a healing diet.

Clinical Nutritionalist, Elizabeth Lipski, emphasizes the importance of both in her book, Digestive Wellness; Jordan Rubin presents both as vital components to his amazing recovering from Crohn’s Disease in his book, The Maker’s Diet; and naturopath Linda Page has been using them successfully with her patients and presents this in her book, Diets for Healthy Healing.

The thing is though, neither probiotics nor enzymes are highlighted as important components to a healthy diet in scientifically based nutritional books, like Eat, Drink and Be Healthy from Harvard Medical School researcher, Dr. Walter Willett.

This is why I never added them. The hard science is still outstanding.

But the reality of nutrition is that we do not understand everything – not even close.

Dr. Willett even says in the book, Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, “It will be decades before we have identified all of the complex compounds in food and even longer before we truly understand how they interact with one another and what they do in our bodies”.


Taking Action

So, I’ve decided not to wait a few decades before I upgrade my fertility diet to include foods in my diet with probiotic bacteria and digestive enzymes. There’s enough evidence and – interestingly – fermented foods, which contain probiotics and enzymes, have long been recognized as an integral part of a healthy diet, like Miso in Japan, Lassi drinks in India, Kimchi in Asia and sauerkraut in Europe.

Most importantly, I’ve come across nothing to say that adding probiotics and enzymes in their natural form can in any way be harmful (nor did I find anything about them being harmful in supplemental form  – but I’m going to start al natural).

The bottom line is that I’m interested in healing myself… and as the saying goes, “The one who heals, is the one who’s right”.


Digestive Enzymes, Probiotics and Fertility Conclusion

In my upcoming blogs you’ll find me writing about which foods naturally contain probiotic bacteria and digestive enzymes, what exactly they do in the body, and how I’ll be adding them to my diet. I’ll also be writing about the effect this diet upgrade is (or is not having) on my system. Let’s see what happens…

Probiotics and Fertility Part 1

fertility probiotics

In this post I’ll be covering probiotics and fertility- that is, the little beneficial critters that live in our gut!

Life is returning to normal, so I’m back to upgrading my fertility diet. I mentioned in my blog, Digestive Enzymes, Probiotics and Fertility, that I’ll be adding two critical – and missing – components to my fertility diet: probiotic bacteria and enzymes.


What are Probiotic Bacteria?

Probiotic bacteria are the friendly bacteria that live in our digestive systems. Doctors and nutritionists agree that these bacteria are one of the most important aspects to our overall health and well being.

Dr. McDougall refers to them in his book, Digestive Tune-up, as “so important to our health and survival that they should be thought of as a vital organ”. In her book, Allergies, by Carolee Bateson-Koch writes that the cultivation of these bacteria “can mean the difference between radiant health and chronic debilitating conditions”.


Benefits of Probiotic Bacteria

probiotics and fertilityIt’s not a surprise that these little inhibitors are so important to us given the slew of responsibilities they have. Just to name a few of these responsibilities of probiotic bacteria:

  • Break down our food
  • Manufacture vitamins like biotin, niacin, folic acid and B-6
  • Increase the absorption of minerals
  • Normalize bowel transit time
  • Produce antibiotics that prevent colonization of the harmful bacteria

A Micro-biome of Life in Our Digestive Tract

Interestingly, this micro flora isn’t just a few bacteria scattered throughout our digestive tract. Trillions of bacteria inhabit our digestive system. The bacteria weigh a total of about four pounds and account for half of the volume of the contents of our large intestine.

Where Does Our Gut Biome Come From?

These bacteria begin to colonize our bodies at birth; finding their way into our system through the air we breathe, the breast milk we drink and the things we put in our mouths.

We need to continuously replenish these bacteria, though, as many don’t set up camp permanently. They regularly exit our digestive systems – making up over half of the dry weight of feces – many of which are still living (if you who weren’t grossed out enough).


What Destroys Probiotics and Fertility?

Excretion isn’t the only factor affecting the bacteria balance in our gut. Bacterial infections, hormones, antibiotics (which kill the good and the bad bacteria), high stress levels, steroid drugs, excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, and a number of other factors can throw the beneficial bacteria out of balance.


Symptoms of Improper Balance of Probiotic Bacteria

This improper balance of flora can cause the following symptoms:

  • Acne
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Ear infection
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Intestinal symptoms
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low back pain
  • Nervousness
  • Rashes

So, probiotic bacteria are important to our health but what do they have to do with fertility?


Probiotics and Fertility- Can it Help?

There don’t seem to be any studies yet that directly link probiotic bacteria to fertility, but there are two aspects that make it very likely that these bacteria play a role.

  1. Probiotic bacteria influence our hormones. They break down and rebuild, for example, hormones such as estrogen. Knowing that an imbalance of estrogen can make getting pregnant harder it seems quite likely that a healthy bacteria balance will create a more fertile body.
  2. Probiotic bacteria manufacture important vitamins like biotin, niacin, folic acid and B-6. And not that it’s a surprise, but a recent study shows that vitamins may play an important role in getting pregnant (not to mention that folic acid is important for a healthy baby – reducing the chances of having a baby with neural tube defects).

Probiotics and Fertility Diet Part 2

fertility foods

If you haven’t read part 1 of this blog yet, you might want to start there (it covers the basics and the potential connection to fertility): Probiotics and Fertility Diet Part 1.

Otherwise more on those critters in our gut…

Probiotics and Fertility- An Unbalanced Vaginal Microbiome

Research has found a connection between the microbiome and fertility and how probiotics improve fertility. The abnormal vaginal microbiota has been found to negatively impact the birth rate.


Probiotics and Fertility DietA Danish study of 130 women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), researchers found that those who had abnormal vaginal microbiota had a harder time getting pregnant.

Of the 84 patients who completed IVF treatment, 29 were able to get pregnant. Only 9% of those who had abnormal vaginal microbiota obtained a clinical pregnancy, whilst 44% of the women with normal microbiota bacteria were able to get pregnant.

A Philadelphian study of 1,950 women found that a diagnosis of a common infection (bacterial vaginosis) in the first trimester more than doubled the risk of spontaneous pregnancy loss in the next trimester. It also found that the low levels of the Lactobacillus bacteria in the first trimester also significantly increased the risk of pregnancy loss.

A BJOG Publication Study with over 700 pregnant women, found that those with abnormal vaginal flora – specifically those lacking lactobacilli bacteria – were 75% more likely to have a preterm birth. Also, the risk of miscarriage was significantly increased.

Create a Healthy Digestive System with Probiotic Bacteria

The importance of probiotic bacteria in our bodies is uncontested, but how, and to what extent, we can influence this delicate balance is still being researched.

The research results are very encouraging though. Many experts recommend we ‘cultivate the garden within’ for a healthy body by adopting the right diet, reducing stress, avoiding antibiotics whenever possible, and in some cases supplementing with probiotics and prebiotics.

Foods that Contain Probiotic Bacteria and Prebiotics

We may be able to influence the balance of bacteria in our bodies with food in two ways: by eating foods that contain the good bacteria and by eating the types of food that good bacteria feed off of (prebiotics).

Choose Carefully: not all traditionally fermented foods contain these helpful bacteria. Industrialization of fermentation has lead to efficiency in production and more consistent tasting products, however, it ruins some of the healthful benefits by killing the probiotic bacteria. Pasteurizing, for example, effectively kills all the healthful bacteria.

Foods that naturally contain probiotic bacteria are cultured/fermented foods.

Foods with Probiotic Bacteria

  • Raw Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Cottage cheese
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Tofu
  • Miso
  • Tamari sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Tempeh
  • Pickles (made with brine not vinegar)
  • Pickled ginger
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Vinegar

Interestingly, cultured foods have long been recognized as an integral part of a healthy diet like Miso in Japan, Lassi drinks in India, Kimchi in Asia and sauerkraut in Europe – just to name a few.

The second way to boost probiotic bacteria is to eat foods that provide prebiotics. Two well documented prebiotics are FOS and inulin, which are naturally occurring carbohydrates found in the following foods.

Fertility Boosting FoodsFoods that Contain Prebiotics

  • Asparagus
  • Chicory
  • Chinese chive
  • Burdock root
  • Eggplant
  • Fruit (especially bananas)
  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Soybeans
  • Sugar maple
  • Tomatoes

Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements are high doses of specific strains of beneficial bacteria in an easy to take form (liquid, power, or capsule). Initial studies are encouraging and suggest that probiotic supplements can be used to treat various health issues.

Numerous doctors, naturopaths and nutritionists recommend probiotics for this reason, however, the extent of the claims being made has not yet been rigorously proven through research.

Elizabeth Lipski, author of Digestive Wellness, recommends that already healthy people can maintain their healthy bacteria by eating cultured foods, but says supplements are necessary when disease producing microbes have colonized.

Dr. Haas makes a similar recommendation in his book, Staying Healthy with Nutrition, by recommending probiotics for use after a course of antibiotics or to treat yeast overgrowth, otherwise, he says, “I recommend them for one to two weeks once or twice a year…”.

It’s important to note that probiotics do not all have the same quality.

Some guidelines for choosing probiotics are:

  • Probiotics requiring refrigeration at the store and at home tend to be the best
  • Accompanying probiotics with prebiotics may be more effective since this provides food for the bacteria once they they enter your digestive system
  • Probiotics that include several strains are helpful

Elizabeth Lipski also emphasizes in her book, Digestive Wellness the following tips:

  • Different combinations will work for different people and to a greater or lesser effect.
  • You’ll have to experiment with different brands and see which are most helpful.
  • Remember to begin with a small dosage and increase slowly. You are changing your gut ecology and you want to do it gradually.

Another important aspect to taking probiotics that Elizabeth Lipski points out is that it’s not necessarily a bad sign if the supplements cause a sudden bloating, diarrhea, gas, or worsening of symptoms. She explains that, as the bad bacteria and fungus die, they release chemicals that aggravate symptoms. If this happens, she recommends beginning again and building up slowly.

Naturopath Linda Page suggests that probiotic supplements are not for everyone because each person’s digestive system is highly individual. She recommends getting probiotic bacteria from food and by supplementing with prebiotics.

The good side to this new dietary supplement is that probiotics have no toxic effects and the American Cancer Society addresses the safety of one of the more popular probiotics strains, Lactobacillus acidophilus, by stating that; except in rare cases acidophilus is safe.

Probiotics and Fertility Conclusion

Although, I haven’t covered them in detail here prebiotics are also available in supplemental form.

For my next blog I’ll be writing about how I’m getting probiotics and prebiotics, how my body likes/dislikes them along with a list of some helpful resources. Until then, happy bacteria consumption.