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Male Fertility & Gut Health – what’s the connection?

A man suffering from gut issues

There is plenty of evidence showing that diet and lifestyle can impact male fertility, but did you know that your gut plays a key role in sperm health?


Your gastrointestinal tract runs from your mouth down to your anus and includes all the organs of the digestive system. When we talk about having a healthy gut, we are referring to the health of the upper and lower intestinal tract.


Not only does a healthy gut mean the absence of gastrointestinal illnesses and conditions, such as reflux, inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and coeliac disease but also effective digestion and absorption and a healthy gut microbiota (the trillions of bacteria that reside in the gut).


Why does gut health affect other areas of the body?

Our gut is far more complex than we may have originally thought. Our gut influences every system in our body. It contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain function, how you think and feel, sleep, digestion, how you make and excrete hormones, skin conditions and your fertility. So, if your gut is not functioning effectively then it can have an impact on other body systems including your sperm health.


How gut health impacts male fertility

There are many ways in which your gut could be impacting your fertility. For example, if you are not digesting your food effectively you may not be absorbing the key nutrients need for making healthy sperm and hormones. Disrupted gut bacteria (known as dysbiosis) is associated with increased inflammation in the body which can lead to oxidative stress and DNA sperm damage.


Studies have also shown that disrupted gut bacteria is associated with inflammation of the scrotum resulting in impaired sperm production and maturation. There is also a connection between gut health and libido. Environmental toxins, known as hormone disrupting chemicals, can create a hormone imbalance in the body leading to reduced testosterone production and sexual desire.


How to tell if your gut health is compromised

There are several symptoms associated with poor gut health including:

·       Bloating

·       Flatulence

·       Belching

·       Stomach pain

·       Reflux

·       Constipation

·       Diarrhoea


But if you do not have any gut symptoms this does not necessarily mean that your gut is healthy. Here are some non-gut associated symptoms to look out for:

·       Allergies (food and seasonal)

·       Frequent colds, feeling run down

·       Food cravings

·       Headaches or migraines

·       Brain fog

·       Skin issues i.e., eczema, psoriasis

·       Fatigue

·       Unexplained infertility

·       Erectile dysfunction


Factors that affect gut health

So, what could be contributing to an unhealthy gut and compromising your fertility? Poor diet can certainly play a role. A diet high in processed foods and added sugar can encourage the growth of unfavourable gut microbes and increase inflammation in the body leading to oxidative stress. Being overweight or obese can have a negative impact on our gut bacteria. A diet high in unhealthy fats can cause the microbes that affect fat storage to change and become more efficient at storing fat.


Not only is alcohol not good for sperm health it can also inhibit our digestive enzymes which makes it harder to digest our food and release nutrients from it. Poorly digested food can ferment in the gut leading to bloating, gas, and loose stools.


Stress can also impact gut health. When we are stressed, our body does not prioritise digestion or fertility, so these processes are put on a back burner making it difficult to absorb the nutrients we need to support our fertility. Smoking depletes our body of nutrients especially vitamin C, which is essential for sperm health. Smoking can also increase the risk of heart burn, ulcers, and other gut conditions.


Supporting gut & sperm health

The good news is there is plenty that can be done from a diet and lifestyle perspective to support gut and sperm health. Here are some suggestions:


Food preparation – Digestion begins even before you eat. Anticipating, smelling, cooking, and enjoying food helps us salivate which triggers the release of the chemicals (enzymes) that will break down our food. If you can prepare you own food or get involved in the food preparation this will help to start your digestive processes.


Chewing - Chewing your food to baby food consistency, breaks down food and allows chemicals to act on it. We don't have teeth in our stomach so it's important we do the chewing work before we swallow our food!


Mindful eating - Eating your meals sat down at a table, concentrating and being mindful whilst eating helps your body to divert its efforts to digestion.

 

Fibre rich foods - Fibre, particularly from vegetables and fruit, and fermented foods, encourages the growth of good bacteria i.e. kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables.


Keep hydrated - drinking plenty of water is important to aid digestion and help us absorb the nutrients from food. But limit fluids whist eating, as drinking water during mealtimes can dilute your digestive juices.

 

Minimise snacking – it is important to give your digestive system a rest in between meals. If we are constantly grazing and snacking our gut does not get a chance to rest and repair.

 

Stress management - Practice stress management techniques so that you are eating in a relaxed state. If we eat on the move or when stressed, our body will not prioritise digestion. Try taking a few deep breaths before you start eating to relax your body.

 

Supplements – supplementation can also be helpful to support digestive health. Digestive enzymes can help to break your food down and pre and probiotic supplements can be a useful addition. It is always important to work with a certified practitioner in this area as there are many different types and brands of supplements on the market, so it is essential to get advice on the right supplements for you.


If you would like some help to support your fertility, contact me to find out about my 3 month Signature 1:1 Fertility Programme;  Nourishing Conception. Book your free Fertility Review to find out how I can help you.


Julia Young Nutrition T: 0771 589 0894 info@juliayoungnutrition.com www.juliayoungnutrition.com


Disclaimer: Nutritional Therapy is not a replacement for medical advice, practitioners always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical professional. The information provided here is general and is not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any diseases or conditions.

 

Source: Ding N., Zhang X., Zhang XD. et al. Impairment of spermatogenesis and sperm motility by the high-fat diet-induced dysbiosis of gut microbes. Gut. 2020

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