Over the last few weeks we have been exploring the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities, and their symptoms. Now, I want to move on to the effects food sensitivities and allergies can have on specific aspects of your health. This week, I will address fertility. When food sensitivities are present they cause inflammation that can occur anywhere in the body including in the reproductive system where it can cause unexplained infertility.
If you have missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can catch up on these:
Part 1: Food Allergy or Sensitivity – What’s The Difference?
Part 2: How Do I Know If My Child Has A Food Allergy?
Part 3: Back to School – 4 Steps to Keeping Your Allergic Child Safe
Part 4: The Problem with Wheat – Allergy, Sensitivity or Celiac?
Part 5: Why Going Dairy Free Is Such a Challenge & What to Avoid
Part 6: Food Sensitivities in Children: Why symptoms are so often missed
Part 7: What is the Biggest Cause of Food Sensitivities? Stress
There is nothing more stressful for a woman then not being able to get pregnant when she is ready to start her family. We spend years trying not to get pregnant and it can seem unfair if, the moment you want to get pregnant your body fails you. Why is this? And what can you do about it?
The reproductive system is a very delicate system that is regulated by hormones in a series of feedback loops between the pituitary gland in the brain and the ovaries and uterus. When this communication between the ovaries and the pituitary gland happens as it should the hormones estrogen and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) are produced in the right quantities and proportions, stimulating a follicle inside one of the ovaries to ripen an egg each month. Then, with an increase in luteinizing hormone (LH) the egg is released from the ovary and begins its journey down the fallopian tube and into the uterus. It is along this journey that a sperm can meet the egg and fertilization can occur. In addition to a healthy ripe egg there also needs to be a thick uterine lining for the fertilized egg to implant into and optimal cervical mucus to protect and feed the sperm on its long journey. If any of the factors involved in the process of ovulation, fertilization and implantation then infertility can occur.
There are many causes of infertility or menstrual cycle problems including: structural problems like fibroids or polyps; polycystic ovaries; low estrogen or progesterone; hypothyroid; stress and; autoimmune conditions. In my practice when I work with patients to optimize their fertility, I address all of these but, for the purpose of this article, I am going to discuss only the role of food sensitivities.
Healthy Bodies Make Healthy Babies
In the last article I discussed how stress can be a trigger for food sensitivities. Our bodies are “wired” to protect us during times of stress and, from an evolutionary perspective, if the body is stressed and unhealthy it is not a good time to conceive.
A healthy body is one of the first steps to improving fertility whether you are preparing your body for fertility or struggling with infertility, getting yourself into peak condition is the crucial starting point. Even if you have not yet started trying to get pregnant and you want to start prepping your body for fertility, addressing any underlying food sensitives will optimize your health and make conceiving that much simpler.
Symptoms of Food Sensitivities – a recap
Many people may be unaware that they have food sensitivities and you can read more about that in the previous articles in this series but, to summarize the common symptoms, here is a list:
Skin rashes and eczema
Post nasal drip and sinus problems
Muscle or joint pain
Attention Deficit or focus issues
Frequent ear infections
Menstrual cycle disorders / Infertility
Celiac disease deserves a quick mention as, although it produces a different autoimmune reaction against wheat and gluten containing grains, rye, oats & barley than IgG mediated food sensitivities, it can have the same effect on reducing fertility in both men and women. To find out more about Celiac you can read Part 4 of this series – The Problem with Wheat – Allergy, Sensitivity or Celiac?
Five Reasons Foods Sensitivities Cause Infertility
So why do foods reactions lead to difficulties getting pregnant? As I mentioned earlier, the female reproductive system requires a careful feedback loop from the pituitary gland in the brain to the ovaries and uterus. If there is a problem with any part of this process then fertility is affected. Here are five of the most common reasons food sensitivities can lead to infertility:
Chronic diarrhea is a common symptom of food reactions. It can affect the absorption of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and omega 3 fatty acids from the food we eat. Any of these nutrient deficiencies can affect the ovulation mechanism and lead to menstrual disorders and infertility.
Immune reactions against foods either from IgG delayed food sensitivities or from Celiac disease can cause an increase in the production of toxins and inflammation that can affect ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Specifically, the toxins can increase the hormone Elevated Prolactin has been associated with Celiac disease and gluten reactions.
Prolactin, the hormone normally produced while women are breast-feeding, inhibits ovulation. Prolactin has an effect on the pituitary gland and the production and FSH and LH, the two hormones that play a role in the growth and release of an egg from the ovary. Too much prolactin means you won’t ovulate – no ovulation means no egg; no egg means no pregnancy.
The chronic low level inflammation that occurs with food sensitives can, not only cause Leaky Gut, but has also been associated with damage to the fallopian tubes. The fallopian tubes play an important role in connecting the ovaries to the uterus and, if they are damaged, there is difficulty getting an egg to the uterus for fertilization or implantation into the uterine wall.
The cervical mucus the female body produces around ovulation plays an important role in fertility. Cervical mucus serves two roles. First, sperm cannot live in an acidic environment and the mucus provides a buffer that protects the vaginal Ph from becoming too acidic. Secondly, healthy mucus is rich in carbohydrate-based food that provides fuel for the sperm to help them make their long journey to the egg. When we have inflammation created from eating foods that we are reactive to, the quality and quantity of cervical mucus can be altered. This alteration in cervical mucus can play a role in our fertility.
Can Food Sensitivities Affect Male Fertility?
Yes. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can affect sperm production and shape (or morphology) as well. It is important to support both the male and female bodies when preparing for fertility. Celiac in males has, in particular, been shown to affect sperm shape. Sperm carry half of the DNA in order for a female egg to be fertilized. Healthy sperm play a crucial role in conception as well as risk for miscarriages.
Risks of Miscarriage
Food sensitivities can also increase the risk of miscarriage. If mom is low in nutrients due to poor absorption through her digestive system then the baby does not receive proper nutrition either and there is an increased risk of miscarriage. Celiac is also known to cause increased miscarriages due to an autoimmune reaction. This reaction is called antiphospholipid syndrome and occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks some of the normal proteins in your blood. Antiphospholipid syndrome can cause blood clots to form in the placenta affecting blood flow and the nutrients available to the developing baby. This reaction can lead to a miscarriage.
Food is the best medicine there is and is the best place to start with any health condition. Optimizing fertility and minimizing the risks of miscarriage can be achieved by finding out what your food sensitivities are and removing them from the diet.
If you are struggling with infertility or you would like to prepare your body for pregnancy and have symptoms of food sensitivities and would like to be tested you can find out more about my Food Sensitivity/Allergy program, by making an appointment today.
Next time, we will be looking at the role food sensitivities play in thyroid conditions. To be sure you don’t miss it, please subscribe to this blog using the subscription box on this page. Also, I welcome your comments, questions and stories – you can share them in the comments box below.