When you think of fertility and reproductive health, often the first thought is about hormone imbalances. In functional medicine work, we look for root causes whenever possible. Hormonal imbalances are important—no question about that—but often they are a downstream effect of something else that is happening in the body.
To show you what I mean, here are the top three places where I look for root causes of fertility or reproductive concerns. I call these game changers, because I have seen again and again with patients that improving your health in these areas corresponds with improvement in fertility.
The human body is very resilient, and sometimes all it takes is a shift in the right direction for the body to rebalance and heal.
Here are the main areas I think are crucial to work with for any fertility patient:
Gut health and fertility
Gut health determines how well we process food into nutrients that our bodies can use.
The gut microbiome affects the reproductive microbiomes—did you know there is a vaginal microbiome, an ovarian microbiome, even a placental microbiome. All of these are colonies of microorganisms, mainly bacteria. This is a fascinating and complex subject…in general, it’s important to have more beneficial bacteria than disease-causing bacteria. These “good guys” can crowd out the “bad guys.”
The bacteria in the gut can travel to these other microbiomes through proximity or by way of the bloodstream, and the gut seems to be the most influential.
Blood flow to the reproductive organs, and healthy circulation in general
Blood brings nutrients, hormones and oxygen to the ovaries and uterus. Blood flow helps with immune system defense. The blood carries out harmful waste products, toxins and excess hormones from the cells so they can be processed by the liver and cleansed from the body. Good blood flow keeps the body at the correct temperature for healthy fertility and helps with implantation.
In my practice, I often work with regulating the menstrual cycle, and I ask my patients to look for signs of healthy menstrual blood flow. Menstrual flow is a combination of endometrial lining cells mixed with some circulatory system blood from the uterine arteries, and it is another sign we can use to evaluate health.
Stress and immune system health affects fertility
The human body will try to prioritize staying safe over getting pregnant. I discuss with patients the importance of helping your body feel safe and well-nourished. This doesn’t mean living in a bubble and removing all stress—it just means doing what you can to reduce stress and recover from stressful situations.
I also like to mention to patients that the stress-busting solutions you read about in magazines such as taking a hot bath by candlelight aren’t for everyone. Most women need a combination of active stress relievers, such as exercise or some good laughter with friends along with peaceful techniques such as taking a relaxing evening walk.
Stress can have an important and profound impact on reproductive hormones. I’ll be writing another full blog post about this—and how it relates to balancing yin and yang.
Stress also affects immune function. The immune system is so interesting because on the one hand it needs to screen out pathogens and neutralize them to keep us safe. On the other hand, the immune system has to allow for the presence of the baby and keep the baby safe until it can be born.
The bottom line is that fertility is always related to the overall health of the body. It’s worth taking the time to go back to the basics of gut health, healthy circulation and stress response, especially if you have fertility challenges or if you are planning to become pregnant in the future.
It’s a new year! Ask me about how we can work together with functional medicine GI testing and Chinese herbal medicine to reach your health goals. Contact me for a free 15-minute consultation to see if this type of treatment is a good fit for your situation.
- Here’s an interesting article about the vaginal microbiome and how it is linked to fertility and women’s health:
- This is a link to a short article discussing the impact of stress on reproductive hormones:
- Check out this short article about the amazing immune system and pregnancy: