Brain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, acetylcholine, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), and serotonin are associated with sexual and reproductive function. The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis is the key neuroendocrine pathway linking the brain and nervous system with the reproductive system. At a time where we are in an ‘obesity epidemic’ it is interesting to note that excess adipose tissue results in increased conversion of testosterone to estradiol, which may lead to secondary hypogonadism (decrease in sperm or testosterone production) through reproductive axis suppression. Moreover, oxidative stress at the level of the testicular micro-environment may result in decreased spermatogenesis and sperm damage.
Diet, lifestyle and supplementation may significantly influence hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis through complex interactions. Nutrients such as essential fatty acids (EFAs) and specific amino acids may support the synthesis of important neurotransmitters. Whilst botanicals such as Rhodiola rosea may provide adaptogenic support, i.e. regulating stress hormones that underpin adrenal function and can influence reproductive hormone output. An amino acid, L-theanine, found in green tea, has been shown to influence the synthesis of GABA, which in turn is known to affect anxiety levels and induce relaxation.
On-going research into the gut-brain axis reveals a strong link between the GI environment, microflora, the brain, mood and behaviour. Candida, a yeast naturally occurring in the gut and vagina is normally kept in balance by other friendly bacteria, however imbalances can occur. Too many sugary foods, antibiotics and becoming run down or chronically stressed are often the main contributing factors to this imbalance. From a natural perspective, boosting your immune system is a great start. A good multivitamin and mineral can be very helpful supporting possible nutritional deficiencies. A probiotic supplement may also help restore gut flora imbalance and any associated GI symptoms. In clinical studies, two ingredients that have been found to be supportive in preventing the overgrowth of Candida are garlic, with its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, and zinc, a mild deficiency being implicated for women who suffer from recurrent thrush. To limit yeast overgrowth it is often recommended to restrict refined carbohydrates, refined sugar, and foods with a high yeast content or mould including mushrooms, alcohol and blue cheese. Optimising health within the GI environment possibly has the potential to influence health beyond digestive health towards both reproductive and systemic wellness.