Celiac Disease - Covert Infertility

Infertility is heartbreaking for couples who want to have a baby and find they are unable to fulfill this desire. Fertility treatments cause a loss of time, money, and sometimes hope, and also contribute to a disappointed and depressed mindset. What the medical profession is discovering is that "unexplained infertility" may be explained after all. It could well be that one of the partners is suffering with Celiac Disease and it has gone undiagnosed.

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a digestive disease that prevents the body from properly digesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), in a 2004 report, estimated that as many as one in every 133 American have it with as many as 30 million people suffering with sub-clinical gluten intolerance (positive blood test, negative biopsy). That means that there is a very real possibility someone you know has this disease. However, since it presents in so many different ways it is often misdiagnosed or mistreated.

An autoimmune disease, much like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease requires a genetic predisposition plus an environmental factor to trigger it. Gluten is the environmental factor in the case of celiac disease and it triggers an autoimmune response that provokes the body to attack itself, destroying healthy tissues, especially in the bowel. Consequently the ability to absorb and process nutrients is affected. The common symptoms of celiac disease include chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, acid reflux, and now you can add infertility to the list. It doesn't take much gluten to trigger a response.

How Celiac Disease Affects Fertility

Infertility due to gluten intolerance can affect both men and women and studies have shown that fertility problems are more common in women with the disease than in women without it. Miscarriage risks and preterm births are higher for those with celiac disease. There are menstrual disorders that often affect women with celiac disease that include late onset of menstruation, early menopause, and secondary amenorrhea - menses starts and then stops. These abnormalities along with the hormonal issues that result from them can lead to fewer ovulations, reducing the chance of conceiving. Men who have undiagnosed celiac disease also face fertility issues. Abnormal sperm and reduced testosterone levels are common in men with this disease. Until now, the average time it took for a diagnosis has been about 11 years!

A Change In Diet May Be All You Need

The good news in all of this is that infertility can be successfully treated with a gluten-free diet. While it is not a panacea for celiac sufferers, totally abstaining from gluten has had remarkable results in men and women who have lived with the unhappy effects of this disease.

Researchers have studied the effect of a gluten-free diet in pregnant women with celiac disease in a bid to determine the impact upon the developing baby and the pregnancy outcome. In a study of 25 patients and 60 pregnancies, researchers found that 21% of women who were not on a gluten-free diet experienced pregnancy loss, and 16% of women experienced fetal growth restriction (FGR).

A Danish study of 211 infants and 127 mothers with celiac disease revealed that the mean birth weight of children born to mothers on a gluten diet was significantly lower than babies born to mothers without the disease. Interestingly, in the same study, babies born to mothers who were on a gluten-free diet weighed more than those born to mothers without the disease.

Success Can Be Yours

In a study of women with celiac disease who had had more than one pregnancy, researchers wanted to determine the effect of a gluten-free diet upon future pregnancies. The outcome was that the inclusion of a gluten-free diet caused a 35.6% drop in pregnancy loss, 29.4% drop in low birth weight babies and an increase of nearly three months for breastfeeding.

The bottom line is that unexplained infertility may be caused by celiac disease - and it may be helped with a gluten-free diet.


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