Editor’s Note: The malabsorption resulting from undiagnosed and untreated celiac disease has been well documented in research, but is still little known among physicians. The medical reference Recognizing Celiac Disease contains over 16 pages of reproductive disorders and lists the nutritional deficiencies that cause each.
In a recent New York Times article, Can Foods Contribute To Infertility?, Dr. Sheila Crowe, a professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology in the department of medicine at the University of Virginia, brings to light a lesser-known contributor to infertility in both men and women: Celiac disease autoimmunity (CDA). Celiac disease, and even gluten allergies, that go undiagnosed are known to be responsible for many people’s inability to conceive. These couples may also be at risk for other complications like pre-term births, growth retardation, and miscarriage.
Dr. Crowe writes, “Women with celiac disease are reported to start having periods later and stop menstruating earlier than average. They also suffer more often from secondary amenorrhea, a condition in which menses start but then stop. Together, these menstrual disorders lead to fewer ovulations, which results in less of a chance to get pregnant. Hormonal factors and poor nutrition are thought to play a role in causing these problems.” Such nutritional factors are important to consider — the gut of a person with untreated gluten intolerance is often unable to absorb nutrients, due to damaged and blunted villi (which can be confirmed via intestinal biopsy). If a woman’s gut is not acquiring enough nutrition for her own body, she will not also be able to support and nourish a growing fetus.
Male fertility problems are often under-recognized, but in men, gluten intolerance can equate to abnormal sperm, which includes lower sperm numbers, altered shape, and even reduced function. Additionally, men with untreated CDA may have lowered testosterone levels.
Also according to Dr. Crowe, if a woman with untreated Celiac disease (or, even a gluten allergy) is able to conceive, her chances of miscarriage are increased, as well as pre-term labor. Fetal growth retardation is also a risk.
In order to increase your odds of conceiving and birthing a healthy baby, eliminate food allergens — gluten being one of the most common in the United States.