Infertility and Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease and Infertility

In this article we look at the link between infertility and Celiac Disease. Numerous studies have indicated that celiac disease may be more common in people with unexplained infertility, and that treatment may help restore fertility. Celiac has been linked to recurrent miscarriage, premature babies, and low-birth-weight babies.


What’s gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It turns out that in approximately 1 out of 100 healthy Americans the immune system responds to the consumption of this protein by attacking the wall of the small intestine – harming its ability to absorb nutrients from food. An astonishing 97% of these people, however, do not even know they have this condition – called celiac disease. (1)


The Link Between Infertility and Celiac Disease

A lot! In fact, the University of Chicago says, “Any individual who has experienced persistent miscarriage or infertility where a medical cause could not be found needs to be tested for celiac disease.”(2) And they are not alone in their recommendation: The Wm. K. Warren Medical Research Center for Celiac Disease recommends 16 situations and/or conditions for which celiac should be considered, one of which is: “unexplained infertility or miscarriage” (3).

And although the probability of having celiac disease is around 1% for the average healthy American, the probability increases to 6% for women with unexplained infertility (1).


A Case of Infertility and Celiac Disease

infertility and celiac diseaseStacey Roberts from Sharkey’s Healing Center shared a case in her August 2008 newsletter that she had of a couple who had been trying to conceive for three years and received the diagnosis of unexplained infertility.

After one failed IVF cycle and a few months of herbs from the healing center with no success, the center recommend that the woman get tested for celiac disease since she had also mentioned having mild digestive problems (which did not respond to diet adjustments).

Her doctor was opposed to the idea, but did the tests anyway. The tests came back positive and after three months on a gluten-free diet the couple conceived and was in their second trimester when the newsletter was published.


Celiac Disease

Haven’t heard of celiac disease? This isn’t because it’s rare – it’s more common than Crohn’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease – combined (4). But this disease is not well known by the general public, or well understood by general practitioners, nor is it easy to diagnose: the average delay in diagnosis in the United States after the onset of symptoms is four years (1).

There are more than 200 signs and symptoms of celiac disease (2), but only 10% of patients have what are considered typical symptoms (5) and 41% of patients have no symptoms at all (1).

The Wm. K. Warren Medical Research Center for Celiac Disease at the University of California, San Diego states that the symptoms for celiac disease are varied, but may include any of the following (3):

  • Bloating, gas or abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Chronic fatigue and weakness
  • Indigestion
  • Itchy skin rash
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Irritability or behavior change
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Delayed growth
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Tingling or numbness in hands & feet


How is Celiac Disease Treated?

The treatment of celiac disease is a gluten-free diet for life. But experts strongly discourage going on a gluten-free diet until a firm diagnosis has been made since a gluten-free diet (even for just a month) makes a diagnosis difficult (6).


Is a Gluten-free Diet Everyone’s Solution?

No. Absolutely not. But since it’s not recognized well by doctors, it may be up to the patient to pay attention to their own signs and symptoms and suggest the testing.


Why am I so Interested in Infertility and Celiac Disease?

infertility and celiacI’ve been suffering from digestive issues for a while now. They include bloating, constipation, and blood in the stool. Unfortunately, I started a gluten-free diet before I being tested.

Gluten Challenge

If I wanted a definitive diagnosis now, after a gluten-free diet, I would have to do what is called a gluten challenge and eat gluten for 2-4 weeks before taking the tests.

If I have celiac disease, this would mean damaging my intestine to get a diagnosis. And not all patients can even test at the end of the four week challenge: some may have to wait years to relapse (7). I don’t have years in terms of fertility. So I’ve decided against going through this for a diagnosis.

Not Sticking to the Diet

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen off the gluten-free diet a bit. I’ve traveled a lot which leads to eating out, which leads to unintentionally ingesting gluten – if you’ve been on a gluten-free diet you know how easily this happens with gluten hiding in everything from spices, to pasta sauces, to grilled fish.

I’ve also been unknowingly including another food item that many experts think may not be safe – oats. I’ve had them almost every morning for breakfast.

Sticking with a Gluten Free Diet

I’m on a 100% gluten-free diet now though. For the last week I’ve strictly followed it – no eating out and no items with any questionable ingredients (it takes only ¼ gram of wheat to cause damage (8)).

The blood in my stool has completely disappeared and I haven’t had any spells of fatigue, nor found any sources that mention a link between gluten and blood in the stool, but I have tested it time and time again and for me it’s linked.

I haven’t been able to gain any weight, yet, but perhaps that’s coming. We’ll see how this 100% gluten-free diet goes. I do wish I had gotten a diagnosis first, though.

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