Apparently, the answer is yes. Recent research has shown that women who have celiac disease are much more likely to have trouble getting pregnant than women who are not gluten sensitive.
Celiac disease is a genetic disorder in which gluten, the main protein found in wheat, is not properly processed. It causes an autoimmune reaction in the body leading to ulceration and inflammation in the gut. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas, bloating and fatigue. A person with celiac disease may be asymptomatic or may have very severe symptoms. Although wheat is the main offender, gluten is also found in rye, barley and oats.
The reaction the body forms to gluten causes the lining of the small intestine to atrophy. This problematic because this is the portion of the digestive tract that is most responsible for absorbing nutrients. If you cannot absorb nutrients your body cannot thrive.
Women with untreated celiac disease are more likely to have problems getting pregnant. They also will have higher incidences of miscarriage and premature births. Believe it or not, men will also have issues with fertility if they have celiac disease. There are also other problems associated with untreated celiac disease for women. Dr. Sheila Crowe, a professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology in the department of medicine at the University of Virginia lists the following problems.
- Later onset of menstruation
- Earlier menopause
- Secondary amenorrhea (a condition in which menses starts but then stops)
These menstrual problems cause a woman to ovulate less which results in a smaller chance of getting pregnant. Men may also have trouble with fertility as mentioned above.
- Abnormal sperm (reduced sperm count, altered shape, and reduced function)
- Reduced testosterone levels
Dr. Crowe recommends that if you and your partner are having trouble getting pregnant, you should both be screened to see if celiac plays a role. Remember, you may not have symptoms and still have celiac disease. The test is a relatively simple blood test. Be sure to continue to eat gluten throughout because if you go gluten free before the blood test it may not show up. If the blood test comes back positive, a tissue biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. The pathologist will look at the cellular lining of the small intestine to confirm that there is in fact atrophy.
Treatment for celiac is relatively simple. Avoid gluten. This is becoming more and more common place and grocery store chains are starting to carry more foods that are gluten free. A simple diet change is enough to solve this problem.
Low Carb is Still the Way to Go
A large portion of carbohydrate products are made from grain. The most common grain used is wheat and wheat contains large amounts of gluten. I am huge proponent of low carbohydrate diets for overall health. While celiac disease might cause auto-immune reactions that disrupt fertility, obesity is also a known risk factor for infertility. Women who are obese are 43% less likely to conceive a child than normal weight or even overweight people. If you think about this in terms of evolution it makes sense. A woman who is obese is less likely to survive child birth because of the strain it puts on the body. It is not unreasonable to assume that the lower rates of pregnancy in obese women is some sort of protective measure, evolutionarily speaking.
Research has shown that low carbohydrate diets are more effective for losing weight and improving measurable health outcomes over the traditional low fat diet. See our old post. If you are having trouble conceiving a child and you are significantly overweight you should try losing weight and possibly think about getting tested for celiac disease. These are efforts you should undertake before considering fertility treatments.