Going Gluten-Free Helps Couples Conceive

by Teresa J. Mitchell

Gluten-Free Diet for Getting PregnantIf you have celiac disease, a type of protein called gluten can cause problems. Gluten, found in grains like wheat, spelt, triticale, kamut, rye and barley, triggers an immune system reaction. Could going gluten-free help you get pregnant?

Undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can lead to seemingly unrelated problems including diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, short stature, abdominal pain, bloating, anorexia and constipation.

Now, a link between gluten sensitivity and fertility is beginning to get recognition. Many researchers and observant medical professionals believe undiagnosed or latent celiac disease might also be a major cause of unexplained fertility in men and women.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an immune disorder that primarily affects the gastrointestinal tract. It is diagnosed with a blood test, a biopsy of the intestine and improvement of symptoms on a gluten-free diet.

The classifications include the following:

  • Classic celiac disease: Both symptoms and testing indicate celiac disease.
  • Silent celiac disease: refers to people without symptoms but who have postive blood test and intestional villus atrophy.
  • Latent celiac disease is defined by a positive blood tests, but no intestinal damage and no symptoms.
  • Potential celiac disease: refers to individuals with no indication in biopsy or blood, but who have symptoms.

Gluten-Sensitive Women and Fertility

Women with celiac disease face higher rates of infertility and more pregnancy complications. These can include unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarrages, higher stillbirth rate and intrauterine growth retardation.

Recently, a team, lead by Dr. Kumar, of Maulana Azad Medical College & Lok Nayak Hospital in New Delhi, has looked at celiac antibodies in women with unexplained fertility, recurrent miscarriage, stillbirth or intrauterine growth restriction. These women About 300 of the 893 study participants had normal obstetric histories.

Researchers found celiac antibodies were nearly five times more likely to be present in the blood or women with unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriage and stillbirth compared to women without complications. In women with IUGR, antibodies were nearly eight times more likely to show up.

The team concluded that women experiencing unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriage, stillbirths or IUGR should considered testing for celiac disease. Spotting the celiac disease and treating it with a gluten free diet may reduce these associated risks.

Gluten-Sensitive Men and Fertility

While Men with undiagnosed celiac disease seem to have much higher rates of abnormal sperm, along with abnormal hormonal levels. One study found that more than 19 percent of married celiac men had infertile marriages.

Semen analysis found problems with their sperm's structure and ability to move around. The sperm characteristics improved once the men adopted a gluten-free diet. They also found that hormone levels returned to normal after the men started the gluten-free diet.

It's possible that celiac men who previously had been infertile can become fertile once they start a gluten-free diet. More research is needed in this area.

Going Gluten-Free

Some couples say that they're parents today because they chose to skip the gluten. If you're contemplating going gluten-free, you'll have to dive right in and remove all gluten from your diet. Here is a simple primer on how to get started making gluten-free, fertility-friendly food choices.

Not all gluten-free foods are healthy or fertility promoting. Many contain white rice flour, refined corn starch and other nutrient depleted foods. Your gluten-free diet should nourish your fertility, not simply replace gluten with a bunch of processed gluten-free foods.

Instead, up your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and good quality proteins. Consider an egg and vegetable omelette with a whole-grain corn tortilla instead of wheat toast and egg. Replace cereal and milk with whole grain oatmeal and fruit. Complement your meals with some of the ancient and gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat.

You're well on your way to a healthy and fertility-boosting diet. Once you've got a baby on the way, your gluten-free diet ensures that your baby gets all the nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development.

Medical references:
- Kumar A et al. (December 14, 2010) "Latent celiac disease in reproductive performance of women." Fertility and Sterility; 16(46):5810-4. Accessed April 12, 2012.
- Stazi, AV et al. (June 2004) "Celiac disease and its endocrine and nutritional implications on male reproduction." Minerva Med. 2004:243-54. Accessed April 12, 2012.