Celiac Disease and Infertility

7 years ago

The New York Times recently had a blog post asking if foods can contribute to infertility and pregnancy loss. For once, it was a food article with some actual teeth in regard to infertility, especially after the ice cream diet proposed a few years ago (just eat some Rocky Road and you, too, can get pregnant!). With more being learned about celiac disease, its connection to fertility is becoming clearer.

What is known at this point is that women with untreated celiac disease are more likely to experience infertility or pregnancy loss. Dr. Shelia Crowe states: "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." Irregular cycles can add to the difficulty of getting pregnant. Celiac disease can also cause abnormal growth conditions for the fetus, sometimes causing miscarriage and other times causing preterm labor.

So what are the symptoms of celiac disease, how does one go about being tested, and how does one treat it?

According to the Mayo Clinic, if one has celiac disease "and eat foods containing gluten, an immune reaction occurs in your small intestine, causing damage to the surface of your small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients." Symptoms range from abdominal discomfort such as diarrhea and bloating to more general symptoms such as fatigue and joint pain. Celiac disease is first checked for with a blood test and then secondly with a biopsy.

The way celiac disease is treated is to avoid all gluten -- which is easier said than done. It's not enough to skip out on the birthday cake or breakfast-meeting croissants. Minuscule amounts of gluten can be found in so many products and often aren't clearly labeled. The Celiac Disease Foundation has helpful guides for reading labels as well as companies that create truly gluten-free products.

After 10 failed IVF cycles, Waiting in Sunshine has finally moved from unexplained infertility to a diagnosis -- celiac disease. It's bittersweet to finally have an answer after so much loss, but now she can embark on a treatment plan. She writes of her diagnosis, "It is a multi-system disease that makes your immune system run a muck and presents in a multitude of ways, making it difficult to diagnose on the surface. Hence the gold standard of diagnosing is checking the small intestine for the typical damage, and taking biopsies. Hey -- come on gals, this is nada compared to the endometrial biopsies we’ve done where there are actual nerves in the uterus and we receive zero pain medication!"

Fierce and Nerdy went wheat-free this past fall even without being diagnosed with celiac disease. She writes, "Wheat hasn’t been in our house or my tummy for about three months now, and I’m feeling fine. It hasn’t been easy because I love beers, breads and baking." The Expectant Duck is also dropping gluten without the diagnosis:

Seeing as though I do have the majority of the symptoms, and the only treatment is quitting gluten I am *trying* to quit gluten. But it’s not easy. I am not some sorta carb-a-holic but there is something about no gluten that my body seems to be trying to fight. I dream of bread, hot rich sourdough bread straight from the bakery. But, I must say the days in a row I am strong and do manage to avoid gluten I feel so very much better.

Spreading the word via the media and getting tested if you have symptoms of celiac disease can help with infertility, especially when 1 in 133 people have celiac disease but 97% are undiagnosed.


Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

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