Infertility has become a widespread problem in America, affecting 7.3 million couples throughout the country. A diagnosis of infertility is made after six months to a year of unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant. Women who suffer repeated miscarriages and stillbirths are also considered infertile.
Nearly one-third of all pregnancy losses are the results of undiagnosed, treatable diseases. Researchers determine that women who struggle with infertility are 2.5 to 3.5 times more likely to have celiac disease than women of average fertility.
Men are not exempt from the impact of celiac disease on fertility. A study of 41 men who were recently diagnosed with celiac disease had low hormone levels that improved dramatically once they removed gluten from their diets for several months.
Celiac Disease is Stealthy and Often Misdiagnosed
Current estimates show that nearly 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, but 95% remain undiagnosed. Those who have typical celiac disease suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, like bulky stool and constipation. But those who have the atypical form of celiac, which is also known as the silent form, are much more common. In these cases, other organ systems are affected by gluten antibodies. The cases of silent celiac disease outnumber typical celiac eight to one.
The average person who has undiagnosed celiac disease will visit five or more doctors before finally getting a proper diagnosis. From the onset of symptoms, this person will live with undiagnosed gluten intolerance for five to 11 years.
Common antibody and endoscopy tests that are used to diagnose celiac disease aren’t always successful. Recent studies have shown that these conventional tests are actually ineffective in recognizing celiac disease in most patients.
Other tests may be more effective in determining the presence of the disease. An increased number of white blood cells in an otherwise normal intestinal lining is a sign of a potential disorder. Also, certain genetic markers are often carried by those who have celiac.
How Celiac Disease Affects Fertility
Everyone with celiac disease lacks nutrients because of poor absorption due to intestinal damage. There are a wide range of absorption issues that depend on a number of factors. They all result in malnutrition, which can lead to weakened reproductive organs and an interruption of the pituitary gland’s hormone production.
Celiac Disease and Autoimmunity
Other autoimmune diseases occur 10 times more frequently in those who have celiac disease. This happens because antibodies mistake the body’s healthy tissue for gluten proteins. Normal cells are attacked and healthy organs are damaged, resulting in autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune Thyroid Disease and Miscarriage Risk
Celiac disease sufferers are three times more likely than the average person to have autoimmune thyroid disease. Those who have autoimmune thyroid disease have a significantly higher risk of miscarriage. Because antibodies that the body produces in order to fight gluten proteins can accidentally attack the thyroid gland, these autoimmune disorders tend to go hand in hand. Even those who have celiac disease and a normal thyroid have been found to be four times more likely to carry thyroid antibodies.
A Simple, Effective Prognosis and a Bright Future
Once they go on a gluten-free diet, women with celiac disease drastically lower their risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and lactation issues that are prevalent in those who go undiagnosed. Poor outcomes are changed for the better after a gluten-free diet is established.
Extensive research on celiac disease and infertility has been done over the past several decades, determining that celiac disease has adverse effects on pregnancy and fertility. Testing for gluten intolerance could prevent miscarriages, stillbirths, and costly fertility treatments.
If you are struggling with unexplained infertility, talk to your doctor about testing for celiac disease. A switch to a gluten-free diet may improve your health and result in a successful pregnancy.
Bast, Alice, Tom O’Bryan, and Elizabeth Bast. “Celiac Disease and Reproductive Health.” Practical Gastroenterology 5th ser. Oct (2009): 10-21. Print.