I am going to lay it unequivocally on the line here: If you are struggling to get pregnant, then I believe you need to avoid gluten.
Many doctors don’t recognize that gluten might be a factor in infertility for reasons including improper nutrient absorption, negative immune system response, related inflammation and hormone imbalance. It seems to me that before you take a woman down the road of expensive and invasive fertility treatments (IVF conservatively costs between $12,000 to $15,000 a cycle), it is worthwhile for her and her partner to give the gluten-free lifestyle a try. Its holistic benefits may be just what the doctor ordered!
There have been several studies done on males and females with celiac disease (a widespread autoimmune disorder tied to gluten). However, there is not yet evidence that avoiding gluten would help people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. That is because, “The research on non-celiac gluten sensitivity is 10 to 20 years behind research on celiac disease,” says Alice Bast, founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. “When we better understand why women with celiac disease suffer from infertility and pregnancy-related problems, it may shed light on non-celiac gluten sensitivity.”
A research team led by Stephanie M. Moleski, MD, of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia, found that women with biopsy-proven celiac disease had significantly high rates of infertility and pregnancy complications, and gave birth to less children than those without this disease. Women with celiacs also had more consultations with fertility specialists and higher rates of miscarriages, preterm delivery, and cesarean sections.
A separate study showed that gluten sensitivity can contribute to infertility and other obstetrical and gynecological problems. The author of the study actually recommends that gluten sensitivity should be screened for women presenting with reproductive disorders.
In short, research has linked untreated celiac disease with the following:
- Absence of periods
- Early menopause
- Intrauterine growth restriction
- Low birth-weight babies
- Cesarean section
What’s Happening Physically?
Researchers believe that in people with celiac or gluten-sensitivity, gluten’s effect may be indirect in that it damages the lining of the intestines and in turn reduces absorption of essential nutrients from food which are critical components for reproductive health. Without proper food absorption, nutrition hormones may not function as they should, which can cause irregular periods and/or ovulation. Nutrient deficiencies can impact the ability of a woman to conceive and may also impact the health of a fetus (e.g. low birth weight). This nutrient deficiency — whether this is due to gluten sensitivity or just plain lack of real nutrient dense food in your diet — is a likely cause of infertility. In addition, the gluten itself may trigger an undesirable immune response creating a cascade of hormonal and system wide issues further impeding fertility.
Going Gluten Free Might Benefit Your Partner’s Fertility Too
Research has also shown that there may be a link between a higher rate of abnormal sperm and hormone levels in men with celiac disease. Another study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Research, looked at the prevalence of celiac disease among couples with unexplained fertility. The researchers found signs of celiacs twice as often in the infertile group as they did in the control group, both in men and women. They recommended that those infertile men and women with celiac disease follow the gluten-free diet in an effort to improve their fertility.
Getting Tested for Celiac Disease
If you are going to have yourself or your partner tested for celiacs, it is strongly recommended that you get tested before going off gluten. If you avoid gluten prior to the test, you may not have enough antibodies for the test to be accurate. Celiac disease can be tested for with a blood test which is relatively accurate as long as you have been consuming gluten regularly in the month or so before the test day. Keep in mind, many women are sensitive to gluten, but do not have an autoimmune reaction to gluten, which makes testing and diagnosis even more tricky.
Where to Start
Going gluten-free doesn’t mean you can go to the store and start eating gluten-free cookies and donuts. It means committing to eating a plant-based, whole food diet with gluten-free grains. Take a look at these vegan and gluten-free recipes.
Want to ask Amy a question? Leave a question in the comment section below!
Learn how to make popular gluten-free dishes on The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
PCOS Diva.com is an online resource for women with PCOS which embraces a holistic approach to healing and thriving. As the founder of PCOS Diva, Amy Medling, CHC has worked with thousands of women, teaching them how to make sustainable lifestyle changes, which in turn positively impacts their health and lessens PCOS symptoms. “PCOS Divas” are able to take back control of their bodies and regain their fertility, femininity, health and happiness. Check out her Seasonal Meal Plans, PCOS 101 guide and 7-day lifestyle coaching Jumpstart program. For more about PCOS Diva, Amy’s philosophy and PCOS Diva’s programs, check out the About section of the website.
J Clin Gastroenterol. 2004 Aug;38(7):567-74. Gynecologic and obstetric findings related to nutritional status and adherence to a gluten-free diet in Brazilian patients with celiac disease. Kotze LM.
Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2001 Jun;96(2):146-9. Coeliac disease and reproductive disorders: a neglected association. Rostami K, Steegers EA, Wong WY, Braat DD, Steegers-Theunissen RP.
Menopause. 2011 Oct;18(10):1125-30. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3182188421. From menarche to menopause: the fertile life span of celiac women. Santonicola A, Iovino P, Cappello C, Capone P, Andreozzi P, Ciacci C.
Gut. 1982 Jul;23(7):608-14. Male gonadal function in coeliac disease: 1. Sexual dysfunction, infertility, and semen quality. Farthing MJ, Edwards CR, Rees LH, Dawson AM.
JObstet Gynaecol Res. 2011 Oct;37(10):1308-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0756.2010.01518.x. Epub 2011 May 11 Fertility disorder associated with celiac disease in males and females: fact or fiction? Khoshbaten M, Rostami Nejad M, Farzady L, Sharifi N, Hashemi SH, Rostami K.
“World Journal of Gastroenterology”; Reproductive Changes Associated with Celiac Disease; Hugh James Freeman; December 2010