Since the 1950s, research has established that men, as well as women, suffer from infertility due to undiagnosed celiac disease. Many cases of unexplained infertility can be traced to celiac disease, and today researchers have concluded that the incidence of celiac disease in women who suffer with unexplained infertility is estimated to be between four and eight percent.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is both a disease of malabsorption, which means that nutrients are not absorbed into the body properly, and an abnormal intolerance for gluten. This disease damages the small intestine, which causes malabsorption problems. When a person with celiac disease ingests gluten, from either food or other products such as medicines, vitamins and even lip balm, their immune system reacts negatively. The villi, tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine, are damaged or destroyed by the immune system. Villi allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Malnourishment results from unhealthy villi. No matter how much good food a person eats, that person will remain under nourished until the villi become healthy.
Symptoms Can Be Misleading
The affects of celiac disease vary with the individuals. There are classic symptoms that include diarrhea, stomach pain, and weight loss and, in the case of young children, delayed growth. Other symptoms are less overt; such are bloating and excess gas. Misdiagnosis of anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, stress, or irritable bowel syndrome is commonly made because some of the symptoms of celiac are not usually associated with the gut. Fatigue, migraines, weakness, and joint pain can lead a doctor away from finding the culprit. Without treatment, celiac disease can cause osteoporosis (through the poor absorption of vitamin D and calcium), Type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, certain cancers, and infertility.
Research Supports Diet Change As The Only Treatment
Other effects of celiac disease on women, along with infertility, are early menopause, delayed menarche, and amenorrhea (the cessation of the menstrual cycle for short periods). All of these effects can be addressed successfully with a gluten-free diet. Two very large research studies, each enrolling women with celiac disease who were following a gluten-free diet or eating a gluten-containing diet, examined the effects of a gluten-free diet in treating celiac disease. The results, as expected, showed marked increase in incidents of early menopause in women on a gluten diet (four to five years earlier than women on a gluten-free diet), amenorrhea (39 percent higher in women not eating gluten-free) and delayed menarche of up to 1.5 years.
The Secret May Lie In A Fingertip
Researchers have found that women with infertility test positive for celiac disease antibodies at a rate of ten times higher than the normal population. A specific blood test measures IgA antibodies (associated with celiac disease) and is available from your health care professional. Perhaps, if you have had trouble conceiving and there is no apparent explanation, celiac disease is the reason.