Gluten Intolerance

University of Virginia's Dr. Sheila Crowe, a professor in the department of medicine's gastroenterology and hepatology divisions has been working to inform the public of the links between celiac disease and infertility. The digestive disorder is often overlooked as a cause of infertility. The disease damages the small intestine when the sufferer is unable to digest the proteins in wheat, rye, or barley. Millions of people have this inability to digest gluten, but the symptoms vary so widely that many are simply unaware they have a problem.

Root Cause

Crowe states that infertility is more common among women with untreated celiac disease. She bases her contention on several studies on the topic that have been performed in many countries. Celiac is not just a cause of infertility, but is often also the root cause of other gynecological and obstetrical problems such as preterm births and even miscarriages. Men with untreated celiac disease also sometimes face fertility issues related to their inability to digest gluten. For years, the disease was not recognized as a cause of these problems. Now, celiac is receiving wider attention as having a major impact on the burgeoning rates of fertility, worldwide.

Women with celiac are known to begin menstruating at a later age, and cease menstruating earlier than the average age for menopause. Female celiac sufferers are also more at risk for secondary amenorrhea, or the sudden absence of the menstrual period. Such menstrual disorders, of course, lead to fewer chances for ovulation, which in turn results in fewer chances of conception. Poor nutrition and hormonal imbalances are also said to have a role in these ovulatory problems.

In men, celiac-related fertility problems include lowered sperm counts, sperm that function in a substandard manner, or that have altered shapes. Those men who suffer from untreated celiac may also have lowered levels of testosterone.

Feeling Lousy

When celiac is undiagnosed and untreated, the sufferers tend to feel pretty lousy. This may affect the frequency with which a couple has sexual intercourse, a crucial factor in natural conception. One Italian study discovered that couples had sex less often when one partner was actively suffering from celiac disease in comparison with couples in which the partner with celiac was undergoing effective treatment.

Even when a woman with active celiac does manage to conceive, there are celiac-related dangers that can threaten the pregnancy, for instance miscarriages or intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). There may be preterm delivery, which can result in a smaller baby, too.  While these problems can occur in any pregnancy, they are far more common in women with untreated celiac. Women with repeated miscarriages or those with unexplained fertility should be screened for celiac disease, which is done through antibody testing.  

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