by Dr. Denise Ingrando – Family Chiropractor
Recent research studies demonstrate there may be a link between gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other foods) and infertility. According the National Institute of Health, nearly two million people in the United States alone suffer from Celiac disease, the condition that inhibits the body from properly digesting gluten, while an additional 30 million Americans suffer from intolerance to gluten (1). This intolerance has been known to cause stomach distress and an array of other symptoms. Celiac disease, which is considered an autoimmune condition, causes the body to attack the healthy tissues in the digestive tract when exposed to gluten, causing damage and preventing the absorption of nutrients.
So what does this have to do with infertility? A review of literature from a Medline search “reveals that patients with untreated celiac disease sustain a significantly delayed menarche, earlier menopause, and increased prevalence of secondary amenorrhea” (10). All of these can affect normal reproductive cycles by causing changes in hormones as well as ovulation, and limit the length of time fertility can be established. If left untreated, patients with celiac disease can incur higher rates of miscarriage, fetal growth restriction, preterm birth and low birth weight, since the mother, and therefore the fetus, is unable to absorb the vitamins and minerals needed to support vital growth and development (3,4,6,9).
Women are not the only ones whose fertility may be affected by gluten intolerance. Dr. Shelia Crowe, a medical doctor and a professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Virginia explains, “For men, problems can include abnormal sperm – such as lower sperm numbers, altered shape, and reduced function. Men with untreated celiac disease may also have lower testosterone levels.” She continues to add, “Of course, for both men and women, how often a couple has intercourse affects fertility. If someone feels lousy from untreated celiac disease, infrequent sexual activity may be contributing to the problem. One study from Italy suggests that sexual relations occurred less often when one partner had active celiac disease compared with couples in which the partner’s celiac disease was being treated” (3,2).
The good news about celiac disease is that patients can be tested and easily treated for it. To get tested your medical doctor will order a blood test called the tissue transglutaminase (TTG or IgA test) to see if your body is producing antibodies to the gluten. To confirm a diagnosis s/he then may decide to order a biopsy. With a biopsy, a small portion of your intestinal tissue is removed and evaluated for celiac-related damage (2,7,8). Treatment includes avoiding and removing foods from the diet that contain gluten. For support, details, and more information, check out www.celiac.com and www.celiaccenter.org.
Although gluten may play a significant role in fertility issues, it is not the only cause. If you are having problems conceiving, suffer repeated miscarriages, or have other reproductive health issues, please consult your medical doctor for evaluation. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant or are having fertility issues, co-treatment with a chiropractor who is trained in gentle techniques for mother and baby may also be beneficial. Chiropractic is a wonderful health care modality that safely and precisely aligns your spine. This allows important messages from your brain to travel down your spinal cord and lets all your organs – including reproductive organs – receive the messages they need to function at 100%. Healing Hands Chiropractic has two chiropractors on staff who are trained in working with pregnant women, as well as an acupuncturist, massage therapist, reiki practitioner, yoga teacher and childbirth educator – all of whom specialize in pregnancy and fertility issues. Please call our office at 603-434-3456 or book an appointment online to see if one of our services can benefit you.
10. Gynecol Obstet Invest 2001;51:3-7