The problem is Celiac's disease - an allergy to wheat, rye and barley that some experts say is responsible for up to half of all cases of unexplained infertility and may even cause recurrent miscarriage.. Here's what you need to know . . . By Colette Bouchez
If you and your partner are one of millions of couples worldwide grappling with a diagnosis of “unexplained Infertility” then you already know how frustrating this condition can be. While doctors are quick to pinpoint that “something “ is wrong - they seldom can tell you what, or what can specifically help you to get pregnant.
Now, however, a growing body of evidence has begun to shed light on a new diagnosis of unexplained infertility – and one that just might put you on the fast track to conception.
The problem is Celiac disease – otherwise known as a “gluten “ allergy. While once thought to be a rare, inherited genetic condition, it is now been believed to affect over 2 million people in the United State alone – and many more may be undiagnosed.
“Approximately 3 million suffer needlessly, undiagnosed with this condition – most never realizing that a change in diet could change their life ”, said Alice Bast, Executive Director of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in a recent interview.
Of those couples affected by unexplained infertility, experts say that for almost half, gluten allergy may be the cause or a significant contributing factor.
And while for some the symptoms are easy to recognize (including a history of gastrointestinal upsets, diarrhea, gas and bloating) for many others signs are much more vague making the condition much harder to recognize. Indeed, problems can be as diverse as headaches, joint pain, “brain fog”, fatigue, loss of energy, irregular menstrual cycles, anemia, and in many instances, unexplained infertility.
Indeed, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports that on average it can take 10 years -or sometimes more – for people to get the correct diagnosis.
Understanding The Link Between Celiac disease & Infertility In order to absorb nutrients from food, your intestines come equipped with tiny hair-like projections called villi. Think of these as tiny pond-fronds moving back and forth, helping to pull the nutrients from foods and send them into your blood stream.
In those who have Celiac disease, eating products rich in gluten (a type of protein commonly found in rye, wheat and barley) ignites an immunologic firestorm that causes the body to produce toxins. It is these toxins that damage the villi, causing them to lie flat. When this happens nutrients are not properly absorbed – including those from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as vitamins and minerals and in some cases even water and bile salts.
But that's not the only problem that occurs. Increasingly research suggests these same toxins create body-wide inflammation capable of affecting your health from head to toe – including your fertility.
* Currently, researchers at Molinette Hospital in Turin Italy report that early findings of a study of women with Celiac disease indicate the rate of “unexplained infertility could be as much as 3.5% higher than in the general population. They also suggest Celiac disease increases the risk of miscarriage and low birth weight babies.
* In another study doctors from Tampere University Hospital and Medical School at the University of Tampere, in Finland found that the rate of celiac disease among women reporting infertility was 4.1%.
* In a study conducted by physicians at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia doctors found that the rate of recurring pregnancy loss is four times higher in women with Celiac disease.
Moreover, in a meta- analysis study conducted jointly by doctors at the Technion School of Medicine in Haifa, Israel and St. Luke's Roosevelt Medical Center in New York City, doctors concluded that not only is there a strong association between Celiac disease and infertility, it also remains a condition continually overlooked by many obstetricians and even fertility doctors. How Gluten Allergy Affects Fertility
While it may be easy to see how a gluten allergy could impact your stomach health, the links to fertility as well as miscarriage are a bit less obvious.
Many doctors believe the immune responses linked to Celiac disease and gluten intolerance - including the production of toxins - have a detrimental affect on the menstrual cycle and disrupt ovulation. How does this occur?
Celiac expert Dr. Alex Shikhman believes it may be through the increased production of a hormone known as prolactin.
“ Studies show that when women allergic to gluten eat this protein, it typically causes an upswing in the production of prolactin,” says Shikhman, director of the Institute for Specialized Medicine in Del Mar, California.
Produced by the pituitary gland, and secreted in small amounts in both men and women, prolactin is the hormone that naturally increases during pregnancy in order to help prepare your body for breastfeeding. But it also does something else: In high amounts prolactin can turn off production of brain chemicals linked to both egg production and release. These include FSH, which stimulates eggs to grow, and LH, which prompts ovulation. In fact, one of the reasons most women don't get pregnant while they are breastfeeding is because high levels of prolactin keep them ovulating.
At the same time, however, if you want to get pregnant, the production of FSH and LH is critical. So it's easy to see how high prolactin levels can keep you from conceiving.
Additionally, fertility expert Dr. Niels Lauersen believes it's not just high prolactin levels, which contribute to gluten-related infertility.
" Since the very nature of a gluten allergy means that patients are absorbing far less nutrients from their foods and even their vitamin supplements, I also believe this condition can lead to a deficiency of factors that I know are essential to getting pregnant - particularly the B vitamins, plus vitamins C, D and A, as well as minerals like calcium and iron," says Lauersen, author of Getting Pregnant: What You Need To Know.
In fact, he says that whenever any of these nutrients are in short supply getting pregnant can be much more difficult.
"It doesn't have to be from a gluten allergy - any problems that cause a decrease in nutrients, including irritable bowel syndrome or a poor diet, can be a factor in unexplained infertility," says Lauersen.
Moreover, Dr. Shikhman has been gathering data suggesting there may be a link between gluten allergy and endometriosis, the menstrual related disorder that is also the leading cause of infertility in young women.
According to his preliminary research, when caught in its earliest stages, mild endometriosis responds to a gluten-free diet - meaning that not only does the endometriosis clear, but so do the related fertility problems.
Lauersen contends that diet does make a huge difference with endometriosis - with or without a gluten allergy.
"It's important to recognize that this condition does respond to diet and vitamins - and any diet that would reduce inflammation would be effective, " he says.
Additionally, it's important to point out that it's not just women who can be affected by a gluten allergy or sensitivity. Indeed, some studies show that men who are sensitive to gluten also experience problems with sperm production - including producing sperm that are misshapen or in other ways defective. And this too can often contribute to a couple’s diagnosis of unexplained infertility.
Gluten Allergy And Recurring Miscarriage
In addition to making it harder to get pregnant, if you do happen to conceive, a gluten allergy can also increase your risk of recurring or chronic miscarriage. How does this occur?
One theory links the problem to a blood protein known as antiphospholipid antibodies. Normally, the membranes of all your cells contain molecules called phospholipids. Some of these molecules contain a glue-like substance that actually helps the cells of your placenta ( the sac that surrounds and nourishes your baby in the womb) to fuse together and grow. When the body produces antibodies to phospholipids, it causes tiny blood clots to form within the placenta, thus blocking nutrients from your reaching your baby. When your baby can't be nourished, growth and development can become so restricted, a miscarriage results.
In women who have Celiac disease, Dr. Shikhman says the production of these antibodies can soar – along with the risk of miscarriage.
“There is a very strong link between antiphospholipid antibody syndrome and gluten intolerance – and consequently, an increased risk of miscarriage,” he says.
Fertility expert Dr. Niels Lauersen adds that when a mother has poor nutrition, before and right after pregnancy, studies show that the risk of miscarriage increases.
" So it stands to reason that if you are not absorbing the proper amounts of nutrients from your foods or your prenatal vitamins, then your baby will not be receiving the proper nourishment necessary to survive and thrive. So even without the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, still, your risk of miscarriage would naturally increase, " says Lauersen.
This issue - of allergies and infertilty - is becoming much more prominant - with more new research coming out every day. I have a brand new book coming out called Green Fertility which talks a lot some of these hidden causes of infertility and the natural things you can do to over come them. Please visit GreenFertility.com for lots of FREE advice on what you can do!
My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for two years now and are trying to go the natural route. Among other diagnostics, I recently had a blood allergy test and found that I'm allergic to wheat, dairy, soy, yeast, spirulina and sugar cane. Besides some dry skin, I haven't noticed any other reactions to my allergies. So I started reading up on causes and effects of allergies and discovered that smooth muscle contractions can be a reaction to allergens. Could this cause fertility problems in women?
Smooth muscle contractions can impact the fallopian tubes, which in turn can cause a fertilized egg to move to the uterus too quickly - before it is ready for implantation. This can result in a very early miscarriages - so early that you might not even know you are pregnant.
However, if you have been diagnosed with a wheat allergy, that is more likely to be the cause of your fertility problems, since it is common in women who have this allergy. Once you have stopped eating wheat and all related grain products for at least 3 to 6 months, you should have a much easier time getting pregnant.
That said, it's highly unusal that you would have a wheat allergy and not experience any gastrointestinal symptoms (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and cramping after meals). So, I would be retested again at a different medical center or doctor, to make sure the results are accurate.