Could gluten intolerance impact fertility?

Going gluten-free is dismissed by many as just another fad. It has become such a large diet trend but the science behind it cannot be ignored.

Until recently gluten was considered only a problem for those with coeliac disease. This is an autoimmune disease in which gluten is the trigger. However we are aware gluten intolerance is on the rise and more and more people are suffering its negative effects.

New research on gluten suggests that it is to not only linked other autoimmune illnesses, which are on the rapid rise at the moment, but to a number of conditions including:

  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain and other bowel disturbances
  • headaches
  • liver function
  • malnutrition
  • weight loss
  • itchy skin
  • burning sore tongue or kanker sores
  • eczema
  • acid reflux
  • hair loss
  • joint pain
  • fat malabsorption
  • menstrual irregularities
  • infertility and possibly miscarriage

A number of European studies have demonstrated the following; that many women with infertility, even those who have failed multiple rounds of IVF, and who were identified to have antibodies to gliadin and/or tissue transglutaminase (blood tests used in the diagnosis of celiac disease); still went on to conceive once they adhered to a gluten-free diet. Notably, the majority of women diagnosed with celiac disease, and those represented in these studies, had no gastrointestinal complaints.

gluten

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in January 2015 points the finger at diet and gluten as potentially impacting infertility. On average, data suggests that 2.6-8% of those struggling with infertility have undiagnosed celiac disease. Both celiac disease and gluten intolerance are drastically under diagnosed. We now have a growing understanding of how much more far-reaching gluten’s effects are than just the intestine. This could be a missing link to why it has become so hard to fall pregnant and to stay pregnant.

Here are some of the ways gluten interferes with a healthy conception and pregnancy:

Nutrient depletion

Zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin D, calcium deficiency, protein and fat absorption can all result from exposure to gluten. The subsequent inflammation of the gut lining interferes with nutrient absorption. These nutrients are vital to proper hormonal signaling including LH and FSH production (ovulation managers), DNA production, and oxygenation. Thyroid balance is also critical for conception, miscarriage, and preterm birth prevention and selenium deficiency may drive hypothyroidism

Health of vaginal flora

Gluten can cause demonstrable, long-term changes in your gut bacteria, including reducing the amount of certain types. Good bacteria keep the vaginal environment at the right pH and sugar level. This is essential to support the passage of the sperm and facilitate conception. Too much of the wrong flora can prevent conception, reduce effectiveness of IVF and could lead to preterm birth.

Chronic inflammation

Gluten causes inflammation that is systemic and not only in the gut. Chemicals are produced when your body is in a chronic state of inflammation. These chemicals send the message that the body is in a danger zone. This tells the body that it’s not a safe time to get pregnant. Inflammation is also associated with endometriosis which interferes with falling pregnant.

gluten

Autoimmunity

Dr. Alessio Fasano, published ground breaking research on the effects of gluten in the body. Gluten creates gaps between the cells of the gut and causes the intestine to become permeable. The cells in our gut lining prevent unwanted particles from entering the bloodstream. In other words, every time you eat gluten, the cells of your gut lining become more permeable. This allows particles to sneak directly into your bloodstream. Which means that anything that’s going through your intestines can leak into your bloodstream. This means that microbes, food particles and even toxins can go anywhere in your body.

Nobody can efficiently digest gluten. The enzymes in our guts need to break down the protein. Due to the composition of the protein it’s impossible to break it into small enough parts to absorb. These proteins can be recognised as foreigners and then provoke an immune reaction.  Next, antibodies are produced to attack the gluten protein. However, these antibodies also fight the cells of the gut lining and any other part or the body. These antibodies not only affect the way blood vessels form in the uterus but may also potentially attack the placenta. Auto immune conditions can change the body’s ability to tolerate foreign cells including sperm or the baby.

For many people this may not be a problem. Their bodies easily clear the protein away and repair the gut lining.  However, the problem arises when we eat gluten a number of times throughout the day. Then the body does not get a chance to repair the leaky gut.

gluten

 PCOS.

We know that one of the most common causes of infertility is polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is also strongly linked to blood sugar imbalance, which also has a strong correlation to gluten.

Sperm

Additionally, gluten intolerance can contribute to low sperm count and low motility in men.

Your diet is one aspect of fertility that you can take into your own hands. Go on a gluten-free diet for at least three months but preferably six to maximise the benefit. The healthier you are the better chance there is of a healthy pregnancy and ultimately a healthy baby.

Expert Contributor: Clinical Nutritionist, speaker and wellness expert – Desi Horsman

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