Thursday, February 25, 2010

Can Gluten Cause Fertility Issues?

I have already written about wheat (which contains gluten) and why it needs to come out of your fertility diet in a previous blog. To recap: wheat is, first of all, hard to digest. “It’s like Velcro on your gut,” a chiropractic doctor at a naturopathic clinic told me yesterday. In addition, if you’re sensitive to it—and a large percentage of people are, many without knowing it—wheat can cause all kinds of problems and affect thyroid function. All of this is not good for fertility.

But what about gluten? Gluten is a type of protein found in rye, barley, all types of wheat (including the more easily digested spelt and kamut), and sometimes oats. Gluten-free diets are all the rage lately. For fertility, do we need to give up those grains too?

If it turns out you have celiac disease, the answer is absolutely yes! Celiac disease is a digestive disorder in which gluten, when consumed, causes damage to the small intestines so that food is not properly absorbed—meaning you don’t get the important nutrients your body needs to function. And if you’re not getting important nutrients, your fertility (and your health) is definitely, negatively affected.

In an online article on the topic, the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center is quoted as saying, “Any individual who has experienced persistent miscarriage or infertility where a medical cause could not be found needs to be tested for celiac disease.”

Symptoms are varied. If you are suffering from ongoing digestive issues or just want to rule out celiac disease, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, or naturopathic doctor about getting tested for it. I would not recommend self-diagnosing on this, as symptoms might also be caused by something else.

Celiac disease, however, is not that common. Less than 1% (1 in 133) are affected.

Gluten sensitivity, however, is another story. I’ve read that as many as 1 out of 2 people may have a sensitivity to gluten and not even know it. This “hidden sensitivity” may cause anemia, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, depression, diarrhea and constipation, fatigue—symptoms that may also be the result of something else, by the way. While celiac symptoms tend to be pronounced, sensitivity symptoms tend not to be as apparent.

Melissa Diane Smith, a nutritionist and author of "Going Against the Grain," spoke about the link between gluten sensitivity and infertility at a conference on polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), asserting that gluten sensitivity is the leading cause of recurrent miscarriage.

Now, before you go and strip your cupboards of anything gluten-like, keep the following in mind. If you are concerned you may have a sensitivity to gluten, or you just want to rule it out: get tested! And talk to your doctor or naturopath about it. If it turns out you do – then it’s important to avoid gluten (I would eliminate it!). But if you don’t have a sensitivity to gluten, I (personally) wouldn’t just cut out gluten. My feeling is that you don’t want to lose out on the valuable nutrients that comes with certain grains. Plus, giving up wheat is hard enough; going gluten-free is even tougher.

Also, keep in mind that by eliminating wheat, you’ll be cutting out a lot of gluten already because wheat, wheat flour and it’s other derivatives are found in seemingly everything!

Finally, when I was given a 2% chance of conceiving and put myself on a fertility diet, I did not eliminate gluten, although I did of course cut out wheat. But I also never had any of the symptoms listed earlier (not consistently) and had no reason to suspect I had any problem with gluten.

The choice of course is up to you. Here are some good links to learn more about the topic and help you make informed decisions (the first two are specific to fertility):

(Keep in mind I’m not a medical doctor; I provide information on this blog for educational purposes. We’re all responsible for our own health and well being!)