I’ve personally known women diagnosed with early menopause have their diagnosis reversed after they were diagnosed with celiac disease. I’ve also known several women who suffered from fertility problems earlier in their life and only learned the impact of celiac disease on fertility much later in their life.
If you’re concerned that a gluten intolerance may impact your fertility, menstruation or ability to sustain a healthy pregnancy, you should be. There is plenty of research to support the negative impacts of untreated celiac disease on each of these situations.
Several studies suggest that approximately 4% of women with unexplained infertility may suffer from celiac disease. In another wide ranging study, the overall birth rate among women with celiac disease was around 20% lower than women without celiac disease.
The researchers in this study verified that untreated celiac disease was the difference because when they only compared women with diagnosed and treated cases of celiac disease to women without celiac disease the birth rate was about the same.
In addition to infertility, menstruation problems are now known to be a relatively common phenomenon among women with celiac disease.
An Italian study published in 2010 provided evidence that a gluten sensitivity can influence both pregnancy and the menstrual cycle. According to this study, just under 20% of women with celiac disease suffered from amenorrhea (they missed a menstrual period), while less than 2% of the non-celiac women experienced amenorrhea.
In the same study, pregnancy complications were four times as likely to occur in the women with celiac disease compared to the women in the study without celiac disease. These complications included the threat of miscarriage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, anemia and intrauterine growth retardation.
The good news is that when it comes to women with celiac disease, in many (perhaps most) cases, a healthy gluten-free diet can quickly resolve infertility and amenorrhea. Several researchers suggested a healthy gluten-free diet (supervised by a physician) resulted in a reversal of complications in most celiac women in less than a month. The hope is that this would also be the case for pregnancy complications if the woman is diagnosed and treated early in her pregnancy.
If you have any history of menstruation problems or unexplained infertility, I encourage you to bring the possibility of celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity to the attention of your doctor.
Please note: Because there is a learning curve to a proper gluten-free diet, I urge you to seek the assistance of a qualified dietician if you decide to embark on a gluten-free diet while pregnant.
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Goddard CJR, Gillett HR. Complications of celiac disease: are all patients at risk? Postgraduate Medical Journal. 2006:82;705–712.
P. Collin et al. Infertility and coeliac disease. Gut. 1996;39:382-384. http://gut.bmj.com/content/39/3/382.abstract
Infertility and Celiac Disease. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Accessed Oct. 6, 2010.
K.S. Sher et al. Female fertility, obstetric and gynaecological history in celiac disease. A case control study. Digestion. 1994;55(4):243-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8063029
A.V. Stazi et al. [Celiac Disease and its endocrine and nutritional implications on male reproduction]. Minerva Med. 2004. Jun;95(3):243-54. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15289752