There is a growing body of evidence that indicates gluten could be behind a myriad of health issues, including infertility. However, we’re in the middle of a gluten-free craze. Even fast food restaurants are carrying gluten-free options. It’s big business, but like any fad there is backlash and finger pointing. There are meme’s aimed at going gluten-free, such as this one.
“It’s been discovered that 1% of the population is allergic to gluten and 99% of the population is sick of hearing it”.
All the contradictory information can be confusing for anyone struggling with unexplained symptoms, the inability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term. Individuals may doubt their symptoms are related to gluten and they may simply give up or worse simply dismiss gluten as a factor.
Gluten Sensitivity and Health
There are studies linking wheat and gluten sensitivity to numerous health conditions including, but not limited to asthma, dermatitis, depression, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid problems, obesity, infertility and miscarriage. A list of over 300 adverse health reactions for celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can be viewed in the Greenmedinfo database.
Before we delve into celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity it is important to understand that the wheat crop is one of the most highly sprayed crops. The wheat is sprayed with glysophate which is a herbicide used to kill weeds and has been linked to numerous diseases including infertility and miscarriage. So even if you don’t fall into the celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity category, always opt for organic.
Celiac disease impacts 8% of the population and can be attributed to infertility, recurrent miscarriage, unexplained infertility, plus many more health issues. This study discusses how celiac disease impacts women’s health and fertility. Studies show that the prevalence of celiac disease may be as high as 4–8% in women with unexplained infertility, but what if non-gluten sensitivity was more problematic that celiac disease?
A person with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experiences reactions to wheat and gluten, but lacks the characteristic markers of celiac disease. Their symptoms tend to improve on a gluten-free diet, but since they are not officially diagnosed with celiac disease they may feel uncertain if gluten-free is actually for them. These people are often ridiculed and told that their symptoms are all in their head. They may feel unsupported by the medical community and often continue to consume gluten (or go gluten-light – which doesn’t alleviate symptoms) and subject themselves to health issues ranging from gastrointestinal complains, skin, joint, neurological issues, plus infertility and recurrent miscarriage, just to name a few. And when the body is under attack the priority is survival, not conception. So they continue to struggle with infertility and repeat miscarriage. This study confirms what many of us already intuitively know, that non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity actually have intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Intestinal permeability or leaky gut refers to a condition where the intestines are chronically irritated and, consequently, the protective barrier of mucus becomes eroded. In turn, this allows large food molecules to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, creating an immune reaction. This immune reaction can take the form of chronic disease and illness and the symptoms can be different for everyone.
Maybe you already know you have celiac disease or have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. What if you made the changes, adhered to strict gluten-free diet and still aren’t pregnant? This study found there are many foods that cause cross reaction similar to gluten, so that testing should also include cross reactants such as corn, dairy, yeast, oats rice, quinoa, instant coffee and more. So how do you know if you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity? First you can take a food sensitivity test or you can completely remove gluten from your diet for 30-60 days. Then you can gradually re-introduce to determine if you have a sensitivity, using a food diary to note any symptoms. Gluten hides everywhere including medication, supplements and processed foods. Listen to your body and note down any symptoms before you make the change to gluten-free and then again as you begin to reintroduce. Sometimes we don’t know how poorly we felt until we begin to experience true health.
Taking time before conception to prepare the body for pregnancy, by getting tested for celiac disease, considering possible non-celiac gluten sensitivity, looking at cross contamination to other allergens, plus always switching to organic can optimize your chances of a successful pregnancy. The pathway to parenthood starts with a healthy mom and dad, which leads to a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.
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This article was first published in March 2017.