It’s commonly known that around 1% of the population has Celiac disease, and we often think of it as a gastrointestinal disorder. But Celiac is 4-8 times more common in women who are experiencing infertility without any other known cause. It’s particularly tricky, because many of these women are not experiencing any of the typical Celiac tummy troubles, and most don’t even have anemia, which is often the most visible sign of Celiac.
Many doctors now suggest screening for Celiac when there isn’t another obvious cause for infertility. It’s also a much simpler and less invasive test than many of the infertility procedures. If you’re reading this, most likely Celiac is on your radar screen, but you know as well as I do that this isn’t universal. Since there’s such a genetic link involved, if you have family members who are experiencing infertility or miscarriages, or if you know people experiencing infertility, do consider passing this information along! (gently of course, to people who you think might be open to it)
What’s causing the infertility?
Well, as you know, with untreated Celiac disease, every time the mom to be eats gluten, her body attacks the small intestine, which often causes nutritional deficiencies. Obviously this makes it harder to get pregnant and to have a healthy pregnancy. The nutrients people with Celiac aren’t absorbing well are the same ones that grow babies, such as iron, vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, calcium, etc.
But there’s more than that. An untreated autoimmune disease even without nutrient deficiencies isn’t good for mom or baby. The same tissue transglutaminase antibodies that doctors look at to tell if we have active Celiac disease and how we’re responding to a gluten-free diet can actually interfere with pregnancy. According to Daniel Leffler, MD, MD, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston “It turns out that antibodies affect the placenta in negative ways. We thought they were just good diagnostic markers, but they also seem to bind to and wreak havoc on many areas of the body.”
This also means that moms-to-be will have the best chance of a healthy pregnancy if they wait 6 months or until the tTg (tissue transglutaminase) levels are back to normal and nutritional deficiencies are corrected. Because at the end of the day, the goal is not just getting pregnant, but having a happy, healthy baby.
Don’t forget dad
We tend to focus on mom, but if Dad has untreated Celiac, HE may be the cause of infertility. Vitamins A, E and zinc are critical to sperm production. And one study even showed that Dads with untreated Celiac were five times more likely to have low-birth weight babies.
So-if you want to get pregnant and have Celiac disease, make sure you’ve checked with your doctor about nutritional deficiencies and your thyroid, too. People with Celiac are more likely to have autoimmune thyroid diseases, too, such as Hashimoto’s or Graves’, which often show up during and after pregnancy.
It’s also critical to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. Most gluten-free products aren’t fortified the way regular products are, and many are both higher calorie and higher in empty, starchy carbs, too. The nutrients that are low in the diets of women with on a gluten-free diet (iron, B vitamins, calcium, fiber) are needed by both mom and baby. A Registered Dietitian can help you make sure you’re getting what you need.
For more information or for health professionals and RDs, I do have a CE course on having a healthy gluten-free pregnancy.
Coming soon: infant feeding and Celiac—I’ll post that soon, I assume I have at least 9 months!
Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Wellness Coach in Fairfax . Cheryl works with people to feel and look their best with a range of specialties, including Celiac Disease, food allergies, pregnancy, breastfeeding, vegetarian and vegan diets, preventing diseases and “whole foods” eating. Let’s get you on your way to achieving your goals. Email her or call 571-271-8742.