Coeliac Disease and your fertility

More people are eating gluten free and feeling better for it. But have you ever wondered if you have Coeliac Disease? Coeliac Disease is relatively common around the world and in New Zealand, it is estimated that one in 70 people have this condition.

What’s interesting is that around 80% of people with Coeliac Disease are completely unaware they have the condition. It’s possible to have ‘silent’ Coeliac Disease: when a person has Coeliac Disease without any of the typical gut symptoms or vitamin deficiencies that usually lead to a diagnosis.

What has rarely been spoken about in the past is the potential link between Coeliac Disease and fertility.

So what is Coeliac Disease, exactly?

Coeliac New Zealand defines Coeliac Disease as a permanent autoimmune condition, where eating gluten causes cells lining the intestine to become damaged, resulting in physical symptoms and health consequences. It’s only known treatment is a life long strict gluten free diet. The cause of Coeliac Disease is not fully understood, but there is increasing knowledge about the health consequences of the condition.

Thankfully, gluten free diets have become much more popular in New Zealand and restaurants and food manufacturers are now offering more gluten free options.

Coeliac Disease and infertility

Current studies suggest there seems to be a link between Coeliac Disease and infertility. In 2016 a survey was sent to Coeliac New Zealand members exploring the relationship between Coeliac Disease and fertility.  It was not a scientific study, but as the only New Zealand specific information published in this area, the results are interesting. The survey suggests that the experiences of New Zealand women with Coeliac Disease are consistent with existing scientific research: fertility may be affected by undiagnosed Coeliac Disease. It is not fully understood at this time how Coeliac Disease impacts fertility or pregnancy outcomes.

The importance of a Coeliac Disease diagnosis

The impact of Coeliac Disease on a woman’s fertility may be affected by other factors such as how long they’ve been eating gluten-free, how strictly they adhere to their diet, and when they were diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. Recently, the Sydney Morning Herald published an interview with Australian woman Helen, who shared her fertility journey and subsequent Coeliac Disease diagnosis. Helen’s story echoes the survey findings: cutting gluten from her diet helped her become pregnant.

New Zealand Registered Dietitian Teresa O’Sullivan, who will be joining the Repromed team in March, has this to say: “Scientific studies have found conflicting results when looking at the link between Coeliac Disease and fertility, however current research suggests difficulty getting pregnant may be one sign of undiagnosed Coeliac Disease. For this reason, some countries like the U.K. recommend testing for Coeliac Disease in women with unexplained infertility or recurrent miscarriages.”

Going Gluten Free

But what’s the difference between Coeliac Disease and an intolerance to gluten, when it comes to getting pregnant?

Teresa adds, “The good news is that Coeliac Disease can be treated with a life long, strict gluten free diet. If you think you have a problem with gluten, it is important to find out if you have Coeliac Disease, rather than an intolerance to gluten. This is because with Coeliac Disease, gluten needs to be permanently restricted from the diet at a very strict level for the body to heal, important if fertility is a concern.”

Coeliac New Zealand suggests f you know you have Coeliac Disease and you’re eating a strict gluten-free diet, you can expect that your chances of getting pregnant, staying pregnant and birthing a healthy baby are similar to other women without Coeliac Disease.

Where to, now?

If you think you have symptoms of Coeliac Disease, Teresa suggests the first step is a simple blood test that your GP or fertility specialist can order. She adds, “You must be regularly eating gluten for this test to be able to pick up if you have Coeliac Disease.”

Coeliac New Zealand is a great resource for New Zealand specific information about Coeliac Disease. They offer an online test here as a self-directed starting point.

Teresa O’Sullivan is joining the team at Repromed as our in-house dietitian from March 2020. If you’re interested in booking a time to chat with Teresa, please contact us.

Here at Repromed, we’re here to help! We’re proud to provide fertility treatment with heart. We’re based in Auckland, and both public and private treatment is available and all are welcome. Contact us to book a free 15-minute phone consultation with a fertility doctor free of charge to learn more about your options.  Email  or call 0800 483 105 to book.

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