FeaturesFeb/Mar 2013 Issue

Why Can’t We Have a Baby? Celiac Disease and Conception

Knowing Where to Look

Liz Christopher, 37, tried to get pregnant for eight years. After she had no luck with fertility treatments, doctors recommended egg donation as a next step. But as Liz and her husband tucked away money each month to pay for an egg donor, Liz was diagnosed with celiac disease. Less than two years later, she conceived by natural means. Daughter Camille was born in 2011.

“For eight years, there were no missed periods, no miscarriages, nothing,” says Liz. “None of my doctors ever said that celiac disease was the cause.”

In fact, studies haven’t proven celiac can cause infertility. Studies haven’t consistently shown there’s even a link. But that doesn’t mean one isn’t there, says Daniel A. Leffler, MD, MS, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “A lot of the early studies on infertility and celiac disease didn’t target those women with unexplained infertility. Instead they lumped all causes of infertility together.”

According to RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, one in eight couples is affected by infertility, defined as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying. Any one of a number of hormonal or anatomical problems in either the male or female partner (or both) can cause infertility. In a fairly large number of couples—about 20 percent—there’s no identifiable cause (i.e., unexplained infertility).

According to a recent study, many of these women may actually have celiac disease. When researchers at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University screened 188 women with infertility for celiac, there was no higher risk of the autoimmune disorder until they narrowed it to just those with unexplained infertility. Of that group, almost 6 percent had celiac disease—a rate nearly six times higher than expected—raising the possibility that “celiac is an important association of unexplained infertility,” the researchers wrote.

Next: Nutritional Deficiencies and More

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