Celiac disease is an intolerance to gluten, a plant-based protein found in cereals such as wheat, spelt, Kamut and so on1 2.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classes Celiac disease as a chronic illness that occurs in people who are genetically predisposed to it. It consists of inflammatory reactions in the mucous of the small intestine following intake of foods that contain gluten, making digestion and absorption of nutrients difficult.
Celiac disease can affect fertility, particularly in women. They can suffer from delayed menarche (a delay in the first menstrual period), issues getting pregnant and, on occasions, premature menopause. The issues absorbing nutrients that are caused by Celiac disease can lead to anaemia, malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, weight loss, irregular menstrual cycles, an absence of menstruation and, sometimes, premature ovarian failure which can affect a woman’s fertility.
If you have Celiac disease and are pregnant, you must ensure that you follow a balanced diet that takes the special circumstance of your pregnancy into account. According to the Spanish Federation of Associations of Celiac Disease Sufferers, the future mother must follow a diet that is rich in nutrients and free from gluten. It must be carefully monitored by a nutritionist. This can help to avoid deficiencies in nutrition and malnutrition both for the mother and for the future child.
Pregnant women with Celiac disease can eat a wide range of cereals that do not contain gluten. For example, rice, corn, buckwheat, pseudocereals such as quinoa and, of course, legumes. These are an essential part of the diet for pregnant woman with Celiac disease because they provide high quality carbohydrates and proteins.
A gluten-free diet does not have a negative impact on foetal growth and development, nor later on the composition of the mother’s milk for those women who choose to breast feed their babies.
Between 1 and 2% of the general population have Celiac disease and it is mostly present in women who are of a fertile age. However, it can also affect men and can cause abnormalities in sperm quality that can be reversed when sufferers follow an appropriate gluten-free diet 3. Therefore, men with Celiac disease also need to be careful with their diet in order to guarantee optimum semen quality when they are trying for a child.
Furthermore, untreated Celiac disease increases the risk of spontaneous pregnancy loss, premature birth and deterioration of foetal growth leading to babies that are born with a very low weight and delayed intrauterine growth1 4. Therefore, early detection and an appropriate diet is essential for improving these symptoms and ensuring a safe pregnancy.
1.Ogborn AD. Pregnancy in patients with coeliac disease. Br JObstet Gynaecol 1975; 82: 293-296.
2.Rodriguez Sáez L. ‘Enfermedad celiaca. Sistema Nacional de Salud.34, Nº 2/2010’.
3.Farthing MJ, Edwards CR, Rees LH, Dawson AM. Male gonadal function in coeliac disease: 1. Sexual dysfunction, infertility, and semen quality. Gut 1982; 23: 608-614.
4.Hugh James Freeman. (2010).Reproductive changes associated with celiac disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology 16(46):5810-5814.