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Fertility Diet: What Foods Affect Fertility ?
While it may be easy to see how a gluten allergy could impact your stomach health, the links to fertility as well as miscarriage are a bit less obvious.
Many doctors believe the immune responses linked to Celiac disease and gluten intolerance - including the production of toxins - have a detrimental affect on the menstrual cycle and disrupt ovulation. How does this occur?
Celiac expert Dr. Alex Shikhman believes it may be through the increased production of a hormone known as prolactin.
“ Studies show that when women allergic to gluten eat this protein, it typically causes an upswing in the production of prolactin,” says Shikhman, director of the Institute for Specialized Medicine in Del Mar, California.
Produced by the pituitary gland, and secreted in small amounts in both men and women, prolactin is the hormone that naturally increases during pregnancy in order to help prepare your body for breastfeeding. But it also does something else: In high amounts prolactin can turn off production of brain chemicals linked to both egg production and release. These include FSH, which stimulates eggs to grow, and LH, which prompts ovulation. In fact, one of the reasons most women don't get pregnant while they are breastfeeding is because high levels of prolactin keep them ovulating.
At the same time, however, if you want to get pregnant, the production of FSH and LH is critical. So it's easy to see how high prolactin levels can keep you from conceiving.
Additionally, fertility expert Dr. Niels Lauersen believes it's not just high prolactin levels, which contribute to gluten-related infertility.
" Since the very nature of a gluten allergy means that patients are absorbing far less nutrients from their foods and even their vitamin supplements, I also believe this condition can lead to a deficiency of factors that I know are essential to getting pregnant - particularly the B vitamins, plus vitamins C, D and A, as well as minerals like calcium and iron," says Lauersen, author of Getting Pregnant: What You Need To Know.
In fact, he says that whenever any of these nutrients are in short supply getting pregnant can be much more difficult.
"It doesn't have to be from a gluten allergy - any problems that cause a decrease in nutrients, including irritable bowel syndrome or a poor diet, can be a factor in unexplained infertility," says Lauersen.
Moreover, Dr. Shikhman has been gathering data suggesting there may be a link between gluten allergy and endometriosis, the menstrual related disorder that is also the leading cause of infertility in young women.
According to his preliminary research, when caught in its earliest stages, mild endometriosis responds to a gluten-free diet - meaning that not only does the endometriosis clear, but so do the related fertility problems.
Lauersen contends that diet does make a huge difference with endometriosis - with or without a gluten allergy.
"It's important to recognize that this condition does respond to diet and vitamins - and any diet that would reduce inflammation would be effective, " he says.
Additionally, it's important to point out that it's not just women who can be affected by a gluten allergy or sensitivity. Indeed, some studies show that men who are sensitive to gluten also experience problems with sperm production - including producing sperm that are misshapen or in other ways defective. And this too can often contribute to a couple’s diagnosis of unexplained infertility.
Gluten Allergy And Recurring Miscarriage
In addition to making it harder to get pregnant, if you do happen to conceive, a gluten allergy can also increase your risk of recurring or chronic miscarriage. How does this occur?
One theory links the problem to a blood protein known as antiphospholipid antibodies. Normally, the membranes of all your cells contain molecules called phospholipids. Some of these molecules contain a glue-like substance that actually helps the cells of your placenta ( the sac that surrounds and nourishes your baby in the womb) to fuse together and grow. When the body produces antibodies to phospholipids, it causes tiny blood clots to form within the placenta, thus blocking nutrients from your reaching your baby. When your baby can't be nourished, growth and development can become so restricted, a miscarriage results.
In women who have Celiac disease, Dr. Shikhman says the production of these antibodies can soar - along with the risk of miscarriage.
“There is a very strong link between antiphospholipid antibody syndrome and gluten intolerance - and consequently, an increased risk of miscarriage,” he says.
Fertility expert Dr. Niels Lauersen adds that when a mother has poor nutrition, before and right after pregnancy, studies show that the risk of miscarriage increases.
" So it stands to reason that if you are not absorbing the proper amounts of nutrients from your foods or your prenatal vitamins, then your baby will not be receiving the proper nourishment necessary to survive and thrive. So even without the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, still, your risk of miscarriage would naturally increase, " says Lauersen.
Next Up: Could You Have a Gluten Allergy: How To Tell
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