Gluten is like glue in your digestive system! Remember how you made glue by mixing flour and water together when you were little? The same thing is happening in your digestive system…eek!
Gluten is a rubbery protein found in wheat, rye, triticale and barley. It is a big problem for people with Coeliac Disease but it is actually problematic for everyone, especially when trying to conceive.
Usually, when we eat something the stomach and intestines break it down and absorb the nutrients but our body cannot break gluten down properly and this contributes to the leaky gut!
Why leaky gut doesn’t help with fertility
The weakening of the tight junctions of the stomach wall causes the immune system to become more reactive to the contents of our stomach, often leading to food intolerances. This inflammation of the stomach wall will also impair your ability to absorb nutrients. Since the health of your egg and sperm are dependent on high levels of nutrients in the body gluten is a great thing to eliminate from your diet.
When the mucous membrane of the stomach becomes irritated the protein molecules of gluten can then cross into our bloodstream where our body’s immune defences recognise it as a foreign. If this occurs often our body can get confused between what is the gluten floating free in our blood and our own organs and body parts and it will begin to attack those. This process causes all sorts of issues the worst being autoimmune issues resulting in a myriad of other symptoms such as:
- Skin problems, such as those little bumps on the back of the arms, psoriasis and eczema
- Joint pain and swelling
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog, depression, mood swings anxiety and dizziness. Studies have shown that for people who are sensitive to it, gluten has a benzodiazapam like effect on the brain i.e. it has a very numbing, sleep-inducing effect on the brain thus reducing cognitive function.
- Digestive discomfort: such as gas, irregular bowel patterns and bloating.
- Hormone imbalances such as PMS, unexplained infertility and PCOS.
Gluten can negatively affect any tissue in the body
If your stomach is in a really bad way, you may even react to other grains in what is known as ‘cross-reactivity’. This means that your body may have the same sort of reactions to corn and rice due to the same leaky gut issues. We can decide in my clinic, based on your symptoms or doing an IgG antibody test whether going completely grain-free is warranted or perhaps going gluten-free will is enough to get you to your optimal fertility. If you question that you may have food intolerance of some kind, I would advise doing an IgG intolerance test such as the Food Detective.
Most people will notice a difference in themselves pretty soon after removing gluten, usually somewhere between 2 days and two weeks. This may be feeling lighter, less bloated, better sleep, increased energy, less pain, skin feels less dry or brain feels clearer.
There are so many foods available that are gluten-free, that avoiding gluten should not cause you any problems. Nearly all foods have a gluten-free option, including treats!
Begin by eating more ‘real’ foods i.e. fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes and gluten-free grains like rice, corn, quinoa and buckwheat. Read your labels. If a product is labelled gluten-free, then you can be confident that you can eat it. If there are any ingredients that contain gluten it legally has to be declared on the label, so sometime it may say “may contain gluten” and these foods are best to be avoided as well.
Things to look out for when choosing gluten-free (GF):
- Preservatives. Some of the GF bread has pretty nasty preservatives in it. If the ingredients list contains numbers, check them out using additive-free pantry guide or the chemical maze, and make an educated decision.
- Excessive sugar. Some processed GF snack options are quite high in sugar or maybe really high GI as they are based on white rice flour. Use these sparingly.
- Fake foods. Soy sauce contains gluten. You can get a gluten-free soy sauce but the ingredients are water, salt, colours and preservatives. This is not a smart substitute. Choose tamari or a soy sauce alternative made from coconut instead.
Remember that just because a product is gluten-free doesn’t mean that it is good for you! Wherever possible choose whole foods.
We have included some delicious recipe options for you in The Fertility Solutions, but don’t be limited. With Google at your fingertips, all you need to do is type in ‘gluten-free breakfast/bread/zucchini slice’ whatever you are thinking of there is always a delicious gluten-free alternative.
Before going gluten-free consider this
Once you have gone gluten-free you will probably never want to go back to eating gluten on a regular basis and to be accurately tested for Coeliac Disease you need to be eating gluten regularly. So if you feel that there is any chance that you may have Coeliac Disease i.e. you have a family member with Coeliac Disease, you have had more than one miscarriage or you are experiencing symptoms of Coeliac Disease such as: pain, nausea, vomiting, anaemia, fatigue, unexplained weightless or gain, bloating, flatulence or irregular bowel motions I would suggest that you see your medical doctor or naturopath to have some coeliac blood screening done.
Along with the commonly requested transglutaminase blood test ask your health practitioner to also request THE COELIAC GENE TEST (HLA, DQ2, DQ8) if you have symptoms and test positively for these tests you may want to do further testing, see your health practitioner for advice on further investigations.
It is also important to note, that there are people who have ‘silent coeliac’ i.e. some people with coeliac disease don’t have ANY symptoms.
We do know that gynaecological issues, infertility and recurrent miscarriage is common among women with Coeliac Disease. Men with Coeliac Disease may have lower testosterone levels and abnormal sperm. New York Times February 3, 2010
If you are diagnosed with Coeliac Disease feel confident in the fact that with a strict gluten-free diet, herbal and nutritional supplementation it is possible to conceive and deliver a healthy baby.
If you would like more information on going gluten-free and loads of fertility-friendly gluten-free recipes, you will find The Fertility Formula a great resource.