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Celiac Disease May Be Linked to Male Infertility

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Updated October 23, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

While links between celiac disease and infertility in women are pretty well-established, there's been far less research into any connection between celiac disease and male infertility.

However, from the scant research that's been done, it appears that there is a link between celiac disease and male infertility -- just like in women who have the condition, men who have undiagnosed celiac disease seem to suffer from infertility more often than other men.

Celiac Disease and Male Infertility Research

Men with undiagnosed celiac disease seem to have much higher rates of abnormal sperm, along with abnormal hormonal levels.

Specifically, one study found that more than 19% of married celiac men had infertile marriages, and semen analysis found problems with their sperm's morphology and motility, or the sperm's structure and ability to move around.

In fact, sperm motility was reduced "markedly" in two out of three celiacs with infertile marriages, the study found.

In addition, another study found that men with undiagnosed celiac disease suffered more frequently from androgen resistance, which means their bodies didn't respond properly to the male hormone testosterone. Researchers hypothesized that the androgen resistance reflected an overall disruption of the men's endocrine systems caused by celiac disease.

Male Infertility and the Gluten-Free Diet

Studies on celiac disease and male infertility have found that sperm characteristics improved once the men involved were diagnosed with celiac disease and adopted the gluten-free diet. They also found that hormone levels returned to normal after the men started the gluten-free diet.

Therefore, it's possible that celiac men who previously had been infertile can become fertile once they start the gluten-free diet, which frequently happens with celiac women. However, there hasn't been much research to show this is true. Most of the studies on fertility in celiac men were performed in the 1970s and 80s, indicating a huge unmet need for updated information.

Testing for Celiac Disease in Infertile Men

So if you're a man with unexplained infertility, should you be tested for celiac disease? Some physicians say yes, especially if you have other celiac disease symptoms.

However, many people who test positive for celiac disease have few or even no obvious symptoms, so you shouldn't necessarily rely on your symptoms to determine your risk for the condition.

Sources:

Farthing, M.J. et al. Male gonadal function in coeliac disease 1. Sexual dysfunction, infertility, and semen quality. Gut 1982; 23: 608-614.

Freeman, H.J. Reproductive changes associated with celiac disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology 2010; 16(46):5810-5814.

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