Going Gluten-Free for Infertility: Our Story

going-gluten-free-for-infertility

A lot of people roll their eyes when I tell them I am gluten-free, assuming I have jumped on some sort of trendy bandwagon. I promise you, being gluten-free was no bandwagon I ever wanted to be aboard. But neither was infertility.

I often get asked why I am gluten-free. I respond with a true, but simplified version. I gave up gluten because it gives me a rash. But that’s really just a small part of the story. I gave up gluten so I could have a baby.

When I was 23 I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism–otherwise known as an under-active thyroid gland. I took a pill everyday for five years that put the extra thyroid hormones into my body and it was perfectly controlled. I didn’t ask too many questions about why I had this disease because frankly, it never really caused me any trouble.

It didn’t cause me any trouble until I was 28 years old–when my thyroid problems suddenly went out of control. This unexpected turn of events coincided with planning a cross-country move, enrolling in a Ph.D. program, and–with my doctor’s approval–trying to get pregnant for the first time.

All those big life changes went off without a hitch–with the exception of having a baby. I waited patiently as months went past. All the while, I continued to deal with my deteriorating thyroid condition.

Being fresh in a new city, I had a first visit with a primary care doctor for a yearly physical. I talked to her about my thyroid struggles and also casually mentioned that I had a rash on my neck. This rash that had been there for four years and had worsened in recent months. She told me I should try to give up gluten and see how it goes. 

The doctor told me that I should try to give up gluten because I have autoimmune diseasewhich was news to me. She explained that my rash was psoriasis and my thyroid problems were caused by something called Hashimoto’s–and these are two of more than dozens of known autoimmune diseases that exist today. Gluten can kick the autoimmune system into high gear in some people through what it known as “the leaky gut“.

So what exactly does this mean? It means that my immune system was in overdrive. Instead of just killing off bacteria and viruses like a good immune system should, an excess of “antibodies” had started killing off my healthy organs and tissue. A quick blood test showed that my level of antibodies was sky high.

Autoimmune disease can mean bad news for fertility. Those “antibodies” that are there to keep us healthy can actually kill off a developing embryo before it even has a chance to implant and produce a positive pregnancy test.

After learning about how my overactive immune system was negatively effecting my health, I immediately gave up gluten. I figured it was worth a try. Within one week, the rash I had for four years was gone. And three weeks later I was pregnant.

Unfortunately that’s not the happy ending to this story. My first pregnancy ended in a devastating miscarriage. And my second pregnancy ended in the same heartbreaking circumstances.

Although my body showed almost immediate results to eliminating gluten, it took several months for it to completely clear my system and for my antibody levels to drop. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. After three months of being off gluten completely, my antibody levels dropped by 50%. And after six months, my levels had dropped 80%.

This showed me that after several months of going completely gluten-free, my immune system had slowed in overreacting. And after months of “taking a break” from trying to get pregnant–I got pregnant on the first try and nine months later gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and we have been forever blessed.

Written by Denaye of Simple Families

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.