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Can a Gluten Free Diet Cause Impotence?

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 7/1/2010

Men with celiac diseases sometimes complain of low libido and impotence. Can a gluten free diet cause impotence?

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    Celiac disease, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disease where the intestines are sensitive to gluten – a protein found in wheat and some whole grains. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten the intestinal cells an inflammatory response - which leads to a variety of unpleasant symptoms. To treat this problem, celiac sufferers are instructed to follow a gluten-free diet. One question that often arises is whether this type of diet causes sexual problems in males. Can a gluten free diet cause impotence in men?

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    Can a Gluten Free Diet Cause Impotence?: Infertility, Impotence, and Low Libido

    Untreated celiac disease causes a wide variety of symptoms – many of them related to the intestinal tract. A person with gluten-sensitive enteropathy can experience abdominal bloating, diarrhea, cramping, and weight loss – particularly when eating foods that contain gluten – but this disease usually affects the entire body. It’s not unusual for a person with celiac disease to suffer with anemia, fatigue, joint pain, and even central nervous system symptoms such as seizures.

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    Both men and women with celiac disease can have fertility problems – and some men experience impotence and a loss of interest in sex. The fertility problems are thought to be partially related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies – particularly zinc and iron – that are common with celiac disease. People who suffer from untreated celiac disease also absorb fats poorly. This means fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, which play a role in the production of the sex hormones such as testosterone, may be decreased.

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    It’s not as clear why men with celiac disease experience impotence and a lower libido, but one theory is that their receptors are less sensitive to the effects of testosterone – a male hormone associated with sexual function.

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    Some men with celiac disease may actually have higher levels of testosterone. Despite this, they usually have reduced testosterone metabolites – which suggest that they’re resistant to the testosterone they’re producing. This could lead to problems with infertility along with decreased libido and impotence issues.

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    Can a Gluten Free Diet Cause Impotence?: Going Gluten Free May Help

    Impotence in men who have celiac disease is more likely related to the celiac disease process itself rather than the gluten free diet used to treat it. In fact, giving men with low libido and impotence a gluten free diet should improve their symptoms rather than make them worse.

    A gluten free diet helps to reduce the chronic intestinal inflammation that wrecks havoc with the entire body – including the reproductive system. Reducing intestinal inflammation by eating a gluten free diet also means better absorption of fat soluble vitamins, which are important for synthesizing testosterone - and for overall sexual function.

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    Can a Gluten Free Diet Cause Impotence?: The Bottom Line

    There is an association between celiac disease and impotence in men, but a gluten free diet should reduce the intestinal inflammation caused by celiac disease and help to normalize testosterone function. This should be beneficial to men experiencing impotence and fertility issues.

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    References

    Am Fam Physician. 2002 Dec 15;66(12):2259-2266.

    Gut. 1983: 24, 127-135.

    Am Fam Physician. 2002 Dec 15;66(12):2259-2266.