How Celiac Disease May Be Linked to Male Infertility

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

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From the scant research that's been done, it appears there may be 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.

However, not all studies have shown such a link, so more research is needed before doctors can say definitively that celiac disease lowers male fertility and whether the gluten-free diet can help.

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 men with celiac 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 males with celiac 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 a hormone imbalance and overall disruption of the men's endocrine systems caused by celiac disease.

However, a large study from Sweden, published in 2011, looked at 7,121 men who had been diagnosed with celiac disease and followed them through early adulthood and middle age. The study found the men diagnosed with celiac disease had similar numbers of children when compared with people who didn't have celiac disease. It concluded that men already diagnosed with celiac disease did not have lower fertility rates than those in the general population.

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 men with celiac 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. It's possible that fertility didn't suffer in the men from the 2011 Swedish study because they were following the gluten-free diet. But since the study wasn't set up to answer that question, there's no way to know whether this was a factor.

Most of the studies on fertility in men with celiac 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.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Freeman HJ. Reproductive changes associated with celiac diseaseWorld J Gastroenterol. 2010;16(46):5810-4. doi:10.3748/wjg.v16.i46.5810

  2. Zugna D et al. Celiac disease is not a risk factor for infertility in men. Fertility and Sterility. 2011;Apr;95(5):1709-13.e1-3. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.01.132

Additional Reading

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.