Celiac.com 09/30/2013 - The negative impact of celiac disease on the sexual health of celiac sufferers is one of the great undiscussed aspects of the disease, according to Phil Zimbardo, a prominent psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University in California.

Photo: CC--Infrogmation“No one talks about the sex part in celiac disease,” Zimbardo says, no one tells people that celiac disease can destroy their sex drive and challenge "their very manhood." This and other of Zimbardo's views on celiac disease and its impact on sexual health can be found in an excellent article by Lisa Fitterman in Allergicliving.com.

For Zimbardo, life before his celiac diagnosis was a dark place. As his body suffered the effects of celiac disease, Zimbardo grew so depressed that he lost all interest in sex and intimacy. This, in turn, had a negative impact upon Zimbardo's marriage.

This negative impact of celiac disease on sexual health is not unique to men. Many woman with celiac disease see their own sex lives suffer.

In the case of Alice Bast, founder and president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), celiac disease had a number of adverse effects on her health and well-being.

Bast acknowledges to Fetterman that symptoms of undiagnosed celiac disease pushed sex far from her mind, and that her libido did not make a miraculous return upon diagnosis and going gluten-free. Even after she was diagnosed, her physical recovery was slow, due to chronic malnourishment that contributed to multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth. In fact, when it came to sex, Bast says that the return of her sexual health came slowly, almost imperceptibly, until she realized that she was enjoying intimacy again after years of avoiding it.

Echoing Bast's experience, Zimbardo points out that, "as a psychologist, I’m always analyzing behavior and I just couldn’t understand what has happening to me until I was diagnosed.”

Once he was diagnosed, however, Zimbardo cut gluten from his diet and started taking anti-inflammatories and probiotics to regrow his gut flora. It took a full year for his gut to heal and for his full health and vigor to return, but now he is healthy, both physically and sexually.

For Zimbardo, and many others, giving up the gluten is the key to returning to good health, and healthy sexual activity. Giving up gluten was "nothing short of transformative.” Now, he says he "can’t wait to be 80."

There is a great deal of anecdotal information to suggest that celiac disease can have adverse impacts on sexual health, yet very little actual data exists. It will be interesting to see if and when researchers begin to look for answers. 

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