How Wheat or Gluten Affects Periods

Wheat is fine for most people but a major problem for about one in ten. For women with gluten sensitivity, even a small amount can drive or worsen endometriosis, adenomyosis, migraines, thyroid disease, and some cases of amenorrhea.

The first step is to understand the difference between FODMAPs and gluten. FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates found in wheat and many other foods; they can cause digestive bloating. Gluten is a protein and it can cause inflammation and immune dysfunction.

FODMAPs can cause digestive bloating

The term FODMAP is an acronym invented by researchers at Monash University in Australia. It stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols which are short-chain carbohydrates that can be difficult to absorb from the small intestine and cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). FODMAP-containing foods include wheat, legumes, certain vegetables, and fruit.

👉🏽Tip: Spelt is a cousin of wheat and a popular wheat substitute. Spelt contains gluten but not FODMAPs — so it is easier to digest than wheat.

Untreated, FODMAP sensitivity can contribute to problems with the microbiome, impair estrogen clearance, and activate mast cells — all leading to inflammation that can worsen period problems such as PMS.

The solution is usually to temporarily cut back on FODMAPs while at the same time address the underlying cause of FODMAP sensitivity, such as stomach acid medication, underactive thyroid, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

With SIBO and a FODMAP sensitivity, it’s usually enough to just temporarily reduce wheat and other FODMAPS, without strictly avoiding any food.

The effect of gluten on the menstrual cycle.

Gluten can cause immune dysfunction

Gluten is not a carbohydrate like FODMAPs and does not cause digestive bloating. So, if bloating is your main symptom, refer to the FODMAP section above.

Gluten is a protein that can cause immune dysfunction, but only in people with gluten sensitivity.

👉🏽 Tip: Wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and possibly oats contain gluten. Rice, corn, millet, quinoa, or potatoes do not contain gluten.

The difference between celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)

Gluten sensitivity can take the form of either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Of the two, celiac disease is more severe and can be diagnosed with a blood test.

👉🏽 Tip: If you’re already avoiding gluten, you might get false negative on the celiac test. That’s why it’s important to test for celiac disease before eliminating gluten.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) cannot be diagnosed (or ruled out) by the celiac blood test.

Gluten-sensitivity does not usually cause digestive symptoms but instead can cause non-digestive symptoms such as:

  • depression
  • brain fog
  • psoriasis
  • infertility
  • migraines
  • osteoporosis
  • autoimmune disease.

How to know if you have gluten sensitivity

First, consider whether you or anyone in your family has any of the conditions listed above, especially Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroid disease, which is strongly linked with gluten.

Next, speak to your doctor about a blood test for the “celiac gene” or “celiac genotype,” known as HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8. Testing positive for a celiac gene means you have a 4 percent chance of developing celiac disease and an even higher risk of developing other autoimmune conditions such as autoimmune thyroid disease.

The other way to know if you have gluten sensitivity is just to try strictly avoiding it for at least eight weeks and see how you feel. “Strictly avoiding” means avoiding even trace gluten, which is quite different from just reducing wheat as you can do with FODMAPs. There’s no such thing as partially gluten-free.

👉🏽 Tip: If wheat causes digestive bloating, it’s likely to be a problem with FODMAPs. If wheat causes brain fog, psoriasis, autoimmunity, or migraines, it’s likely to be a problem with gluten.

How wheat affects periods

Some cases of amenorrhea (lack of periods) are the result of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity which is why every woman with unexplained amenorrhea should be screened for celiac disease. Of course, there are several other causes of amenorrhea, such as undereating, which have nothing to do with gluten.  

Migraines can be worsened by gluten sensitivity (among other factors). One mechanism is that gluten sensitivity can lead to antibodies against the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), resulting in high glutamate and low GABA.  Read Natural treatment of hormonal migraines.

Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroid disease is strongly linked with gluten sensitivity. Untreated, thyroid disease can contribute to heavy periods.

The inflammatory type of PCOS can be worsened by FODMAP-sensitivity, gluten, and/or dairy sensitivity.

Finally, endometriosis and adenomyosis may be driven to some extent by gluten sensitivity (among other factors). According to reproductive immunologist Dr Jeffrey Braverman, most women with endometriosis have the celiac genotype. Read Immune treatment for endometriosis.

17 thoughts on “How Wheat or Gluten Affects Periods”

  1. Thanks for your ongoing research and sharing of your knowledge. Your blog has changed my life in a great way!!

    I’m 30 now, but had very heavy, painful & irregular periods since menarche at 11. After becoming a midwife, I realised my periods were not normal.

    For years, I tried acupuncture, natural remedies, the COCP & then finally had surgery, where endometriosis/adenomyosis was addressed, as well as a Mirena inserted.

    The heavy periods responded well to the Mirena, however the pain remained.

    Then, I found your blog.

    I stopped eating gluten and all dairy & had my first EVER PAIN-FREE PERIOD!

    While I was off gluten and dairy, I had no pain.

    I moved to another country for a year, where gluten was extremely hard to avoid (no food labelling requirements) & was very ill until I strictly avoided gluten and dairy again.

    After that, I was tested for the Coeliac genes, which I don’t have.

    Just wanted to share my story, because I know my body reacts to gluten, even though I don’t have the Coeliac genes.

    Hope others find relief through the sharing of knowledge too!

    Reply
  2. Thank you for the article! I went off gluten because I was worried I could have some sensitivity due to my mom having celiacs and I also have hypothyroidism.

    I was off it for about 8 years and had regular periods, but I wanted to try to incorporate it back bc of going mostly vegan. I couldn’t last more than two weeks because I didn’t feel right, plus I started my period more than two weeks before it was due which never has happened.

    Strange what can happen from gluten!

    Reply
  3. Is sugar bad for your period?
    Like chocolate,desserts and cakes?
    I have low blood pressure and am British 8 stone in weight, I am always tired too.
    I kind of need sugar for my low blood pressure don’t i?

    Reply
  4. Period migraines and taking too many painkillers.
    When I get period cramps i take soluble paracetamol caffeine codine tablets, between four and six for a few days but they don’t always help, i just can’t handle the pain………I end up getting headaches and one really bad migraine each time I have a period.
    I wonder if taking too many strong painkillers for days gives me headaches and a migraine.Is that possible?

    Could dairy and certain foods I am eating also be a problem?

    Does caffeine affect period migraines? I don’t have caffeine usually except in painkillers……….

    Would changes could I make please?

    Reply
  5. Hello Lara ,

    I have had normal period when I was in India , but after moving to US 7 years back , my period has never been the same. My doctor told me I have PCOS just on the basis of ultrasound. I am very confident that I don’t have insulin resistance because when I got that done during my pregnancy, it was on the lower side of the normal range. I don’t have hair loss problem at all. I have facial hair on my chin.

    Here in US they suggested taking birth control , which I took for one and half year but I don’t want to take it anymore. I decided not to take birth control back in 2017 after which I got pregnant and had my baby. I really don’t know what’s going on. I did not get my periods now for 3 months. Any suggestions from you will be helpful. Do you do online consultations ?

    Reply
  6. Hi Lara, thanks for the interesting article. Just so you know, according to the Monash University who develeloped the FODMAP diet, Spelt does in fact contain FODMAPs and should be consumed in careful portion sizes.

    Reply
  7. Fabulous article thank you! As ever so clear and simple to read 🙂 As a naturopath I refer clients all the time to your website and book for further education. Thank you

    Reply
  8. Thank you for spreading awareness on this issue. I had unexplained secondary infertility. Thankfully, I did have another baby but had many health problems after the pregnancy such as migraine and prolonged period pain. A whole five years later, I was diagnosed with endometriosis through surgery. Another 4 years later was diagnosed with celiac disease only after another family member was diagnosed. My point here is without doctors connecting the dots, it is very hard to find an answer to seemingly unrelated health issues. I am feeling amazing now, am off continuous birth control and currently managing the endo pain so much better. All from a strict gluten free diet! Hope this helps someone out there as I had absolutely no clue about celiac disease and its relation to many health problems.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is important that more women know about the potential effect of gluten on infertility, migraines, and endometriosis.

      Reply
  9. Thank you for this article. Very interesting about wheat intolerance not being linked to digestive issues, rather the migraine, depression, brain fog, and osteoporosis etc. fodmaps being the bloating. Fits with my own experience too.

    Reply
  10. Not about gluten, but I’ve been listening to your book and have a question. Is a mild to moderate amount of darker coarser hair growing on your chin/neck just a variation of normal in your early 30’s as a woman? My cycle is normal, and I had blood tests done at various parts of my cycle to check my hormones and thyroid but everything came back normal. I just pluck away every day-12-20 of them maybe-not super obvious if you don’t look close-but it just bugs me. My naturopathic dr said it’s just “ideopathic hirsutism”. I also have androgenetic Alopecia-dr said it was also “ideopathic” but all the visuals are there, even if my labs come back normal. I’ve come to terms with the Alopecia. Just not sure if there’s anything I can do with the facial hair part. Thanks!

    Reply
  11. I have neurodermatitis (atopic eczema) but it only flares up once every 2-3 years. I don’t experience any of the other symptoms mentioned in the article. Could it be gluten or is that very unlikely?

    Reply
    • Eczema can relate to gluten but not usually.

      There are lots of other potential factors with eczema including genetics (of course), but also gut and skin microbiome, and possible sensitivities to salicylates, dairy, or eggs. But unless you also have other issues, a flare every few years may not be worth making big changes for.

      Reply

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