How Wheat or Gluten Affects Periods

Wheat or gluten is not usually an obstacle to healthy menstruation but can sometimes be a problem for endometriosis, amenorrhea, and thyroid disease.

Keep reading for a short survey of how wheat affects periods, but first, let’s take a closer look at wheat’s two main symptom-causing components: FODMAPs, which are a type of carbohydrate, and gluten, which is a protein.

FODMAPs can cause digestive symptoms

FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate that can cause digestive bloating and lead to the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 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. Foods with a high FODMAP content 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, a 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.

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

With SIBO and a FODMAP-sensitivity, you usually don’t need to strictly avoid wheat or any food.

Gluten can cause immune dysfunction

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

Gluten is a protein that can cause immune dysfunction, but only if you’re sensitive to it.

👉🏽 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 NCGS

Gluten-sensitivity can take the form of either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Of the two, celiac disease is more severe and can be quite easily diagnosed with a blood test. For a celiac test to be accurate, you need to have consumed some gluten within the past few weeks. That’s why it’s important to test for celiac disease before you eliminate gluten from your diet.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is more common than celiac disease and, unfortunately, cannot be diagnosed by a standard celiac blood test.

As stated, 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.

Identifying the problem

To know if gluten is a problem, 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.

You can also speak to your doctor about a blood test for the “coeliac gene” or “coeliac genotype,” which are a couple of chromosomal mutations, known as HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8.
Testing positive for a coeliac gene does not mean that you actually do have a problem with gluten-sensitivity or coeliac disease—only that you could have a problem. For example, testing positive for the gene means about a 4 percent chance that you will eventually go on to develop coeliac disease but it does also put you at risk of other conditions such as autoimmune thyroid disease.

In other words, it can be worth knowing if you have the coeliac gene not just so you know if gluten could be a problem but also so you know if probably won’t be a problem. If you test negative for the coeliac gene, you probably don’t have to worry about gluten sensitivity.

Beyond symptoms and testing, the simplest way to determine if you have a gluten-sensitivity is to try strictly avoiding it for at least eight weeks and see how you feel. “Strictly avoiding” means having no gluten at all, which is quite a different strategy than just reducing it as you can do with FODMAPs. I like how pharmacist Izabella Wentz puts it in her book The Hashimoto’s Protocol: “There’s no such thing as partially gluten-free.” It’s an all-or-nothing strategy during the eight-week elimination period.

Recap

In summary, 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 more likely to be a problem with gluten.

Glyphosate and carbohydrate

Wheat has a couple of other components that could potentially cause problems. The first is the herbicide glyphosate, which is sometimes used on wheat and may be an endocrine disruptor. The second is a relatively high dose of carbohydrate in wheat which could, in theory, contribute to insulin resistance but starch is usually a minor problem for insulin compared to sugar or high-dose fructose.

How wheat affects periods

Acne can be made worse by SIBO, low stomach acid, and FODMAP malabsorption. In most cases, however, it is sugar and cow’s dairy that drive acne.

Amenorrhea (lack of periods) or unexplained infertility can be the result of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. That’s why the general recommendation is that every woman with unexplained infertility should be screened for celiac disease. There are several different potential reasons for amenorrhea so it’s important to check with your doctor. The most common reason is hypothalamic amenorrhea caused by undereating — which has nothing to do with gluten.

Migraines are sometimes linked with underlying gluten sensitivity, amongst other factors. 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 sometimes be the result of FODMAP-sensitivity, gluten, or dairy sensitivity.

Finally, endometriosis and adenomyosis are associated with the same immune dysfunction that reacts to gluten. According to reproductive immunologist Dr Jeffrey Braverman, most women with endometriosis have the celiac genotype. Read Endometriosis? Treat the Immune System.

16 thoughts on “How Wheat or Gluten Affects Periods”

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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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