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: There’s gluten in wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and possibly oats. There’s no gluten in rice, corn, millet, quinoa, or potatoes.

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.

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 the coeliac gene means only that you could one day have a problem with coeliac disease or gluten-sensitivity—not that you actually do have a problem.

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.

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, acne is driven by sugar and cow’s dairy.

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.

11 thoughts on “How Wheat or Gluten Affects Periods”

  1. 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 ?

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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?

    • 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.

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