There are a million different diets out there, but one that has risen to prominence in recent years is the gluten-free diet. Gluten is the name for proteins found in wheat, rye and barley, and they help foods keep their shape by acting as a glue to hold them together.
Many people with coeliac disease or gluten intolerances will look out for the GF symbol next to a dish on the menu in a restaurant, but some like to follow this diet for a range of other health reasons, for example, they believe it can help improve general health, encourage weight loss, increase energy, and more (although these claims are currently unproven).
Let’s find out whether or not a gluten-free diet could benefit your menstrual cycle...
It turns out the two are way more connected than you might think. Even if you’re not allergic to or intolerant to gluten, you could be sensitive to it and not realise. There are actually several hormone-related health problems linked to gluten sensitivity, from arthritis to nutritional anaemias to mental health problems and more.
Any gluten intolerance can put stress on the adrenal glands due to an inflammatory response in the digestive tract. If this happens on occasion it likely won’t interfere with the adrenals’ ability to function normally, but if you are sensitive to gluten, this inflammation can happen every time you eat in, and so the adrenals are constantly stressed. Since the adrenals are responsible for making the basic building block sex hormones - DHEA, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone - it means an imbalance here can lead to issues with PMS, anxiety and more.
In short? Maybe. There have been more than a few anecdotal accounts of people suffering from very painful menstruation symptoms like cramps, that either improved or disappeared after they were diagnosed with coeliac disease and began a gluten-free diet.
Of course, being sensitive to gluten is definitely not the same as having coeliac disease, and there isn’t enough legitimate research yet to support any connection, but some naturopathic professionals believe a gluten-free diet could improve period-related symptoms and decrease pain during menstruation. If you experience painful periods and are sensitive to gluten, it may be a good idea to ask your GP about trying out a gluten-free diet and monitoring the results to see if it helps.
There have been some links made between endometriosis and coeliac disease, so it’s not out of the question to consider a gluten-free diet to help with endo symptoms. Endometriosis is a condition where uterine cells grow outside the uterus, causing pelvic pain, heavy periods, pain during sex and more. A 2012 study found that long-term adoption of a gluten-free diet could help reduce endometriosis symptoms, with the symptoms easing after around 12 months of the diet.
Unfortunately there hasn’t been quite enough research carried out on the links between endometriosis and gluten yet, but some limited studies, along with anecdotal reports from those who suffer from coeliac disease, seem to show that endo may be more common in those with coeliac disease than in the general population. A 2009 study found that coeliac disease was 4x more common in women with endometriosis, so it’s no wonder we’re all thinking it… could gluten be causing more havoc to our cycles than we think?
Currently, there just hasn’t been enough solid research conducted to find any definitive connections between gluten sensitivity and menstrual cycle issues. But would you be wrong to believe in the possibility of a link? Absolutely not.
If you struggle with a difficult menstrual cycle, PMS symptoms, or you have endometriosis, then you may wish to try cutting down on your gluten intake (or removing it from your diet altogether) as this could make a difference - it’s all about trial and error, as each individual person is different.
If you’re interested in trying a gluten free diet to improve period-related symptoms, we would suggest speaking to a nutritionist or your healthcare provider first to get their advice, and to try going gluten-free for several weeks to make sure you are seeing the full potential benefits - the standard elimination diet is between 4 and 8 weeks, so try to stick to this to see if it works for you.
Since a gluten-free diet has become more normalised in recent years, many new brands have popped up in shops, and there are typically gluten-free options on most menus, too. Here are our top tips for making the switch:
Have you tried a gluten-free diet to help with your menstrual cycle? We’d love to know if it worked for you. Shout out in our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, supplements for bloating, and more, delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox - that's one less thing to worry about each month.
This article was fact-checked by Yoppie’s nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.
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