Gluten Free Diet for PCOS?

If you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), you have heard that you should consider a gluten-free diet. It’s true, many women with PCOS report a reduction of PCOS symptoms when they’ve gone gluten-free. However, the bottom line is that there is a significant lack of evidence to support a gluten-free diet for all women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

Let's dive into the subject, so you can have the information you need about Gluten to make the best decision for your Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome lifestyle.

What is Gluten?

Gluten refers to a group of proteins that are found in wheat, barley, and rye. These proteins give bread its texture, help retain moisture, and promote elasticity. Foods that commonly contain gluten include pasta, bread, crackers, cookies, pastries, cereal, and beer. Gluten is also used as an additive in processed foods like gravy, condiments, soup, and lunchmeat.

What are the Gluten-Related Disorders?

There are two kinds of Gluten related disorders. Celiac disease, and Gluten Sensitivity.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder and is not something to be taken lightly. If you have even the slightest suspicion that you might have celiac disease, get tested as soon as possible. A blood test to look for antibodies called anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTGA) is the only way to know for sure if you have celiac disease. And if the test comes back positive, the only treatment is a strict and lifelong gluten-free diet. So better be safe and get yourself checked out!

Gluten Sensitivity

If you're one of the unlucky 13 percent of the population that can't enjoy a nice slice of bread or a beer without getting sick, then you might have gluten sensitivity. Symptoms include brain fog, anxiety, headaches and skin problems. The only way to find out for sure is to go on a short-term gluten-free diet and see if your symptoms improve.

There is currently no cure for gluten sensitivity, but many people are able to manage their symptoms by avoiding gluten-containing foods.

How do I know if I am sensitive to Gluten or Celiac?

It’s estimated that 40% of the population has a Gluten sensitivity or has Celiac Disease.  

Gluten is found in wheat, barley, spelt, semolina and rye and in sauces, cakes, syrups, soy-sauce, and even some drinks. You’ll find it listed in code words like malt, modified food-starch & dextrin on ingredient labels. Why is it used so much? Well for one, gluten is pretty amazing when it comes to baking... without Gluten, those light and fluffy morsels don’t exist. However, are fluffy, sweet pastries worth it when they have such far-reaching negative effect on your health? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. 

If you’re suffering from obesity, fatigue, depression, headaches, arthritis, or digestive problems then you might have a gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease. However, even if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease, gluten could still be affecting your hormonal health by adding stress to your adrenal glands. This can cause adrenal fatigue and other hormone-related health problems.

The Connection of Adrenal Glands and Gluten

The adrenal glands sit above your kidneys and release hormones into your bloodstream, and likewise respond to feedback from other hormones and chemicals in your body. Gluten sensitivity puts direct stress on your adrenal glands. Where does this stress come from? It’s the inflammatory response in your digestive tract. This inflammatory response occurs every time you eat gluten, if you have a gluten sensitivity. 

This puts stress on your adrenals and eventually they become incapable of repairing themselves; as a result, their function slowly begins to deteriorate. Eventually this causes chronic stress on your adrenal glands from the gluten in your diet and the symptoms cause “adrenal exhaustion.”

Normally your adrenals make hormones called Pregnenolone “Mother Hormones” which are the building blocks for many hormones including sex hormones (DHEA, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone). Which all need to be maintained to prevent PMS, fatigue, depression, loss of libido, hot flashes, anxiety, infertility, and miscarriages.

What are symptoms of celiac disease?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be celiac:

Diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, low blood count (anemia), and osteoporosis. However, many people with celiac disease are asymptomatic and show no symptoms.

Gluten Free Diet Benefits for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Let’s go over some reasons you may benefit from going gluten-free if you’re struggling with PCOS. 

Improve Blood Sugar Levels & Insulin Resistance

Let’s face it, items that contain gluten in America are higher in refined carbohydrates and sugar than most anything else. Just cutting back on gluten can have a positive effect and improve blood sugar levels and insulin resistance in women with PCOS.  

Did you know that 70% of women with PCOS have a varying degree of insulin resistance? It’s true.  Insulin Resistance is a driving condition that leads to multiple PCOS symptoms.

Lower Carb Consumption

Lowering your carb consumption can lower your insulin levels. High insulin not only causes weight gain but also causes the ovaries to make excess testosterone and impair ovulation. By eating less refined carbs and added sugar, women with PCOS may experience improved blood sugar levels, less insulin resistance, and overall symptom improvement

Refined carbohydrates are found in white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, sweet desserts, and many breakfast cereals.

Let’s face it, wheat today is not the same as wheat 50 years ago and it has never been easier to grab carbs on the go.

Gut Health

When your immune system overreacts to a particular food, it can trigger more inflammation, leaky gut, and an imbalance in gut bacteria. These three factors largely affect PCOS and overall health. In fact, women with PCOS are more likely to have leaky gut and dysbiosis—an imbalance in gut bacteria—than women without this condition (2).Temporarily eliminating food sensitivities as part of a gut healing protocol can reduce inflammation, heal leaky gut, and rebalance your gut microbiome to treat PCOS from the inside out.

Thyroid Health

If you're one of the many women with PCOS, you might also be at risk for Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid. This can lead to progressive damage and inflammation, eventually resulting in hypothyroidism. Fortunately, some studies have shown that a gluten-free diet may help to improve symptoms in people with Hashimoto's and other autoimmune conditions.

Are all Gluten Free foods good for me?

Though going gluten free isn’t necessarily the answer unless you’re also making lifestyle changes. Don’t get me wrong, gluten free options normally have less sugar, and overall healthier ingredients.

However if you are exchanging your high carb diet for one that is the same but gluten free, it isn’t going to fix all your problems. Switching to gluten free bread, cookies and cakes is great if you have Celiac Disease but if you’re looking to reduce inflammation, insulin resistance and reduce PCOS symptoms you need to also find gluten free options that reduce your overall sugar and carb intake.

It takes a lot of work to find companies that produce the best foods for your lifestyle but they are out there. There are some gluten-free foods that have poor nutritional value, are high in added sugar like gluten-free Oreos *though they are super good.

If you decide to try a gluten-free diet, focus on eating whole and unprocessed foods that are naturally free of gluten like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean protein, and gluten-free whole grains (i.e. brown rice or quinoa). I call this the old school gluten-free lifestyle. Back in 2005, it was nearly impossible to find good gluten free options. 

What other options do I have besides cutting out gluten? 

If you’re looking to reduce inflammation without cutting out gluten, here are some suggestions:

Opting for Better Ingredients

If you do not have Celiac Disease and are not gluten sensitive and want to keep gluten in your life, try making your breads at home, using quality, organic ingredients and limiting sugar. Whole grain flour is a great substitute to White Flour.

Adding Healthy Fats

Include Omega-3 fats in your diet to help reduce inflammation. A study done in 2014 found that having a high ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats had a positive effect on reducing inflammation and reducing risk of developing endometriosis.

More Fruits and Vegetables

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and try to avoid sugar and processed foods. Processed foods aren’t good for anyone because of the unhealthy fats and sugar. The low nutrients in these processed foods like white bread can produce pain and inflammation in women with PCOS and Endometriosis. 

Increase Fiber intake

A high-fiber diet may improve weight as it will help you stay full after a meal. It’s suggested for women to have around 25 grams per day of fiber though studies show women often get as little as 15 grams a day or less. 

One study done with women who have PCOS showed that higher fiber intake was linked to lower insulin resistance, lower total body fat and lower body weight.1

Fiber comes in two varieties: insoluble and soluble. Soluble fiber helps control blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol.  Insoluble fiber is the fiber you always hear about that prevents constipation. Studies show that intakes of 28- 36 g fiber/day, consisting of both soluble and insoluble fiber, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce circulating insulin in adults. Examples of fiber include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts and fruits (apples, berries, citrus fruits and pears). 

Eat Enough Calories

Studies have found that switching through diet fads and under-eating can slow down your metabolism.2   Not having enough calories can actually negatively impact hormones that control appetite. Instead of thinking about a particular diet, focus on avoiding processed foods, added sugar and refined carbs. Incorporate fresh, organic options into your meals to promote a healthier lifestyle. 

Supplement When Needed

Consider adding supplements into your life to help balance your hormones. In one randomized study,  women with PCOS were given 4 grams of Myo-Inositol per day for 14 weeks and they lost weight. S’moo, which contains Myo-Inositol as well as 6 other vitamins/minerals and herbs, has helped thousands of women manage their PCOS symptoms. Find a supplement that can help aid you on your journey. 

Final Thoughts

There is no concrete evidence that suggests a gluten-free diet is a necessity for all women with PCOS. However, many ladies who suffer from PCOS say they feel better after cutting gluten out of their diets. It's possible this is due to consuming less refined carbs, an allergy to gluten, or underlying Hashimoto's. If you have celiac disease, then you must follow a gluten-free diet forever.

While some might see gluten sensitivity as a curse, it can actually be a blessing in disguise. Sure, it might not be the most comfortable thing to experience, but it could be a sign of something greater going on in your body. That's right, poor gut health. But don't fret! There's hope yet. Some food sensitivities can actually be reversed after you properly heal your gut!

No two cases of PCOS are the same, so when it comes to addressing going gluten free and PCOS, it is best to talk to your naturopath, dietician or doctor about a tailored personalized approach for you. Depending on your individual story and experiences, they may suggest eliminating gluten for a period of time while you address the underlying causes of your PCOS.

Whether you decide Gluten is for you or not, we hope you find what works best for you and your lifestyle. We are here for you if you have any questions, always!

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Medical Disclaimer

This content is strictly the opinion of S’moo and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician.

All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither S’moo nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content.

All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.