You may be wondering, just what is gluten and why does gluten-free matter for someone like me with PCOS? I used to wonder the same thing. But not anymore! Removing gluten from my diet and has made a remarkable improvement in my carbohydrate cravings, mood, energy levels and more. It has done the same for my clients as well. If you are wondering where to begin, you can download my Meal Plans for gluten-free ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks!
Unfortunately, you won’t find any major study or conclusion linking gluten intolerance or celiac disease with PCOS. But, Dr. Jeffrey Aron who has been practicing gastroenterology for 35 years and is Head of Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine at California Pacific Medical Center, is quoted as saying that, “PCOS and celiac are related.”
Melissa Diane Smith who’s a nutritionist, health educator and author of Going Against the Grain says that “…85% of her PCOS clients test positive for a sensitivity to gluten. When these women remove gluten from their diets they often see a marked improvement in their PCOS symptoms.”
So there is no research studies linked to PCOS, but nevertheless, let’s explore what gluten and wheat may be doing to our PCOS bodies.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is that sticky protein in wheat that holds bread together and makes it rise. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt, kamut, and triticale.
Gluten May be an Underlying Cause of Some PCOS Symptoms
A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. Here are some health issues that may be caused or aggravated by gluten – diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, constipation, inability to lose weight, chronic sinus problems, snoring, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, cancer, depression, skin disorders, osteoporosis, diabetes or hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases, infertility, tingling numbness in the legs, sores inside the mouth, hives, joint/muscle pains and aches.(1)
Eliminating Gluten May Help with Cravings
Your cravings for bread, cookies, cake, pasta and other foods may be caused by gluten intolerance. When you are gluten intolerant you often have food cravings for gluten containing foods and it has frequently been observed that people crave that which they are allergic to.
Gluten can cause a morphine-like response in your body. When gluten proteins are not broken down completely in the body they are called peptides. This peptide is called glutomorphine. The National Institutes of Health researchers showed that these gluten-derived peptides can cross into the brain and bind to the brain’s opiate receptors. (2,3) So you can get a mild euphoria after eating a product that contains gluten. Interestingly, it has been shown that you can block that effect [in lab animals] by administering the drug naloxone. This is the same drug that you’re given if you’re a heroin addict; it’s an opiate blocker. So if gluten can cause an opiate-like reaction, you can see how it can become quite addictive. Opiates can cause any or all of the following side effects: clouded mental functioning, insomnia, diarrhea, impaired social connection, blocking of pain messages, dilated pupils, inflammation on the stomach lining and depression. I also find it interesting that some doctors are using low-dose Naltrexone another opioid to help women with PCOS.
If you would like to try eliminating gluten, try my Done-for-You Meal Plans, with over 100 gluten-free recipes. Discover how good you can feel without gluten and other foods that aggregate PCOS.
Gluten Can Cause Systemic Inflammation
Ever heard of leaky gut syndrome? Perhaps you have even been diagnosed with leaky gut. Well, gluten can damage the gut lining and cause leaky gut. A protein in your gut, called “zonulin”, is increased by exposure to gluten. The zonulin protein causes cracks or fissures in your gut which allows bacteria and food particles to leak across the intestinal barrier. Think of how a crack in your window screen causes bugs from the outside get into your house, the same goes for a crack in your gut barrier. Undigested protein and bacteria can leak across your gut barrier and are exposed to your immune system. Your immune system sees these proteins and bugs as an invader and sets you up for an inflammatory response. This leads to systemic inflammation. (4)
According to Mark Hyman, MD, “Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. It can be the single cause behind many different “diseases.” To correct these diseases, you need to treat the cause–which is often gluten sensitivity–not just the symptoms.”
Connection between Gluten Intolerance and Hypothyroid
Many women with PCOS have autoimmune hypothyroid otherwise known as Hashimotos. The results of a recent Dutch study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology have confirmed a connection between Hashimotos Thyroiditis and Celiac (a severe form of gluten intolerance) disease. The study concludes that there is a clear association between Hashimotos Thyroiditis and Celiac Disease. Accordingly, it is recommended that patients with Hashimotos Thyroiditis be screened for celiac disease and that patients with known Celiac be screened for Hashimotos Thyroiditis. (5)
Another study of 172 patients with Hashimotos found that undiagnosed Celiac Disease may actually be part of the process that triggers an underlying autoimmune disease. In their findings researchers wrote: “We believe that undiagnosed Celiac Disease can cause other disorders by switching on some as yet unknown immunological mechanism. Untreated Celiac patients produce organ-specific (thyroid) autoantibodies.”
The researchers found that the various antibodies that indicate celiac disease – organ-specific autoantibodies (i.e., thyroid antibodies) — will disappear after 3 to 6 months of a gluten-free diet.