Is There a Connection Between Gluten and PCOS?

Visit any polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) chat on social media and you're sure to come across recommendations from other women with the syndrome plugging a gluten-free diet.

In fact, a study found that 30% of Americans showed interest in avoiding gluten, even though less than 1% of Americans have celiac disease, which is an inherited autoimmune condition.

A woman shopping at the store
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The number of people without celiac disease who avoid gluten has been steadily increasing since 2009, though the number of people diagnosed with celiac disease has not increased.

This elevated interest in a gluten-free diet is likely due to the widespread belief that eliminating gluten provides health benefits.

Understanding Gluten

Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Lesser-known sources of gluten may include:

  • Sandwich meats
  • Imitation seafood and bacon
  • Marinades
  • Sauces
  • Oats (unless labeled gluten-free)
  • Beer

Following a gluten-free diet requires careful reading of food labels and discussions with the wait staff in restaurants to avoid gluten-containing foods.

Celiac Disease Vs. Gluten Sensitivity

Celiac disease is an autoimmune intestinal disorder that affects 1% of the United States population. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to a variety of health problems, including:

  • Intestinal damage
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Irregular periods
  • Infertility

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is more common than celiac disease, likely affecting six times the number of Americans who have celiac disease.

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity vary and may include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Brain fog

Individuals with gluten intolerance don’t suffer from intestinal damage, so they don’t have nutritional deficiencies.

Gluten and PCOS

The number of women with PCOS who are gluten sensitive is unknown. To date, there’s no evidence-based research showing a connection between PCOS and gluten.

There is no evidence that PCOS is affected by gluten consumption.

However, women with PCOS do have higher markers of inflammation than women without the syndrome. And it has been suggested that the daily consumption of wheat products and other related cereal grains may contribute to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.

Reducing gluten consumption or avoiding it could potentially lessen inflammation in women with PCOS, but more research is needed before recommending gluten-free diets to all women with the disease.

Getting tested for celiac disease is always recommended before you start a gluten-free diet.

Tips for Going Gluten-Free

Before trying a gluten-free diet, consult a registered dietitian for help creating a gluten-free meal plan that meets your unique needs.

You may also find these tips helpful:

  • Choose whole foods that don’t contain gluten and are packed with nutrients and fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa.
  • Mark gluten-free foods in your pantry with bright labels or keep them on a separate shelf.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by separating utensils, cutting boards, and toasters.
  • Put condiments in squeeze bottles to keep knives and crumbs out.

Common Questions

Will a gluten-free diet help me lose weight?

Many gluten-free foods have added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium to maintain flavor, making them a poor choice for most people—especially for those with PCOS.

If eating gluten-free helps you to lose weight, it’s not likely due to cutting out gluten. It’s probably because you’ve cut back on extra calories and carbohydrates by avoiding many breads, pastas, baked goods, and other foods that contain gluten.

Could a gluten intolerance explain my digestive symptoms?

Gluten alone may not be causing the common symptoms experienced by those with gluten intolerance. FODMAPs, a group of poorly digested carbohydrates, can also cause symptoms. Many foods that are high in FODMAPs also contain gluten.

How can I find out if I have a gluten intolerance?

There isn’t a test to determine if you have gluten intolerance or not. The only way to know is to eliminate gluten. If you feel significantly better following a gluten-free diet and notice a difference when you reintroduce gluten, you may have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

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Article Sources
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