Can Gluten Trigger PCOS Symptoms?

by Tallene Posted June 29, 2022

The link between gluten and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) has long been debated. The ultimate question is: can gluten trigger PCOS symptoms? 

Studies show that if you’re sensitive to gluten, it can contribute to inflammation. Inflammation leads to insulin resistance, imbalanced cortisol and hypothyroidism, all of which are underlying issues that drive symptoms of PCOS. So, adopting a gluten free (and dairy free) lifestyle for 30 days is at least worth a try to see if these foods are driving your symptoms!

It’s not the gluten itself that’s the problem; it’s the reaction that gluten triggers in the body. If your body doesn’t process gluten well, a gluten-free diet could be the key to reversing your PCOS symptoms and beginning the healing process from within. 

Not sure what type of PCOS you have? Discover your type by taking THIS quiz.

Please note this blog post is not a substitute for official medical advice. If you are concerned about your PCOS symptoms, suspect you have an underlying health condition, or wish to make dietary/lifestyle changes, please consult your doctor first.

Inflammation

That hormonal belly? Bad skin? Irritable stomach?

These symptoms are all activated by inflammation. Not to get too much into the science, but women with PCOS tend to have higher levels of oxidative stress, inflammatory cytokines and white blood cells (called lymphocytes and monocytes). 

These guys are all triggered when there’s an inflammatory food in the body…one of them might be gluten. If you suspect that you have a gluten intolerance, avoid gluten for 30 days and see how you feel! 

Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is when our body doesn’t respond well to insulin. The pancreas recognises that insulin is needed when we eat food, but certain foods can cause us to overproduce it. After a while, the combination of excess insulin levels and inflammation leads to insulin resistance and we see depletion in our energy, mood, weight, and all our PCOS symptoms. 

But how do we control it?

If insulin resistance is part of your PCOS picture (you can take this quick quiz to see), then cutting out gluten could help reduce inflammation, which is essentially what activates insulin resistance. 

Foods such as pasta can be substituted for gluten-free meals like chickpea pasta and or just chickpeas. Baked goods can be substituted for gluten-free alternatives, especially almond and coconut flour, which are lower carb options (check out our 4-week meal and workout plan for some recipe inspo!) and of course plenty of fruits and vegetables. Foods with added sugars can contribute to and exacerbate insulin resistance, so a diet incorporating plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fats is key, 

To optimally address your insulin, discover your carb tolerance (something we show you how to calculate in The Cysterhood!)

Cortisol Induced Dysregulation

Cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’, was designed to keep us safe from predators and trigger our fight or flight response. But too much cortisol? And you’re in for a host of stress symptoms that are not healthy.

Symptoms such as acne, facial hair, irregular periods, digestive problems, fatigue and anxiety… sound familiar?

Symptoms occur because high levels of cortisol can also increase testosterone and insulin resistance… and guess what can increase cortisol? Inflammatory foods! 

Gluten-containing foods may be the culprit here. If you’re showing symptoms of gluten sensitivity, try eliminating gluten for 30 days and see how your anxiety and mood changes! 

Not everyone with PCOS will be sensitive to gluten.

But if you are, gluten does affect weight loss as well as your PCOS symptoms, so it’s worth eliminating gluten (even for just 30 days!) to see if it makes a difference in how you feel. 

Going gluten-free, creating a low-PCOS-impact lifestyle and being consistent with it have really helped manage my inflammation and that of many other cysters:

  • I no longer have painful cystic acne!
  • I don’t have “uncontrollable” cravings (due to insulin resistance) anymore!
  • After 6 months, my ultrasounds showed no ovarian cysts

It’s amazing what such a small change can do.

I mean, sure, sometimes I do dip my sushi in soy sauce (which has gluten) and occasionally I’ll nibble the corner of a croissant – but I know what to look out for and how much my body can tolerate.

If you need more support with going gluten-free… here are some places to start:

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