Gluten and PCOS: Is There a Connection?

Should women with PCOS eat a gluten free diet or is it just a fad?

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Nearly 20 percent of adults buy or consume foods labeled gluten-free, even though only about 8 percent actually have a medical reason to avoid gluten, according to Packaged Facts Market Research. Why the increase? Some have the perception that eating gluten-free foods can result in weight loss or more energy since anything labeled free of something must be healthier.

Visit any PCOS chat on social media and you are sure to come across recommendations from other women with the syndrome plugging a gluten-free diet.

But are these benefits valid and should women with PCOS really eat gluten-free, or is it part of the trend? This article investigates the evidence and what you need to know if you want to go gluten-free.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Lesser known sources of gluten may be present in sandwich meats, imitation seafood and bacon, marinades, sauces, oats (unless labeled gluten-free), and 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 percent of the general U.S. population. If untreated, celiac disease can lead to intestinal damage, nutrient deficiencies, joint pain, chronic fatigue, irregular periods and infertility.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity ('gluten sensitivity') is more common than celiac disease, affecting six times the amount of Americans who have celiac disease.

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity vary and may include: chronic fatigue, joint pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and brain fog. Individuals with gluten intolerance don’t suffer from intestinal damage, so they don’t have nutritional deficiencies.

The Gluten and PCOS Connection

The number of women with PCOS who are gluten sensitive is unknown.

To date, there’s no evidence-based research to show a connection between PCOS and gluten.

PCOS is a state of inflammation associated with insulin resistance. It has been suggested that daily consumption of wheat products and other related cereal grains may contribute to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Women with PCOS have higher markers of inflammation than women without the syndrome. Reducing gluten consumption or avoiding it could potentially lessen inflammation in PCOS, but more research is needed before recommending gluten-free diets to all women with the disease.

If not followed correctly, a gluten-free diet can result in iron, folate, niacin, zinc, and fiber deficiencies. Many gluten-free foods have added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium to maintain flavor, making it 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 because you’ve cut back on extra calories and carbohydrates by avoiding many breads, pastas, baked goods, and other foods that contain gluten.

Gluten alone may not be causing 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.  

Since there isn’t a test to determine if someone has 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 (getting tested for celiac disease is always recommended before starting a gluten-free diet).

Tips for Going Gluten-Free

Before trying a gluten-free diet, consult with a registered dietitian to help you create a gluten-free meal plan to meet your unique needs with PCOS.

You may also find these tips helpful:

  • Choose whole foods that don’t contain gluten and that are packed with nutrients and fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa.
  • At home, mark gluten-free foods with bright labels or keep on a separate shelf.
  • Separate utensils, cutting boards, and toasters to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Use condiments in squeeze bottles to keep knives and crumbs out.


Beyond Celiac. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. .

de Punder K, Pruimboom L. The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation. Nutrients. 2013;5(3):771-787.

El-Mesallamy HO, Abd El-Razek RS, El-Refaie TA. Circulating high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and soluble CD40 ligand are inter-related in a cohort of women with polycystic ovary syndrome. 2013, Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol.

Packaged Facts. Gluten-Free Foods and Beverages in the U.S., 4th Edition.

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