Gluten Can Make Your Period Miserable

Those Painful Cramps? Headaches? Heavy Bleeding? Could Be Gluten

woman with bad period cramps
Are your horrible cramps caused by gluten?. Anna Bizon/Getty Images

Question: Can celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cause severe menstrual cramps and just generally make your period a miserable experience?

Answer: Possibly. Although there are no published medical studies looking specifically at severe menstrual cramps in women with undiagnosed celiac disease, numerous studies link menstrual problems with celiac disease.

Meanwhile, anecdotal reports from diagnosed celiacs and women with gluten sensitivity indicate many find relief from horrible cramps and other nasty period-related symptoms after going gluten-free.

Imagine menstrual cramps so horrible you feel nauseated, headaches that confine you to bed, very heavy bleeding ... except many of us don't have to imagine. We've experienced it. 

And since two-thirds of those with celiac disease and a majority of those with gluten sensitivity are women, this could be a pretty major problem.

What Exactly Is the Problem?

We don't really know why having an issue with the protein gluten might throw a wrench into your reproductive works. However, it's possible that chronic inflammation may play a role.

In fact, some women who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity also report that their periods are much worse — more painful, with cramps and abdominal pain lasting longer than usual, as well — if they've been glutened recently, especially if the glutening was particularly bad.

What Do the Medical Studies Say?

Not much. This is not an area that's been studied extensively, to say the least.

There's only a small handful of studies involving nasty periods in women with celiac disease, and none at all for women with gluten sensitivity.

A major Italian study on reproductive issues in women with celiac disease did find that nearly half of women with celiac reported suffering from dysmenorrhea (the fancy scientific way to say "severe menstrual cramps") prior to diagnosis.

However, about 32% of non-celiac women serving as control subjects in that study also reported severe menstrual cramps.

That study did not consider whether following a gluten-free diet could improve the severe menstrual cramps in women with celiac disease. However, the authors wrote that their results "seem to substantiate a possible relation between the two."

In addition, a case study from Italy reported on a 43-year-old woman with horrible period pain and other symptoms. When her symptoms resurfaced six months after a medical procedure meant to alleviate them, her physicians tested her for celiac disease. A gluten-free diet fixed the problem.

Women Link Gluten and Nasty Periods

Anecdotal reports from women who go gluten-free indicate a potential link between gluten (in those who are celiac or gluten-sensitive) and bad period pain. I've corresponded with many women who say their severe menstrual cramps improved or even disappeared completely once they began eating gluten-free.

Endometriosis may be to blame for some women.

 At least one study has found a direct link between celiac disease, pelvic pain and endometriosis ... in fact, in many cases menstrual problems were the women's first sign that something was amiss, long before any digestive issues developed

The authors of the major Italian study note that celiac women who follow a gluten-free diet appear to avoid many pregnancy problems found commonly in celiacs. It stands to reason that the same could hold true for celiac women suffering from severe menstrual cramps.

Source:

D. Martinelli et al. Reproductive life disorders in Italian celiac women. A case-control study. BMC Gastroenterology. 2010 Aug 6;10:89.

Porpora MG et al. Celiac disease as a cause of chronic pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, and deep dyspareunia. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2002 May;99(5 Pt 2):937-9.

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