Can Gluten Cause Early Menopause?
Before tackling this question, let’s discuss a few basic definitions that will help you to understand this topic better. The female menstrual cycle or menstruation, is the monthly hormonal cycle that a female’s body goes through to prepare for pregnancy. This cycle is regulated by several different hormones to include estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH).
From puberty until middle age, healthy, well nourished women experience a monthly cycle that consists of four phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. Menopause is the cessation of this cycle.
Most females enter menopause between the ages of 40-60. Though often considered a “disease”, menopause is a natural part of the life cycle of women. Healthy women can experience some mild symptoms as a result of the hormone changes associated with menopause. Unhealthy women can experience more aggressive symptoms. It is speculated that about 80% of women experience symptoms during this transition.
Common Symptoms of Menopause
The significant hormonal shifts that take place during menopause can cause some unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms for many women. These symptoms can last several months, or even years, and may include the following:
- Back pain
- Bone density loss, bone pain
- Cognitive decline
- Decreased libido, decreased sexual function
- Dental caries
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth/ xerostomia, burning mouth
- Elevated heart rate
- Emotional distress
- Genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM)
- Gingival atrophy
- Jawbone osteoporosis
- Joint pain, aches, or stiffness
- Loss of lean body mass
- Mood changes, mood swings
- Osteopenia, osteoporosis
- Psychological distress
- Sexual dysfunction
- Skin lesions
- Sleep disruption, insomnia
- Taste changes
- Vaginal dryness, discharge, itchiness or irritation
- Visceral and abdominal adiposity
- Weight gain, obesity
In addition, menopause can cause a number of biochemical symptoms with potentially more significant health implications, including dyslipidemia (a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke), glucose intolerance (a risk factor for diabetes), hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin in the blood), insulin resistance, inflammation, decreased hormones (estradiol and progesterone) and and increase in certain biochemical markers (triglycerides, FSH, leptin, proinflammatory markers)
Can Gluten Exposure Impact Menopause?
There is a growing body of research on the impact that gluten and grains can have on menopause. Gluten induced menopause abnormalities can be summarized in three main ways:
- Gluten can cause menopause to come too early.
- Gluten disruption of hormones can lead to increased symptoms during menopause
- Gluten induced malabsorption of nutrients can cause increased symptoms
One study found that untreated women with celiac disease had a shorter duration of fertile lifespan than women without celiac disease. In addition, the scores for hot flashes, muscle/joint problems, and irritability were higher in untreated celiac women. However, the study found that a gluten-free diet that started at least 10 years before menopause prolonged the fertile life span of celiac women.
An extensive research review connected gluten consumption to a multitude of female reproductive issues. The following is a quote from the conclusion of this review:
“Among the atypical symptoms of coeliac disease also include infertility such as delayed onset of menstruation, early menopause, secondary amenorrhea, infertility and pregnancy complications, such as recurrent abortions, intrauterine fetal growth restriction, small fetus for gestational age, low birth weight and premature birth.”
Another study found that women with untreated celiac disease start menopause earlier.
Why is early menopause is a problem?
The obvious is that early menopause shortens the amount of fertile years a woman has.
In addition, premature menopause and early menopause are associated with long-term health risks which can include premature death, cardiovascular disease, neurologic disease, osteoporosis, psychosexual dysfunction, dementia, and mood disorders.
How gluten affects your hormones
Gluten can play a role in menopause symptoms as it can impact how your body produces hormones. One of the major causes of gluten induced hormone disruption comes from nutritional deficiencies. This is because hormones require vitamins and minerals to be properly synthesized. Those with gluten sensitivity often experience nutrient deficiencies because gluten can damage the small intestine causing impaired absorption of key nutrients. Furthermore, grain-based foods, such as bread, pasta, crackers, and sweets, are heavily processed and are devoid of adequate essential nutrients. Therefore, people who rely heavily on such foods are more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies.
In addition, gluten can impact hormones by acting as an endocrine disruptor. Studies suggest that gluten induced autoimmunity can impact multiple endocrine organs including the ovaries, uterus, thyroid, adrenals, and pancreas.
Grains are also heavily sprayed with herbicides like atrazine and glyphosate. Glyphosate is a known hormone disruptor in human cells. In addition, some pesticides used to grow grains can also have endocrine-disrupting effects. And studies have shown they can alter the synthesis or action of a wide range of hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, thyroid hormone, cortisol, progesterone, and prolactin.
Natural Solutions to Menopause Symptoms
Fortunately, there are a number of actions women can take that can help naturally minimize uncomfortable menopause symptoms:
- Avoid gluten: for reasons discussed above, gluten may disrupt hormones and exacerbate menopause symptoms
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: research has shown that women who are at a healthy weight have lower risk of diseases that are associated with menopause
- Avoid alcohol: Alcohol is likely to exacerbate symptoms. In fact, one study found that women who drank alcohol daily were much more likely to report hot flashes and night sweats.
- Incorporate fatty fish or omega-3 supplementation: research shows that A high intake of oily fish was were associated with delayed onset of natural menopause
- Get adequate sleep: disrupted or insufficient sleep can impact hormones and influence menopausal symptoms
- Get regular exercise: regular moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance exercise can support improvements in sleep quality, insomnia and other common ailments of menopause.
- Manage stress: stress raises cortisol which can further exacerbate hormonal imbalances
Supplements That May Be Beneficial in Supporting Menopause Symptoms
While pharmaceutical drugs may be encouraged by some, there are a number of herbal and nutritional supplements can be helpful in managing the symptoms of menopause. Research shows that many women in the menopausal life stage are deficient in several of these key nutrients, so supplementation may be wise. A number of these can be found in our Ultra Balance supplement.
- Chaste tree
- Black Cohosh
- Calcium D Glucarate
- Omega 3 fats
- B Vitamins
- Vitamins A,D, E, and K
The Bottom Line
Menopause is an inevitable part of aging, but there are steps that women can take to prevent its early onset and to support the body’s response to its hormonal shifts. A gluten free diet is one of these steps, and Gluten Free Society can support you along the way with evidence based information, healthy and delicious recipes, and more.