Should you go gluten free if you struggle with symptoms like acne, bloating, weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, terrible PMS, infertility, and other period problems?
The answer is: Yes.
A wealth of research suggests that giving up gluten may help with a variety of symptoms, whether you have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or no identifiable symptoms at all. Going gluten free won’t heal your hormones all on its own, of course, but if you give up gluten at the same time as you engage in phase-based self care, you’re setting yourself up for hormonal success.
I’ve seen so many of the woman I work with benefit by giving up gluten. In particular, I’ve noticed that women who struggle with diarrhea, constipation, bloating, mood swings, irritability, and skin issues (like psoriasis and eczema), get better quickly by giving up gluten. But don’t just take it from me. Take it from the research.
What Research Says About Gluten & Acne, Bloating, Digestive Problems, and Other Symptoms
In a 2014 survey, over half of people who ditched bread and other gluten-containing foods (like pasta) reported improvements in their physical and mental health. And research suggests that even people who don’t have obvious symptoms after they eat gluten may benefit from giving up gluten.
Groundbreaking research done by the Italian researcher Alessio Fasano found that gluten triggers the body to release a protein called zonulin. Zonulin has a negative effect in the body: it loosens the tight junctions in the lining of the intestinal tract.
When the lining of the intestinal tract is “tight and right,” only the nutrients our bodies need to survive are allowed through the intestinal walls. When these tight junctions are weakened, other substances (like larger food particles and dangerous pathogens) are allowed to sneak through the intestinal walls. This “leaky gut” then triggers a host of other problems, like acne and other skin issues, bloating and digestive distress, mood swings, and always feeling tired.
How Gluten Affects Reproductive Hormones
Gluten fuels inflammation. Inflammation makes hormone imbalance worse.
Specifically, gluten inflames and damages the villi (small, finger-like projections) on the small intestine. When the villi are damaged, the body has a harder time absorbing nutrients and food moves more slowly through the intestines. This slower transit time means excess estrogen stays in the body longer, contributing to estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is one of the most common hormone imbalances in the women I work with and it is responsible for so many of their period problems.
Studies show that women with celiac disease, which is a severe immune-system reaction to gluten, have a greater risk of impaired fertility and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Research also links non-celiac gluten sensitivity with adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Women with endometriosis who go gluten free report reductions in pain after six to 12 months of the diet, according to two separate studies. Eating gluten has also been shown to increase incidents of bloating and fatigue. And there is some evidence linking celiac disease and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
One More Reason Gluten Is Bad For Health
The health problems associated with gluten may be related to more than just the gluten itself. Studies suggest that some of the symptoms people experience after eating wheat—like diarrhea, skin rashes, and mood problems—might be caused by the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate is a main ingredient in Roundup and is often sprayed on wheat crops.
Researchers suspect that glyphosate in the body makes it more difficult to absorb key micronutrients and that its presence may explain some of the reproductive and fertility issues associated with gluten.
The 4 Week FLO Living Gluten-Free Challenge—Do THIS First
I recommend any women who is experiencing period problems or digestive distress (or both) to try my cycle-based gluten-elimination plan.
As the name of the challenge implies, the 4 Week Gluten-Free Challenge means you’ll be eating gluten free for four straight weeks. But I ask you to take the process one step further by eating specific non-gluten-containing grains during specific times in your 28-day hormone cycle.
So the first thing you need to do is know where you are in your cycle.
The easiest way to do this is with the MyFlo Period Tracking app. If you’re already tracking your period, great. If not, download the app and get started learning where you are each week of the month. The app will also teach you the best ways to eat, exercise, and practice self-care during during each phase of your cycle.
Once you know what phase of your cycle you’re in, you can start the 4 Week Gluten-Free Challenge.
Your 4 Week FLO Living Gluten-Free Challenge
During each phase of your cycle, I want you to incorporate a different non-gluten-containing whole grain in your eating plan. Here’s what to eat and when:
Follicular phase (before you ovulate, after your period)
Oats (inherently gluten-free, although processing can sometimes include wheat, so those who are super-sensitive should choose oats that say “gluten-free” on the label)
Ovulatory phase (when you’re ovulating)
Amaranth, corn, quinoa
Luteal phase (before you have your period)
Brown rice, millet
Menstrual phase (your period)
Buckwheat (kasha), wild rice
You can do my 4 Week Gluten-Free Challenge for four weeks, but you might get even more benefit if you stick with it for eight or 12 weeks. Many women experience such impressive symptom relief by going gluten free that they decide to stay off this problematic protein indefinitely.
If you reintroduce gluten after four, eight, or 12 weeks and feel okay, you may opt to have gluten occasionally going forward. But no matter what, it is best not to make gluten a staple food in your phase-based approach to eating.
One Final Note: Whole Grains vs. Pre-Packaged Gluten-Free Foods
When I first gave up gluten, there weren’t a lot of gluten-free products on grocery store shelves. Now there are many.
It’s fine to try these out when you’re first transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle, but be sure to read labels carefully. Pre-packaged foods usually contain a lot of additional unhealthy ingredients. You don’t want to give up gluten only to replace it with a raft of preservatives, sugars and sugar substitutes, and other gnarly ingredients.
In general, I think it is healthiest to stick to whole, gluten-free grains like buckwheat and quinoa. I like to soak them in water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar overnight before cooking. This way, you eliminate the phytic acid that can be harsh on the gut and improve your blood sugar stability.
And if you find yourself feeling deprived in the initial phase of the FLO Living Gluten-Free Challenge (or anytime after going gluten free), don’t despair. I’ve got some great dessert and baked good recipes that will make you forget that anything is missing!
Most importantly, get creative and have fun! Nearly all of the gluten-free grains included in the challenge make great additions to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
Need more Hormone Help?
If you’re needing some health upgrading, it’s time you started looking into what’s going on with your hormones.
I’ve designed a 4 day hormone detox and evaluation to help you understand exactly what’s out of whack and how you can start getting back to balance so that your hormones no longer have to suffer.
Hi, Thank you for tip such as what s better to eat when woman at specific place in her cycle. What would you recommend to consume for those who are just got pregnant or 2 weeks away from taking the pregnancy test. What foods would be most beneficial to the womens` body during those first weeks of pregnancy?
Thank you much!
Hi Love, those first few weeks of pregnancy eat lots of eggs with the yolks and sunflower seeds to help boost your progesterone production. Stay away from pineapple, deli meats, and eggplant. xo Alisa
Hi Alisa, I heard pineapple core was good for first few weeks of pregnancy as it contains bromelain (though not sure of the evidence for this!!) Thanks
I have a sensitivity to oats as well, is there another grain for the follicular phase or should I just try to avoid grains all together at that time? I also heard your interview with Ms. Argon and loved it, but I couldn’t download the freebie, is there another way for me to get that?
Hi Kris! have you tried quinoa instead? email [email protected] for the freebie 😉 xox Alisa
Eileen domiati says
Interested in regulating hormones etc
Hi Eileen in Dubai! this is a great place to start – http://www.floliving.com/hormonedetox
Louise Alexander says
I just did the 6 day challenge and though I didn’t notice any symptoms after the big pizza meal on day 5, on day 6 I feel murky, unable to concentrate, depressed and unable to work and I have the beginnings of a sore throat. I did feel great on the gluten free days!
well Louise, there you have it – you need to stay away from the gluten! It’s creating inflammation and suppressing your immune function – NOT GOOD! EXCELLENT JOB on doing the experiment and observing your body – Way to go! xoxo Alisa
Thank for confirming my intuitive suspicions! I’ve been pretty sure I had a gluten-sensitivity for about a year now. I mentioned this to my doc on my annual visit last year and she “blew it off” as adult acne, which she was more than willing to prescribe a medication for. I had stopped taking birth control (BC) the year before and started experiencing breakouts on my face, back, and chest that were far worse than anything I’d experienced during puberty or recent years. I wasn’t convinced that this was just how my body was, how it had always been or would be, and that the BC pills had been keeping it in check. Prior to that visit I had done my best to eliminate gluten from my diet—eating it only once a day, if that, as often as possible—and had seen for myself that the acne was finally clearing up, and doing so much faster than I had hoped. Even armed with that info, my doctor refused to listen to me and denied the allergy blood test I explicitly requested.
Ashley, I totally understand your frustration and I hope you’ll join me on the Acne Webinar I’m teaching this thursday! But don’t be mad at your MD – she’s not trained in functional medicine so according to her education, food has nothing to do with your symptoms. In fact, they are not looking for the causes of the symptoms at all – only the presence of the symptoms. Your doctor wants to identify what the symptoms are and then prescribe medication or surgery to treat it – that’s what doctors are highly trained to do. Given that women’s issues are much more systemic, we need another player on our health team besides our very talented doctors – and that’s what FLO Living is here to do – to connect your symptoms with the dietary and lifestyle causes and to give you the right food tools to change your health naturally! let me know how your skin progresses! xoxo Alisa
I am gluten intolerant, and cut it out years ago before I jumped on the Woman Code band wagon. I lost weight, lost bloat, migraines disappear as did fatigue and my IBS that I’d had since I was a kid, and I find that I don’t gain as much weight when I am off the pill, which I’d been taking since I was 18 to balance my PCOS. I am now going to go off the pill officially and am trying to follow all the suggested regimens. I am convinced that eliminating those allergens from my diet has helped me tame my PCOS, and if it weren’t for my slight weight gain, and irregular periods after several months of not taking the pill, I would think it was gone. Unfortunately, I am also intolerant to corn, and especially quinoa. Any other grains you suggest?
Claudia! SOOOO excited for you and your ovaries! Keep going with all of this – you are doing EXCELLENTLY! As for other grains – yes – try teff, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, oats. let me know of your progress please!!! xoxo Alisa
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Bonnie Efird says
Thank you for the advice re going off the pill! I have been on Lo lo estrin for a few years now and have developed stomach issues as well as abnormal gallbladder function & am also on Synthroid daily for hypothyroid. I actually began cutting out gluten this week, and next week I’m starting the cutting out of processed foods (gf crackers, etc.) I have an appt. in two weeks with my OBGYN about getting off of the pill as I am concerned it has built up these issues I have been experiencing. Although I have eaten gf for the past several days, I’ve still been feeling icky. Do you have any insight on this? Thank you in advance!
I just did the 6 day challenge and though I didn’t notice any symptoms after the big pizza meal on day 5, on day 6 I feel murky, unable to concentrate, depressed and unable to work and I have the beginnings of a sore throat. I
The foods you eat the day before can contribute to the way you feel the next day, which may be what you experienced.
Hi, i went gluten free and after 2 weeks I started my period, I’ve been on it for 2.5 months now, lightly. This is different because I usually miss months at a time. I’ve lost 24 lbs and feel great. I’m still gluten free, but I am concerned if my body is trying to reset itself or what is going on ? Can u help ?
I dont agree with the test of eating gluten one day and gluten free the next certainly not gluten for one meal and gluten free the next to be able to successfully diagnose or notice gluten sensitivity. My gluten allergy went unnoticed for years where I suffered with digestion problems, irregular cycles, brain fog and cystic chin acne/perioral dermatitis etc. I eventually noticed the link and cut out all wheat gluten and dairy. (I slowly invited dairy back into my diet when I realized this didn’t affect me providing I consumed lactose free milk). Sometimes a reaction from the gluten would take 3-4 days to show itself, sometimes a few hours. To be able to successfully diagnose yourself through elimination of these foods (this is an accepted form of diagnosis via a food diary and your GP) it must be cut out for at least 6 weeks although I would advise 2-3 months. The lovely acne/perioral dermatitis which I fought with for 5 years on and off began to disappear (while also using sulphur soap, coconut oil and spot treating with benzyl peroxide – none of which would keep this at bay or prevent it without the removal of gluten) and digestion problems were quite obviously reduced but I think after years of inflammation your gut is one of the last things to be healed in this process. Going gluten free is hard particularly when you live with others who are not living this way it is very stressful but having an allergy or intolerance is stressful and it just needs to be accepted. You will have a new lease of life. I felt like someone had pulled a bag from my head when I finally reaped the affects of going gluten free. I believe everyone has a reaction to gluten in someway and it simply shouldn’t be used so heavily in all of our food. My partner is now trying this for his excema and is already amazed at the affects of drinking lactose free milk (only obvious when you then go back to regular milk with debilitating cramps and bloating). Good luck – in the words of William Wallace (gluten) freedom !
Is there any correlation to low carb, paleo, or grain free eating with short period cycles? I have been grain free for a a few months and my cycles are still irregular and short. I am 42, and sensitive to gluten, corn and grains in general.
I am interested in doing this 4 week plan. But I am just confused…is there a link somewhere on what to follow, or is this article basically it?
I haven’t gotten my period since December 19th and the my flo app just says I’m supposed to be in my menstrual cycle tomorrow, everyday. Where do you suggest I start since I really don’t have any idea where I am in my cycle? I have done the flo cleanse a few times and haven’t had much success getting my period back bc of PCOS. Open to any suggestions.
Just wondering if anyone has experienced longer periods due to going gluten free? I’ve been on my period and although, they are accurately occurring to the date of the last month, they are lasting 3 weeks. They are not heavy flow. Just long in duration. Is this normal? I’ve been eating gluten free for 2 months.
Nadia Darby Barlow says
Hey, I’m just wondering what to do if I don’t have any sensitivity to Gluten and or whole wheat. To be honest it makes me feel better, more energized and leaner (not so puffy). I’m confused do I eat it or cut it out. I’ve cut in out in the past before and I did fine without it, but recently I’ve slowly added in back in in the form of organic whole grain/ wheat bread, pasta, etc, and I actually feel much better, any recommendations???
Luana Alvear says
Hi there, I’m confused. In your book it says that grains like barley, rye, wheat are ok during the follicular phase. Don’t these grains have gluten in them? Or are you suggesting finding gluten-free versions?
Alisa Vitti says
These grains are only for women who don’t have gluten intolerance : )
I read the studies. They were talking about celiac disease. None of what you wrote is actually following the studies. Can you explain further?
The second study was only done on one person who had celiac and severe allergies taking steroids in regards to IVF. She might have had a gluten free diet but that was because she’s celiac. She still had a complicated pregnancy with early term. Trying to understand how this is significant data.
Carla Mitchell says
Hi Alisa, as someone mentioned above you recommend Barley, Rye and Wheat in your book during Follicular phase, but then you recommend eliminating gluten from your diet completely when your syncing. It’s contradictory, no? Are you able to provide a quick explanation? Thanks!
FLO Coach says
If you know or are not sure you are gluten intolerant, then keep all grain with gluten out of your diet. Not everyone is intolerant.
XO, Christina – FLO Coach