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.