Gluten is a protein found in barley, oats*, rye and wheat. Gluten intolerance is when a person reacts to gluten. This reaction may be severe such as the symptoms of Coeliac disease, or more subtle such as unexplained weight gain, low energy, poor concentration and hormone imbalances.
There is an emerging trend linking gluten sensitivity to hormone imbalances such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, endometriosis, infertility and thyroid gland problems such as an underactive thyroid gland, Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease (both are thyroid autoimmune problems).
In fact as many as 85% of women with PCOS test positive to gluten. When these women remove gluten from their diets they often see marked improvements in their PCOS symptoms, not to mention dramatic improvement in weight loss, cholesterol levels, and thyroid health.
Many people who are sensitive to gluten containing grains, may not necessarily have an autoimmune reaction to gluten making testing not always conclusive.
Testing for gluten intolerance
Depending on where you are in the world, gluten sensitivity testing can be expensive and may not be covered by your private health fund health insurance.
In preparation for a blood test, it is important that you consume gluten in some form (wheat, barley, rye, oats) at the time of the test taken. The following tests may be performed:
- HLA tissue typing for Coeliac disease (genetic testing): HLA – DQ2 and DQ8
This test needs to be conducted first. If the results are positive, then the following test will be required –
- Anti Tissue Transglutaminase IgA antibodies & anti-endomysial antibodies (EMA) and/or
- Gluten withdrawal/challenge dietary test
A gluten withdrawal/challenge test requires you to follow a strict gluten free diet for a month. Record what you eat and any changes you may feel using a food diary. Then prepare for the ‘challenge’ by eating gluten containing grains for a couple of days and note down any reactions – physical, mental and emotional. If you notice reactions and feel ‘worse’ then you may well be gluten intolerant.
You may be pleasantly surprised by both how easy and enjoyable a gluten free diet can be, and how good you can feel, often in unexpected ways.
Gluten intolerance & hormone problems
Research is continuing to link many hormone problems with a gluten intolerance. Such conditions include:
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disorders (PID)
- Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s and Graves’s disease
- Amenorrhoea & Hypothalamic amenorrhoea
- Delayed onset of menarche (when periods first begin)
- Female infertility
- Male infertility including low sperm count and low motility
When PCOS sufferers go gluten-free they often see a marked improvement in their PCOS symptoms including weight loss. Screening for coeliac disease gluten intolerance should be a priority in infertile couples.
Benefits of gluten free eating
The most common health benefits experienced from following a gluten-free diet include:
- Weight loss
- Increased energy
- Improved concentration
- Resolution of abdominal bloating and wind
- Resolution of constipation, diarrhoea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Improved mood
- Simply feeling better than usual!
Some dramatic hormone benefits may (hopefully!) include:
- Recovery from PCOS
- Recovery from PID
- Recovery from thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s and Graves’s disease.
Gluten free eating: all or nothing
If you are contemplating going gluten free, it is ‘all or nothing’. You need to remove every shred of gluten from your diet for your body to experience life without gluten continually passing through your gut.
One caveat here is that not all gluten free foods are healthy or fertility promoting; many are made from white rice flour, refined corn starch, salt and sugar.
The goal of your gluten free diet should be to restore hormone balance, lose weight and nourish your fertility, not simply replace gluten with processed, pre-packaged, sugary, gluten free foods of which there are many.
A gluten free diet is a great opportunity to have less flour-based foods and increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and good quality proteins.
The grains that you need to avoid are wheat (bulgar, semolina, cous cous, seitan), spelt, triticale, kamut, rye and barley. *Oats contain a gluten-like property called Avenin (i.e. oat gluten), which only one in ten thousand westerners may have an intolerance to.
Traditionally, most oats are grown as a rotational crop in wheat, barley, triticale and rye fields. This can cross contaminate the oat with such grains (also in processing). So it is important to obtain oats grown strictly in fields with no other cereal crop to avoid cross contamination.
Glutinous grains sneak into many foods / beverages such as beer, malt vinegar, malt flavoring, soy sauce (you can buy a gluten free kind or substitute with tamari), communion wafers, stock cubes, gravy and sauce mixes.
The message here: read your labels!