Why PCOS and Gluten Don’t Mix

One of the topics that I haven’t yet addressed when it comes to a PCOS diet is the issue of Gluten. I firmly believe that we need to be gluten free and all of the meal plans and recipes that I prepare for my monthly members are free from gluten (and still taste amazing). We haven’t actually looked at why combining PCOS and gluten is not a good idea.

The Research

Medical research on the impact of gluten on PCOS is scarce but I have reason to believe that gluten contributes to our PCOS symptoms. I have had so many women report that they have lost weight, don’t feel bloated and have seen an improvement in their symptoms when they give up gluten for a month. Let’s have a look at why this might be the case…


You may well be Gluten Intolerant

PCOS-and-gluten-fatigueRecent research has shown that at least 1 in 3 Americans are predisposed to gluten intolerance (1). That is a significant percentage of the population!

Here are some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance (2) (I recognized some of these signs in myself!):

  • Digestive issues including bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
  • Mood disorders like depression, anxiety or PMS.
  • PCOS or unexplained fertility.
  • Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease like Hashimotos thyroiditis (common in women with PCOS).
  • Fatigue, fogginess or exhaustion after eating a meal that contains gluten.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

A lot of naturopaths also report that the women they treat who have PCOS commonly have a gluten intolerance as well.

Gluten is a Hormone Disruptor

Hormone disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the functioning of the endocrine or hormone system. They could be mimic hormones, causing our bodies to over or under respond or release hormones at the wrong time (3).

In the case of gluten, wheat crops are sprayed with pesticides that act as xenoestrogens. These substances mimic the role of estrogen in our bodies and makes us even more estrogen dominant (4).

With PCOS, our hormones are so out of whack already, I don’t want to add anything else to my system that is going to cause further imbalance.

Wheat Products Tend to be high in Carbohydrates

100g of hard red winter wheat has 71.18g of carbohydrates and only 12.61 g of protein (5). This is unprocessed wheat. That is a significant portion of this food that is a carbohydrate. This gives wheat a fairly high glycemic index. A wheat based meal such as pasta also has tends to have a high glycemic load. Remember that if your insulin levels rise significantly, there will be a knock on effect on your testosterone levels.

Gluten and Chronic Inflammation

PCOS-and-gluten-inflammationGluten sensitivity causes chronic inflammation throughout the body, leading to increased risk of heart disease (6). The other problem is that women with PCOS suffer from chronic inflammation (7) already so eating gluten will only exacerbate the problem.

There’s one other link in the chain we need to understand: chronic inflammation leads to insulin resistance. If we have insulin resistance, we need higher than normal amounts of insulin to regulate our blood sugars. High insulin levels are also going to cause high testosterone levels which will make our PCOS symptoms much worse.

What about Gluten Free Alternatives?

There are a huge amount of gluten free alternatives on the market. You can find gluten free pasta, cereals, biscuits, breads, sauces, etc. My only suggestion when considering these products is that you also look at the Glycemic Load. Many are made from refined flours such as rice flour which will have a high glycemic load as well.

So, what do I eat then?

Wrapping your head around a gluten free lifestyle can be challenging but is so worth the health benefits! There are so many delicious foods with a huge variety that are gluten free and will really help to manage your symptoms.

Here are some examples of gluten free meals:

  • Breakfast: Smoothie, poached eggs with spinach, quinoa porridge, gluten free muffins
  • Lunch: Soups, salads, left overs
  • Dinner: Thai green curry, stews, meat and loads of veggies


Summing it Up:

Going gluten free is highly recommended as part of your PCOS diet. Here are some reasons why:

  • You may well be gluten intolerant
  • Gluten disrupts your already imbalanced hormone system
  • Gluten containing products are often refined with a high glycemic load and will probably cause a spike in your insulin levels
  • Gluten intolerance causes chronic inflammation and could be contributing to your insulin resistance.


Why not give it a go for a month and see how you feel? I’m convinced that you’ll feel less bloated, have more energy, lose some weight and start to see an improvement in your PCOS symptoms!

Have you given up gluten and seen an improvement in your PCOS symptoms? I’d LOVE to hear from you, if you have. Leave me a comment below!

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

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