Have you heard that gluten-free and dairy-free is a must for PCOS?
I SURE HAVE!
But does everyone with PCOS really need to go gluten-free and dairy-free?
Let’s take a closer look at the reasons behind removing gluten and dairy.
Why do some people benefit from going gluten-free?
Gluten-free has become increasingly popular over the last decade. But why could it help someone who has PCOS? There are a few potential ways.
Undiagnosed Coeliac disease is a common issue
Coeliac disease is one case where gluten must be removed from the diet, as it causes serious damage to the lining of the gut. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed for years.
Undiagnosed or unmanaged Coeliac disease can lead to a host of health issues, including inflammation, nutrient deficiencies and developing other autoimmune diseases. Undiagnosed coeliac disease can also lead to fertility issues.
Of course, this isn’t specific to people who have PCOS – anyone could be at risk of undiagnosed Coeliac disease, particularly if it runs in the family. But it does explain why some have found that going gluten-free can help with their PCOS.
If you suspect that you have Coeliac disease, it is best to speak with your healthcare professional.
Some people are gluten intolerant.
You don’t have to have Coeliac disease to experience symptoms after eating gluten. Gluten intolerance, or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, can lead to a host of symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and brain fog.
Gluten can be a trigger for gut issues.
For this one, we’re going to need to dive into how the gut works. The digestive tract is like a tube that food passes through. The lining has tiny gaps that allow the absorption of nutrients from that has been digested properly. That way, the nutrients from food can enter the bloodstream, and everything else can be excreted.
One of the components of gluten, called gliadin, can trigger the production of zonulin. Zonulin can then ‘loosen’ this gut lining, allowing undigested or partly digested food molecules across into the blood. You might have heard this referred to as ‘leaky gut’.
This can lead to a variety of health concerns including autoimmune disease and inflammatory disease. We know that inflammation is a big factor in PCOS – and some research even suggests that it is autoimmune in nature.
As zonulin was only discovered in the last 20 years, we are still learning about how it works. But some people, particularly those vulnerable to autoimmune conditions and gut health concerns, could benefit from going gluten-free.
Is gluten always to blame?
Sometimes gluten isn’t the cause of your symptoms.
For example, you might feel unwell after a white bread sandwich, but feel fine after an organic sourdough bread or an organic rustic wholegrain bread. In this case, it’s more likely that your body is reacting to the additives, yeast, high amounts of refined carbohydrates (with little fibre to balance it out!) or even the non-organic ingredients in it that might have been sprayed with pesticides and other endocrine disrupting chemicals.
I am a firm believer that quality is key when it comes to food choices!
It’s also been suggested that people who experience IBS-like symptoms after eating gluten are actually reacting to a group of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs. When you remove gluten containing products from the diet, you also reduce your FODMAP intake.
So for some, it could be that gluten is not to blame!
Why some people benefit from dairy-free
Dairy is one of the most controversial food groups out there! Some people say that it’s an amazing source of nutrients, whereas others say it’s not designed for our bodies and we should cut it completely.
So why might you want to remove it if you have PCOS or other hormone related issues? Aside from ethical reasons and personal preferences, there are 3 main reasons.
Some people are intolerant to dairy, lactose or casein
One big reason to go dairy-free is if you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy. You can react to lactose (milk sugar), whey and/or casein (milk proteins).
Allergies and intolerances can cause inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. This can contribute to your PCOS symptoms, as well as affecting your ability to get essential nutrients for hormone balance.
So if you have a known allergy or intolerance to dairy, it’s best to give it a skip. Not sure? Speak to your healthcare professional and they can explain the best ways to test.
Dairy may be associated with insulin resistance
We know that insulin resistance is a big factor in PCOS symptoms. There is some research that suggests a higher dairy intake can predict insulin resistance, particularly for women in their 30s and 40s. Conversely though, some research also has found that dairy intake can actually help to improve insulin resistance and encourage weight loss.
The most likely scenario for this is ‘Bio-individuality’, meaning that genes or specific conditions to YOU may play a role in whether dairy helps or hinders when it comes to insulin resistance. If you find that having dairy is leading to more PCOS symptoms or weight gain, you could try a short elimination period to see if it helps.
A1 protein can be inflammatory
One of the major protein types in dairy, casein, comes in 2 main variants – A1 and A2 beta-casein. There is research that has found that A1 can cause inflammation in the gut. And as we know, inflammation in the gut can lead to inflammation EVERYWHERE! Hello symptom flare up ekkk!
This doesn’t mean that everyone gets inflamed by A1 casein. But it does mean that those who are sensitive to dairy or get digestive symptoms may want to reconsider dairy consumption.
In this case, you may find that you can still have some dairy in the form of A2 dairy products. These can include goat and sheep milk products, as well as products made from Guernsey or Jersey cow milk.
The bottom line: Should you stop eating gluten and dairy free for your PCOS?
Although many report feeling better on a gluten-free and/or dairy-free diet, there is no hard evidence that shows that removing these foods is specifically beneficial for PCOS.
So to answer the question, unfortunately there is no one answer because everyone is different- Say it with me BIO INDIVIDUALITY! YASSSSS!
However you do think you may be experiencing some intolerances/ flare ups due to gluten and/or dairy, then removing them can absolutely be a useful step to take (and a well worthwhile experiment to see how your body reacts)!
Generally speaking this will often reduce the overall inflammation in your body, which is good news for your PCOS, endo or any other health issues you are experiencing.
But what if you have tested going gluten and dairy free for a decent amount of time (usually 3 + months) and seen no difference?
Then you’re probably fine to include it as part of a balanced diet. Just be careful with your portion sizes, as it can affect blood sugar balance, which can also be a trigger for PCOS symptoms.
Always seek medical advice from your health practitioner to find out what is right for you.
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Dr. Hina is a fertility specialist and radiologist working as a IUI Consultant. She is a beacon of hope for couples on their journey to parenthood, specializing in fertility treatment and serving as a trusted IUI consultant. With an impressive 8 years of experience in the field, she has witnessed the transformative power of reproductive medicine firsthand and is driven by a deep passion to help individuals realize their dreams of starting a family. Read More