Women's Health

The Impact of Celiac Disease on the Menstrual Cycle

The Impact of Celiac Disease on the Menstrual Cycle

Missing periods and having an irregular menstrual cycle can raise many questions for women. How can someone discern the “normal” timing from a possible pregnancy or some other reason for skipping a period (or two or three)?

Additionally, life becomes difficult when a woman’s daily routine is disrupted by high levels of pain and other symptoms that can accompany a menstrual cycle. Plus, the aura of uncertainty of what to expect from one month to the next can weigh on a person’s mind. So, should there be cause for alarm?

One possible answer lies within the gut. A common red flag that points toward celiac disease is amenorrhea, which is where a woman's period does not always occur on a regular basis, along with severe cramping and bleeding (or no bleeding at all). Women with celiac disease tend to develop this problem more so than others. In some cases, they may not even know that celiac disease is the main factor behind their irregular cycle. This is because celiac disease is more often associated with the digestive system where the villi in the small intestine is damaged by prolonged ingestion of gluten, which is a protein found in wheat and other grains. However, research is revealing how celiac disease can affect other parts of the body. 

The correlation between celiac and amenorrhea

One case report presents a scenario where celiac disease adversely affected a young woman’s overall functioning of the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the regulation of the thyroid and adrenal glands along with the workings of other important organs. The patient approached her doctors with signs of significant weight loss, primary amenorrhea, and profound physical underdevelopment. Lab results showed low hormone levels, with the exception of the thyroid-stimulating hormone, and a biopsy of intestinal tissue that revealed villus atrophy and a presence of IgA antiendomysial antibody. The latter two findings point toward a diagnosis of celiac disease, especially since the unexplained weight loss could be attributed to malabsorption.

The patient was then placed on a gluten free diet where her condition improved greatly. She began having her periods regularly six months after the dietary change. This case reflects the correlation between celiac and amenorrhea, which, of course, leads to further exploration of this possibility.

In a study involving a larger number of celiac patients, the findings showed that almost 20 percent of the women involved reported skipping 3 or more periods on a consistent basis. This number was compared to the 2.2 percent who complained of the problem but did not have celiac disease. In another study, higher percentages of women reported instances of amenorrhea, but the number of women with celiac still surpassed the number of those who do have this condition. Thirty-nine percent of the group were also celiac patients while 9 percent fell under the non-celiac category.

The effects of gluten on the body of a celiac patient might start off in the digestive system, but the resulting lack of nutrients causes more stress on other aspects of its functioning.