What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common endocrine condition, affecting anyone of reproductive age. However, signs and symptoms most commonly begin to appear in people during their late teenage years to their early 20’s. Whilst symptoms will appear differently in everyone they may include; irregular or no periods, difficulty getting pregnant, hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face and body), fluctuations in weight, acne and oily skin, and thinning or loss of hair from the head.
Following diagnosis from a healthcare professional medication can be prescribed, however often the first course of treatment will involve lifestyle changes. Whilst this includes movement, sleep, and stress management, dietary changes are often recommended. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, you wouldn’t be alone in trying a gluten free diet to manage PCOS. In fact, 18% of people with PCOS are said to have tried a gluten free diet, but is there any evidence to support this?
What is a gluten free diet?
A gluten free diet is simply a diet containing no gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. These cereals are often found in breads, pastas, cakes, pastries, biscuits and breakfast cereals, but will still be found in other foods. There are a lot of foods that are naturally gluten free such as fruits and vegetables, some starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, rice, gluten free oats etc.) dairy foods and alternatives and protein-rich foods. However, opting for gluten free foods can often cost more, and unless you’ve been advised due to having coeliac disease, may not be necessary.
Should I try a gluten free diet for PCOS?
You may have read claims adopting a gluten free diet for PCOS might improve your sleep and energy levels or help to clear your skin, amongst other things. However, currently there is no scientific evidence to link gluten and PCOS. That being said, if you do often suffer from an upset stomach, bloating and feelings of fatigue it is advised you visit your GP to be tested for coeliac disease or gluten intolerances.
Are there any benefits of going gluten free for PCOS?
At the moment, there isn’t sufficient evidence that going gluten free for PCOS will help with symptom management. Restricting food groups may lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
Whilst you can follow a balanced gluten free diet, without nutritional advice and careful planning going gluten-free could result in low iron, folate, niacin, zinc and fibre intake. If you don’t have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance, a better approach would be to try a low GI diet, which includes opting for wholegrain options which may help with insulin resistance linked with PCOS.