These days, with the increase in knowledge regarding celiac disease, more and more researchers in the medical community are beginning to understand that intolerance to gluten, or celiac disease, has an effect on nearly every system in the body- including the reproductive system.
There is some evidence that indicates that both men and women who deal with celiac disease are at an increased risk of infertility, possibly due to the malabsorption of essential nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition.
There is also some research that indicates that women who have celiac disease but are never diagnosed might start their menstrual cycles much later than average and will most likely experience menopause much earlier than average.
On the other hand, there has not been nearly as much research in the medical community regarding the possible link between chronic menstrual pain, endometriosis, and extremely painful periods and celiac disease.
However, there have been a handful of studies and some evidence that indicate the possible connection between those. In fact, there was one comprehensive study regarding reproductive issues in women with celiac disease.
The results were that approximately 5 percent of the women claimed that one of their primary celiac symptoms were disorders associated with their menstrual cycles.
Celiac Disease and Painful Periods
When a woman experiences severely painful menstrual cramps, it is a condition that is known as dysmenorrhea.
According to the ACOG, or American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, these cramps can last 1-2 days each cycle.
In addition, the ACOG states that these painful menstrual cramps can be the result of a hormone known as prostaglandins, which are released by the uterus to cause contractions of the uterine lining.
In most cases, these cramps typically occur on the first day of a woman’s period. They are often so painful that some women and teen girls will vomit or even pass out.
In some cases, to add insult to injury, these cramps are often accompanied by heavy menstrual bleeding.
Though there has been very little research regarding this particular type of severe menstrual pain in women who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, one case study did reveal that women with celiac disease who followed a very strict gluten-free diet found relief from pelvic pain and severely painful menstrual cramps.
In addition to the case study above, there have been some anecdotal incidences where women who suffered from the condition of dysmenorrhea and started following the proper diet once diagnosed with the condition of celiac disease found that their cramps disappeared- or at least improved.
There are some naturopathic physicians that are suggesting a trial period of a gluten-free diet for women who are complaining of the signs and symptoms of dysmenorrhea.
Still, you must keep in mind that there is no hard medical evidence that supports this thought process.
Celiac Disease and Endometriosis
The condition of endometriosis is a condition where the uterine cells will grow in areas outside of the uterus. Women who have this condition often experience chronic pelvic pain, pain during intercourse, disturbances of sleep, and heavy menstrual bleeding.
In some cases though, the condition of endometriosis does not present with any symptoms at all and many times is discovered when women are undergoing tests regarding infertility.
Once again, there is no hard medical evidence that there is a link between the condition of endometriosis and celiac disease.
However, there is some research and anecdotal evidence that the condition of endometriosis is much more common in women who have been diagnosed with the condition of celiac disease.
There is one study that was done in 2009, in which the researchers involved were trying to figure out how often celiac disease was found in women who were infertile and had also been diagnosed with endometriosis.
There were 120 women who had been given a confirmed diagnosis of endometriosis with 1,500 women who were healthy overall.
The findings were that the condition of celiac disease was four times more common in women with endometriosis than the women who were healthy overall.
In this study, both of the groups were tested for celiac disease using a blood test that screened for anti-tissue transglutaminase- or tTG-IgA- as well as anti-endomysium- or EMA-IgA antibodies.
The EMA-IgA test is the one that is most commonly used to check for celiac disease, as it is the most specific.
Nine of the women in the test group of 120 women showed positive on the tTG-IgA test and five of them also showed positive on the EMA-IgA test.
Of the five women who were positive on the second one, four agreed to follow up with an intestinal biopsy, which did end up confirming the presence of the condition of celiac disease in three cases. This results in a prevalence of 2.5 percent.
On the other hand, in the control group of 1,500 healthy women, researchers found that one out of 136 women had the condition of celiac disease, which translates to a prevalence rate of 0.66 percent.
Therefore, it was deemed that celiac disease was much more common in women who had been diagnosed with endometriosis- and these findings could possibly be relevant in further research.
So, while there has been no hard medical evidence regarding the connection between celiac disease and painful periods- or even celiac disease and endometriosis- there have been a few studies and there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding this connection.
Further research will be necessary in order to determine this link. However, women who suffer from painful periods and other frustrating menstrual signs and symptoms should consider following a gluten-free diet for a trial period and then slowly reintroduce gluten to their diet.
If the symptoms return, chances are that this could be the issue. If there is no change at all, you will most likely need further testing to find out what is going on.
Either way, you should definitely see your physician find out what you can do to control your painful menstrual periods.