Celiac and Hormone Health

Celiac disease impacts hormone health in a variety of ways. This is important to take note of as hormones are very important to the body’s overall health and functioning. Having an imbalance of hormones can lead to many unwanted symptoms and certain health conditions.

Hormone imbalances can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, as well as stress and aging. While anyone can develop a hormone imbalance, those with celiac disease are at a higher risk due to the malabsorption of nutrients and the stress put on the body from inflammation and damage. In this post, we’ll talk about exactly what the role of celiac is in hormone health.

Table of Contents

Hormone Health with Celiac Disease - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian

What is Celiac Disease?

Before we talk about how celiac impacts hormone health, we need to get on the same page about what celiac disease is. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered when gluten is consumed. The immune reaction to gluten causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. Common symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, gas, bloating, and pain in the abdomen or joints. Celiac disease can also make it harder for certain nutrients to be absorbed leading to nutrient malabsorption.

What is Hormone Health?

Furthermore, in understanding hormone health with celiac disease, we also need to get on the same page on what hormone health means. Hormone health refers to how well our hormones are functioning. When they are well balanced and functioning properly, our bodies will be energized and all systems will be at peak performance. Hormones support our metabolism, immune system, and more within our bodies. 

Having good hormone health will make it easier for our bodies to digest food and can keep us healthier. If hormones become imbalanced, people can begin to suffer from mood swings, fatigue, and trouble sleeping, as well as muscle weakness and aches and pains.

Key Hormones in the Body and What They do

Lastly, we can’t talk about hormone health with celiac disease without discussing the different hormones. Hormones are necessary to the functioning of our bodies. They work as chemical messengers in many different processes such as growth, development, metabolism, and even mood. Hormonal imbalances can affect your mental, physical and emotional health. Some important hormones to be aware of include:

  • Leptin: Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells within the body. It sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain once full, to let your body know you do not need to be hungry anymore. A higher amount of fat cells in the body can cause higher levels of leptin in the body however, during “starvation” levels of leptin (fullness) drop, and Grehlin (hunger) increases as a way for your body to protect you. Some research has shown this to occur in those with untreated or recently diagnosed celiac.
  • Ghrelin: Ghrelin is the body’s hunger hormone. Ghrelin is mainly produced in the stomach and small intestine and sends signals to the brain when the body is hungry. When produced, the body will digest more food and store more fat. Ghrelin also has a role in the pituitary gland’s function and helps control insulin release. Ghrelin and Leptin work together to keep your body in homeostasis (AKA they work together to stop you from starving). Research shows that ghrelin levels are elevated with untreated celiac and normalize as celiacs follow a gluten-free diet (meaning celiacs commonly are more hungry early on in diagnosis compared to later on). This is thought to be related to malabsorption nutrient deficiencies with celiac disease.
  • Neuropeptide Y: Neuropeptide Y is a peptide in the brain. It helps to stimulate the desire to eat and influences people to crave carbs. It plays a role in the binge-restrict cycle with celiac disease. Potentially causing people with celiac to “overeat” or feel out of control with carb-rich foods due to neuropeptide Y build-up as a result of restriction.
  • Insulin: Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and from there, it travels through the bloodstream. It works to control how the body uses the carbohydrates that are consumed through food. It allows the glucose in carbohydrate-rich foods to enter the body’s cells and be used as energy. Research indicates the insulin signaling in untreated celiac is impaired and could impact blood sugar management and hunger cues.
  • Glucagon: Glucagon is also produced by the pancreas and controls blood sugar levels in the body. It is essential and works to ensure blood sugar does not drop too low. It does this by converting stored glycogen into glucose and can also promote the production of glucose. Essentially, it uses your energy stores to release sugar to keep your blood sugars from dropping too low.
  • Estrogen: Estrogen is produced by the ovaries and has an important role in stimulating the growth of the reproductive tissues. It also helps maintain healthy bones and keeps the cardiovascular system healthy. Estrogen also works to increases the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, strengthening signals. Celiac disease can impair fat and B12 absorption, impacting estrogen in the body.
  • Progesterone: Progesterone is also created in the ovaries. Progesterone regulates menstrual cycles, relaxes blood vessels, and has an important role in pregnancy. Progesterone levels lower once a woman has gone through pregnancy. Celiac disease can impair fat and B12 absorption, impacting progesterone in the body. Additionally, low-iron can impact the ovulation cycle which progesterone plays a significant role in.
  • Testosterone: Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, meaning it promotes metabolic activity. it is predominately produced by the ovaries and testes and is necessary for creating energy and optimizing brain function, playing a large role in our memory. It also plays a role in regulating the immune system and promotes the upkeeping of the structure of skins, muscles, and bones. Testosterone levels usually drop during perimenopause and stay lower post-menopause. Untreated celiac disease has been linked to abnormal testosterone levels.
  • TSH – Thyroid-stimulating hormone is produced by the pituitary gland. It is responsible for regulating the production of hormones from the thyroid glands. It does this by communicating to the thyroid gland how much thyroid hormone should be produced depending on what the body needs. Poor uptake of zinc with celiac disease may impact TSH health.
4 Ways Celiac Impacts Hormone Health - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian

How Celiac Disease Impacts Hormone Health

Now that we have a basic understanding of hormone health and common hormones in the body, let’s talk about how celiac disease impacts hormone health.

Celiac disease can have a large effect on hormone health, especially if you don’t stay gluten-free after your diagnosis.  From impacting blood sugars, hunger hormones, nutrients essential for hormone production, and more… staying gluten-free for celiac disease is essential to hormone health.

First, malabsorption of nutrients and the inflammatory response to eating gluten can cause a dysregulated response to food. Mainly, research indicates that even after going gluten-free, hunger and fullness hormones may not fully return to pre-celiac levels. Essentially, people with celiac disease are hungrier, and this is likely a normal adaptation to not taking up essential nutrients for years before diagnosis.

Additionally, celiac disease has been linked to endocrine conditions related to impaired thyroid function and diabetes. With studies showing a high link between celiac disease and co-occuring autoimmune thyroid conditions, diabetes, and adrenal insufficiency. These links may be explained by the disease process of celiac disease and the strain it has on hormone health.

Furthermore, poor absorption of iron due to intestinal damage can impact fertility with celiac disease. This is because low-iron levels impact a women’s egg health and ability to ovulate properly.

Not being able to uptake enough nutrients is a key player in the disease state of celiac. This is due to small intestinal damage. Nutrients like carbs, fat, zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D and so much more. If utilization of these nutrients is sub-par it can put a direct strain on associated organs and hormones. This is why healing after a celiac diagnosis is essential.

Monitoring Hormone Health With Celiac Disease

When monitoring hormones with celiac disease, blood tests can be done to assess hormone levels. Talking to your doctor and sharing what you’re experiencing can help make sure you select the right tests.

Other ways to monitor hormone health would be to listen to your body and notice any symptoms that could be related to hormone imbalance or deficiency. Some symptoms could include painful or irregular periods, anxiety and depression, fatigue, muscle aches and stiffness, brain fog, and more. Some symptoms may be common, so really listen to your body to see if there could be a deeper reason for these symptoms.

Nutrients Essential for Hormone Health on a Gluten-Free Diet

Hormone health with a gluten-free diet could be impacted. Certain nutrients are vital to the overall balance of hormones within our bodies. Becoming nutrient deficient can have serious impacts on the production of hormones.

For example, celiac disease can cause damage to the areas where zinc, magnesium, vitamin b12, and fat can be absorbed, thus leading to deficiencies of these nutrients. Low vitamin B12 and low fat can affect the amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body. Low estrogen can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, trouble sleeping, and depression.

Alternatively, impaired fat absorption can also impact the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which can mess up the body’s normal hunger and fullness cues throughout the day.

Furthermore, zinc deficiency with celiac disease can be common as well due to impaired absorption. This, in turn, could put celiacs at risk for low growth hormone which can cause failure to thrive in children.

Additionally, zinc is needed for thyroid health, playing an important role in producing T3, T4, and TSH. Thus, zinc deficiency with celiac disease could impact thyroid hormones and health.

These are just some of the ways not taking up enough nutrients due to celiac damage can impact hormone health.

Your Relationship to Food, Hormone Health with Celiac Disease - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian

How Your Relationship to Food Impacts Hormone Health with Celiac Disease

Not only does a well-balanced gluten-free diet and malabsorption impact hormone health with celiac disease, but so does your relationship with food. As mentioned, the nutrients we consume (or don’t consume) and our hormones are deeply connected.

Since carbohydrates help synthesize estrogen and progesterone, they are vital to our wellbeing. There are many “low-carb” diets out there and carbs have been villainized. However, they are necessary for many areas of our health, especially hormone health. There are many gluten-free carbs, like gluten-free whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Similarly, there is a fear of eating foods containing fat. While different fats have different things to offer us, fat is essential to hormone health and the overall functioning of the body. Fats help in the production of hormones in the body and help to stabilize them. If there is not enough fat being consumed in the diet, it can cause an imbalance of hormones as not enough hormones will be produced.

Carbs and fat in mind, if your relationship with food involves a fear of carbs or fat, on top of the risk factors of celiac disease, your hormone health could be at risk. It’s essential that any food fears, celiac or macronutrient related, are addressed to make sure you’re eating enough of what you need.

Speaking of eating enough, undereating, in general, can also affect hormone health with celiac disease. Undereating can also be triggered by fear of food as if you’re afraid of food, you may not eat enough. And depending on how strong those fears are, you may not be eating enough energy required for your body to heal and take up essential nutrients to regulate hormones.

Basically: without enough fuel and nutrients, the body will not be able to produce enough hormones to support the functions of the body. While some people may be afraid to overeat to avoid celiac disease weight gain, it is essential to understand that undereating is putting your health at risk too. If you’re concerned about your relationship to food, feeling like you’re over or under-eating, please consider working with a celiac dietitian.

Hormone Health with Celiac Disease - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian

Gluten-Free Foods to Support Hormone Health

So we understand what hormone health with celiac disease means and how celiac impacts it, now let’s talk gluten-free foods to eat for hormone health!

First up, nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are an excellent way to support hormone health with celiac disease. They’ve got iron, magnesium, zinc, fat, carbs, and in some cases omega-3s. All of which are excellent for hormone health and can be low in celiacs.

Next up, carb-rich foods like gluten-free whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. Carbs are essential to support hormone function and production. Not only are carbs directly tied to blood sugar regulation through hormones but also to energy regulation.

Additionally, eggs are a great gluten-free food to support hormone health. Not only do they have protein and fat to support hormone production and regulation, but they also have vitamin D and choline too!

Lastly… and honestly, pretty much any gluten-free food has the ability to support hormone health with celiac disease. If you’re concerned, reach out to a celiac disease nutritionist who can assess your diet for appropriate balance for health.

 

3-Day Gluten-Free Hormone Support Meal-Plan

Now that we’ve talked about hormones and celiac disease, how celiac can impact hormones, and more, let’s dive into eating for hormone health. What can we do to make sure our hormones are supported with celiac disease?

The best thing we can do is to first, eat gluten-free, and second eat with gentle nutrition in mind. Below is a 3-day gluten-free hormone health meal plan to help offer ideas on what kind of meals you could eat to support hormone health.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Egg Stir-Fry – This quick and easy recipe has got eggs, bell peppers, and beans which offer a lot to support hormone health. The eggs offer protein, fat, vitamin D, and choline to support hormone health. The beans also offer carbs and fat. Along with the bell pepper, which offers vitamin C. All of this together can help support hormone health with celiac disease.
  • Lunch: Shrimp Avocado Salad – The shrimp in this salad offers protein and iodine, both of which promote hormone health. The avocado is a good source of healthy fat, which is needed to support the production of leptin. The added vegetables can provide many beneficial vitamins that can help support hormone health. 
  • Dinner: Gluten-Free Jambalaya – This easy-to-prepare vegetable jambalaya is full of nutrients and vitamins. Leftovers can be saved to make future meals simple too! The meats provide protein, carbs and fats, increasing the production of leptin, estrogen, and progesterone.

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Overnight Oats – This is an easy recipe to prep the night before that can save you time in the mornings. Oats are great whole grains that will benefit your body and health. Just make sure you’re using celiac-safe oats. The yogurt will provide some vitamin D and protein which can help support hormone health. The chia seeds can be substituted for flaxseeds if you like, both of which contain magnesium, fat, and vitamin e which can help restore hormone balance.
  • Lunch: BLT Salad Lunchbox – This is an easy meal that can be taken on the go and eaten at work. The bacon and eggs provide fat and protein. The avocado provides a healthy fat-promoting hormone balance. Add a fruit on the side to get added vitamins and minerals.
  • Dinner: Coconut Potato Lentil Curry – The coconut in this curry can help balance hormones and increase estrogen levels. The lentils provide protein and zinc to support hormone health. Lastly, the vegetables (like the canned tomatoes) provide added vitamins that can also help! 
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Day 3

  • Breakfast: Blueberry “Bran” Muffins – This is another breakfast you can prep ahead and have ready in the morning. The flaxseed contains protein, magnesium, fat, and vitamin e, all of which help to promote hormone production and balance. Eat these muffins with some eggs which can give you added protein.
  • Lunch: Mediterranean Chicken Quinoa Salad – This salad contains chicken, quinoa, and veggies. The chicken provides protein, important in the production of hormones. The quinoa provides a good amount of carbs helping with progesterone and estrogen production. The added almonds help increase the adiponectin hormone, which helps to regulate blood sugar and can help with the health of the adrenal glands.
  • Dinner: Turkey Rice One-Pot Stuffing – This easy 1-pot meal is simple but delicious. Not to mention the rice provides carbs for energy and hormone health. The turkey provides protein, and the pecans offer zinc and magnesium, all of which support hormone health. 
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Summary of Celiac and Hormones

Hormone health with celiac disease is complicated. Hormones are involved in so many different things, from appetite, bone health, blood sugar regulation, to women’s health with celiac disease. The repeating theme is that not being able to take up enough nutrients because of damage in the gut plays a big role in celiac hormone balance.

The best thing to do to support your hormones and health with celiac is to eat gluten-free and practice gentle nutrition.

And if you need help learning how to stay gluten-free to heal, check out my Celiac Crash Course. It’s where I show you exactly how to avoid gluten so you can prevent further damage and give your body a chance to heal.

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