A question I often get on social media is if there’s a relationship between celiac disease and menopause. More specifically, can celiac impact menopause or cause early menopause?
Celiac disease causes damage to the small intestines. It is in the small intestines that a majority of our nutrient absorption happens. Thus, this damage to the gut can lead to low vitamin and mineral status.
Certain vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, Boron, Folate, and B6 are essential to the production of hormones like progesterone and estrogen. And if you’re not getting the nutrients you need to effectively make hormones, it can impact hormone health and play a role in things like early menopause with celiac. More on that in a moment.
In this post, we’ll be discussing celiac, menopause, nutrition, hormone health, and the relationship all of these things can have.
Celiac is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and contaminated foods like oats), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine.
These attacks lead to damage to the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
This inflammatory response to gluten and related nutrient deficiencies can cause a wide variety of symptoms in people with celiac. From bloating, headaches, constipation, joint pain, bone health complications, infertility, weight gain, weight loss, and more.
This can start at any age, and occur in any body, as long as someone is eating gluten and has the celiac genes. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.
When talking about celiac disease and menopause, it’s also important to know what menopause is. Menopause is the point at which those with uteruses have stopped menstruating for at least 12 months.
Peri-menopause is the period of a few years leading up to then. During peri-menopause, people may have hot flashes, irregular periods, and other symptoms. This is caused by changes in the body’s production of progesterone and estrogen.
Menopause usually begins between ages 45-55. It commonly lasts seven years but may last up to 14 years. The duration and symptoms may depend on race, ethnicity, age at which menopause began, and more.
Now that we know what celiac and menopause are, let’s talk about how hormone levels and celiac play a role.
In perimenopause and menopause, progesterone decreases. Low progesterone may cause irregular or absent menstrual cycles, mood changes (particularly anxiety or depression), hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and headaches or migraines.
Celiac disease can impair fat and B vitamin absorption, which could impact progesterone levels in the body. This, in turn, could impact menopause status or symptom severity. Additionally, low iron can impact the ovulation cycle in which progesterone plays a significant role. Thus, potentially playing a role…
The potential impact of celiac on progesterone is important to note as it might play a role in the link between celiac and menopause.
Celiac and menopause don’t just have a potential impact on progesterone levels. They also can impact estrogen levels. In perimenopause and menopause, estrogen decreases. According to the MayoClinic, this produces many of the common symptoms of menopause including:
B12, vitamin D, and fat (among other things) are needed to produce estrogen. However, celiac disease can impair fat, vitamin D, and B12 absorption, potentially impacting estrogen in the body.
Supporting estrogen production by enjoying fat and B12 sources, addressing malabsorption of these nutrients, or taking estrogen supplements should your doctor prescribe them could help ease these symptoms. Additionally, estrogen might have other benefits such as being cardioprotective, supportive of bone health (which is much needed with celiac), and more.
The role of progesterone and estrogen in celiac and menopause out of the way, let’s talk about another hot topic with hormone health: phytoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens found in food like soybeans and flax seeds. They have been thought to work as a kind of estrogen replacement. Potentially supporting menopause, cardiovascular health, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and more.
In fact, one small study on post-menopausal people who consumed a low-fat vegan diet and were given ½ cup of soybeans a day found it greatly improved hot flashes. However, this study was small and it’s hard to say if it was the low-fat vegan diet or the soybeans (or both).
However, concerns have been raised that phytoestrogens may have antiestrogenic activities and work as endocrine disrupters. This means it is suspected that they may disrupt how the ovaries, thyroid, and adrenals produce hormones. Multiple studies have also shown that phytoestrogens do not affect estrogen or progesterone concentrations in postmenopausal people.
With all this conflicting data, the key here is there is no one superfood that will fix everything. Instead, all foods offer us benefits and by balancing a diet, you can make sure you’re supporting your body. If you want to enjoy soybeans, rest assured, having them in your diet isn’t going to be the one thing that is making or breaking your progress (unless you have an allergy or intolerance to it).
Finally, the true link between celiac disease and menopause is that the nutrient deficiencies potentially caused by celiac could impact hormone production and thus, it may impact menopause. Additionally, there is data to show that celiac disease when diagnosed late, could cause early menopause.
Things like a damaged small intestine and impaired pancreas impacts fat, vitamin D, and B vitamin absorption. This could disrupt the production of estrogen or progesterone, potentially playing a role in early menopause or triggering similar symptoms.
Additionally, some speculate but it’s not been proven in research that I’m aware of yet, that perhaps the autoimmune reaction with celiac could impact reproductive health and trigger early menopause as well.
This might sound absolutely terrifying and as someone who is prone to worrying, let me remind you that all you can do now is your best to support your nutrition and stay gluten-free. Should you face early menopause or experience a rough menopause, I am holding space for you and you will get through this.
Supporting celiac and menopause through diet is possible. In menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. Make sure to nourish your body and maintain the hormone levels it can by eating foods that support the production of these hormones. And if you’re really in need of help, discuss medication and supplement options with your doctor.
To support menopause with celiac disease, you may want to enjoy foods rich in nutrients that help with estrogen production. Vitamin D for example plays an important role in estrogen synthesis. Gluten-free sources of vitamin D include skin exposure to sunlight, fish, eggs, fortified milk, juice, and fortified gluten-free cereals.
On top of that, B vitamins play an important role in the creation and activation of estrogen. B vitamins are found in whole grains, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, and legumes. One of the main ones of concern with celiac is B12, which, unlike most other B vitamins, is found in mainly animal products.
Boron is utilized in the metabolism of estrogen. It influences estrogen receptors by allowing the body to more easily use available estrogen. Boron is found in coffee, milk, apples, fruit juice, beans, and potatoes.
All of that said, a generally balanced gluten-free diet should do a good job of addressing these needs. If you need help with simplifying how to get the nutrition you need from food with celiac, check out my self-paced dietitian-led Celiac Nutrition Course here. It will give you easy strategies plus lots of tips for boosting nutrition enjoyably.
Another way to support menopause with celiac disease is to enjoy foods with nutrients that help with progesterone production. Many of which overlap with foods that support estrogen production.
For example, B vitamins like folate, may increase progesterone levels (dark green leafy vegetables, legumes). And unfortunately, this B vitamin along with B12 are some of those that are at risk for being low on a gluten-free diet or with celiac. So paying extra attention to them may be helpful.
Another interesting potential link between celiac disease and menopause that I’ve not seen anyone talk about is the fact that both can impact hunger and fullness hormones.
Hunger and fullness hormones are what tell us when we’re hungry and full. The main hormones involved in these body cues are Grhelin, which tells us we’re hungry, and leptin, which signals that we’re full.
With celiac disease, research has shown that with untreated/unhealead celiac, grehlin levels are higher. This is one of the reasons people with celiac might feel hungry all of the time if this hormone goes unregulated.
The interesting part about this is that some research published in 2020, suggested a relationship between higher grehlin levels with an increased likelihood of hot flashes in menopausal people.
Additionally, menopause with celiac can have a great impact on your bones. This is because untreated celiac can impair the absorption of essential bone minerals thus putting people at risk for bone disease.
And, menopause has also been linked to bone health risks as well. This is because the loss of estrogen in menopause causes you to become more at risk for osteoporosis
To support your bone health during this time, make sure to eat enough calcium and vitamin D. I have lots of resources to help you easily do this in my Celiac Nutrition Course, should you want my help as a celiac dietitian.
And finally, remember that even the most “perfect” diet is not going to prevent menopause with celiac disease. Menopause is a normal, natural process. And while you can’t stop this process, eating these foods will, however, provide the nutrients to potentially ease some of the symptoms.
And we covered a lot of ways to boost nutrients of concern with celiac and menopause. If this feels overwhelming, I’m holding space for you. Meeting with a dietitian specialized in celiac can help you prioritize what to focus on first.
And if you want to go the self-paced route, don’t forget, I cover how to balance a gluten-free diet for nutrient gaps and deficiencies in the Celiac Nutrition Course. This is a self-paced, dietitian-led course that will give you meal ideas, side dish ideas, snack ideas, and more to make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need while still enjoying the gluten-free foods you love. Learn more here.
There is many ways celiac impacts menopause. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition. It damages the small intestine where most of our nutrient absorption happens. This can result in nutritional deficiencies that can impact hormone health and menopause. However, a balanced gluten-free diet is one way to support the impacts of celiac on menopause.
If you want more help with balancing a gluten-free diet for all of the common nutrient gaps and deficiencies, plus learn how to heal your gut, I cover all of in my dietitian-led Celiac Nutrition Course. Check it out here.