When it comes to endometriosis, I am all about eating a diet that is as inclusive as possible. While restricting more foods temporarily during a healing protocol may be necessary, in the long run you want to be able to enjoy your life and live it to the fullest and that means enjoying as many foods as possible. That being said, I do have one exception to that and that is gluten. Endometriosis and gluten at the end of the day are just not friends.
Let’s dive in and explore why!
Endometriosis and gluten and your gut
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know that I talk a whole lot about the connection between endo and your gut. I’ll link to an article at the end that goes more in depth on this topic. Here is the quickie version of what you need to know: endometriosis is, at its root, a dysfunction of the immune system. 70% of your immune system lives in your gut. Plus, your gut is a common source of inflammation due to things like food sensitivities and overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria, known as dysbiosis.
Another thing that is very common for women with endometriosis is something called intestinal hyperpermeability, or “leaky gut.” This is a term that is thrown around a lot these days, but let’s take a look at exactly what this is.
Taking a look at leaky gut
Your digestive system is basically one big tube, leading from mouth to anus. This entire tube, although it lives inside of your body, is built to keep whatever comes in completely separate from the rest of your body. Except of course for the nutrients from your food that your body chooses to absorb.
Within your intestines, there is a lining that is just one cell thick. This lining provides that protection and prevents any unwanted visitors from entering your bloodstream and does allow nutrients to pass through so that they can be transported wherever they may need to go in your body.
In the case of a leaky gut, that single cell barrier gets damaged. This in turn allows large food particles to pass through to the bloodstream. Your immune system recognizes these as foreign invaders and attacks, starting the process of inflammation. At this point, your body now recognizes that food as foreign and will continue to mount an immune response when you consume it in the future as well. This is a food sensitivity developing in action. When this happens again and again, all of a sudden you may end up with a whole long list of food sensitivities.
What do endometriosis and gluten have to do with it?
Gluten is one of the worst offending foods when it comes to this damage to the gut barrier as well as damage to the villi. These are the fingerlike projections in the gut that absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Once these tissues are damaged, the inflammation is further exacerbated every time you subsequently consume gluten.
On the other hand, cutting gluten out of your diet can give your damaged gut the time and space to heal that it so desperately needs.
Does cutting gluten really work?
In a 2012 study following endo patients going gluten free for 12 months, 75% reported a “statistically significant change in painful symptoms.”* That is a high percentage and unlikely to all be a huge coincidence! If pain is one of your main symptoms, definitely give going gluten free a try. While more research could be done in the future, it seems clear that endometriosis and gluten do have some connection.
It is important to note here that if you are going gluten free, you have to go all in. Going partially gluten free or having “cheat days” will not allow your gut to heal and give you the results you are looking for. I highly recommend going all in and avoiding even trace amounts of gluten. At a minimum you can do this while you heal your gut, but for most endo warriors, that means going gluten free for life.
How to go gluten free the right way
When you first make the decision to go gluten free, it can feel overwhelming. Everything has gluten in it! Take a look at the vast majority of snacks on the shelf at the grocery store and you will see something along the lines of “enriched white flour.” Cutting all of that out might feel like it is impossible now to find something to eat!
My first piece of advice is to focus on what you can fill your plate with rather than what you are missing out on. The beautiful thing is that you can still enjoy all of the fresh fruits and veggies that the world has to offer as well as all of the whole food sources of protein like meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. These are the foods that are going to best nourish your endo body anyway, so that is a win-win!
My next piece of advice is to work on ditching most of the processed foods anyway. Yes, there are lots of gluten free alternatives on the market and while it is okay to indulge in these sometimes, you certainly don’t want to make them the primary piece of your diet. Many of these foods still contain additives and ingredients that still may not be a friend to your gut or your endo health.
Be aware of hidden sources of gluten
The obvious things to avoid when cutting gluten are any form of flour, anything containing wheat as an ingredient as well as barley, rye, and spelt. Be sure to always check ingredient labels because sometimes you will be surprised.
But there are many other foods containing gluten that we may not immediately be aware of. Flour is also commonly used as a thickening agent in sauces. If you are going out to eat especially, it is probably a good idea to double check with your server. Soy sauce, for example, always contains wheat unless they specifically use a gluten free alternative like Tamari or coconut aminos. That means any sauce that is soy sauce-based should also be avoided, like teriyaki.
Other such examples include gravies, salad dressings, seasonings, beer and some other alcoholic beverages.
Do your research, and don’t be afraid to ask questions when you are eating out. These days, most places are able to be pretty accommodating for food allergies as they have become such a common occurrence.
Healing your gut while going gluten free
I mentioned before that one of the biggest reasons behind going gluten free is to allow your damaged gut lining to heal. So how exactly do you do this?
There are many supplements on the market designed for this purpose and while I love using these with my clients, I would recommend being under the care of a knowledgeable practitioner here.
The great news is that there is so much you can do on your own as well in the form of diet and supplements. Some wonderful gut-healing foods include bone broth, collagen powder, prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods, and healthy fats like ghee or butter. Try to incorporate some of these gut-loving foods into your diet every day!
My final thoughts on endometriosis and gluten
Going gluten free can seem like a daunting undertaking at first, but when you start to experience life-changing results it makes it all so worthwhile. Like anything, don’t expect to see results overnight. Your gut wasn’t damaged in a week’s time and it likely won’t fully heal in that time span either. Healing is a long game. Set your intentions, picture in your mind what your life will look like when you are a picture of health, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
It’s the little choices that we make, day in and day out, that make all the difference.
If you are ready to ditch your endo pain and start on your healing journey, I would love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about my Thrive With Endo program and apply today!
Other Articles You May Enjoy:
The 5 BEST Foods for Endometriosis
The 5 WORST Foods for Endometriosis
Fatigue and Endometriosis: What Can We Do?
Elimination Diet for Endometriosis
*Marziali, M; Venza, M; Lazzaro, S; Lazzaro, A; Micossi, C; Stolfi, V M. (2012). Gluten-free diet: a new strategy for management of painful endometriosis related symptoms? Retreived from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23334113/
Restorative Wellness Solutions (2022). Mastering the Art and Science of Gastrointestinal Healing Materials [Video and PDF Documents].
Nutritional Therapy Association (2021). Digestion Module Materials [Video and PDF Documents].