As I was doing my weekly glance through the PubMed database (www.pubmed.gov) I came across an interesting letter to the editor in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics entitled, “Celiac Disease and Endometriosis: What is the Nexus?” Endometriosis is a common gynecologic disorder, which effects approximately 10% of women of childbearing age. It involves the development of endometrium, which is the tissue which lines the uterus, in areas of the body outside of the uterus. Symptoms of endometriosis include heavy menstrual periods, abdominal and pelvic pain, abnormal menstrual cycles, and infertility. Although the exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, theories include retrograde menstruation (endometrial cells from the uterus flow backward into the fallopian tubes instead of out of the body during menstruation), an abnormal placement of embryonic stem cells in the pelvic cavity which produce endometrial tissue, and/or an immune system disorder.
Endometriosis is associated with having the HLA-DQ2 and DQ8 genes (which are also present in approximately 96% of patients with Celiac Disease), as well as the DQ7 gene, which has been associated with Celiac Disease in some southern Italians, Sicilians, and Sardinians.
Two studies published within the last few years have shown associations between Celiac Disease and endometriosis. Researchers in Sweden (Stephansson, et al.) reviewed the medical records of over 11,000 women with Celiac Disease in 2011. Compared with controls, women with Celiac Disease were found to be at a much higher risk of having endometriosis, especially in the first year after diagnosis with celiac disease (overall hazard ratio of 1.39). The authors postulate that there must be a shared inflammatory process in both disorders. Likewise, researchers in Brazil found that 2.5% of women diagnosed with endometriosis also had Celiac Disease (Aguiar, et al, 2009). Please see the references section for links to these two studies.
The gluten free diet has recently been recommended as a strategy to manage the pain of endometriosis. In a pilot study in Italy, 75% of women with endometriosis had a decrease in pain symptoms after 12 months on the gluten free diet (see link in reference section). This strongly suggests that gluten sensitivity and/or Celiac Disease plays a role in endometriosis.
Although I do not have endometriosis, I have interacted with many women through social networking who do have both gluten intolerance and endometriosis. I can say that my periods have become significantly lighter and less painful since going gluten free after my Celiac diagnosis in 2010. I can also say, without a doubt, that my sensitivity to gluten seems to ebb and flow with my menstrual cycle. I seem to be the most sensitive to gluten cross contamination in the 7-10 day stretch before my period, when my estrogen levels are their highest.
With time, I hope that more research is done examining the link between celiac disease and gynecologic disorders. After reading up on endometriosis I did a PubMed search on “Celiac Disease and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)” and came up with one article from 2002 that was published in Turkey and did not find an association between the two conditions. I have a feeling that if the study was reproduced in the U.S., on a large scale, that an association between Celiac Disease and PCOS would be shown.
1. Mormile, R. and Vittori, G. Celiac disease and endometriosis: what is the nexus? Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics; June 2013 (e-pub, ahead of print).
2. Stephansson, O., Falconer, H., Ludvigsson, J. Risk of endometriosis in 11,000 women with celiac disease. Human Reproduction. 2011; 26 (10): 2896-2901.
3. Aguiar., F., et al. Serological testing for celiac disease in women with endometriosis. A pilot study. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 2009; 36(1): 23-25.
4. Marziali, M. et al. Gluten-free diet: a new strategy for management of painful endometriosis related symptoms? Minerva Chir. 2012 Dec; 67(6): 499-504.