03 Jul 2022

Undiagnosed coeliacs and gluten intolerant women at higher risk of early onset of menopause

Undiagnosed coeliacs and gluten intolerant women at higher risk of early onset of menopause

Coeliac disease can also affect fertility and the reproductive cycles of women who have the condition

It's World Menopause Day today and the Coeliac Society of Ireland has warned that women who have untreated coeliac disease and severe gluten intolerance are more likely to have an early menopause.

Coeliac disease can also affect fertility and the reproductive cycles of women who have the condition but are not on a strict gluten free diet – because their bodies struggle to absorb the nutrients they need from food.

Speaking during World Menopause Awareness Month, Sarah Keogh, Coeliac Society of Ireland dietitian and nutritionist, said: 

“Up to 70% of people diagnosed with coeliac disease are women. Untreated this can shorten the life span of a woman’s reproductive cycle. It can delay the start of a girl’s periods and it can cause early menopause.

“Menopause is a stage that eventually occurs for every woman. However, when coeliac and not properly following a gluten free diet, this process can occur earlier in a woman’s life than in those who do not have coeliac disease or those who are coeliac and follow a strict gluten free diet.”

When a coeliac person consumes gluten, the lining of their gut is damaged, meaning their body is less able to absorb nutrients from food. Proper nutrition is needed for healthy menstrual cycles. This is because nutrition affects body weight, energy balance and system function, all of which affect your menstrual cycle.

The hormonal changes that occur at the time of menopause also can have a significant impact on bone health and can put an someone at a greater risk of osteoporosis and fractures if they have untreated coeliac disease.

Heart disease is normally associated with men; however, heart disease is just as common in women as it is in men. Many of the reproductive hormones in women are thought to have a protective affect against heart disease. However, when a woman goes through menopause and these hormones decline, the risk of heart disease increases.

High blood pressure is one of the most common risk factors that affects women in the early postmenopausal years. Furthermore, the decline in reproductive hormones at menopause are said to lead to a sharp increase in cholesterol.

Sarah said:” It is so important that if you have any concerns about your gut health that you request a test for coeliac disease from your GP.

"If it turns out that you are coeliac or severely affected by the consumption of gluten, adapting to a healthy nutritious diet can in many cases prolong your period of fertility, prevent early onset of menopause, and also reduce the risk of many other related health conditions associated with these issues.”

Based on average prevalence rates, 1% of the population of Ireland – or around 50,000 people – have coeliac disease.  However, only around 15,000 people are actually diagnosed.

This means that a large proportion of coeliacs in Ireland are undiagnosed. In addition, an estimated 450,000 people has some form of gluten intolerance. The only treatment for coeliac disease is to follow a strict gluten free diet. This is also the case for forms of severe gluten intolerance.

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