Women with untreated celiac disease may go through menopause earlier and have a higher risk of some pregnancy complications than women without the disease or women who have been diagnosed and treated, according to the results of a recent study.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that affects the digestive system. Individuals with celiac disease are allergic to a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. In individuals with the disease, eating foods with gluten causes damage to the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients. Following a strict gluten-free diet is the only way to manage celiac disease. Unfortunately, celiac disease can go undiagnosed for a long time because the symptoms can be vague and misunderstood and can range from diarrhea to fatigue to skin rash and even depression.
Women suffering from celiac disease tend to have nutrient deficiencies and lower estrogen levels, which could explain the earlier onset of menopause. In order to examine this relationship, researchers conducted a study involving103 postmenopausal women: 45 celiac-free women; 33 women with celiac disease that wasn’t diagnosed until after menopause; and 25 women with celiac disease who had been diagnosed and followed a gluten-free diet for at least 10 years prior to menopause.
The researchers found that, on average, women with untreated celiac disease went through menopause about three years earlier than their counterparts, which means they have a shorter “fertile life span.” Furthermore, they had a higher rate of miscarriages and premature births.
The researchers concluded that diagnosing celiac disease early might help delay early menopause—possibly because it could help prevent some of the nutritional and hormonal deficiencies associated with celiac disease.
The association is important because when women are diagnosed with celiac disease early and follow a strict gluten-free diet, they do not appear to go through menopause any earlier than their celiac-free counterparts. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of celiac disease is important. Some red flags may include unexplained anemia, diarrhea, and fatigue.
In contrast, women who experience early menopause and have symptoms of celiac disease may want to get tested for the disease; while it can’t help delay menopause, it can help address the disease and improve quality of life during their postmenopausal years.
 Santonicola A, Iovino P, Cappello C, et al. From menarche to menopause: The fertile lifespan of celiac women. Menopause. Published early online June 3, 2011: doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3182188421