Hashimoto’s and Gluten
Autoimmune conditions are on the rise and there is evidence that this could be due to our increasing consumption of modern processed foods. These unnatural foods negatively affect our gastrointestinal microbiome which inhibit nutrient absorption, damage our intestinal lining and potentially lead to an autoimmune response. The causes of thyroid dysfunction are, in 90% of cases, caused by an autoimmune response to your thyroid.
Gluten containing grains (i.e. wheat, rye and barley found in breads, cereals and pasta) and other hidden gluten foods (found in oats, sauces and even oven chips) contain a protein called gliadin. Unfortunately, gliadin very closely resembles the structure of the thyroid gland. Therefore, if you consume gluten and it enters the blood stream, your immune system will tag it as a foreign threat. These same antibodies will confuse the thyroid with gliadin and in response, attack it. This results in one of the two thyroid autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto’s or Cushings’.
The good news is that if you have autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s or Cushings’) and are gluten intolerant, removing gluten completely from your diet can dramatically improve your health. It’s not easy, it may take some adjusting, but it’s worth it. If you are relying on Celiac tests to find out whether you are intolerant to gluten, these are shown to be vastly inaccurate, because it can take several years before the damage is present. You may not have the IgA reaction to gluten either (i.e. Celiac), but could have an IgG reaction (i.e. gluten sensitivity/intolerance). Symptoms can include severe diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, vomiting, and acid reflux, while others may not experience any gut issues at all. If you think gluten is not a problem for you, because you do not suffer any digestive symptoms such, remember that symptoms can range from inﬂammation in the joints, skin, respiratory tract and brain, without any obvious gut symptoms. Another thing to remember is that if you are trying to avoid gluten as much as possible, you may not be reaping the benefits. The 80/20 rule is likely not to be as effective as complete omission and the immune response to gluten can last up to 6 months each time you eat it.
Researchers have found that every case of autoimmune disease needs three things present to occur:
- A genetic predisposition (however your genes do not determine your destiny)
- An environmental trigger (toxin, mold, infection)
- Intestinal permeability
Studies have shown that gluten induces intestinal permeability in all individuals, regardless of whether or not they have celiac disease.
I get regular inquiries about food intolerance testing in my clinic. I recognize that some people like to see what they are intolerant to, on paper. Many people are surprised with what other foods turn up! A lot of what you are currently eating may be on the list, which can be disheartening. This only means that your gut is permeable and your immune system is out of balance. Removal of the most reactive food is only one step, a gut healing protocol with a registered practitioner is key. After some time, some or most foods can be reintroduced with ease.
I do however believe that the gold standard is removal of suspected foods for a period of time (usually 2-3 weeks) and then re-introduction in a step by step process. This does however require more commitment and attention, as you will need to listen to your body very carefully! Your symptoms will guide you as to the foods that are problematic for you at this time.
If, after removing gluten from your diet for a few months to a year, doesn’t improve your symptoms, it’s time to do a bit more investigative work. Let me emphasize that thyroid dysfunction is a complicated and individual disorder, with many facets to consider. But in my clinical experience, removing gluten from my clients diet has made a profound improvement in their symptoms. Replacing gluten with processed gluten free products did not have the same desired effect.