Should you give up gluten if you have autoimmune thyroid disease?
For me personally, removing gluten from my diet made a HUGE difference to my overall health. My energy levels soared and my brain fog lifted. It made such a big difference to that heavy, lethargic feeling. I now always recommend going gluten-free to thyroid patients or anyone suffering with an autoimmune/chronic disease.
That being said, it is always the choice of the individual. It is ultimately up to you if you wish to remove gluten from your diet. There is no harm in trying a gluten-free diet and then reviewing after a few weeks to see how you feel. I must also emphasise here that everyone's body is completely different. What works for one, might not work for another. Or maybe after going gluten-free, one person’s symptoms may improve by 10%, another person’s symptoms may improve my 100%. We are all unique and so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
However, there are tons of scientific research papers out there to say that gluten is linked to ‘leaky gut’ (intestinal permeability) which is always present in autoimmune disease. Leaky gut can cause food particles to ‘leak’ out into the bloodstream causing a range of inflammatory responses such as food allergies/sensitivities, fatigue, joint pain, IBS, mood changes and acid reflux.
In addition to this, gluten contains a protein called gliadin and the structure of this looks similar to the thyroid gland. Once gliadin breaches the gut barrier and leaks out into the blood stream, the immune system tags it for destruction. The additional problem with this is that it looks like the thyroid gland. So alongside gliadin, what else is going to be tagged for destruction? The thyroid. This is why it is advised those who already have elevated thyroid antibodies avoid gluten.
In his article on ‘The Gluten-Thyroid Connection ’, Functional Medicine expert Chris Kesser says: ‘The short version: foods that contain gluten (both whole grains and flours) contain substances that inhibit nutrient absorption, damage our intestinal lining, and – as I’ve described in this article – activate a potentially destructive autoimmune response. What’s more, there are no nutrients in gluten-containing foods that you can’t get more easily and efficiently from foods that don’t contain gluten.’
Thyroid health expert Dr Izabella Wentz did a survey with her Hashimoto's patients and found that ’88 percent of people with Hashimoto’s who became gluten free felt better’.
In her article Is Gluten the Root Cause of Your Thyroid Condition?, Wentz quotes a 2002 study in the European Journal of Endocrinology that found 43 percent of people with Hashimoto’s showed activated mucosal T cell immunity, which is usually correlated with gluten sensitivity. (6: Valentino R, Savastano S, Maglio M et al. Markers of potential coeliac disease in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. European Journal of Endocrinology. 2002;146(4):479-483. doi:10.1530/eje.0.1460479.)
Celiac disease: In an article published by the Gluten Intolerance Group, it stated that researchers have found a link between celiac disease and thyroid disease and that a person with celiac disease has a higher chance of developing thyroid disease.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity:
Some people test negative for celiac disease but yet they still have debilitating symptoms after eating gluten. Usually their conventional doctor tells them they are ‘fine’ and can ‘eat gluten’. However, some people actually suffer from something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This type of sensitivity will not show up on a celiac disease test. Therefore many people will go undiagnosed.
A 2015 study published by Gastrojournal found a link between Nonceliac Wheat Sensitivity and autoimmune disease or Antinuclear Antibodies.
What's with wheat?
According to the Gaia documentary 'What's with wheat?', wheat produced today is completely different to how it was produced a few decades ago. Back in the day, it used to take 2 days to make bread, it was treated with respect. Today it takes only 2 HOURS from making it to it being in the bag. There is barely any time for fermentation which allows for some of the gluten to break down.
There are so many problems with the wheat we eat today, such as:
- how it is raised
- hybridisation of the wheat grain
- highly processed
- pesticides (Did you know that the same manufacturers who made chemicals for warfare then started making chemicals for crops?!)
- the amount we are eating (We are being exposed to unprecedented amounts of wheat (gluten) - and its not just in our food - its a common ingredient in all our skin products too! We have gone overboard with how much wheat we consume - its not a surprise we are seeing so many sensitivities and allergies to it)
"In fact, the more I learn about gluten and its effects on the body, the more I think we’d all probably be better off not eating it."
- Chris Kesser
Foods that contain gluten:
Oats if not labeled gluten-free (many oats are contaminated with wheat grains)
Gluten can find its way into pretty much everything processed /packaged in the supermarket so you have to really have to study the food labels. It can also be found in the most unlikely of foods! Another thing to look out for is if the food has been made/packaged in a factory handling gluten. This can lead to contamination, so it is best to check. Also, just because a food is ‘organic' doesn't mean it is gluten-free.
Be careful not to fall into the ‘junk’ gluten-free trap:
Just because food in a supermarket is labelled ‘gluten-free’ doesn't necessarily mean it is ‘healthy’. In fact, I would avoid all processed gluten-free food. It is best to eat naturally gluten-free foods and it can be fun getting creative and trying out gluten-free replacements. Some popular nutrient-dense options to replace glutenous grains are cauliflower rice, sweet potato wedges, cassava crackers and buckwheat groats.
7. Gaia documentary: 'What's with wheat?