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How To Kick Your Thyroid’s Ass: Gluten And Your Thyroid Might Be In A Fight

Post Published: 31 May 2009
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Category: How To Kick Your Thyroid's Ass
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Hi folks.   Today we’re going to be talking about gluten.   I know, I know; gluten may not have quite the same appeal as vaginas, but let’s just say this: if the last How To Kick Your Thyroid’s Ass piqued your body curiosity, then this installment will (hopefully, as is my intent) appeal to your intellect.   Though, if it makes you feel any better, I was visualizing vaginas as I wrote this.

This is the kind of information that may just completely blow your mind, only because when I first began reading up on gluten in connection to my Hashimoto’s, it felt like I’d hit the treasure trove of top-secret health stuff — revolutionary things pharmaceutical companies don’t want us to know about.   I pulled an all-nighter, researching, and the next day, completely eliminated gluten from my diet (and believe it or not, haven’t looked back since).   For me, the evidence and results are that convincing.

Remember that, as always, this information is science-based, which is a really important thing to keep in mind because, in my humble opinion, gluten gets a too- “holistic” name: we tend to associate it (and the omitting of it from our diets) with oh-so trendy young/spiritualist/yoga-going moms who buy weird cookies and baking mixes from their local health food store all in the name of Mother Earth and intuition.   But trust me, the gluten-free (GF) lifestyle is sooo much more mainstream (and convenient and affordable and non-trendy) than you could ever imagine and should you choose to adopt it, you’ll be in the good company of millions and millions of GF peeps worldwide.

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains including rye, wheat, barley, some oats (due to cross-contamination concerns), spelt, and triticale, though it also gets added to alot of processed foods (in the form of derivatives and synthetic flavorings and various aliases) and alcohol, beauty products, stickers and stamps, and even some thyroid medication.   Pretty much, it’s everywhere and if you weren’t specifically looking out for it, you’d probably be consuming it in high doses.

Gluten can potentially cause an array of symptoms that vary according to the individual and that are calibrated on a spectrum of sorts: ranging from a mild food allergy or intolerance, to the precipitation of other diseases, or to full-blown autoimmune Celiac disease.   Alot of people’s immune systems react negatively to this protein.  In fact, recent information from Johns Hopkins show that nearly 1 in every 100 people suffer at the hands of gluten.  That makes Celiac twice as common as Crohn’s disease, ulceric colitis, and cystic fibrosis combined — totaling about 3 million people in the U.S.!

But what exactly do gluten and Celiac have to do with thyroid disease and/or autoimmune disease?,   Well, for one thing, because the autoimmune response is still not completely understood,  there is currently little or no treatment to arrest the process of self-attack and destruction.   It is hypothesized, however, that certain proteins cause the inflammatory reactions that manifest as autoimmune disease.   So when it comes to gluten (which happens to be a protein), the theory is that ingestion causes the inflammatory immune system response.   Because grains were not cultivated until just 10,000 years ago during the first Agricultural Revolution, (mere split seconds ago, evolutionarily) our bodies may not have yet evolved to accommodate grains and gluten and their proteins.   (I’ll go into this idea in depth in upcoming weeks).

The secondary reasoning for the link between autoimmune disease and gluten is that in the intestines of a person with a gluten allergy, the villi — long hair-like arms that absorb nutrients — become blunted, thereby causing little to no absorption of vitamins, minerals, etc.   This absence of essential nutrients that fuel the body is thought to be linked to an array of diseases. ,  Or, specifically, it’s thought that people with thyroid disease can have damaged small intestines which block the absorption of the thyroid hormone/medication. ,  So, eliminating gluten causes the stomach to heal, allowing for the appropriate amount of hormone to be absorbed.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting and all food science-y: the gluten protein and the yeast cell (which we talked about last week) are so similar in structure and composition that they can work in unison to precipitate each other and really make your system all fucking crazy.   So, perhaps if yeast overgrowth is one of the root causes of your various symptoms, eating wheat can actually make your yeast worse!,   And vice versa — eating yeast or sugary foods can sometimes make gluten sensitivities worse.   Very often, the two go hand-in-hand, especially in the chronically-ill or immunocompromised person.

Once I eliminated gluten from my diet, my Hashimoto’s TPO (the number of antibodies in my blood work) was reduced so greatly that it is no longer out of range, and in fact is on the lower side of the “normal” scale.   The little headaches I was getting after eating wheat or pasta completely went away, I lost ten pounds, and my TSH kept stabilizing so much so that my doctor has slowly decreased my medication dosage. ,   ,  And in my opinion, this is revolutionary because after nine diagnosed months of hell, an incredibly high dose of Synthroid that actually scared some doctors, and off-the-charts TSHs & TPOs, my body normalized. (Oh, and the two times I accidentally ate gluten since swearing off it, I’ve gotten really sick.)

According to what kind of thyroid disease you have — hyper or hypo, Graves’ or Hashimoto’s, or the many others — your goal may either be to gain weight or to lose weight. ,  The really interesting thing about a GF diet is that it is known to do either, according to what your body needs. ,  It has a funny way of stabilizing your system so that whether you need to put on a few pounds because you’re in the throes of a hyper fit, or you need to lose substantial weight due to an under-active gland, it mysteriously does both.

As always, there’s much more to this story so below are some invaluable links to medical and scientific research that delineates the relationship between gluten and/or Celiac disease and thyroid conditions.   And I’ll go into more specifics on the gluten-free lifetsyle-diet in upcoming articles, but until then, I’ve also included a blogroll on GF cooking and recipes.

Until Next Week,

Love Always,

Liz

Gluten Intolerance and Thyroid/Autoimmune Disease:

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GF Recipes & GF-Living Blogroll:

Have a question, comment, story, love letter, or rant/rave to send me?: Liz@DearThyroid.com,

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22 Responses to “How To Kick Your Thyroid’s Ass: Gluten And Your Thyroid Might Be In A Fight”

  1. misswaxie says:

    While I love love love this post – because its so sadly ridiculous doctoring has not caught up to medical research, I have to point out one important thing…

    …In generally, you really, really shouldn’t go GF without getting a celiac test. As autoimmune ladies, it’s important to know if we’re rapidly developing autoimmune diseases – just as it’s important for our doctors to see us as celiac + hashimoto’s, rather that “hashimoto’s patient who decided she had a gluten problem”. That’s not to say sensativitites don’t exist, or that if your test (a simple blood test) comes back negative, you shouldn’t go GF to see if it helps anyway, but getting tested is really REALLY important for you, your health long term, and your medical record.

    Also, its interesting to note that this past february, the journal of endocrinology published a study linking hashimoto’s, celiac, and type 1 diabeties, saying if you have one your 10 times more likely to have the other(s). They think they share a genetic component. How’s THAT for a reason to be tested! 🙂

    Thanks for the great info, as always!
    – Miss Waxie
    http://acomiclifeindeed.wordpress.com

    (ps: i write a gf blog, link can be found on the link above.)

  2. Sz says:

    This was epic and excellent. A MUST READ. It’s like learning a magic trick and you want everyone to know the secret. Bravo!

  3. Vici says:

    Yes, yes, YES!!

    I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease in 2002. After going on some quite toxic meds and having a specialist doctor whose answer was to up the meds and then, if they didn’t work, he wanted to destroy my thyroid and put me on synthroid for the remainder of my life. The meds were making me gain weight rapidly, and I didn’t like the long list of side effects.

    Thank goodness for the internet. It was here that I found out about the correlation between thyroid problems and gluten intolerance. I called the specialist, got his voice mail, told it I was taking myself off the meds and going gluten free, and if he saw any problem with that, let me know. I didn’t hear back, so that’s what I did (in retrospect, not a great plan!). At my next appointment with this specialist, I had had my blood drawn and he had the results in hand. He said, “Now, you are on xxx dosage of the medication, right?” To which I answered, “No, I have been off the medication for the last few weeks, and eating gluten free.” He scratched his head, and said, “Well, I don’t get it, your thyroid levels are normal. It must be some sort of spontaneous recovery.”

    I tried to explain to this “specialist” about what I had read on line, but he would not believe it. Both primary care physicians that I have had since are much smarter, and each has taken it upon themselves to follow up on learning more about the thyroid/gluten connection.

    I have now been gluten free going on 7 years, and my thyroid levels have been normal all that time.

    I am with you on the being tested part. I never say I have Celiac, I don’t, since I have never been diagnosed. I am gluten intolerant. Some people are poison ivy intolerant, and they stay away from the stuff. Same for me and gluten. It shouldn’t make a difference to insurance companies.

    Keep spreading the word about this. This past summer a neighbor’s mother was visiting, and she had thyroid problems that no one could seem to help her get a handle on. I told her about myself and the gluten free diet I follow. Just a few months ago, she sent me a lovely thank you card telling me that she was doing so much better by not eating gluten, and her thyroid problems are not nearly as severe.

    There are days I am convinced that this is the tip of a very large iceberg. That many people, maybe most, could really benefit from dropping gluten from their diet. It is totally radical, and my friends just roll their eyes, sometimes I roll my eyes with them, too!

    Vici

  4. WendyGK says:

    Liz
    Thanks for the link to my blog on this post. I hope it helps those new to the gluten-free diet.

  5. Allison says:

    I can not be more excited to have found this website. I am 25 years old and cut gluten out of my diet a year and a half ago without being diagnosed because I read an article about the connection. I did not need a test either. My stomachaches, headaches, body aches, constipation, nightly bouts of nausea, weekly palpitations all drifted away in that week. I never looked back, and never have been diagnosed. My thyroid has been less swollen, and increasingly less bothersome as time has gone on. I was never on medication because my levels were just barely out of normal range and the medications all gave me very large palpitations and increased anxiety. But I still believe I have a problem. I sometimes have three good weeks, then two bad etc. I am looking further into food intolerances in general and trying to weed out the foods in my diet that cause me any bodily distress. The yeast connection is also one I have been looking into more recently, but I rarely eat sugar or yeast anymore, so I don’t suspect it is a problem for me. I could be wrong though.

    I’m not sure if this has been mentioned elsewhere on the site, but there is also a problem with fluoridated water (in my county it is fluoridated) blocking the absorption of thyroid hormones. I have yet to get a fluoride filter for my drinking water but that is the next step for me to see if I will have even greater improvement. Keep writing and spread the word!

  6. Ewa says:

    Dear Gluten free;

    What will I eat for breakfast? Oatmeal? I don’t tolerate it well.
    For over a year now (or maybe two—thyroid moments make you forget) I have toasted organic spelt bread with 3 TBs of unrefined coconut oil (be good to your thyroid—and it works) and a tsp of local unfiltered honey.
    What else is there to eat?

  7. Vici says:

    Breakfast: For years, I have made my own “trail mix.”

    From the local savings club (Costco, BJs, etc.) I buy a big bag (in the baking section) of pecans, a big bag of walnuts, and one of almonds. Also a big bag of raisins, one of dried cranberries, and one of dried blueberries. (Watch ingredients, but I haven’t found anything with gluten in the varieties I have been buying.)

    I mix them in a stock pot and keep them in the freezer in 1 gallon zip lock bags.

    Every morning I have 2 handfuls for breakfast. Every morning I look forward to my breakfast, it’s that good!

    This is also a great mixture to have on hand for trips where you are uncertain of what will be available. It is also delicious on ice cream.

  8. Kit Kellison says:

    Add another autoimmune disease to the list of ailments that can be relieved by a gluten-free diet. Arthritis Today had been advocating it in several issues. Here is the link to the latest: http://www.arthritistoday.org/nutrition-and-weight-loss/healthy-eating/good-food/whole-grains.php
    There is talk in the medical research community that all autoimmune diseases are manifestations of the same problem.

    I’ve been strictly gluten-free for seven years, and mostly grain-free for the past couple of years. It isn’t always easy, but it’s a lot easier now than it was seven years ago; there are a lot more options available. And it’s ALWAYS easier than feeling like total crap for eating food that fights you rather than nourishes you.

  9. Eva says:

    Love this article! I was diagnosed hypothyroid August 2006, Celiac Dec. 2006, after I took myself off gluten in Nov. that year. I have been sick my whole life and could not figure it out. A doctor confirmed my self diagnosis with more tests, and after almost three years I am finally on Armour thyroid and have gotten all gluten out of my diet. My home is 100 % gluten free – I do not dare have even small amounts of food with gluten in my home.

    Your post highlights something I have suspected since my two diagnoses: I am hypothyroid because of undiagnosed Celiac for 50+ years, the last 20 of which I saw several doctors about my symptoms but was always shoved out the door with a “it’s all in your head” thing – in spite of the severe symptoms I was telling them about. Very frustrating.

    I, too, love the information on this blog and on the Internet in general – I feel that I am finally in charge of my own health. Over the years I have lost almost total faith in MD’s, although I have found one now who is very open to alternative medicine. Bless her heart, she is one in a million! Yet, I am the one telling her what I want to have done; she researches, and agrees every time. We thus have an interesting doctor/patient relationship that works well for both of us.

    I am looking forward to more articles about the gluten/thyroid link! 🙂

  10. Maria says:

    There is certainly a connection between autoimmune conditions such autoimmune thyroid and gluten sensitivity. Thanks for a great article and Blog!

  11. EcoGrrl-icious | EcoGrrl says:

    […] my blood again to see how my thyroid is dealing with this all…meanwhile, this article, How to Kick Your Thyroid’s Ass, made me […]

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