One of the most common dietary recommendations for my patients with low thyroid function, in particular autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) is to eliminate gluten from their diets 100%. This short article will outline the reasons for this recommendation. In many cases, thyroid function improves with a gluten-free diet, and there is a better response to medication when needed.
- Inflammation: Quite simply, gluten containing grains increase body inflammation for many people, and lowering inflammation will lower immune system stress related to an autoimmune condition. Inflammation also raises stress hormones, and when stress is high for a prolonged period of time, the thyroid can slow down. This is a protective mechanism against stress, to force you to rest.
- Nutrient Absorption: In people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, there is often poor absorption of nutrients. Nutrients required for optimal thyroid function include selenium, zinc and iodine as well as sufficient protein. If the body is not absorbing these nutrients well, thyroid function will be impaired.
- Susceptibility to other autoimmune conditions: There is a genetic connection between gluten intolerance, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and other autoimmune conditions. In particular, people with a gene type called HLA DQ are at higher risk of developing these conditions, and often have multiple autoimmune conditions. It is extremely common to have this HLA DQ gene type, and a susceptibility to autoimmune conditions.
- Molecular mimickry: The protein that is found in gluten, called gliaden, closely resembles the molecular structure of the thyroid gland. In gluten intolerance, gliaden gets through the lining of the intestinal tract and into the bloodstream. Your immune system recognizes gliaden as an intruder, and so it launches an attack using gliaden-specific antibodies. Since the gliaden protein closely resembles thyroid tissue proteins, the gliaden-specific antibodies will also attack your thyroid. Each time a person with an autoimmune thyroid condition eats gluten, it sets off this chain of immune-mediated reactions that end up attacking the thyroid gland.
Going gluten-free can be challenging, but the good news is that there are so many more products and resources available. I strongly suspect that gluten intolerances will continue to rise dramatically over the next decade. Gluten intolerances are often undetected in patients, because we tend to look for only digestive symptoms. The reality is that gluten causes inflammation and it can affect the skin, joints, mood and thyroid too.
Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are very difficult to test for, as current testing through blood is not 100% accurate. A positive test is a positive test, but I believe there are many, many false-negatives. The number of patients who feel dramatically different with a gluten-free diet, and have all negative testing is remarkable!
An important note about going gluten-free, is that it needs to be strict. Avoiding gluten 90% in your diet, or having an occasional cheat on the weekends will not correct the immune response. An immune response to gluten can last for up to 6 months!
If you have a thyroid disorder and need support to go gluten-free, please ask – this can make a dramatic improvement in your thyroid function and overall health.