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How Does Gluten Affect The Thyroid

The Gluten Intolerance Link

How Gluten Detroys Thyroid

Recent research links gluten intolerance and auto-immune issues, meaning if an auto-immune condition is the underlying cause of your thyroid disorder, your relationship with gluten may be an exacerbating factor. This connection happens so often that some studies suggest gluten intolerance screening for anyone with auto-immune thyroid issues.

Molecular Mimicry A Case Of Mistaken Identity

Every time your body is exposed to a bacteria, virus, or another pathogen, your immune system memorizes its structure, specifically its protein sequence. Then it can recognize it in the future and mount a defense.

However, the immune systems recognition system isnt foolproof. If a molecules structure and protein sequences are similar enough, the immune system can be fooled into attacking look-a-like molecules that are actually your bodys tissue, causing autoimmune disease.

Unfortunately, your thyroid is at risk for rogue autoimmune attacks because gluten looks so much like thyroid cells. Whats more, 50% of people with gluten sensitivity experience molecular mimicry with casein . This is known as cross-reactivity, where your body reacts to your original trigger and also to another trigger that resembles the first one.

Every time you eat gluten and dairy, their proteins are able to escape into your bloodstream, where they trigger an attack from your immune system. And, because of the molecular mimicry phenomenon, your thyroid tissues end up in the crosshairs as well.

Even in patients who have non-autoimmune thyroid problems, including thyroid nodules, the molecular mimicry phenomenon still impacts thyroid function. This is why I recommend that all of my patients with thyroid dysfunction eat only gluten-free foods, even if they are not autoimmune.

How Does Gluten Sensitivity Affect The Thyroid

  • note:
  • This article was written by a Medical Doctor and reviewed by the thyroid health experts at ThyroMate.

    ThyroMate articles uses only proven, accurate, credible sources in order to provide accurate, fact-checked information about thyroid health that is helpful and objective. All references are linked throughout the article and sources for each are cited at the end. Visit these links to learn more about the research studies and conclusions drawn from the research methods.

    Information contained on this website is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always consult your physician for questions related to your health.

    Medically Reviewed

A thyroid deficiency can often be exacerbated by a sensitivity to gluten. Most thyroid patients will have better outcomes if they can get tested for a gluten sensitivity. Moreover, some people with thyroid problems will test positive for a relatively rarer disorder called celiac disease.

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Survey Results Found Significant Improvements On A Gluten Free Diet

I often see articles and comments online ridiculing people without celiac disease for going gluten free to improve their health. I find this to be a very close-minded point of view, and quite frankly, a dangerous one as well.

While Ive seen tremendous benefits in my own personal health as well as the health of many of my private clients using unconventional methods, the mainstream research and evidence base for eliminating food antigens in Hashimotos is still lagging So I decided to create my own evidence base!

I used my outcomes research training to create a little survey that went a bit viral In the summer of 2015, I developed a survey to assess the impact of various interventions on Hashimotos. Some 2,232 people with Hashimotos provided feedback as to the factors that seemed to make their conditions better as well as worse. Many food and non-food triggers were assessed, but I would like to focus in on gluten for this article.

First of all, it is worth noting that out of all who responded, only 3.5 percent had also been diagnosed with celiac disease.

Yet, 86 percent of respondents who had gone gluten free reported improvements in digestive symptoms. I believe this re-confirms my earlier points- you do NOT have to have celiac disease to benefit from a gluten free diet!

In fact, 88 percent of people with Hashimotos who became gluten free felt better.

33 percent of respondents had a reduction in their thyroid antibodies on a gluten free diet.

Myth: Consuming Extra Iodine Will Improve Your Thyroid Health

Why does gluten affect my thyroid?

Fact: Your thyroid needs iodine to function properlybut most Americans have no problem getting enough of it. Taking supplements or eating a ton of seaweed could actually do your thyroid more harm than good, Dr. Fink says. Excess iodine can trigger thyroid dysfunction: If you dont have the proper mechanisms working in your thyroid to shut it down when its overdosed on iodine, it will turn into this iodine-using factory and keep churning through all this iodine and make too much thyroid hormone, she says. It can cause an overactive thyroid if you really overdose on it.

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Does Gluten Only Affect The Thyroid

When gluten stimulates an immune response, other areas of the body can also be affected, such as the brain. Research has also found that patients with ATD suffer immune attacks on the endocrine system, the main system responsible for managing hormones. In patients with Celiac disease, gluten is a known to be a prime trigger for endocrine disorders.

Gluten Leaky Gut And Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

Thanks to the pioneering research of Dr. Alessio Fasano, we know that leaky gut is one of the primary triggers for all autoimmune disorders, including autoimmune thyroid disease. As you might guess by its name, leaky gut occurs when your gut becomes permeable, allowing particles to leak from your digestive tract and travel freely through your bloodstream.

Gluten is one of the main causes of leaky gut in people I saw in my clinic, even among people who dont have celiac disease. When you eat gluten-containing food, the gluten proteins make their way through your stomach to the small intestine. There, your body can respond by producing zonulin, a chemical that signals the tight junctions of the intestinal walls to open up and stay open in a condition called leaky gut.

Leaky gut can also be caused or made worse by gut infections such as Candida overgrowth or SIBO, medications such as antibiotics, steroids or birth control pills, as well as a high-stress lifestyle.

Now that your small intestines are open and permeable this allows toxins, microbes, and partially digested food to leak into your bloodstream. Left untreated, your immune system goes on high alert to neutralize all of these threats. Because your gut is still leaky, the threats just keep on coming.

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Other Grains Can Mimic Gluten

As if the situation wasnt complex enough, once the antibodies for gluten have been created, they can mistakenly attack other proteins too. Certain grains, such as corn, oats, and rice, are naturally gluten-free yet their proteins are so similar to gluten that they occasionally still elicit an immune response. As naturopathic doctors, we can help you identify which foods may trigger your gluten sensitivity.

Try A Gluten Elimination Diet

Gluten and Thyroid Health: Is It Safe For Hypothyroidism?

Powell considers this the gold standard among testing options. “There’s some pretty good evidence that it takes up to three months to completely clear gluten from your system, so to really do a full elimination diet, it’s going to mean cutting gluten out as strictly as possible for three months and then reintroducing it back into your diet and seeing if you have any symptoms that change,” she says.

If you’re working with a doctor, along the way they may monitor your thyroid function with blood tests. If your labs change during or after your elimination diet, that can be an indicator that gluten is a trigger.

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Should You Eat Gluten If You Have Autoimmune Thyroiditis

Your gut health is a large determiner of your overall health. Gluten is not a villain, but for some, the overconsumption of gluten-containing junk foods can trigger and worsen an inflammatory response. The typical American diet of highly processed, artificial foods with low nutrient profiles is the predominant problem. For most people, even those with NCGS, a slice of whole grain bread is a better option than the over-processed replacement food. Care for your gut, and for yourself with a variety of fresh foods, and you will likely start to see and feel a difference.

Consider Food Sensitivity Testing

There are also food sensitivity tests available . “The type of testing that I do is looking at what happens to your white blood cells when you’re exposed to gluten, or whatever food we’re testing for,” says Powell. “Do you have an inflammatory response?”

This platform is called the ALCAT test. “It’s got about 90 percent sensitivity and specificity, so it’s going to have a 10 percent rate of false negatives or false positives. In the food sensitivity world, that’s pretty good,” says Powell. The test that looks at IgG antibodies is also a common option.

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Ask Your Doctor About Testing For Celiac Disease

If there’s a concern that you may have celiac disease, there’s a blood test that can test for it . There’s a catch here, though: “In order to test for celiac disease, someone needs to be actively consuming gluten,” says Powell. So if celiac disease is on the table, you definitely shouldn’t start an elimination diet.

If you have a thyroid disease, it’s pretty unlikely that gluten is the sole culprit. But if it does trigger symptoms in you , cutting back on gluten can be helpful. There are better ways to do this than others. ” fall into the trap of thinking, OK, normally I’d eat bread, and tortillas and cereal, so I’m just going to find a gluten-free bread, a gluten-free tortilla, and a gluten-free cereal,” says Powell. “Instead, I like to have people think about how they can incorporate more whole grains into their diet. Quinoa, oats, rice, milletthose are all naturally gluten-free grains, so you’re going to get a higher nutritional quality from those .”

And hey, ultimately, focusing on eating more whole foods and grains is generally a good idea for most peoplewhether you’ve got issues with gluten and your thyroid or not.

Do You Have To Stay Gluten Free Forever

Does Gluten Affect Your Fertility?

I would say generally with Hashimotos, most people should remain gluten free for long-term. That said, I have seen some people who have been able to reintroduce foods and seemingly dont have any adverse reactions to gluten. In other cases, some people claim not to react to gluten, but have obvious gluten-related symptoms like joint pain, anxiety and Hashimotos flare-ups and are in denial that gluten could be a trigger for them.

If gluten sensitivity is indeed caused by an imbalance of butyrate-producing bacteria, in theory, replenishing the beneficial bacteria could deem gluten sensitivity reversible. Some individuals have reported no longer reacting to gluten after taking the Megaspore probiotic.

Im still studying the phenomenon of reducing gluten reactions and improving digestion, and Im hoping to get to the bottom of it.

But for now, I would say that long term avoidance of gluten is going to be best for most people. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter to receive any future updates!

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Joint And Muscle Aches

Got joint and muscle aches? Glutens damaging inflammation in susceptible individuals can cause flares and pain. WebMD states that, Joint pain and inflammation are common symptoms of gluten sensitivity. And research does show links between the two diseases. The Arthritis Foundation has also published information regarding the link between gluten sensitivity, joint pain, and arthritis conditions.

How A Gluten Free Diet Helps With Thyroid Issues

There isnt just a link between celiac disease and thyroid dysfunction, there is also evidence to suggest that a gluten free diet can improve thyroid function and related symptoms in those with thyroid dysfunction, including those with autoimmune thyroid conditions. While much of the research focuses on Hashimotos thyroiditis, there is also some compelling research supporting the benefits of a gluten free diet for those with Graves hyperthyroidism.

The same study referenced above that looked at the link between celiac disease and thyroid disease also looked at the impact that a gluten free diet has on thyroid function. The researchers found that in certain cases, gluten withdrawal may single-handedly reverse the thyroid dysfunction.

One study studied the effect of a gluten free diet on a group of women diagnosed with Hashimotos thyroiditis. The study split the group of women into those who followed a gluten free diet and those who ate gluten. The participants who followed a gluten free diet reduced thyroid antibody levels and also increased vitamin D levels.

Another study evaluated children aged 1-12 with celiac disease and concluded that compliance with a gluten free diet can help reduce incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis and also maintain a healthy thyroid in existing celiac disease patients.

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Myth: If You Have A Thyroid Problem You’ll Definitely Know It

Fact: Thyroid-related symptoms can be present in many different medical conditions, says Dorothy Fink, MD, endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Common symptoms include extreme fatigue , brain fog, anxiety, heart palpitations, dry skin, and high blood pressure. Dr. Fink says thyroid disorders are often misdiagnosed in women in particular because other female-specific, hormone-related conditions can have similar symptoms, including premenstrual dysphoric disorder, perimenopause, or menopause. Simply being overweight can create symptoms that mirror those of thyroid diseases as well, Dr. Fink notes.

Myth: If You’re Tired And Gaining Weight There’s Definitely Something Wrong With Your Thyroid

Gluten Causes Thyroid Disease

Fact:The symptoms of an underactive thyroid are very non-specific, meaning they can present with many different conditions, says Dr. Fink. I always tell patients Im looking at them as a whole person, not as just their thyroid gland, even though they may come to me saying they have a thyroid problem.”

For female patients, Dr. Fink first looks at the menstrual cycle, which often causes symptoms similar to those found in thyroid disease patients. Symptoms like fatigue and weight gain can come up with a thyroid condition or with a menstrual cycle, says Dr. Fink. One good trick is to find a good app to track your period and that can help us sometimes understand their bodies better and the daily fluctuation of hormones. If your period isnt to blame for tiredness or a few extra pounds, Dr. Fink says a TSH test is the next step in diagnosing a true thyroid condition.

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Gluten Genetics And Autoimmunity

Dr. Christofides explains how the process of digesting gluten can trigger autoimmune conditions in a predisposed population.

  • When you eat, the body recognizes the whole food, triggering a recognition of the enzymes needed to digest the food.
  • Recognition of gluten in the gut triggers the transcription of DNA that produces the enzymes to digest gluten.
  • This enzyme transcription is located next to a section of DNA that transcribes for the signaling of macrophages .
  • The overconsumption of gluten can trigger the transcription of the DNA section responsible for activating macrophages in a person who is genetically predisposed to autoimmune conditions.
  • It is important to note that it is the genetic predisposition to an autoimmune condition that can prompt this reaction to gluten-containing foods, an epigenetic function of turning on a switch. Gluten-containing foods are not inherently bad or villainous. Once this switch is turned on for Hashimoto’s, it cannot be turned off. Autoimmune conditions are chronic, but their symptoms and severity can be managed with diet and lifestyle.

    Hormonal Imbalance And Adrenal Fatigue

    Hormone imbalance can manifest itself as irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain or loss, hot flashes, low energy levels, erratic sleep patterns and more. In discussing gluten sensitivity and female hormones, Dr. Daniel Kalish D.C states that a strong relationship has been established in medical literature between gluten sensitivity and the hormones progesterone and estrogen. Additionally, most of my patients with gluten sensitivity have an adrenal hormone imbalance, and this becomes exacerbated for patients during menopause

    Dr. Kalish notes that hes observed serious problems often begin to reveal themselves when women with gluten sensitivity reach peri-menopause. As their ovarian output of sex hormones drops, the resulting hormone imbalance is worsened by over consumption of gluten. The adrenal glands respond to the stress of unstable blood sugar and gastrointestinal tract inflammation caused by gluten by increasing cortisol. This causes increased body fat, fatigue and unstable moods.

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    Prevalence Of Thyroid Disease

    According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the US population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. The organization estimates that:

    • 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease
    • Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition
    • Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems and
    • One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.

    Myth: Only Older Women Can Develop Thyroid Problems

    Does Gluten Affect Thyroid Function?

    Fact: Thyroid disease can affect men and women at any age. However, women do have a higher chance of developing a thyroid problem, says Dr. Fink.

    I have tons of young women with thyroid conditions, she says. Your genetics plus environmental factors are usually what tip someone over into developing an autoimmune-related underactive or overactive thyroid condition. It can present across any age, but it has a predilection for women.

    Christian Nasr, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic, says women are more likely to develop thyroid conditions because they have higher estrogen levels than men. Estrogen makes the cells more visible to the immune system, so women tend to be more affected by all thyroid conditionshypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, nodules, and thyroid cancer, Dr. Nasr says.

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