Avoiding gluten has become something of a ‘trend’ in recent years.
If you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, avoiding gluten isn’t just about being trendy: it’s crucial to your wellbeing.
Your thyroid is an essential part of your endocrine system, involved in producing many important hormones that allow your body to function.
About 50-90 percent of thyroid disorders are caused by an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Hashimoto’s is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, often leading to hypothyroidism (underproduction of thyroid hormone).
Symptoms of autoimmune thyroid include:
- Exhaustion, fatigue, sluggishness
- High sensitivity to cold
- Unexplained weight gain
- Muscle aches, tenderness, stiffness
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Prolonged or excessive menstrual bleeding
- Memory lapses
The link between gluten, genetics, and autoimmune disease
Research has shown that some people have a predisposition to autoimmune disease, and gluten is one of the key triggers. This is all to do with the way gluten is digested by the body.
When we eat, our body recognizes that food is on its way to the stomach and starts making the enzymes needed to digest it.
If the immune cells in the gut recognise that gluten is in the food, they react by triggering the transcription of DNA required to produce the enzymes for gluten digestion.
However, gluten contains a protein called gliadin, which has a molecular structure very similar to that of the thyroid gland. If gliadin passes through the gut lining (as in the case of Leaky Gut), it enters the bloodstream. The body’s immune cells recognize gliadin as an ‘invader’ and set out to destroy it.
However, instead of just attacking gliadin, the antibodies will also tell your body to attack thyroid tissue. This is basically a case of mistaken identity.
It also means that if you are predisposed to autoimmune conditions, your body is more likely to make the mistake of activating macrophages (your inflammatory immune cells) every time you eat gluten.
In a nutshell, gluten causes your immune system to attack your thyroid.
Having a genetic predisposition to an autoimmune condition is like a switch turned to the ‘on’ position. Your body is simply primed for certain conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Even though some people can eat gluten without any problems, someone with an ‘on’ switch for Hashimoto’s cannot eat gluten without causing a cascade of inflammation.
Unfortunately, even a small amount of gluten is off-limits.
Your immune system ‘remembers’ the response to gliadin for up to six months each time you eat it. So, if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, it’s crucial to avoid gluten completely.
Identifying gluten intolerance
Doctors will usually suggest a lab test to check for gluten intolerance.
However, these tests will only detect antibodies to gluten if they are present in the bloodstream, and this will only happen if gluten has passed through the gut lining.
In many people, this doesn’t occur until the gut lining has become extremely damaged.
Obviously, it would be better to diagnose gluten intolerance before you reach this stage!
It’s also important to note that Hashimoto’s is primarily a Th1 dominant condition, which means your Th2 system is suppressed. The Th2 system is the part of the immune system responsible for producing antibodies.
A suppressed Th2 system impairs your body’s ability to produce antibodies, which means they won’t show up on a test. A test for gluten antibodies may not correctly identify Th1-dominant Hashimoto’s.
Stool analysis detects antibodies in waste, which can provide a much earlier diagnosis. A cheek swab test is even more effective as it can detect the genes associated with gluten intolerance and celiac disease.
Specific genes called HLA-DQ genes are now known to be necessary factors for the development of Celiac Disease (CD). People with these genes are much more likely to have an autoimmune disease, celiac disease and gluten intolerance than the rest of the population.
Managing autoimmune thyroid
The symptoms of an autoimmune thyroid disorder are very broad in nature, which makes the disorder difficult to treat. Those who do receive a diagnosis are often uncertain about how to manage their condition.
Autoimmune conditions cannot be reversed or cured. However, with proper diet and lifestyle interventions, symptoms can be managed. That’s where I come in.
First things first: you must cut out every trace of gluten.
This is essential for preventing your thyroid from being destroyed. There’s also a lot of evidence to show that gluten-containing foods can prevent your body from absorbing nutrients properly and cause all sorts of inflammation in the gut, whether you have an autoimmune condition or not.
Avoiding gluten isn’t as difficult or as scary as it sounds! I can help you create a nutritious, gluten-free diet to suit your specific needs. We will also discuss how to manage your condition with the right supplements and lifestyle changes.
Jump online and cook a free 20 minute chat with me, and you can see if this approach is right for you.