Popular culture often presents gluten sensitivity and intolerance as a humorous topic. Although there are people who unnecessarily promote their gluten free lifestyle as a source of pride and status, there are many who do actually suffer from gluten sensitivity or intolerance. There is no question to the validity of such conditions and many benefit greatly by removing gluten from their diet. This is not surprising as about 1 in 3 Americans are gluten intolerant and approximately 8 in 10 have a genetic predisposition of developing gluten intolerance.
A large percentage of those with a gluten intolerance also have a thyroid condition. Gluten intolerance and hypothyroidism share many similar symptoms and influence each other in various ways. Properly regulating gluten intake or eliminating it from one’s diet may provide significant benefits regarding thyroid health. The clear association between gluten and the thyroid is important to understand. Greater understanding of gluten, gluten intolerance, and their impact on other bodily systems can help raise real awareness and appreciation of this thyroid-disrupting condition.
Recognizing Gluten Intolerance
It may not be easy to recognize that one is gluten sensitive or intolerant. Most of the symptoms connected to gluten sensitivity are shared with other conditions as well. Furthermore, there are a variety of events that can trigger associated symptoms making it even more challenging to determine the cause.
Knowing the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and intolerance can help one better recognize if they should consider limiting their gluten intake. If one experiences any or all the following symptoms, it is prudent to consider the possibility of gluten intolerance.
- Brain fog
- Autoimmune disease
- Poor immune function
- Dental issues
- Fluctuations in weight
- Skin conditions
- Hormone imbalance
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Joint and muscle aches
- Chronic fatigue
Most doctors identify gluten intolerance through digestive malfunction and symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). However, even though gluten intolerance is frequently associated with IBS and stomach issues, it can be a solely neurological disorder. A 2013 study conducted by a group of researchers including Dr. Alessio Fasano presented that both Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity can cause multiple neurological and psychiatric symptoms. However, extraintestinal problems may be the primary means of recognizing gluten sensitivity in patients. It appears that digestive issues and neurological symptoms are the main indicators of a sensitivity.
Those with gluten intolerance may not always experience neurological issues but conditions such as depression and anxiety may suggest gluten sensitivity. Unfortunately, many medications used in treating various symptoms of gluten intolerance, such as migraines, fatigue, and hormonal issues, can promote the occurrence of neurological hardships. Therefore, it is important to identify the true cause of one’s neurological problems, whether it be medication based or caused by gluten sensitivity.
Gluten’s Impact on Autoimmunity
Autoimmune conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis are a cause of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism respectively. Understanding contributing factors to these conditions can help prevent the occurrence and worsening of thyroid conditions.
The association between autoimmune disorders and gluten is becoming increasingly well researched and recognized. According to Sarah Ballantyne PhD, and author of The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body, every autoimmune disorder that has been tested for association with and triggering by gluten has presented a positive correlation. Gluten can do more than cause autoimmune conditions to develop. The negative impact of gluten on immune function can lead to serious health conditions including Celiac Disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves’ Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, and others.
Most studies investigating the ties between gluten and autoimmune disorders have found a corollary relationship between the two. In fact, most of those with Celiac Disease have Hashimoto’s and vice versa. The link between autoimmune conditions and gluten intolerance is so significant that many researchers suggest that anyone with an autoimmune condition be tested for gluten intolerance.
Leaky Gut, Autoimmunity, and Gluten
Gluten is a leading cause of leaky gut syndrome, which permits the passage or escape of particles into the bloodstream. The intestine of those with any sort of gluten sensitivity responds to gluten consumption by producing zonulin, which causes the intestinal walls to open and allow permeability. With a permeable gut, many different substances begin to enter the bloodstream, which causes the autoimmune system to kick into overdrive. This autoimmune response can last up to 6 months after ingesting gluten meaning that one’s body could continue attacking itself for the entirety of that period. Overaggressive antibodies can cause chronic inflammation and increases the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disorder. Greater sensitivity to gluten, causing leaky gut, increases the risk of developing an autoimmune condition which may lead to hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Gluten and the Thyroid
Gluten has a unique relationship with the thyroid. The molecular structure of both gluten proteins, also known as gliadin, and thyroid proteins is impressively similar. When gliadin escapes the gut and enters the bloodstream, a common occurrence in those with leaky gut syndrome, the immune system immediately seeks out to remove the undesired protein. Our immune system is not the most precise defender. Antibodies will attack molecules that have share some qualities, such as comparable protein structures, and attack them. Because gliadin and thyroid proteins are so similar, the immune antibodies can mistake one for the other and incorrectly destroy helpful thyroid tissues. Damage caused to the thyroid, by the immune system or otherwise, results in reduced hormone production and poor thyroid hormone regulation. This results in severe hypothyroidism and may be irreparable.
Removing Gluten to Support the Thyroid
Many medical professionals see the value in removing gluten from one’s diet and often suggest that those with thyroid issues eliminate gluten completely. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working? And Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests are Normal? says that although there are many factors involved in Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune and thyroid-related conditions, going gluten-free can provide a huge benefit. However, this is not an easy undertaking. Prepackaged and processed foods may contain gluten without one’s knowledge. When attempting to remove gluten from one’s diet, it is important to read labels and become fully aware of foods containing gluten. Gluten may be disguised with different pseudonyms such as malt, hydrolyzed protein, and modified starch.
Even though removing gluten from one’s diet may not always provide highly beneficial results, those with a thyroid condition are likely to have a positive experience. Because each patient’s thyroid needs are unique it is important that an individualized and comprehensive approach be taken when considering treatment. Everyone’s health varies and thyroid function and sensitivity to gluten is no different. Gluten can have a significant impact on thyroid function but the degree of that impact depends on the individual’s current health. Always speak with a physician if there are concerns of gluten intolerance or thyroid disease. If one is suffering from thyroid difficulties or gluten intolerance, investigating possible thyroid treatments and learning about the impact of gluten on one’s body is an effective way to maintain and improve health.