Issue #171 January 20, 2014
Welcome to KnowYourThyroid.
I hope everyone is well. As we start the new year, many of us have resolutions to improve our health. So today, Louise O’Connor is going to explain how gluten can affect your thyroid health and she has included several non-wheat options to help you get started on a gluten-free diet.
The Gluten Free Diet – Thyroid Connection
By Louise O’Connor
What is a gluten free diet?
The hottest diet craze among Hollywood celebrities is a gluten free diet. Is this just a fad or could eliminating gluten help end the bloat, brain fog, nagging indigestion, and even turn your thyroid health around?
Gluten is the main structural protein found naturally in a variety of grains including wheat, rye, spelt, barley, oats and triticale which is a cross between wheat and rye.
Gluten is also used as a single ingredient in many processed foods as it makes an ideal binder or thickener. This means you could be consuming additional gluten without knowing it.
A gluten free diet defined
A gluten free diet strictly excludes all grains and packaged foods containing gluten. This means cutting the common gluten containing foods such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, desserts and biscuits from the daily diet. But this may not be as restrictive as it first appears as health food stores and supermarkets offer gluten free alternatives. In addition, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh fish and lean organic animal protein are all naturally gluten free.
For most people changing to a gluten free diet plan is a big step and takes some getting used to. The restrictions can even make you feel downright deprived. But the upside is that excluding these gluten based foods often results in weight loss, especially around the middle.
The modern problem with wheat
These days highly refined wheat is the most common source of gluten as it is used in a wide variety of foods found in supermarkets. To meet ongoing demand wheat is grown on an industrial scale. Along with the development of modern agricultural methods there has also been selective breeding of wheat. Wheat crops now yield a much higher ratio of gluten. This is not good news for those who are gluten sensitive or have diagnosed gluten-related disorders. If eating gluten causes digestive discomfort, even weight gain the culprit may actually be the modern, hybrid wheat varieties.
Dr. William Davis is a respected cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly. He believes wheat is the single biggest contributor to the country’s obesity epidemic. In part because aggressive breeding methods and genetic manipulation have turned wheat into what Davis describes as a ‘Frankenwheat’.
There is also evidence the newer high yield wheat strains are less nutritious and lack important nutrients such as zinc, iron, copper and magnesium.
Gluten sensitivity can result in a broad range of symptoms
Gluten can easily irritate the lining of the digestive system. Once this happen the body launches a swift immune response as it reacts to gluten as something foreign. This creates inflammation that spreads like wildfire throughout the whole body. Gluten sensitivity symptoms can therefore be linked to specific digestive problems as well as broader health issues. There is little doubt emotional stress plays a significant role in intensifying these symptoms.
Could you be gluten intolerant?
Gluten sensitivity can result in a broad range of symptoms. The major symptoms include:
- Weight loss or weight gain, especially abdominal weight gain
- Fatigue or feeling tired after eating a meal that contains gluten
- Digestive problems: bloating, pain, gas + diarrhoea
- Weak + cracked fingernails
- Fat in the stools due to poor breakdown of dietary fat
- Joint + muscle pain
- Mood swings + depression
- Poor memory + concentration
- Skin rashes including dermatitis herpetiformis
- Osteoporosis due to lowered mineral absorption
- Migraine headaches
The best way to discover if gluten is a problem and to what degree is by strictly excluding gluten from your diet for at least 4 weeks as it takes this long to clear gluten the negative effects of gluten from your system. If you feel far better when you exclude gluten, or feel worse when you reintroduce gluten then it’s likely a problem for you.
Minor symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, brain fog and indigestion can disappear fairly quickly when gluten is excluded from the diet. Improvements in chronic health problems made worse by gluten sensitivity such as arthritis, eczema and autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis may take longer. Many people report their thyroid symptoms improve once they eliminate gluten from their diet.
The gluten-thyroid connection
Digestive health is closely linked to optimal immune function. A large mass of lymphoid tissue including several types of specialised immune cells are located in the digestive tract. The lymphoid tissue acts as first line defence to help defend the body against pathogens. An imbalance in digestive function can therefore impair immune activity.
A gluten intolerance reduces digestive function leading to compromised immune function and lower absorption of a wide range of vital nutrients. This is not good news for thyroid health.
The thyroid is particularly sensitive to a decline in micronutrient intake. For example; iodine, zinc and selenium as three minerals critical to aid ongoing thyroid hormone activity.
Studies have shown individuals with low selenium intake or poor absorption of selenium are also more likely to develop Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. There are two factors:
- A selenium deficiency results in lower activity of the selenium dependent enzymes vital to assist ongoing activity of the thyroid hormones, including activation of thyroxine (T4) to triiodothyronine (T3). Low T3 is associated with the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
- Selenium plays a role in protecting the thyroid gland itself as this mineral boosts glutathione activity. Glutathione is naturally produced by the body using selenium and a combination of three amino acids sourced from dietary protein – cysteine, glycine and glutamine. Glutathione acts as a potent antioxidant and is highly active within the thyroid to help protect this important gland.
For people with Coeliac disease avoiding gluten is a very serious issue. Coeliac disease is one of the most common inflammatory conditions affecting the digestive system and a gluten free diet is advocated to treat this chronic digestive problem. Individuals with Coeliac disease are so sensitive to gluten they must avoid all foods containing this food ingredient as even a minute amount will prompt a noticeable immune reaction.
If a person is unaware they have Ceoliac disease and continue to consume gluten the inflammation damages the small bowel. This leads to low intake of essential nutrients. Over time their poor health is linked to malnutrition.
Gluten sensitivity contributes to a wide range of autoimmune responses including autoimmune thyroid disorders. Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are frequently diagnosed along with Coeliac disease and vice versa. Coeliac disease is associated with selenium malabsorption which is considered a key factor linking this digestive problem with thyroid health decline.
Coeliac disease is commonly considered to be a genetic disorder however it can be set off later in life by a stressful event, such as an infection, injury or surgery. A specific diagnostic test is used to confirm Coeliac disease.
Gluten free shopping
A gluten free diet excludes all types of grains that contain gluten. Your local health food store is one of the best places to seek out gluten free alternatives to common grain based products. Here’s some examples:
- Breads: rice, buckwheat + ‘wheat free’ varieties.
- Breakfast cereals: organic corn flakes, rice bubbles, Amaranth, puffed buckwheat + gluten free muesli.
- Flours: 100% buckwheat, rice, Besan (chickpea), Lupin, coconut.
- Noodles: rice + 100% buckwheat.
- Pasta: vegetable + rice varieties.
- Porridge: Quinoa, rice + Polenta porridge.
- Rice: brown rice + white rice varieties.
It is important to read food labels carefully as gluten is often a hidden ingredient in packaged foods. Examples include; baking powder, flavourings and hydrolysed vegetable protein. Beer may contain varying amounts of gluten as it is produced by the alcoholic fermentation of germinated cereals, usually barley.
Cross contamination of gluten free foods can occur during the manufacturing process when these foods come into contact with foods that contain gluten. For example, if the same equipment is used to make a variety of snack foods some gluten free items may become contaminated. Food labels often include a ‘may contain gluten’ statement if this is the case.
Foods labelled ‘gluten free’ are not always healthy
Just because it is a ‘gluten free’ food product, doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy for your thyroid. Food manufacturers regard corn (maize) and soy ingredients as cost effective substitutes for gluten containing grains. Corn and soy are common food allergens and in turn can also initiate symptoms of a food intolerance. These ingredients should be avoided when you have an under active thyroid problem. This includes soy oil which is often labelled as ‘vegetable oil’. If you are not sure check to see if the label states the product contains soy.
Activating your gluten free grains
All grains including gluten free varieties have naturally occurring enzyme inhibitors that make them difficult to digest and also lower absorption of important minerals. Eating large quantities of grains and using flours that have not been soaked, sprouted or fermented can lead to mineral deficiencies and long term bone loss. This means even gluten free flours and wholegrains should be activated with these traditional methods to release their full nutritional potential.
The Natural Thyroid Diet guidelines include recommendations to exclude all gluten foods from your diet. This as part of a holistic plan to recover your thyroid health.