The Gluten – Thyroid Connection

It seems everyone is talking about going gluten free. Most of us have heard about those with Celiac disease going gluten free to heal their digestive system, but did you know that going gluten free could also heal your thyroid?  Louise O’Connor, Australian Naturopath + Wellness Coach  will explain.

 

The Gluten – Thyroid Connection: Could A Gluten Free Diet Help Heal Your Thyroid?

 

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.

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.

However 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 pay off can be enormous.

Many people experience life changing transformation when they cut gluten. They lose weight, especially around the middle and they notice a dramatic improvement in their health and vitality.

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: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. Dr Davis 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 in other parts of the body.

Renowned neurologist David Perlmutter believes gluten can initiate reactions within the brain that can spark a range of health problems. This includes headaches, depression, anxiety and even dementia. Dr Perlumtter is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar. Your Brain’s Silent Killers. In his book Dr Perlmutter explains that gluten containing grains can be extremely destructive within the brain.

Could you be gluten intolerant?

Gluten sensitivity can result in a broad range of symptoms. Here is a checklist of the main symptoms:

  • 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

Emotional stress can play a significant role in intensifying the symptoms.

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.

It takes around 4 weeks to the negative effects of consuming gluten from your system. If you feel far better when you exclude gluten, or feel worse when you reintroduce gluten then it is very likely a problem for you. These days it is far easier to find gluten free alternatives.

Many people report their thyroid symptoms improve once they eliminate gluten from their diet.

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.

The gluten-thyroid connection

# Gluten can also cause your immune system to start attacking the thyroid. The molecular composition of your thyroid tissue is very similar to gluten. So for those with an autoimmune thyroid disorder it can be a case of mistaken identity. Eliminating gluten from your diet may reduce the ongoing autoimmune attack on your thyroid. For some individuals, when they strictly eliminate gluten from their diet their thyroid antibody levels decrease.

# Gluten is destructive to the lining of the digestive tract.  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. Digestive health is closely linked to optimal immune system 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.

# Poor digestive health leads to malabsorption issues. 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.

 

Coeliac disease

For people with coeliac disease avoiding gluten is a very serious issue as their immune system reacts abnormally to gluten. This causes inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine.

Coeliac disease is one of the most common inflammatory conditions affecting the digestive system. It affects people of all ages, both male and female.

A gluten free diet is advocated for life to treat this chronic digestive problem. Individuals with coeliac disease are so sensitive to gluten they must avoid all foods containing this ingredient as even a minute amount will prompt a noticeable immune reaction. A strict gluten free diet does allow the condition to be managed effectively

If a person is unaware their poor health is due to ceoliac disease and continue to consume gluten the lining of the digestive system becomes severely damaged. Over time, this leads to low intake of essential nutrients and a further decline in health due to malnutrition.

The abnormal immune response caused by gluten can make a person susceptible to other autoimmune problems including autoimmune thyroid disorders. Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are frequently diagnosed along with coeliac disease.

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.

The Natural Thyroid Diet. The 4-Week Plan to Living Well, Living Vibrantly recommends excluding all gluten foods from your diet. This as part of a holistic plan to recover your thyroid health. If you do not have a copy of this eBook you can get instant access on the order page.


References

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Coeliac Australia. www.coeliac.org.au.

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Gates, D. The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity. Hay House. Revised June 15, 2011.

Fan MS, Zhao FJ, Fairweather-Tait SJ, et al. Evidence of decreasing mineral density in wheat grain over the last 160 years. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2008;22(4):315-24.

Hussain A, Larsson H, Kuktaite R, et al. Mineral composition of organically grown wheat genotypes: contribution to daily minerals intake. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010 Sep;7(9):3442-56.

Kasarda, DD. Can an Increase in Celiac Disease Be Attributed to an Increase in the Gluten Content of Wheat as a Consequence of Wheat Breeding? J Agric Food Chem. 2013 February 13; 61(6): 1155–1159.

myDr. Nutrition & Weight. Gluten and gluten-free diet. www.mydr.com.au/nutrition-weight/gluten-and-gluten-free-diet. 27 June 2012.

Rubio-Tapia A, Kyle RA, Kaplan EL, et al. Increased Prevalence and Mortality in Undiagnosed Celiac Disease. Gastroenterology. 2009 Jul;137(1):88-93.

Stazi AV, Trinti B. Selenium status and over-expression of interleukin-15 in celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid diseases. Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2010;46(4):389-399.

 

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