Popular opinion suggests that going gluten-free is the answer to symptoms of hypothyroidism. This assumption may not be untrue considering gluten is one of the most common antigenic foods, and there is a common association between autoimmune thyroid disease and celiac disease. However, each person is unique with individual sensitivities. What is triggering to one person may not be to another.
Ahead, whether or not you might benefit from a gluten-free diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten acts as a glue that helps foods to maintain their shape,
Gluten is common in foods like:
- Baked goods
- Beer bread
- Brewer's yeast
- Food coloring
- Malt (malted barley flour, malted milk, and milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar)
- Salad dressing
- Rye beer
- Rye bread
Difference between gluten sensitivity and gluten allergy
Gluten intolerance is very different from a gluten allergy. Different parts of the immune system regulate the two.
An allergy causes an immune system reaction that may affect several organs in the body. An allergic reaction typically shows up right away and could be severe or life-threatening.
Gluten intolerance, on the other hand, is generally less dangerous, though it may cause uncomfortable symptoms. Intolerance can take longer to emerge after you've been eating gluten for a continued time.
Immunoglobulins are proteins that are produced by the immune system in response to a perceived threat. The body makes different immunoglobulins to combat different antigens.
Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is associated with allergic responses. When an allergic person exposes to an allergen, the body produces IgE specially targeted against that allergen. These antibodies bind to white blood cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) has high concentrations in the body's mucous membranes, specifically the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. When you eat a food to which you have an intolerance, IgA causes irritation or inflammation in the respiratory and digestive systems. These foods, then, may cause IBS, gas nausea, skin rashes or acne, asthma, or headache.
Celiac disease and Hashimoto's
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that occurs in genetically predisposed people where ingesting gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine, damaging the villi, meant to promote nutrient absorption.
In one study, adults with celiac disease were three times as likely to have hypothyroidism as people without celiac disease. In people with both hypothyroidism and celiac disease, strict adherence to a gluten-free diet reversed subclinical hypothyroidism. It follows that some percentage of people with Hashimoto's and other forms of hypothyroidism may also have celiac disease and will benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Another study showed that 2-5% of people with autoimmune thyroid disease, like Hashimoto's, also had celiac disease. Scientists believe that a gluten-free diet can reduce the complications of their thyroid disease and improve the quality and, perhaps, length of life in patients with both Hashimoto's and CD.
Gluten and your gut
Gluten and gluten sensitivity may trigger intestinal permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut syndrome) in people who are genetically predisposed to autoimmunity. Leaky gut syndrome is where some molecules pass through the walls of your intestines and into your bloodstream. Then, your immune system attacks them, thinking they are foreign invaders.
Research suggests that 70% of our immune system (our body's defense system) resides in our gut, so it's essential to keep it healthy. The theory, based on preliminary research, is that if we can reduce intestinal permeability, we might prevent autoimmune disease and improve overall health.
Would you benefit from a gluten-free diet?
Not everybody with Hashimoto's or another form of hypothyroidism is sensitive to gluten. Unless you test positive for celiac disease, it's difficult to know whether or not you would benefit from a gluten-free diet.
The best way to find out whether or not you'll benefit from a diet free of any common antigen (like gluten) is to try an elimination diet. This process involves removing potential food triggers and then carefully reintroducing them into your diet to determine whether they're to blame for your reactions.
The pros of a gluten-free diet may be that it decreases your intake of processed and fatty foods. An increase in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins may help you feel less fatigue, a common symptom of hypothyroidism.
The cons of a gluten-free diet may result in deficiencies in nutrients such as calcium, iron, and niacin. You may also experience constipation, another common symptom of hypothyroidism if you do not get enough dietary fiber on a gluten-free diet.
A note from Paloma Health
Paloma Health's registered dietitian nutritionists specialize in thyroid symptom management through nutrition and food choices. Schedule a call to determine your dietary triggers, nutritional deficiencies, and a personalized eating plan.