Gluten is a protein that is difficult to avoid. We usually find it in food, but sometimes it is even in medication and supplements. People with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid gluten. But, if it sneaks into something you ate and you experience unpleasant reactions, there are steps you can take to feel better. Ahead, find some tips to help you flush gluten out of your system and get back on track.
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Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), and it acts as a glue that helps foods maintain their shape. For some, eating gluten can trigger adverse reactions, which is often true for people with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's disease.
In the short term, even as soon as right after you eat, gluten can cause uncomfortable symptoms like headaches, tiredness, mood swings, bloating, abdominal pain, brain fog, or even skin breakouts. Over the long term, though, the effects of gluten may be more severe.
Some studies show that people with autoimmune thyroid disease, like Hashimoto's, may also have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that occurs in genetically predisposed people where ingesting gluten damages 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.
Those suffering from autoimmunity are also dealing with some level of intestinal permeability (or leaky gut). 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.
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. A gluten allergy or intolerance diagnosis can be made via a blood test, or you can get answers by experimenting with how you feel on and off gluten.
Gluten can hide in all sorts of places.
Gluten-containing grains and their derivatives
- KAMUT® khorasan wheat
- Einkorn wheat
- Malt in various forms
- Brewer's Yeast
Everyday foods that contain gluten:
- Noodles (excl. rice noodles and mung bean noodles)
- Breads and Pastries:
- Baked goods:
- Cereal and granola:
- Many breakfast foods:
- Breading & coating mixes:
- Sauces & gravies
- Flour tortillas
- Beer (unless explicitly gluten-free) and any malt beverages
- Brewer's Yeast
- Anything else that uses "wheat flour" as an ingredient
Other foods that may contain gluten:
These foods should be confirmed by reading the label or checking with the manufacturer/kitchen staff.
- Energy bars or granola bars
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Processed lunch meats
- Candy and candy bars
- Soup (especially cream-based soups or soups that contain barley)
- Multi-grain or "artisan" tortilla chips or tortillas
- Salad dressings and marinades
- Starch or dextrin
- Brown rice syrup
- Meat substitutes made with seitan (wheat gluten)
- Soy sauce (though tamari made without wheat is gluten-free)
- Self-basting poultry
- Pre-seasoned meats
Drink plenty of water
Water is one of the best things we can ingest to flush out our digestive tract and keep it working optimally. And, if you struggle with constipation, it can help moisten stool so that it passes more easily and quickens elimination. Re-hydrating is equally important if you are on the opposite end of the spectrum and struggle with diarrhea when you eat gluten. Water can help with this, but severe diarrhea often calls for electrolyte replacement. If you can, you may also want to try coconut water, and you can also boost your nutrient intake gently with broths and hot tea.
Boost your probiotic intake
We have trillions of microbiota residing in our digestive tracts. They can be easily compromised when we introduce something irritating. If gluten upsets your stomach, it probably throws off your gut microbiota as well, which may rid your body of the good bacteria or tip the balance toward harmful bacteria. Taking or eating your probiotics can boost your gut health. Still, it may be even more critical following an episode of accidental gluten ingestion.
Feed your gut bacteria
Re-set your digestive tract with gut-friendly foods. These foods contain plenty of protein, healthy fats, and perhaps most importantly, fiber. The healthy bacteria in our guts feed on fiber, so giving them plenty of fiber (although not too much all at once to avoid bloating) can help them start to increase once again in our system. Fiber-rich foods include nuts, seeds, fruits like pears and strawberries, avocados, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Of course, suppose you are in the early phases of gluten exposure and are struggling with symptoms like diarrhea or abdominal cramping. In that case, it is best to stick to gentle sources of nourishment like broth and warm tea.
Eat your antioxidants
Antioxidants are protective against normal cellular functioning in the body. They serve to round up free radicals that are out to de-stabilize healthy cells and cause inflammation. Suppose you have a condition like Hashimoto's that is particularly affected by gluten ingestion. In that case, you may be worried that a thyroid flare-up is in your future. Boosting your intake of antioxidants may decrease thyroid inflammation while simultaneously enhancing cellular health in your gut and thyroid.
Try digestive enzymes
Several over-the-counter supplements contain enzymes called "glutenases," which may help break down gluten more quickly. Some studies show that these digestive enzymes may help improve gluten intolerance symptoms. Still, it should be noted that there isn't much scientific evidence for these supplements, and they have not gone through any FDA-approval processes to ensure they are safe and effective. One small study of 42 patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity gave participants either a digestive enzyme mixture or a placebo after undergoing a gluten challenge. Results showed that the enzyme mixture "significantly decreased" symptoms in patients who took it.
Before trying a digestive enzyme, consult your healthcare provider first to get up-to-date information on these products.
Manage your inflammation
People with gluten intolerance may experience intestinal inflammation after accidental gluten exposure, which can cause frustrating symptoms. It can even lead to long-term damage to the small intestine over time. You can take steps to manage this inflammation by eating an anti-inflammatory diet, loading up on omega-3 fatty acids, avoiding greasy, fried, or processed foods, and adding in spices like ginger or turmeric.
A flare-up is one of the biggest concerns for people with Hashimoto's and gluten intolerance or celiac disease. An autoimmune flare-up is a temporary worsening or intensification of your symptoms. Several factors may cause a flare-up, including diet, stress, and illness. Flare-ups can be noted not only in your symptoms but may even be quantifiable in your lab results.
Suppose you find an accidental gluten exposure has increased your symptoms. In that case, many of the steps above will help to restore your body to a normative state. Eating nutrient-rich foods, reducing high-impact movement and stress, getting plenty of rest, and taking your thyroid medication are all key to helping you move beyond a flare-up.
If a flare-up persists despite giving yourself a healthy dose of TLC, it may be time to reach out to your thyroid doctor to check your labs. Our team of thyroid doctors and nutritionists are here to help you feel better–faster.