What Happens When You Give Me Gluten

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I’m gluten-free. It’s a choice I made to hopefully halt my autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, from progressing any further. You’ve probably heard about the hype for this new gluten-free ‘fad’ and you may even be one of the keyboard warriors I see writing comments below articles on going gluten-free, that read something like “Going gluten-free does NOT benefit you unless you’re celiac”.

Yes, yes it can.

Want to know how? OK. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, more often referred to as just Hashimoto’s or Hashi’s, is an autoimmune disease and the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It is estimated that Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis causes about 90% of all cases of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s causes the body to attack and destroy its own thyroid gland, causing hypothyroidism. As time goes by, your  own body attacks and destroys your own thyroid as if it is the enemy and you become more and more hypothyroid. Unless something is done to halt these attacks, of course.

And this is where gluten comes in.

It is thought that gluten can trigger the same autoimmune reactions that cause you to have Hashimoto’s in the first place, since the cells of your thyroid are similar to the make-up of gluten, and it confuses your already confused body even more, increasing inflammation and antibodies as an attack on your thyroid is launched, destroying more thyroid tissue, and so worse/extra hypothyroid symptoms occur. As a result, many Hashimoto’s patients eliminate gluten from their diet, and see good results. I’m one of those patients.

When Italian researchers also put subclinical or ‘borderline’ hypothyroid people with coeliac disease on a gluten-free diet for one year, thyroid function normalised in 71% of them, with another 19% normalising their thyroid antibodies. The researchers concluded that in some cases, a gluten-free diet may single-handedly reverse the abnormality.

The Effect of Gluten-Free Diet on Thyroid Autoimmunity in Drug-Naive Women With Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: A Pilot Study  also concluded that their results suggested a gluten-free diet may bring clinical benefits to women with Hashimoto’s.

Now, moving on from the science which I felt was necessary to give you a bit of background as to why I’ve chosen to go gluten-free, you likely understand a bit better why I’ve chosen to do so and then why it upsets me when I am ‘glutened’ and little care is taken to prevent this.

‘Glutened’ is a term those of us who are gluten-free use when we are served food we’re told does not contain gluten, but it actually does and we pay for it afterwards. In my case, I experience stomach pain and cramps, sometimes along with unpleasant toilet trips, brain fog and horrendous mood swings, when I have consumed gluten, along with worsened hypothyroid symptoms. When I consume gluten, although I come back as negative on tests to check for celiac disease, it causes me discomfort as I have a sensitivity to gluten-containing products which worsens my autoimmune disease. Each time I consume gluten, an attack launches against my already barely-functioning thyroid gland, which worsens my condition and encourages more function to be lost. It progresses the disease. It takes me closer to losing all thyroid function completely.

So now when you think I’m being fussy, trying to be ‘cool’ or awkward when ordering food or drink at your restaurant and asking about gluten, eating round your house and asking what’s in the meal presented to me or politely refusing your offer of a chocolate biscuit, take a moment to realise what scariness could lie at the bottom of that curry or swig of alcohol. I’ve already lost so much thyroid function and I’ve already lost so much of my life to this disease, why would I choose to lose more?

All I know is I feel better off gluten, my condition stays stable and I am able to function more like a regular human being. Yet when I consume it, when a chef in a restaurant insists they only use gluten-free gravy, then I’m glutened and holding my stomach for the next few days and having hypothyroid symptoms flare up, making me take time off work, people act as if I’m being fussy, an attention seeker or making it all up. If I had a fatal nut or seafood allergy, and I ended up in hospital or worse over consuming it by accident, it would be a lot more serious. Yet gluten is seen as a joke.

When someone next asks you about ingredients in a dish at your restaurant or your house, or you read another article about gluten-free cooking tips online, stop and think for a second before you try to tell them that gluten can’t be harmful to them or that you know their medical history. Stop jumping on the bandwagon of it being cool to take the mick out of gluten-free people. Actually stop and think. Do some research.

I suspect that as time goes on, more conditions will be found to be linked to gluten and many more people will find going gluten-free helps them manage them.

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.



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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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