Why is Gluten ‘bad’?

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Originally published on 13th September 2016
Last updated on 17th December 2018

‘Gluten-free’ is a phrase I’m sure you’ve seen a lot lately. It seems to be the latest popular diet to be on, but why? 

If you have hypothyroidism, specifically Hashimoto’s, it’s worth knowing why so many thyroid patients report that being gluten-free helps them.

It’s reported that around 90% of people with hypothyroidism have the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which attacks the thyroid gland, causing hypothyroidism. [1]

A common symptom of this autoimmune disease is gluten sensitivity.

Rachel sitting cross legged on grass

Did you know that you could be sensitive to gluten i.e. have it still cause you symptoms or problems, but not be Coeliac?

As hypothyroid patients, it’s actually quite likely that we do have gluten sensitivity.

You could have had the tests done by your doctor to check for Coeliac Disease, and it come back negative, yet you suffer from symptoms such as:

Why?

Gluten is said to trigger the same autoimmune reactions that cause you to have Hashimoto’s in the first place, since supposedly, the cells of your thyroid are similar to the make up of gluten, and it confuses your body, 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.

Worsening thyroid hormone levels over time as well as swinging test results, are thought to typically be due to the ongoing destruction of your thyroid gland, which obviously causes it to not work properly (hypothyroidism). Lowering thyroid antibodies is believed to stop or slow this down. One particular source which is great for info on this is Izabella Wentz, who believes in setting Hashimoto’s in to remission, and even promotes the idea of not needing thyroid medication once this is achieved.

Consuming gluten can also lead to leaky gut, where holes form in the gut lining and when food is ingested, gluten in this instance, it allows small particles to leak into the bloodstream, leading to symptoms of gluten sensitivity like those listed above. The immune system sees these particles as foreign entities and creates antibodies and mounts an attack not only on the foreign protein, gluten, but also on thyroid tissue because of its close resemblance to gluten. Eek!

If you often have low levels in vitamins (B12, D, Iron etc.), it could well indicate Hashimoto’s and/or damage to the gut (leaky gut) caused by consuming gluten.

Dr Kharazzian has also commented on how having Hashimoto’s and consuming gluten can cause inflammation in the brain, leading to  brain fog.

This is where eliminating gluten from the diet can help dramatically, also likely helping a leaky gut, since gluten can cause inflammation. So, cutting out gluten may also help to relieve brain fog.

Thyroid Pharmacist Izabella Wentz conducted a survey amongst thyroid patients in May 2015, that showed that 86% of people who went gluten-free reported an improvement in digestive symptoms. Notably, only 3.5% of the respondents were actually diagnosed with celiac disease, thus it confirms what a lot of thyroid advocates and specialist doctors have been saying all along: That you do not have to have coeliac disease to benefit from a gluten-free diet! [2]

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. [3]

The Effect of Gluten-Free Diet on Thyroid Autoimmunity in Drug-Naive Women With Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: A Pilot Study  concluded that their results suggested a gluten-free diet may bring clinical benefits to women with Hashimoto’s. [4]

Joint and muscle aches? Gluten-caused inflammation can cause joint and muscle pain in some people.

WebMD states that:

Joint pain and inflammation are (also) common symptoms of gluten sensitivity. And research does show links between the two diseases.

It is believed that even if you do not have a sensitivity to gluten right now, you can develop it any time later on in life, since we’re very likely to have some kind of adverse effect to gluten eventually if not already, having Hashimoto’s. Dr Datis Kharrazian explained this in a seminar I watched for the Healing Hashimoto’s summit, held June 13th-20th 2016.

If you think you could be sensitive to gluten, or are just interested in giving gluten-free a try to see if it helps your fatigue, aches and pains, etc. try eliminating it from your diet for at least 3-4 months and keep a log of how you feel. You should also ideally retest your antibodies, TPOAB and TGAB, to see if they come down. You can order these tests online here and here.

When gluten-free, you need to avoid: gluten, wheat, malt, barley, oats (unless GF oats) and rye. Read my guide on how-to go gluten-free here.

Have you tried going gluten-free?

Freedom From Thyroid Fatigue LogoThere is also the online thyroid course ‘Freedom From Thyroid Fatigue’, which walks you through how to overcome thyroid fatigue by personalising what you eat.

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given, but more reading and references can also be found at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20170845

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/apt.12730

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3066320

[2] https://thyroidpharmacist.com/articles/top-9-takeaways-from-2232-people-with-hashimotos/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11280546

[4] https://www.thieme-connect.de/products/ejournals/pdf/10.1055/a-0653-7108.pdf

If you found this article beneficial, please take a moment to share it so we can help others get better with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's, whilst also raising awareness. "Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate."

Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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