In my first book, The Autoimmune Solution, I explain the health hazards of gluten for those with autoimmunity. However, did you know that gluten is also particularly damaging and inflammatory to the thyroid and that ditching gluten is one of the most important steps you can take in restoring your thyroid function? In this article, I’ll explain how gluten wreaks havoc on your thyroid and why I recommend that all of my thyroid patients eliminate it for good.
The Autoimmune Connection
To understand why gluten is so harmful to your thyroid, we need to understand that the two most common types of thyroid dysfunction, Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease, are autoimmune in nature. This means that your immune system is mistakenly attacking your own thyroid, causing it to affect your levels of thyroid hormones. People with Graves’ disease have hyperthyroidism with too much thyroid hormone. Those with Hashimoto’s disease have hypothyroidism, with an underactive thyroid gland.
Shockingly, many people with thyroid disorders don’t even know if their condition is autoimmune-related or not. This is because conventional doctors don’t routinely check for thyroid antibodies when in blood tests. I could go on for days about why this is such a disservice to patients, and I cover this much more in-depth in my book, The Thyroid Connection.
However, the important thing to know is that if you have thyroid dysfunction, there’s a good chance that it’s autoimmune. I recommend asking your doctor to check your thyroid antibodies next time she checks your thyroid blood levels. You can find a full list of recommended thyroid tests and optimal ranges, in this post as well as in my book The Thyroid Connection.
So if the majority of thyroid dysfunction is caused by autoimmunity, what causes the autoimmunity in the first place? The answer is complex, which is why my first book is dedicated entirely to understanding and overcoming all types of autoimmune diseases.
However, without a doubt, one of the biggest contributing factors is gluten. Gluten wreaks havoc on your gut, increases your inflammation, and can directly cause your immune system to attack your thyroid. This is not a myth! Let’s take a look at how and why that is.
Gluten, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Thanks to the pioneering research of Dr. Alessio Fasano, we know that leaky gut is one of the primary triggers for all autoimmune disorders, including autoimmune thyroid disease. As you might guess by its name, leaky gut occurs when your gut (specifically your small intestine) becomes permeable, allowing particles to leak from your digestive tract and travel freely through your bloodstream.
Gluten is one of the main causes of leaky gut in people I saw in my clinic, even among people who don’t have celiac disease. When you eat gluten-containing food, the gluten proteins make their way through your stomach to the small intestine. There, your body can respond by producing zonulin, a chemical that signals the tight junctions of the intestinal walls to open up and stay open in a condition called leaky gut.
Leaky gut can also be caused or made worse by gut infections such as Candida overgrowth or SIBO, medications such as antibiotics, steroids or birth control pills, as well as a high-stress lifestyle.
Now that your small intestines are open and permeable this allows toxins, microbes, and partially digested food to leak into your bloodstream. Left untreated, your immune system goes on high alert to neutralize all of these threats. Because your gut is still leaky, the threats just keep on coming.
Your body enters a state of chronic inflammation. Your immune system becomes so stressed and confused it begins attacking your own tissue by mistake, even if you don’t have a gluten intolerance. This puts you on the path to developing Hashimoto’s disease for example, or any other an autoimmune disease, thanks to a phenomenon called molecular mimicry.
Molecular Mimicry, A Case of Mistaken Identity
Every time your body is exposed to a bacteria, virus, or another pathogen, your immune system memorizes its structure, specifically its protein sequence. Then it can recognize it in the future and mount a defense.
However, the immune system’s recognition system isn’t foolproof. If a molecule’s structure and protein sequences are similar enough, the immune system can be fooled into attacking look-a-like molecules that are actually your body’s tissue, causing autoimmune disease.
Unfortunately, your thyroid is at risk for rogue autoimmune attacks because gluten looks so much like thyroid cells. What’s more, 50% of people with gluten sensitivity experience molecular mimicry with casein (a protein found in dairy). This is known as cross-reactivity, where your body reacts to your original trigger and also to another trigger that resembles the first one.
Every time you eat gluten and dairy, their proteins are able to escape into your bloodstream, where they trigger an attack from your immune system. And, because of the molecular mimicry phenomenon, your thyroid tissues end up in the crosshairs as well.
Even in patients who have non-autoimmune thyroid problems, including thyroid nodules, the molecular mimicry phenomenon still impacts thyroid function. This is why I recommend that all of my patients with thyroid dysfunction eat only gluten-free foods, even if they are not autoimmune.
How to Heal the Damage Caused by Gluten
The bottom line is, if you have thyroid dysfunction, I recommend that you ditch gluten for good. Once you’ve cut gluten from your diet, your gut can begin to heal, your inflammation will decrease, and your body will slow and eventually stop its rogue attacks on your thyroid. You can reverse the symptoms of Graves’ disease and other thyroid conditions.
In addition to eating a gluten-free diet, I recommend using functional medicine’s 4R approach to heal your leaky gut. The process involves removing other toxic and inflammatory foods, including gluten and dairy. Then you’ll restore the ingredients needed for proper digestion and reinoculate your gut with healthy bacteria. Last, you’ll repair the lining of your gut so that gluten and dairy proteins and other particles can no longer escape into your bloodstream.
In my book, The Thyroid Connection, I take a deeper dive into other root causes that can disrupt your thyroid function. I also detail how to work with your doctor to ensure you get the right diagnosis, help you understand which labs to ask for, and what optimal reference ranges should be. Most importantly I offer a step-by-step, 28-day plan with recipes, meal plans, supplements, and stress-reducing techniques to restore your thyroid function and to live a more vibrant life.
Reverse Chronic Illnesses So You Can Take Back Your Health!
Are you ready to beat your symptoms, regain your energy, and feel like yourself again? Whether you have Hashimoto’s, Graves’, or any of the hundreds of other autoimmune diseases, I want you to know you CAN reverse your condition!
Tens of thousands of people around the world have already taken back their health using my New York Times Bestsellers, The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection. Are you ready to join them?
In each book, you’ll learn how to address the true underlying causes of your symptoms using simple yet proven dietary and lifestyle changes. Best of all, you’ll get step-by-step, four-week plans to put all of the principles into practice and truly make optimal health a way of life!