Gluten, a family of proteins found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye, is responsible for that soft, chewy texture found in most grain-based bread, pasta and similar foods. The heat from cooking causes gluten to expand and form an elastic network that collects gas and maintains moisture in food, making it an important additive in processed foods.
In the past few years or so, gluten-free diets have taken the world by storm. And while gluten may not be harmful to everyone, individuals with conditions like celiac disease are advised to avoid gluten consumption. People who have autoimmune disorders may also benefit from following a gluten-free diet. In the case of the thyroid, many thyroid issues lead to your immune system attacking its own tissues.
But before we get into gluten, let’s talk about thyroid and its role.
The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland found in your neck, produces the thyroid hormone which controls a lot of activities in your body, like how fast you burn calories, how fast your heart beats, etc. Thyroid diseases cause the thyroid to make either too much or too little of the hormone. Women are said to be eight times more prone to thyroid problems in their life as compared to men. Some of the diseases include hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroiditis, thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer.
Your thyroid regulates your metabolism and when it acts overactive or underactive, it results in slower cellular function. The effects include fatigue, weight gain or loss, hair loss, constipation, brittle nails and more. If you have any of these symptoms, consult your doctor to conduct a blood test.
So, what is the connection between the two?
As explained above, individuals with conditions like celiac disease should avoid gluten consumption. This also applies to those who suffer from autoimmune disorders. One such disorder is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. While research is still underway, what is clear is that gluten and Hashimoto’s thyroid has a significant interconnection.
In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the white blood cells and antibodies attack the thyroid. The cause is yet to be confirmed but the general factors include genetics, environmental stressors and epigenetic factors. Usually, when the thyroid is under attack, your T3 and T4 hormone levels decrease, resulting in hypothyroidism. A few symptoms include fatigue, dry skin, joint stiffness, depression, muscle weakness, poor concentration and weight gain.
It is said that when those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis consume gluten, the antibodies react like the protein structure of gluten features an amino acid sequence that is similar to that of thyroid. So, when a gluten sensitive person reacts to gluten, their immune system by default reacts to the thyroid as well. This results in inflammatory immune cells attacking the thyroid tissue due to a lack of proper identification.
How to manage your thyroid?
If you’d like to seriously manage your Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a gluten-free and dairy-free diet is recommended for significant relief. Try opting for a paleo diet comprising vegetables that help boost gut health and regulate autoimmunity. Focus on adding anti-inflammatory foods to help support your immune system.
A few examples include fruits like berries, grapes, cherries and pineapple; vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, dark greens; healthy fats like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish; high iron foods like spinach, quinoa, tofu, beans and gluten-free grains like gluten-free oats, brown rice, buckwheat, millet and amaranth.
Try and avoid foods like bread, cereals, processed salad dressings, beer and other gluten-including alcoholic beverages, baked goods, packaged snacks, pasta, dairy etc.
We recommend discussing methods and solutions with your doctor before getting on a diet. If you wish to inculcate a gluten-free diet, a dietitian can help you form a system that aligns with your health goals.