Thyroid dysfunction is extremely common and affects 1 in 20 people in the UK, with women being far more likely to have it than men. An underactive thyroid gland, known as hypothyroidism, most commonly occurs as an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but if you aren’t sure what this disease is or what causes it, you may be exacerbating your symptoms without even realizing it. Research shows that there is a definitive link between consuming gluten and the incidence of autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s disease. Once you understand some of the underlying causes of this condition, you can make the necessary lifestyle changes that will help to alleviate your symptoms.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in your neck that regulates the metabolism. When it experiences an imbalance in the production of the hormones that affect it, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) occurs. The vast majority of hypothyroidism cases are caused by an autoimmune response in the body where the immune system attacks thyroid tissue, causing chronic inflammation and inadequate production of thyroid hormones.
What Causes it?
While the exact cause of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is not certain, studies have shown a strong link between gluten intolerance and an increased incidence of autoimmunity. People with coeliac disease or leaky gut syndrome have an increased permeability of their intestinal lining which causes food particles and waste from the small intestine to enter the bloodstream and triggers an immune response. The protein gliadin found in gluten looks similar to the enzyme transglutaminase which is found in the thyroid. When gliadin enters the bloodstream, it gets flagged by the immune system as an antigen and is attacked. The immune system remembers its protein sequence so that it can respond more quickly the next time it enters the body. Since the transglutaminase in the thyroid looks similar, it is mistaken for gliadin and gets attacked, becoming what is known as an autoantigen. This ongoing state of stress on the thyroid makes it stop producing enough thyroid hormones and causes a host of different symptoms including weight gain, fatigue, swelling in the neck, hair loss, irregular menstrual cycles, and sensitivity to cold.
How Does a Gluten-Free Diet Help?
Completely eliminating gluten from the diet can calm the immune reaction in the body and give the thyroid a chance to heal. However, simply cutting down on gluten is not enough as the immune system will continue to react to even small amounts of gluten in the body and it must be completely avoided on a permanent basis in order to experience long-term relief of symptoms. While some people experience improvements within a few days of beginning a gluten-free diet, it often takes weeks or even months in order to see major results. Fortunately, many people report continued improvement the longer they stick to a gluten-free diet and feel that the lifestyle change is well worth being able to alleviate their symptoms.
Another side effect of coeliac disease and leaky gut syndrome is the malabsorption of nutrients. This can actually worsen the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease as the body needs protein, minerals, and Vitamins A and D in order to produce thyroid hormones. This makes the incorporation of a gluten-free diet into Hashimoto’s treatment options a highly effective way to heal your gut as well as your thyroid, ease chronic inflammation, and help your body to begin absorbing the nutrients it needs to repair and build new tissue, synthesize hormones, and restore your energy levels.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis becomes more common in women with age and affects 10% of women over the age of 30. While there is no cure, the symptoms are highly treatable. You can take control of your health and regain your sense of vitality through treatment and the incorporation of a healthy lifestyle such as a gluten-free diet. If you are interested in learning more about how to treat the symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, contact Dr. Allie today.