When I ran the Labbe Health Clinic, I often had to give my clients stark news. After reviewing their test results and confirming they had a common autoimmune thyroid conditions called Hashimoto’s, I would tell them, “You need to stop eating gluten.”
This recommendation was often met with a horrified expression as if I had zapped all future happiness out of their lives. The truth is, though, that I was actually giving them a key to getting their lives back.
It is estimated that as many as 20 million Americans suffer from hypothyroidism, the majority of whom are women. They would come to my clinic complaining of exhaustion, hair loss, zero sex drive, stubborn weight gain, dry skin, and severe brain fog. A standard blood test would almost always reveal that the cause of their hypothyroidism was an autoimmune disease. In fact, up to 90% of hypothyroid cases can be traced back to autoimmunity, usually a condition called Hashimoto’s.
An autoimmune disease simply means that the immune system is attacking the body. In the case of Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune thyroid conditions, a person’s immune system attacks the thyroid, damaging this important gland that regulates many systems within the body.
So, what is the connection between hypothyroidism and gluten?
Introduction to Gliadin
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barely, and rye. The highly refined American diet is filled with wheat and flour, making gluten nearly impossible to avoid unless you make an effort. But why is gluten so bad? How does it cause the body to go haywire?
The answer lies in a protein within gluten called gliadin. This protein looks a lot like a special enzyme (transglutaminase) that is found in large quantities in the thyroid. When gliadin molecules make it through the gut into the blood stream, the immune system tags it as an enemy.
Imagine a set of identical twins in the Old West. One twin, Bob, is a perfect angel and would never dream of breaking the law. His twin, Steve, on the other hand is rotten through and through. After Steve robs a bank, Wanted posters go up all across town. Poor Bob is captured by the sheriff and jailed despite his pleas of innocence.
The same thing happens in your body if you have an autoimmune condition. Your immune system can’t tell the difference between gliadin molecules and your thyroid, so it goes after both, damaging your thyroid in the process.
Embracing the Gluten-Free Life
Autoimmune conditions cannot be cured. They can only be managed. The good news is that if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, you can regain your health simply by avoiding the things that trigger an immune attack on your thyroid. Yep, that means giving up gluten.
The only other option is to take increasingly large doses of synthetic thyroid hormone as your autoimmune condition continues to ravage your thyroid gland. This, however, will only mask the problem, not solve it.
Many of my clients are at first upset at the thought of giving up gluten. They focus on all the things they will no longer be able to enjoy. I try to turn this defeatist mindset around. They aren’t giving up something, they are gaining their health and happiness. Often, it just takes a client time to get used to a gluten-free diet, which can be bountiful and delicious. She will quickly develop new favorite foods and as her exhaustion and brain fog melt away, life will become more vibrant and enjoyable.
A gluten-free life can be a very full and happy life when you are healthy and energetic. Please contact me if you suspect that you might have an autoimmune thyroid condition. I can guide you to an independent lab that can test you for autoimmunity.