In the last newsletter I wrote for www.beeyoutiful.com I made a reference to being gluten free in deference to my thyroid problem. I’ve received several communications from individuals who also struggle with thyroid problems asking what gluten has to do with the thyroid and if they should consider also going off of gluten. This post is my attempt at explaining the connection between gluten and the thyroid and to offer some basic resources for you to read.
First of all the type of Thyroid problem I have is officially known as Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, where antibodies produced by the body mistakenly attack the thyroid, leading to its damage and eventual destruction. Studies show that autoimmune causes are responsible for 90% of adult hypothyroidism.
In his book Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal? by Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS he addresses a couple of primary bits of information that are crucial for anybody suffering from a thyroid problem. In the first part of the book, Kharrazian explains the relationship between Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system, the thyroid gland, and gluten. He asserts that for people with Hashimoto’s, gluten must be avoided for life. The gliadin portion of the gluten that escapes into the blood stream due to leaky gut then triggers the immune system to flare up and attack. This attack does not affect only the gluten in the blood stream but also the thyroid gland, due to the similarity in structure between gliadin and peptide fragments associated with the thyroid gland. Once the gluten-sensitive genes are turned on, they cannot be turned off which is why it is crucial that gluten be avoided for life. Kharrazian says “the immune response to gluten can last up to six months each time it is ingested.” This means for a person with Hashimoto’s each time they ingest gluten the reaction and resulting attack on the thyroid can last up to 6 months.
Using emulsified vitamin D, glutathione cream and S.O.D. (superoxide dismutase), Kharrazian has had much success in the first step of bringing balance to the immune system. Not only is vitamin D a powerful immune modulator, but he says “90 percent of people with an autoimmune thyroid disease have a genetic defect that affects their ability to process vitamin D.” Kharrazian likes to see his patients on the high end of Vit. D levels, knowing they need those levels in order to help moderate the immune system responses. When I had my Vit. D levels tested it came back 14.6 with 100 being “normal” And this is with me eating a diet much higher in Vit. D than most. I obviously fall into the category of individuals that have a genetic difficulty processing Vit. D. Since I got my results back I have been supplementing heavily with Vit. D3 on a daily basis and have noticed an improvement in more stable health and energy with fewer crashes.
Vitamin D also supports the T-regulatory cells, which begin to malfunction in an autoimmune attack. As their name suggests, when T-regulatory cells malfunction, the regulation of the immune attack goes awry. Tissue damage occurs when the incorrect amounts of T-helper and T-suppressor cells are called for by the weary T-regulatory cells. Using vitamin D, Kharrazian reestablishes proper function of the T-regulatory cells.
I have also had questions about how I found out about my problem. Since TheMan and I are self employed-small business owners we do not have health insurance. We use instead a Health Savings Account (HSA) I really did not want to go to a Dr. and pay for the Dr.’s visits in addition to all of the tests a Dr. would order out of pocket. A dear friend told me about this website www.mymedlab.com This site allows you to order bloodwork and go to the nearest Lab/processing facility that they contract with to have the blood drawn. You can check their lab locations on the website to make sure one is close enough to you before ordering the tests. The results of the tests are uploaded to the site under your personal account. They flag test results that are abnormally high or low with suggestions to go to a Dr. to discuss the results.
The package of tests I ordered are called Shomon Thyroid Autoimmune and available under “package” tests on the website. Along with the very low Vit. D that came out of these tests the other numbers that were very bad was the Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) Ab. Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, are also known as Antithyroid Peroxidase Antibodies. (In the past, these antibodies were referred to as Antithyroid Microsomal Antibodies or Antimicrosomal Antibodies). These antibodies work against thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme that plays a part in the T4-to-T3 conversion and synthesis process. Normal range of TPO antibodies in a healthy person is 0-34. Mine came back at 411. It was very nice to finally have documentation and an explanation for how bad I’d been feeling! =) Also having very specific things to work on has been helpful too.
So, just to summarize: What explains the connection between Gluten and the Thyroid? It is, quite simply, a case of mistaken identity. The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, very very closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue, thinking it is the evil gluten sneaking into parts of the body where it doesn’t belong. This means if you have AITD and you eat foods containing gluten, your immune system will attack your thyroid. Simple as that.
Hope all of this was at least as clear as mud. Feel free to hit me with questions. I love Google and I have a couple of guru friends that are willing to bail me out when I get in over my head.