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The link between Hashimoto’s and gluten

A question that is often asked by people with Hashimoto’s:

“Do I need to go gluten free even if my test results for gluten issues are normal?”

The first thing my GP said to me when I was first diagnosed was “you have hashimoto’s disease and you need to avoid gluten”.  I took her advice seriously and went 100% gluten free and soon after my thyroid antibodies went into remission, my symptoms went away and I started losing that dreaded thyroid weight.

It was only years later when I decided that I was feeling great that I started eating gluten again. That was a huge mistake, my hashimoto’s flared up again and the only way I could get my thyroid antibodies back into the normal range was to go strictly 100% gluten free again.

This is not surprising when you look at the research – several studies have shown a strong link between autoimmune thyroid disease (both Hashimoto’s and Graves) and gluten intolerance. Even the Coeliac Society of Australia lists autoimmune thyroid diseases as a condition associated with coeliac disease.

Why is a gluten free diet recommended for people with Hashimoto’s?iStock Gluten Free

One of the main reasons is something called “molecular mimicry” which basically means that the molecular structure of gluten is very similar to the thyroid gland. Once gluten enters your bloodstream, the immune system targets it for destruction by producing antibodies to it and because the gluten molecule is so similar to the thyroid gland, the body will also start to attack your thyroid. So eating gluten = an immune attack on your thyroid gland.

Is a little bit of gluten okay?

Um, sorry, but no. You need to be 100% gluten free to keep your immune system from attacking your thyroid gland. This point really hit home for me once I learnt that the immune response to gluten can last up to 6 months. So, to sum up, you have to be 100% gluten free to prevent the immune system from destroying your thyroid gland. You couldn’t pay me to eat it now, my health is way more important.

But my gluten test results were normal, doesn’t that mean I don’t have a problem with gluten?

Not necessarily, researchers are finding that there is a variety of gluten intolerance – from coeliac disease to non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – and that many people are intolerant but they are not testing positive with the usual screening tests.

The best way is to try a gluten free diet and see how you feel and get your thyroid antibodies re-tested 3-6 months to see if there is any improvement.

It may sound daunting to take gluten out of your diet, but it’s also exciting that you can take charge and do something to control the immune attack on your thyroid gland.

Check out Chris Kesser’s post on the thyroid-gluten link, as he explains the whole concept in more detail and with links to the research.