Gluten. It seems like everyone is talking about it. Books are lining shelves declaring the evils of this grain-based protein most of us have been eating for years. The grocery stores are full of “gluten-free” labels (I once bought a fruit salad that had one!!) and gluten free bakeries are popping up in cities all across the country.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in several different grains – wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale. It is a combination of two different proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Not all grains contain gluten and a gluten-free diet can still provide the essential nutrients found in these grains.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. It is, in essence, an immune condition with the thyroid being the unfortunate victim.
Autoimmune conditions are thought to develop when there are a combination of different factors. The three most commonly suggested factors are:
- Genetic predisposition
- A triggering event – this can be a nutrient deficiency, acute illness, chronic infection, dysbiosis, excess stress, food sensitivities or impaired detoxification
- Increased intestinal hyperpermeability or “leaky gut”
The increased intestinal hyperpermeability, or “leaky gut” is where gluten becomes a major issue.
The cells that line our digestive tract are joined at tight junctions – these close connections allow only the smallest particles of digested food to present to our immune system. Certain foods, like gluten, are more difficult for our enzymes to completely digest. These partially digested proteins, called peptides, can cause inflammation at the lining of the digestive tract, leading to damage of the tight junctions. When these tight junctions are compromised they become more permeable, or leaky, allowing larger molecules (peptides) to present to our immune system.
Once the immune system has been exposed to these large peptide molecules it may begin to produce antibodies against the peptides – an attempt to protect us from this foreign molecule.
The issue of autoimmunity, especially Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, occurs when the immune antibodies begin to circulate through our body, searching for the sequence of amino acids that make up the gluten peptide. The surface of the thyroid gland is made up of fats and proteins – and unfortunately the amino acid sequence of proteins on the surface of the thyroid is the same as the gliadin peptide in gluten. This results in the immune system destroying the thyroid gland, mistaking it for the component of gluten that triggered the response in the digestive tract.
Gluten and Food Sensitivities
In my practice I recommend that all people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis eliminate gluten from their diet. However, leaky gut can be caused by, or lead to many other food sensitivities which can also have the same devastating effect on the thyroid gland, and other tissues in the body.
Every person with an autoimmune condition, including Hashimoto’s should seriously consider having an IgG based food sensitivity panel done to identify their own sensitivities. Understanding the action of your immune system in your body is imperative to decreasing the overactivity of the immune system and preventing further damage to your body.
For more information on Naturopathic Medicine and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, please read the other articles on this website written by Dr. Lisa Watson, ND: Understanding Hashimoto’s, Hashimoto’s and Fertility, Naturopathic Treatments for Hashimoto’s. If you are ready to start on your path to healing your Hashimoto’s you can book an appointment with Dr. Lisa by following the links here.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.
Carrocio A, D’Alcam A, Cavataio F, et al. Gastroenterology. High Proportions of People With Nonceliac Wheat Sensitivity Have Autoimmune Disease or Antinuclear Antibodies.2015 Sep;149(3):596-603.e1.
Fasano A, Shea-Donohue T. Mechanisms of Disease: the role of intestinal barrier function in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases. Nature Clinical Practices. 2005 Sep:2(9):416-422.