The Link Between Gluten, Leaky Gut, and Thyroid Dysfunction
If you have coeliac disease or a non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, you are aware of how many foods actually contain the offending protein. Gluten is not just in bread, cakes, and pasta, but it also sneaks its way into processed sauces, beverages, and even cheese. The amount of gluten consumption in one’s diet is far higher than most people realize and its effects on overall health are far-reaching. Many people may be suffering from symptoms of gluten-sensitivity and not recognise it, particularly those who have thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Health experts are increasingly beginning to test patients with thyroid disease for gluten sensitivity and studies have shown that there is a strong link between gluten sensitivity and autoimmune disease, with the effects of leaky gut syndrome and coeliac disease being the underlying causes of autoimmunity and hormonal imbalances such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
What is a Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes permeable and particles of food waste make their way into the bloodstream. The immune system recognizes these particles as invaders and attacks them. It is thought that a diet high in sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol, and other acidic foods is an underlying cause of leaky gut and consistently eating foods that exacerbate this condition puts permanent stress on the body and the immune system, causing chronic inflammation, candida overgrowth, and triggers autoimmunity.
What is Molecular Mimicry?
When a person with leaky gut consumes foods containing gluten, the protein gliadin found in gluten leaks into the body and is tagged by the immune system as foreign and attacks it. Our clever immune systems learn to recognize particular antigens and remember the gliadin’s protein sequence for future reference. The problem with the protein gliadin is that it looks quite similar to transglutaminase, an enzyme found throughout the body, but in especially high concentrations in the thyroid. Your body’s immune system isn’t perfect and the two look similar enough that it mistakes the enzyme in your thyroid for gliadin invading your bloodstream from your gut. The transglutaminase in your thyroid then becomes what is referred to as an autoantigen— that is, a substance now flagged for destruction despite being human part of the human body. When the body begins attacking its own tissues instead of foreign ones, it is referred to as molecular mimicry and is suspected to be the basis of many autoimmune diseases, including thyroid issues, coeliac disease, and even multiple sclerosis. When a person with gluten sensitivity consumes gluten, the immune response can last a long time, with some studies showing it can take six months to show improvement, making it crucial for those with autoimmune disease to completely eliminate gluten from their diet. This means that even an occasional slip where a person accidentally consumes gluten can have lasting effects on their health.
How Malabsorption of Nutrients Due to Leaky Gut Exacerbates the Problem
Leaky gut occurs when the protein zonulin in your intestines that regulates how nutrients are absorbed gets carried away and opens the tight junctions in your intestinal walls too much, letting in the bad along with the good. Leaky gut also causes malabsorption of the good nutrients, including the ones necessary for proper hormone production in the thyroid such as zinc, iodine, selenium, magnesium, protein, and Vitamins A and D. Your body needs all of these components to properly manufacture the thyroid hormones T4 and T3 and to put them to proper use in the body’s cells. Without the proper levels of thyroid hormones, the body can suffer from a host of issues such as weight loss, malnutrition, and fatigue. If your body can’t absorb nutrients to manufacture thyroid hormones and your immune system is simultaneously attacking your thyroid tissue, the health consequences can be severe.
How a Gluten-Free Diet Can Help with Thyroid Hormone Imbalance
The first step in healing your thyroid as well as your gut is completely eliminating all gluten from your diet. This is a big transition if you currently have a diet high in processed foods and the best starting point is to incorporate plenty of whole foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, and vitamin- and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables. In addition to removing gluten from the diet, it’s also best to limit sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and excessive dairy since all of these contribute to an acidic environment in the gut and can exacerbate inflammation and make it more difficult for the gut to heal. Navigating a gluten-free, alkaline diet can seem intimidating at first, but the health benefits can be life-changing for those suffering from autoimmune disease and hormone imbalances. If you’d like to learn more about how a gluten-free diet can help you heal your thyroid and regain your health, contact Dr. Allie today.