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Should Everyone With A Thyroid Condition Follow A Gluten Free Diet?

When I attended a recent functional medicine conference, one of the presenters asked the audience the following question: “how many people attending this conference are gluten free?”  The majority of the attendees raised their hands, which probably shouldn’t be too surprising considering that it was filled with functional medicine practitioners who commonly advise their patients to avoid gluten.  However, the presenter also mentioned that approximately 30% of the general public is gluten free, which did surprise me.  Although many people reading this post avoid gluten, I’m sure there are others reading this who eat gluten on a regular basis and want to know if they should follow a gluten free diet on a permanent basis.

Before I talk about this, you might be wondering whether or not I raised my hand when the question was asked about avoiding gluten.  To be honest, I was ready to raise my hand, but although I greatly minimize my consumption of gluten, I can’t honestly say that I’m 100% gluten free.  And I’m sure some of the practitioners who raised their hands at the conference fell into the same category, as they might try their best to avoid gluten most of the time, but they don’t necessarily avoid gluten 100% of the time, or even 95% of the time.  Once again, this obviously will vary depending on the person, as I know that some people reading this are 100% gluten free.  On the other hand, some people might think they are 100% gluten free, even though this isn’t the case, as I discussed a few years ago in a blog post I wrote entitled “Are You Really Gluten Free?

Avoiding Gluten When Restoring One’s Health

Although I eat some foods which consist of gluten every now and then, I encourage my patients to follow a gluten free diet while trying to restore their health.  This might seem to be hypocritical of me, as why would I tell my patients to completely avoid gluten, even though I personally don’t avoid gluten all of the time?  Well, keep in mind that I’m not in the process of restoring my health, as I’m in a state of remission.  On the other hand, if someone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition is trying to restore their health it probably is best to go gluten free.  And the reason for this is because gluten is not only a common allergen, but it can also increase intestinal permeability (1), which is a fancy term for a leaky gut, and is a factor in most, and possibly all autoimmune thyroid conditions.  In other words, in some people, avoiding gluten is a necessary component to restore their health.  And in these people, consuming even a small amount of gluten can prevent them from fully recovering.

But how about those people who don’t have any type of gluten sensitivity or intolerance?  In other words, while you might understand why someone who has Celiac disease or a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity will need to avoid gluten, why should someone who doesn’t have a sensitivity avoid gluten?  The problem is that it can be challenging to determine who is sensitive to gluten.  Unfortunately one can’t always rely on symptoms, and while there is testing available, this isn’t completely accurate either.  And so there is a chance that someone can have problems with gluten, even if they don’t experience any negative symptoms when consuming it.  This can be the case even if they have a negative Celiac panel, as frequently a Celiac panel will come out negative for those in the early stages, and they might also be asymptomatic when consuming gluten, which is known as “silent Celiac disease” (2) (3).  There is a more comprehensive gluten sensitivity test offered by Cyrex Labs, but it’s very expensive, and even with this test it’s possible to have a false negative result.

Can Someone Restore Their Health While Consuming Gluten?

Based on what I have said so far, you might wonder if it is possible for someone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition to restore their health, even if they don’t completely avoid gluten.  The answer is “yes”, as it definitely is possible for some people to restore their health while continuing to eat gluten…if they don’t have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.  After all, while many people do better when avoiding gluten, and although gluten can be the main factor with regards to the autoimmune response in some people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease, in many people this isn’t the case.  However, as I mentioned previously, it can be challenging at times to determine if someone has issues with gluten.  And so a person with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition who doesn’t experience any symptoms when eating foods with gluten can of course choose to continue eating these foods while taking a natural treatment approach, and if all goes well then that’s great.

On the other hand, if someone continues to eat gluten but isn’t showing much improvement then this makes the situation more challenging.  And the reason for this is because if someone continues to eat gluten but their health doesn’t improve, there is no guarantee that eating the gluten was responsible for their lack of progress.  Let’s put it another way…if someone is following a natural treatment protocol, is 100% gluten free, and after a few months their health isn’t improving, then we can almost definitely conclude that exposure to gluten isn’t the reason why they weren’t progressing, since they were gluten free.  On the other hand, if someone eats gluten while following a natural treatment protocol and doesn’t improve, while it is possible that the reason why they weren’t improving was due to the exposure to gluten, there is also the possibility that another factor was responsible for their lack of progress.

I know this might be a little bit confusing to some people reading this, but my point is that when trying to restore your health, initially you want to try to avoid as many factors as possible that can be responsible for triggering your condition, and this includes avoiding gluten.  While doing this will greatly improve your chances of restoring your health, if for any reason your health doesn’t improve, at the very least you won’t be able to blame your lack of progress on those potential triggers (i.e. gluten) you avoided.  And so this will allow you to focus on other factors which might be problematic.

I’d like to give another example.  Let’s look at a scenario where someone is dealing with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Graves’ Disease, and this person completely avoids gluten, dairy, corn, refined sugars, drinks purified water, and uses natural household products in order to reduce their toxic exposure.  If this person’s health doesn’t improve after a few months of following a natural treatment protocol then we can conclude that their lack of progress wasn’t due to exposure to gluten, dairy, corn, refined foods, toxins in the water, or household products.  While it might be frustrating to the person that their health hasn’t improved despite making these changes, at least we would know to focus on other factors.  On the other hand, if the same person avoided dairy, corn, refined foods, drank purified water, used natural household products, but didn’t avoid gluten, then we might suspect that gluten was the culprit, even though there is the possibility that another factor was responsible for their lack of progress.

World-Renowned Expert On Gluten-Related Disorders Doesn’t Avoid Gluten?

Dr. Alessio Fasano is one of the world-renowned experts on gluten-related disorders, and in his book “Gluten Freedom” he states the following: “I am now convinced that our immune system mistakenly interprets gluten as a component of a dangerous bacterium or bacteria.  When this happens, it unleashes an immune response similar to that triggered by bacteria to rid the body of the attackers.  This response is elicited in everyone.  It is not exclusive to people affected by gluten-related disorders”.

In other words, according to Dr. Fasano, gluten has a negative impact on everyone, and not just people who have Celiac disease or a non-autoimmune gluten sensitivity.  And the study I brought up earlier mentions that increased intestinal permeability after gliadin exposure occurs in ALL individuals (1).  Based on this it would be fair to conclude that everyone should permanently avoid gluten, right?  And if this is the case, why would I choose to eat even a small amount of gluten on an occasional basis?  Well, it’s the same reason why some people choose to drink some alcohol every now and then, drink coffee, etc.

You might argue that unlike gluten, some alcoholic beverages such as red wine have certain health benefits.  However, like gluten, all alcohol can increase the permeability of the gut, including red wine (4).  I personally don’t drink alcohol, don’t drink coffee, and while I do eat a pretty healthy diet most of the time and eat very little gluten, I’m definitely not perfect.

And Dr. Fasano isn’t perfect either, as if you happened to listen to the “Autoimmune Summit” conducted by Dr. Amy Myers in Fall of 2014, Dr. Fasano was interviewed by Dr. Myers and admitted that he eats gluten sometimes.  Plus, he also mentioned the following in his book: “Although I have contributed to the discoveries of some of these inappropriate immune responses elicited by gluten in humans, I do not share the position of the proponents of a ‘gluten-free world’, who often cite my work to support their position.  We engage daily in a war with many dangerous bacteria but rarely do we lose this battle, which is an event that leads to infection.  We are also engaged in a daily confrontation with gluten, but only a minority of us will lose this battle.  These are the genetically susceptible individuals who will develop gluten-related disorders”.

So even though Dr. Alessio Fasano has done plenty of research on the adverse effects of gluten (he was one of the authors in the study I mentioned earlier), he does consume some gluten every now and then.  I’m pretty sure that I don’t have Celiac disease, and I don’t think I have a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity disorder.  And I assume gluten wasn’t a trigger when I was dealing with Graves’ Disease, or else I probably still wouldn’t be in remission.  Keep in mind that I don’t freely eat gluten, as I eat mostly whole foods, try to eat as many organic foods as possible, etc.  And if someone isn’t in remission and is in the process of trying to restore their health then without question I think it is best to play it safe and avoid gluten.

Is It Wise To Reintroduce Gluten After Getting Into Remission?

Although I seem to do fine consuming a small amount of gluten every now and then, this of course isn’t the case with everyone.  And so I admit that it is a risk for someone to reintroduce gluten after restoring their health.  While many people will do fine after reintroducing gluten, some people who reintroduce gluten won’t do fine, and at times the consequences can be severe.  As a result, there are some people who choose not to reintroduce gluten after restoring their health, even if they haven’t confirmed that they have Celiac disease or a non-autoimmune gluten sensitivity.

The truth is that we don’t need to eat gluten.  But gluten is just one of numerous toxins that many people voluntarily expose themselves to.  One can make a good argument that we should all be 100% alcohol free, not consume any caffeine, not put ourselves in a position to deal with high amounts of stress, always get at least eight hours sleep, avoid any type of household cleaner or cosmetic that isn’t certified organic, etc.  But it’s rare to come across someone who is 100% gluten free, alcohol free, and caffeine free AND has low stress levels, gets at least eight hours of sleep every night without exception, uses all natural products, etc.  Keep in mind that I’m not trying to convince anyone reading this that it’s okay to eat gluten on an occasional basis. I admit that there is no good reason to consume gluten, but one can make the argument that there is no good reason to drink any alcohol, coffee, stay up late, etc.  While it’s important to do everything you can to live a healthy lifestyle, nobody is going to be perfect in all aspects of their health.

In summary, not everyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition has Celiac disease or a non-autoimmune gluten sensitivity.  However, since gluten is a common allergen and can increase intestinal permeability, and because it can be difficult to determine if someone has a gluten sensitivity, or even Celiac disease in some cases, I think it’s a good idea to avoid gluten while trying to restore one’s health.  As for whether it’s safe to reintroduce gluten after someone has restored their health, without question there are risks involved with doing this.  However, there are also risks involved with reintroducing other foods (i.e. dairy, corn), along with drinking alcohol, caffeine, staying up late on a frequent basis, etc.  Please feel free to share your thoughts on avoiding and reintroducing gluten in the comment section below, as I’m sure there are many people reading this who feel strongly about avoiding gluten, while others reading this might have a different opinion regarding gluten.


 

12 Comments

  1. Carrie says:

    This article is like a breath of fresh air. I have been gluten free for some time now while I am restoring my health and I’ve read so many articles about needing to be strict, not with just gluten (but especially gluten)also dairy, corn,soy…that I got to the point I would stress out if I couldn’t find anything to eat that didn’t contain one of these items. I was afraid I would be set back to the point of no return or die. At least that is how I felt and probably the stress was worse than just eating it. Now after 3 years I will allow myself breaks and try some items to check my system without stressing that something horrible will happen. Attempting to rotate foods has been helpful also. Hearing a professional who deals with it daily be reasonable about the situation is releaving. No extremes just common sense. Thanks for allowing me to forgive myself for not being perfect while trying to be healthy and enter some peace and relaxation. Which is also needed for a healing, happy life.

  2. Michelle says:

    I was able to get my Graves almost into remission after 2 months of not eating anything: gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, corn, soy, eggs, caffeine. Of course, that wasn’t sustainable for me, and at the time I didn’t yet understand how this autoimmune thing works or how to reintroduce foods one at a time. I went back to eating normally, and my antibodies shot right back up. I tried going totally gluten-free for 4 months, getting tested every month. Believe me, this was strict: I prepared all my own food for this whole period. But, my antibodies didn’t budge. After taking a break for the holidays, I’m now trying both gluten AND dairy free, although I’m not as strict on the gluten. I hope to get tested at the end of Feb, and I’m hoping this is the issue.

    The other big thing I did was take a MUCH easier, low stress job. I’m 100% sure it was the job that gave me Graves. It doesn’t appear that a low stress job is going to save me from Graves, although I know I’m going to have to stay away from work stress for the rest of my life.

  3. Iatrogenia says:

    Finally! A sensible opinion from an alternative practitioner about gluten and autoimmune thyroid conditions.

  4. Karen says:

    I try to avoid gluten because many years ago after I had the radioactive iodine treatment (so sorry I did) I ended up with “pop-eye” in one of my eyes. When I stay off glutens for long periods of time, I find that my eye appears normal. I also seem to feel better with less episodes of candida symptoms. I am not 100% off glutens, because it’s hard to make several different meals every day when eating with my family. My family does not have food sensitivities as I do and love regular pasta meals, breads, etc. I have regular pasta on occasion, an english muffin, or slice of bread on occasion when visiting or eating out. I bake a lot during the holidays and don’t taste any of it, but to be honest it’s not easy to be gluten free. My entire diet is a life change, but not always easy when I am not at home to cook for myself; also I get tired of doing so much cooking. My thyroid disorder continues regardless of my diet, so that doesn’t make keeping to it any easier. The past 10 years I have been my own doctor regarding my thyroid because the doctors never helped, in fact I’m sorry I ever went to one about my thyroid in the beginning. I just am thankful for these informative articles to make my quest a little easier and to know I am not alone in this.

    • Debbie says:

      I’ve been eating rice noodles & even found a neat gluten free section at WalMart of all places. I cook my rice noodles different than most packages say & not like regular noodles because rice noodles can become very mushy. I boil my water, put some coconut oil in it (not sure if coconut oil is okay for everyone’s diet, but my family has history of Alzheimer’s & this oil is good to reduce or stop onset) When the water is boiling remove it from heat, pour in your rice noodles. Cover for ten minutes & check for readiness. Sometimes it takes up to 20 minutes–and depends on how you like noodles. You must pour hot water off in colander & rinse in cold water or — once again — the noodles keep cooking & you have mush. Hope this will help you.. My sister told me about this. We both have Graves Disease & both of us had radiation. She has other different immune problems as well and so do I. Finding this website and information is answered prayers!

  5. kirsi vaahtomeri says:

    First, sorry for my english..but I m proud to tell I have been 100% gluten free since april 2014,except one single day when I deliberately ate glutein to test what happens(full corn rye bread.)Consequenses was not nice, I had kind of blisters inside my mouth and one in my arm, my stomach really was hurt.I don t want eat glutein anymore, but I admit that it not necessary was glutein what I reacted to, I have found that full corn is not good for me, even if its glutein free,(oat),maybe its some pesticides or some molds in full corn(i m sensitive, exposed for molds, sickhouse syndrome(thats when my thyroid stopped to function so well, I also had very bad flu and ate glutein before thyroid problems. my cat also got astma from a sick house, and needed less medicine after we moved to another house. but autoimmune diseases has incresed much, they are much more common in pets today than before.. is it industrial food with grains and glutein what makes cats and dogs ill?
    It can also be chemicals, I try to avoid all chemicals as much as possible, I think chemicals are worse than glutein.I really try to stop coffee/caffein but thats very hard to me..I feel weird and not good after coffee..its not for everyone or not for anyone…pets dont drink coffee.. so there must be several reasons that are causing autoimmuneconditions…I m lazy person and its hard to avoid all things.
    today my medicin, thyroxin, its not right amount yet, but I think avoiding junk food, sugar, glutein, moulds, but eating much more vitamins has all improved my health.
    Thank you for reading this,
    women, age 38, from Finland, Europe.( By the way, Im not have been tested for celiac disease.)

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Kirsi,

      I definitely agree that there are other things that can be worse than gluten. This isn’t meant to minimize the negative impact that gluten can have on some people’s health, but some people who go gluten free have more problems with other toxins they’re being exposed to.

  6. kirsi vaahtomeri says:

    I ment wholegrain, not full corn…and the oat I wrote was pure wholegrain oat(glutein free).

  7. prabha mary says:

    Awesome article….but can these suggestions also apply to Graves’ Disease patients who have received RAI Tx???

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Prabha,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. And yes, without question this information can apply to people with Graves’ Disease who received RAI.

  8. Daphne says:

    Thank you Dr Eric
    I always find your articles interesting and helpful and so appreciate your willingness to share your experience and research.
    I have a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s and am so grateful to have found a holistic doctor, who is helping me follow a natural protocol.
    In six months I have seen my antibodies drop dramatically and i feel so much better on all levels. Acupuncture, which i had never received before, has also been a huge help.
    My diet is gluten, dairy, sugar and nightshade family free and I don’t drink caffeinated drinks nor alcohol.
    I was pleased to read your balanced account of remaining gluten free, asI have never knowingly suffered with sensitivity to gluten. Feeling so pleased with the help I have received through reading your internet articles, from my most understanding and expert holistic doctor and from my strict, yet manageable diet, plus importantly, emotional and spiritual inputs, I have no immediate desires to return to eating foods with gluten. It is one of the easier foodstuffs to avoid, and with no goodness and recognisable anti-responses, why would I want to eat it?
    One disappointment is my blood still shows I am anaemic, as despite taking iron, and other nutritional supplements, which have improved my liver, kidneys, heart regularity and joints and brain inflammation, I now have decreased iron binding capacity and dropping blood platelets counts. I understand this is unusual, but not unknown. Does anyone have any experience or suggestions to help? Thank you Dr Eric and all your patients for sharing so much and helping so many people around the world, such warm family values. Yours gratefully, Daphne

  9. jayn says:

    Hello All
    I have been on a fairly strict gluten free diet for about 10 years. Celiac runs in the family. I developed Grave’s disease at the end of my marriage about 4 years ago as a result of a traumatic divorce and the genetic predisposition for the disease, that my mother’s genes passed to me. She also had the disease very early in her life and received RAI. Like her father who also had Graves, I also have exophthalmous in my right eye. I have refused RAI but took neomercazole and a beta blocker for 12 months due to the seriousness of my condition. These drugs and some important lifestyle changes have helped me to reach a 6 month period of remission with some mild symptoms beginning to appear again – cardiac arrythmia, tiredness, tremor and inability to gain weight. My eye condition is relatively mild and seems to have stabilised. I began detoxing with a graduated fast to remove all grains,sugar, milk but not butter, cheese or yoghurt. I try to remain calm and deal with stress much better. I am fit and active, even completing a solo journey of 1400 km on my bicycle in 22 days, lots of bushwalking and cycling as well as the normal management of a large property and accommodation business by myself. I continue to monitor my health through immunoglobulin, T3, T4 tests, as well as noting how I feel generally and managing lifestyle accordingly i.e rest days when I feel not quite well and pacing myself on the many good days that remission brings. I am trying an auto immune paleo ( mostly vegan/vegetarian) diet presently with positive results although I am well aware that my symptoms and the multiple nodules in my thyroid continue to be a threat. I take magnesium oil and selenium and I focus on organic foods. I remain positive that i can maintain remission or at least control the symptoms naturally. I will refuse RAI because I know I have an auto immune disease and thyroid, celiac and exophthalmous are symptoms of that much more serious problem.

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Natural Treatment Methods:
Graves Disease Treatment
Hypothyroidism Treatment
Hyperthyroidism Treatment
Natural Thyroid treatment


Conventional Treatment
Methods:
Radioactive Iodine
Thyroid Hormone