Many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions attempt to go on a gluten-free diet. And while completing avoiding gluten can be a challenge for someone who is accustomed to eating foods which contain gluten, these days it is much easier to get foods which are gluten free. Just about every health food store has gluten-free items, as does many conventional supermarkets. And some restaurants serve gluten-free food. However, many people who think they are completely avoiding gluten are in fact getting some exposure to it in one way or another. And in some people, even a small amount of gluten can cause problems. So the goal of this blog post is to reveal some of the “hidden” sources of gluten.
But before I mention these sources, I want to briefly talk about why even a small amount of gluten can cause problems. If you’ve been following me for awhile, then you know that I’m not an extremist when it comes to gluten. In other words, I don’t believe that everyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition needs to avoid gluten on a permanent basis. However, I do think it’s a good idea for people with these conditions to go on a gluten-free trial. One can always test to see if they have a gluten sensitivity problem, although most testing out there is inaccurate, and the more accurate testing is very expensive.
What Happens If Someone Consumes Gluten When They’re Sensitive To It?
So what happens if someone who is has a gluten sensitivity problem consumes gluten? Well, they might experience symptoms such as bloating, gas, fatigue, brain fog, etc. On the other hand, some people who are sensitive to gluten don’t experience any overt symptoms. This is true even with some people who have Celiac Disease. But even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms, if someone who has a gluten sensitivity consumes gluten, this can cause damage to the intestinal lining, and potentially result in problems with intestinal permeability (1), also known as a leaky gut. But eating gluten when one has a sensitivity can cause other problems, such as peripheral neuropathy (2). Consuming gluten may also cause something called “gluten ataxia” (3).
I’m not trying to scare anyone into giving up gluten. I’d be a hypocrite if I tried to do this, as I wasn’t 100% gluten free when I followed a natural treatment protocol after initially being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, although since I ate mostly whole foods for the most part I did avoid gluten. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of the potential risks of consuming gluten, and when working with someone who is trying to restore their back to health, I want to try to do everything to help them achieve optimal health. And since I don’t know who might be sensitive to gluten and who might not be, I currently recommend for those following a natural treatment protocol to at least go on a gluten free trial. So I’m not telling everyone to avoid gluten on a permanent basis, although some people will of course need to do this.
I commonly have patients tell me they’re “almost” gluten free. So they might be “80%” gluten free, or perhaps “95%” gluten free. I commend those who try to avoid gluten, as I realize it’s not an easy process. The problem is that if someone is sensitive to gluten, even a small amount of gluten might cause problems, and potentially can prevent them from receiving optimal results. And while some people are intentionally consuming a small amount of gluten, others are trying everything they can do to avoid it, but are being exposed to it on a daily basis. Many of these people will be fine, but some people might not receive optimal results when consuming even a small amount of gluten, which is why I want to discuss three “hidden” sources of gluten.
1. Packaged gluten-free foods. There are hundreds of different gluten-free foods. There are gluten-free cookies, gluten-free cereals, and many other gluten-free items. Of course just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. For example, I came across some information which revealed that Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles are now gluten free (4). But even though they are gluten-free, they still have artificial ingredients. There are “healthier” gluten-free cereals which don’t have any artificial ingredients, and the same can be said for many other processed gluten-free foods.
But even if you purchase a processed food which is gluten-free, it still might have traces of gluten in it. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one of the criteria proposed is that foods bearing the claim “gluten free” cannot contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten (5). I once attended a seminar where the presenter spoke about people with a gluten sensitivity problem reacting if the food contained less than 5 ppm. I wasn’t able to find any studies showing this, but if someone is trying to avoid gluten it’s important to realize that many packaged foods which are labeled as being “gluten free” might still have trace amounts of gluten, and in some cases this can cause problems. The obvious solution to this is to ditch the processed foods, even the “healthier” ones, and stick with whole foods.
2. A gluten-free meal in a restaurant. If you eat out on a regular basis, chances are you’re not completely avoiding gluten. Even if you visit a restaurant which has a gluten-free menu, cross contamination is a strong possibility. Does this mean that someone who is trying to avoid gluten can’t eat out at all? Just like many other people, I enjoy eating out. But if someone is trying to restore their health and is sensitive to gluten, then it is a good idea to not eat out at all. This of course not only includes going out to a restaurant, but also to the house of a friend or family member for dinner, unless if you know for sure there won’t be any cross contamination, which most of the time isn’t the case. But what should you do if you go on a vacation? Well, with some proper planning you can stay at a hotel which has a small kitchen, and this way you can prepare your own meals.
Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting that those who follow a natural treatment protocol should avoid eating out on a permanent basis. All I’m saying is that if someone eats out then there is a strong possibility they are consuming some gluten. And if they happen to have a gluten sensitivity problem, this can affect their recovery. So when someone is trying to restore their health back to normal it really is a good idea to avoid eating out.
3. Cosmetics which include gluten. This admittedly isn’t something I have paid much attention to in the past. Although I encourage my patients to use natural products and cosmetics, I haven’t focused much on telling them to use gluten-free products. There’s some controversy as to whether gluten can be absorbed through the skin, and while I couldn’t find any studies on this, some reputable sources claim this isn’t the case. However, if you use any product that might be swallowed then it’s a good idea to make sure it’s gluten-free. Two examples include lipstick and toothpaste. If someone is trying to avoid gluten then one will probably want to make sure these products are gluten-free. I did find a website which has a list of a number of gluten-free toothpastes, which you can access by clicking here. Keep in mind that there are other toothpaste brands which might also be gluten-free but aren’t on this list. Another option is to make your own toothpaste. You can always just use baking soda, or if you perform a Google search for “homemade toothpaste” you’ll come across some recipes.
I know all of this might seem to be going overboard, especially for someone who claims not to be a “gluten extremist”. Truth to be told, most people probably don’t need to use a gluten-free lipstick or toothpaste. However, for some people it will make a difference. While many people might be fine with very small amounts of gluten, others might need to completely avoid it. And if this is the case, you want to stay away from all processed food, avoid eating out, and perhaps be cautious about lipstick, toothpaste, and other products which might be swallowed.