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Dealing With Gluten Sensitivity In People With Thyroid Conditions

Published December 11 2011

Published November 30 2014

While there are many different allergies and food sensitivities, gluten sensitivity seems to becoming more and more widespread. When I consult with someone who has hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, or an autoimmune thyroid condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and they decide to follow a natural treatment protocol, I recommend for them to stop consuming all gluten-based foods for at least a period of 30 days, and ideally longer than this. Some healthcare professionals recommend more extreme measures, as some will recommend for all of their patients to completely avoid gluten for the rest of their life.

While testing can sometimes determine whether someone has a gluten sensitivity problem, this isn’t always reliable. This is especially true when someone has a compromised immune system, which of course is the case with autoimmune thyroid conditions. If the body isn’t giving off the appropriate immune response, then there is a chance the test will show a person as being negative for a gluten sensitivity issue, and this might not be the case. I personally don’t test every patient to see if they are sensitive to gluten, or whether or not they have other food intolerances. This doesn’t mean that such testing isn’t useful, but it is expensive, not completely reliable, and regardless of the outcome of these tests I still have the person follow a strict diet when starting a natural treatment protocol.

One also can’t rely on symptoms alone to determine whether someone has a gluten sensitivity problem. While some people can immediately tell that they are sensitive upon eating a gluten-based food, others don’t have any overt symptoms. With that being said, many people who are sensitive to gluten and avoid gluten for an extended period of time, and then reintroduce gluten back into their diet will notice a difference from a symptomatic perspective. So this is yet another reason why I think a gluten free trial is a good idea.

Should Everyone Avoid Gluten On A Permanent Basis?

I’ve heard most of the “arguments” stating that everyone should avoid gluten. This is especially common with regards to autoimmune thyroid disorders, such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Some sources suggest that the main factor behind the autoimmune response is a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. I’ve even consulted with patients who had their thyroid antibody levels decrease significantly just by changing their diet and avoiding gluten-based products.

While gluten is no doubt a factor in many people with autoimmune thyroid conditions, it isn’t the direct cause of the condition in everyone with these conditions. And quite frankly, even though I recommend for people to avoid gluten, there are some people who don’t completely avoid gluten and yet do fine when following a natural treatment protocol, which is further evidence that a gluten sensitivity isn’t the primary trigger in everyone with an autoimmune condition. Without question there are some people who do need to avoid eating gluten on a permanent basis, such as those people with Celiac disease. And I do agree that most people who can tolerate gluten still need to minimize the amount of gluten-based foods they eat, as even if someone can eat gluten without a problem, this doesn’t mean that they should consume foods with gluten on a regular basis.

Is It Possible To Cure A Gluten Sensitivity Problem?

For someone who has a gluten sensitivity problem, is it at all possible to cure this condition? My experience is that some people who are gluten sensitive can overcome this problem. This is especially true when a leaky gut has lead to a gluten sensitivity issue, as healing the gut might allow the person to reintroduce gluten in the future. However, since gluten can also cause a leaky gut there admittedly is a risk when someone restores the health of their gut and then tries to reintroduce gluten back into their diet. While it is possible that all will be fine and they will be able to eat foods with gluten on an occasional basis, if gluten was a trigger then reintroducing it can cause someone to relapse.

Since gluten isn’t a trigger in everyone who has a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, not everyone is willing to give up eating foods with gluten. Even though this might be true, I still encourage my patients to avoid gluten while trying to restore their health. At the very least I would recommend avoiding all foods with gluten for a period of 30 days. And then after this time if someone feels the need to reintroduce gluten into their diet they can try doing so and see if they have any type of negative reaction. Just remember what I said earlier about not wanting to rely on symptoms, as there is a chance you can have a negative reaction after reintroducing gluten yet not experience a worsening of symptoms.

Can Taking Digestive Enzymes Help With Gluten Sensitivity?

There is evidence that taking certain enzymes can help people with a gluten sensitivity to tolerate gluten. For example, some people with a gluten sensitivity who have taken papain before eating gluten-based foods have reported that they can tolerate gluten. Other people report no difference at all. Dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) also seems to help break down gluten, as well as casein. In fact, there are certain formulas sold which contain these enzyme complexes, and they can potentially minimize the reaction someone has from eating gluten-based foods. Although these might help some people to better tolerate gluten, they won’t completely neutralize the negative effects from gluten consumption in someone who has a gluten sensitivity.

Celiac Disease vs. Non-Autoimmune Gluten Sensitivity

It’s also important to understand the difference between Celiac disease and a non-autoimmune gluten sensitivity issue. I’m not going to discuss this in great detail here, as I spoke about this in an article entitled “Celiac Disease and Thyroid Health [1]“. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition involving gluten, and people with these condition will need to avoid gluten on a permanent basis. On the other hand, many people don’t have Celiac disease but still have a sensitivity to gluten. As I mentioned earlier, it may be possible for people with a non-autoimmune gluten sensitivity to eventually reintroduce gluten. However, not everyone will be able to do this, and even if someone is able to tolerate gluten, it still shouldn’t be a part of one’s regular diet.

In summary, many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions are sensitive to gluten, and such a sensitivity can affect their recovery when following a natural thyroid treatment protocol. This is why I recommend that people who begin a natural treatment protocol avoid gluten-based foods for at least a period of 30 days, and preferably longer than this. However, I don’t agree with those healthcare professionals who recommend that everyone should permanently avoid gluten, and this includes those people with an autoimmune thyroid disorder. With that being said, while some people can safely reintroduce gluten after restoring their health, if gluten was a trigger then there is also the possibility that eating foods in gluten can cause a relapse in your condition.