Eggs are very nutrient dense. As a result, if someone likes to eat eggs and can eat eggs without a problem then it makes sense for them to eat eggs. However, eggs are not part of an autoimmune paleo diet, which would suggest that those people with autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis should avoid eating eggs. But why is this the case, and does this mean that people with these conditions need to avoid eggs while trying to restore their health back to normal?
Before answering this question, let’s look at the reasons why eating eggs might cause problems in some people with an autoimmune thyroid condition, as well as those people with other autoimmune conditions. First of all, regardless of whether someone has an autoimmune condition or not, eggs are a common allergen. However, most egg allergies are in infants and young children (1) (2), although overall most infants and children don’t have egg allergies. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a true egg allergy and an egg sensitivity. An egg allergy is usually IgE-mediated, but it’s usually not as serious as other IgE-mediated allergies such as peanuts.
Whereas IgE-mediated allergies are immediate, IgG egg sensitivities involve a delayed reaction. What this means is that if someone has an IgE-mediated egg allergy and eats an egg, they will experience a reaction almost immediately. On the other hand, someone with an IgG-mediated egg sensitivity can take a few hours or even a few days before having a negative reaction. And just because someone experiences a “negative reaction” doesn’t mean they will present with overt symptoms.
Why Eating Egg Yolks Might Be Better Than Eating Egg Whites
In addition to someone having a possible egg allergy or egg sensitivity, there are compounds in egg whites which can have a negative effect on gut health, specifically a protease called lysozyme. Sarah Ballantyne, author of the excellent book “The Paleo Approach”, has an article on eggs which discusses the problems with lysozyme. Lysozyme is a proteolytic enzyme with 129 amino acid residues, and it’s also produced in mucosal secretions such as saliva and tears (3). In her article, Sarah explains how “lysozyme has the ability to form strong complexes with other proteins”, and how it is “resistant to digestion by our digestive enzymes”. She also explains how when lysozyme passes through the intestinal barrier, other proteins can bind to it and pass through into the blood stream, where they shouldn’t be, and therefore can trigger an immune system response. So essentially the problem isn’t with lysozyme itself, but the protein complexes it forms, which in turn pass through the cells of the small intestine. Another disadvantage of egg whites is that it has a glycoprotein called avidin, which binds to biotin and can prevent its absorption (4) (5). However, this is only an issue when eating raw egg whites.
Although eating egg whites can be problematic due to the reasons just given, some people with autoimmune conditions such Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis are able to eat egg yolks without a problem. The reason is because while some people still might have a sensitivity to egg yolks, the yolks don’t have compounds which will have a negative effect on gut health. As a result, if someone doesn’t have an egg allergy or sensitivity then they might be fine eating egg yolks, although they might not do well eating egg whites. I usually recommend for my patients with autoimmune thyroid conditions to completely avoid eggs while trying to restore their health, but if someone is struggling with the diet after one or two months I’m usually fine with them reintroducing eggs. As long as their health continues to improve then of course I have no problem with them continuing to eat eggs. And based on the information I presented in this post it might be best to start with egg yolks, although I’ve had patients eat the egg whites as well and still do fine.
Can One Test For An Egg Allergy or Sensitivity?
Some people reading this might wonder if they can simply do a test to see if they have an egg allergy or sensitivity. Without question this is possible, and if someone tests positive for an egg allergy or sensitivity then it probably is a good idea for them to avoid eggs. However, just keep in mind that even if someone tests negative for a food allergy or sensitivity, besides the fact that false negatives are always possible, one also needs to keep in mind that the compounds from egg whites can still have a negative effect on their gut health.
To try to make this easier to understand I’m going to briefly talk about almonds, which is another whole food that is excluded from an autoimmune paleo diet. Almonds (along with other nuts) can cause problems in those with an autoimmune condition because they have compounds (lectins and phytic acid) which can have a negative effect on gut health. As a result, it doesn’t matter if someone with Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis has an allergy or sensitivity to almonds, as if they are trying to follow a strict autoimmune paleo diet then they should avoid eating almonds, along with other nuts and seeds. Yes, I realize that soaking and sprouting nuts and seeds will help to reduce the negative impact these foods will have on the gut, but my point is that with both eggs and almonds, while it is possible to do IgE and IgG food allergy/sensitivity testing, a negative result doesn’t mean that the person with an autoimmune thyroid condition can safely eat these foods.
What’s The Final Verdict On Eggs and Thyroid Autoimmunity?
Just in case you’re still confused over whether or not you should eat eggs, I’ll give a brief summary of what I have stated so far. Even though eggs are nutrient dense, they are a common allergen, and the egg whites have compounds which can have a negative effect on gut health by increasing intestinal permeability. Because of this, eggs are not part of an autoimmune paleo diet. As I’ve discussed in past articles and blog posts, some researchers speculate that everyone with an autoimmune condition has a leaky gut, and while this is controversial, if someone with Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is looking to restore their health then it might be best to avoid eggs until their health improves due to the reasons I mentioned earlier.
However, I also spoke about how some people with autoimmune thyroid conditions might be fine eating egg yolks while avoiding egg whites. And the reason for this is because while egg whites have compounds which can have a negative effect on gut health, this isn’t the case with egg yolks. As a result, if someone is following an autoimmune paleo diet and decides to reintroduce eggs, it might be best to start by reintroducing egg yolks. As I briefly mentioned earlier, I have had patients who reintroduced the entire egg (both egg yolk and egg white) into their diet and their health still improved, which proves that everyone is different, and also demonstrates that there isn’t a specific diet that is a perfect fit for everyone.
So hopefully you have a better understanding as to why eggs aren’t part of an autoimmune paleo diet. Although eggs are a healthy food, if someone has an egg allergy then this will result in inflammation, which in turn will have a negative effect on their progress. But even if someone doesn’t have an egg allergy or sensitivity, compounds in egg whites can affect the health of the gut. And since a leaky gut is a common finding in autoimmune conditions, and might be a factor in every autoimmune condition (even though I haven’t found this to be the case), those with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis who choose to reintroduce eggs might want to start with egg yolks, and be cautious about eating egg whites.