Can a Gluten Free Diet help Hypothyroidism?
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are frustrated with the way your doctor has handled treating your thyroid condition. Hypothyroidism is one of the most common medical conditions diagnosed in the U.S. Thyroid medications account for the 4th most commonly prescribed drug. It costs patients more than 4 billion annually to treat, while the disease effects an estimated 13 million plus people. All of this medication has not been a viable solution. Why you ask? Giving thyroid medication only serves to artificially elevate your thyroid hormone levels. The bigger question to ask is “Why is your thyroid gland not working properly?” For many people the answer to this question relates to gluten, but before answering the question – can a gluten free diet help hypothyroidism, let’s discuss some fundamentals first.
Healing thyroid disease naturally requires that you understand some basic fundamentals. There are three primary types of thyroid dysfunction:
- Autoimmune disease (AKA – Hashimoto’s)
- Nutritional Deficiency problems that contribute to an inability to produce, regulate, convert, or activate thyroid hormone.
- Chemical exposures that can damage the thyroid gland and function
The Thyroid Problem
Some of the most common symptoms of inadequate thyroid hormone include: fatigue, weight gain, bloating, dry hair and skin, joint pain, elevated cholesterol, sleep disruption, infertility, depression, and cold hands and feet. Traditional diagnosis is made based on a set of lab tests typically ordered by a general doctor, internist, or endocrinologist. This work up includes:
- TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)
One of the many problems with this approach is that it is not comprehensive. If your TSH comes back high or if your T4 and T3 come back low, the doctor tends to diagnose you with hypothyroid disease. Unfortunately, this approach often times leads to treatment with medications without further investigation. Keep in mind one fundamental point – Having a low thyroid diagnosis and taking medicine does not fix the problem. Ultimately, the goal of the doctor and patient is to identify the reason the thyroid levels are abnormal. And this, my friends, requires a fundamental knowledge of nutrition and biochemistry.
Lets take a deeper look at some of the common things that can contribute to low thyroid hormone production so that you can heal your thyroid disease naturally:
- Nutritional Deficiencies (vitamins, minerals, etc.)
- Gluten induced autoimmune response
- Excessive exposure to the halide elements – chlorine, bromine, and fluoride
- Eating massive quantities of goitrogenic foods (i.e. soy, peanut, cassava)
Adequate Nutrition is Crucial for a Healthy Thyroid
The diagram below illustrates some very important nutrient-thyroid relationships. Vitamins and minerals help drive the chemistry behind the production of the different thyroid hormones. They also help these hormones communicate with the DNA and other organs to improve and regulate metabolism.
The following is a list of nutrients that your doctor should measure when evaluating your thyroid:
- Protein – most Americans eat too many carbohydrates and not enough protein. Protein is absolutely necessary to form the backbone of thyroid hormone (particularly the amino acid in protein called tyrosine). Protein is also responsible for carrying thyroid hormone through the blood stream to your tissues.
- Magnesium – this minerals help your body make TSH (the hormone made in your brain that tells your thyroid gland to make T4).
- Zinc – like magnesium, this mineral also helps your body make TSH
- Selenium – this mineral is responsible for converting T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) into T3 (active thyroid hormone). This nutrient also plays a role in how the body can eliminate toxins that damage the thyroid gland.
- Iodine – this mineral helps the body build T4 (the hormone that doctors commonly measure that floats through the bloodstream). The “4” in T4 represents how many molecules of iodine are present.
- Manganese – is crucial for thyroid hormone production and also works as an antioxidant to protect the gland from free radical damage.
- Vitamin C – is extremely important for helping deliver iodine into T4
- Vitamin B2 – is extremely important for helping deliver iodine into T4
- Vitamin B3 – is extremely important for helping deliver iodine into T4
- Vitamin D – allows T3 to communicate to your DNA to regulate metabolism
- Vitamin A – works in conjunction with vitamin D to help T3 to communicate to your DNA to regulate metabolism
- Vitamin B12 – one of the most common B vitamin deficiencies, B12 deficiency can mimic low thyroid.
Gluten and Your Thyroid
Gluten sensitivity contributes to hypothyroidism in a number of different ways. Gluten induced gastrointestinal damage is one of the main mechanisms of action. It is this mechanism that leads to a domino like effect. The first step in this process is the creating of intestinal hyper permeability (AKA – Leaky Gut). When the intestinal barrier is compromised, a cascade of inflammation, immune over stimulation, and molecular mimicry can ensue. Over time these processes can cause an autoimmune thyroid reaction often times referred to as Hashimoto’s disease.
Gluten induced gastrointestinal damage can contribute to poor digestion and absorption of thyroid critical nutrients. Gluten can also alter normal gut bacteria. These bacteria play a crucial role in thyroid hormone conversion.
Thyroid Problems Linked to Chemical Halide Exposure
The halides chlorine, bromine, and fluoride all compete with iodine for uptake into your thyroid. Over exposure to these toxic elements is linked to an increased risk for hypothyroidism, but also to thyroid cancers. Avoidance of excessive exposure to halides is recommended to maximize thyroid function. Below are common sources of exposure.
Chlorine is typically found in: plastics, pesticides, paper products, unfiltered drinking water, bath water, swimming pools, processed salt products, and Splenda (sucralose). Water filters on your drinking water and bathing water are recommended.
Bromine/Bromide is typically found in: brominated flour products, citrus flavored soft drinks, chemical additive used in municipal water purification, pesticides, dyes, leaded fuel additive, brominated flame retardants: Carpet, upholstery, electronics, mattresses; bromocriptine (hyperprolactinemia), and OTC antitussives (cough medicines).
Fluorine/Flouride is typically found in: Toothpaste; fluoridated drinking water; infant formula; processed cereals; non-organic grape juices; wine; beer; soda; tea (higher in decaf); glass etching; Freon/refrigerants; cockroach insecticide fluoridated salt; non-stick coatings, Medications: Anesthetics: (Enflurane, Isoflurane & Sevoflurane); fluconazole; fluoroquinolone antibiotics, and linezolid antibiotics, Prozac/fluoxetine, efavirenz, fluorouracil, flurbiprofen, fenfluramine, cerivastatin, paxil, fluvoxamine, astemizole (allergy), cisapride, fluvastatin, fluocinonide & fluocinolone (topical corticosteroids); fluticasone & flunisolide; fluocinolone acetonide (intravitreal implant); fludarabine (antiviral); fludrocortisone; antimalarial drugs.
Foods That Contribute to Goiter (Thyroid Enlargement)
There are a number of foods that can impact thyroid hormone production. These are typically referred to as goitrogenic foods, because when eaten in large quantities, they can cause a goiter to form. The following is a list of foods that have these properties. Keep in mind that just because a food is goitrogenic doesn’t mean you cannot eat it. Cooking them reduces this effect by as much as 70-80%.
- Soy (cooking does not reduce the goitrogenic effects of soy)
- Brussels Sprouts
The Labs You Should Have Your Doctor Analyze to Thoroughly Evaluate Your Gland
Most doctors perform limited lab assessment to diagnose thyroid disease. This typically only involves TSH and T4 testing. However; if you want a comprehensive evaluation done, take this list of labs to your doctor and ask for them.
- TSH, T3 and T4, plus free T3 and T4
- Reverse T3
- Iodine loading test (urine test)
- Lymphocyte Proliferation (vitamin and mineral deficiency blood test)
- Thyroid antibody testing – includes TPO and anti-thyroglobulin antibody testing
- Genetic testing for gluten sensitivity
- Food allergy testing
- Chemical immune response testing (especially to pesticides)
- Heavy metal testing (especially mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium)
- Mold and yeast overgrowth testing
- Mycotoxin testing – mycotoxins are chemicals produced by molds. This testing is not the same as measuring for mold allergies.
- Also consider measuring gut bacteria as a deficiency contributes to nutritional deficiency and immune dysfunction.
Healing Thyroid Disease Naturally
To overcome hypothyroid disease naturally, you have a lot to consider. It is highly recommended that you develop a relationship with a functional medicine doctor who is experienced and can help guide you.
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If you have had a recovery from thyroid problems by addressing your diet and nutrition, leave a comment below. Your story might help change a life! Knowledge is power.
Always looking out for you,
Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior
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