Autoimmune hypothyroidism – also called chronic thyroiditis or Hashimoto's disease – affects between 0.1 and 5 percent of all adults in the West. Celiac disease – an autoimmune sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains – is now thought to affect about 1 percent of the Western population. Researchers have recently discovered an important link between gluten intolerance and autoimmune hypothyroidism revealing that a gluten-free diet can greatly benefit many people suffering from chronic thyroiditis.
Gluten Intolerance and the Thyroid
Gluten intolerance is any immune-mediated response to ingesting the gluten protein. This includes celiac disease – an autoimmune reaction – gluten allergy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. According to thyroid specialist Dr. Datis Kharrazian, gluten overstimulates the immune system in all three cases, although the most serious immune dysfunction occurs in individuals with celiac disease. In one study published in the “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism,” adults suffering from asymptomatic celiac disease as well as Hashimoto's disease had an increased need for T4 thyroid hormone medication, which was reduced when gluten was withdrawn from the diet.
Malabsorption of Nutrients
Another typical symptom associated with a gluten intolerance is poor assimilation of nutrients. Malnutrition caused by poor assimilation is one reason why autoimmune hypothyroidism can be exacerbated by eating gluten. A deficiency in iodine, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A and D and/or protein can interfere with proper thyroid function. Your doctor can perform tests to determine whether malnutrition could be a factor.
Eliminating gluten from the diet can reduce the need for synthetic thyroid T4 medications for many people suffering from autoimmune thyroiditis. In some cases, removing gluten from the diet can actually reverse thyroid disease, as demonstrated in a Italian study that evaluated a one-year gluten withdrawal in patients with sub-clinical hypothyroidism and celiac disease. For those taking medications, it is important to do a gluten withdrawal under the supervision of a doctor as it can decrease the necessary dose.
Healthcare professionals are beginning to advocate testing for celiac disease and other forms of gluten intolerance in those who suffer from autoimmune hypothyroidism. If you do suffer from both a gluten intolerance and chronic thyroiditis, it is extremely important to adhere to a gluten-free diet. The mortality among celiac disease patients with poor compliance to a gluten-free diet is higher than their compliant counterparts. This may be due in part to the whole range of immune-mediated disorders which are exacerbated by a gluten intolerance, including hypothyroidism and certain forms of cancer.