Did you know that people with gluten intolerance have a higher incidence of thyroid problems? Several studies have shown this connection, with scientists even suggesting that all patients with autoimmune thyroid disease should be screened for gluten intolerance and vice versa.
In this article I will explain the relationship between autoimmune thyroid diseases and gluten intolerance. But first let’s define some terms…
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye products. The problem with gluten is that contains gliadina protein that the body does not recognize and considers foreign, therefore, it activates the body’s immune system.
In individuals with gluten intolerance or Celiac Diseasethe body’s unfamiliarity with this protein becomes much more apparent as it triggers a heightened immune response.
A immune response It is our body’s way of recognizing and defending itself against everything that is foreign or harmful to the body.
Most people think that gluten intolerance is synonymous with celiac disease, and this is not always the case. There is what is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)(1), which is estimated to be 10 times more frequent.
Today there are more individuals with sensitivity to gluten and the immune response it causes is not only in celiac patients.
When we talk about Celiac Disease we refer to an inflammatory condition of the small intestine, with autoimmune characteristics that are activated and maintained by exposure to dietary gluten.
To be diagnosed with celiac disease, the doctor must perform an intestinal biopsy demonstrating the destruction of the intestinal villi, in addition to serology of specific antibodies for the disorder, which have become more relevant in recent years.
Not all patients with this disease have obvious gastrointestinal symptoms, therefore many go undiagnosed.
But… what do celiac disease and some thyroid diseases have in common? That both are usually due to autoimmune disorders.
In celiac disease, intolerance to gluten, causes your white blood cells to attack the mucosa of the small intestine destroying its villi and in an autoimmune thyroid problem something similar happens, the white blood cells do not recognize the thyroid gland and attack it.
Autoimmune thyroid disorders can cause the thyroid gland to be underactive (hypothyroidism) as in Hashimoto’s diseaseor the opposite we can have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) as in the grave’s disease.
What is the connection between gluten intolerance and the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the lower part of the neck. It is responsible for the proper functioning of a large part of our body, acts on the metabolism and also regulates other hormones, ensuring that each organ works properly.
The thyroid has a enzyme called transglutaminasenecessary throughout the human body, although it can be found in other organs, it is the thyroid that has a higher concentration of it.
Some studies have determined that for our body the gliadin that contains gluten and the transglutaminase enzyme are similar, this is known as molecular mimicry and this is where the problem arises, because when the immune system attacks gliadin, the antibodies also attack the thyroidas the immune response progresses and is sustained, the thyroid is damaged, even up to 6 months after consuming gluten.
Celiacs with a higher risk of suffering from thyroid
Celiac patients have a higher risk of having autoimmune thyroid disorders, as evidenced by the following study, where newly diagnosed celiac patients were followed before and after a gluten-free diet for one year, observing a decrease in the size of the thyroid, indicating progressive destruction of the gland even in patients on a gluten-free diet.
In other words, the thyroid gland is under attack for much longer each time you eat foods that contain gluten.
Finally, there are several ways to maintain a healthy thyroid. These include:
- Minimize stress.
- Avoid exposure to toxins in the environment as much as possible.
- Eat foods that are nutritious for your thyroid and eliminate those that have unhealthy effects from your diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Have good night rest.
The proper balance of thyroid hormones within the body contributes to better health.
- Buedo, P. and Buffone, I. (2014). Diagnostic criteria for celiac disease: an updated review. [online] Clinical Journal of Family Medicine. Available at: http://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1699-695X2014000300005 [Accessed 13 Oct. 2018].