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How Gluten Affects Your Thyroid Health by Dr. DeeAnn Saber

An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Up to 60 percent of these people are unaware of their condition. One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. Levothyroxine, a synthetic form of thyroid hormone, is the 4th highest selling drug in the U.S. 13 of the top 50 selling drugs are either directly or indirectly related to hypothyroidism. The number of people suffering from thyroid disorders continues to rise each year.

Hypothyroidism is one of the most common thyroid disorders. One recent analysis suggested up to 10% of women over 60 have clinical or subclinical hypothyroidism. It is characterized by mental slowing, depression, dementia, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, cold intolerance, hoarse voice, irregular menstruation, infertility, muscle stiffness and pain, and a wide range of other not-so-fun symptoms.

In fact, every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone. These hormones are responsible for the most basic aspects of body function, impacting all major systems of the body. Thyroid hormone directly acts on the brain, the G.I. tract, the cardiovascular system, bone metabolism, red blood cell metabolism, gall bladder and liver function, steroid hormone production, glucose metabolism, lipid and cholesterol metabolism, protein metabolism and body temperature regulation. For starters, you can think of the thyroid as the central gear in a sophisticated engine. If that gear breaks, the entire engine goes down with it.

One of the biggest challenges facing those with hypothyroidism is that the standard of care for thyroid disorders in conventional medicine is hopelessly inadequate.

Today I am going to address only one component of thyroid health as it relates to gluten and gastro-intestinal function. In my practice I always tell my patients, the gut is like the foundation of your house, if it’s not working well than your immune system has trouble, you don’t absorb nutrients and many other body systems don’t get the support they need to function well. So let’s take a look at gluten.

From Wikipedia; Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Gluten is used in cosmetics, hair products, and other dermatological preparations.[1]

Gluten is the composite of a gliadin and a glutenin, which is conjoined with starch in the endosperm of various grass-related grains. This includes wheat, spelt, barley, and rye.

Now not everyone who has a thyroid issue has auto-antibodies although many doctors do not check for these in routine labs. If you did have these checked with blood work you would know that you have Hashimotos Thyroiditis. Now this is considered an auto-immune disorder of the body attacking itself and it needs to be addressed properly.

How does one do that? The first thing I have folks do is get a full set of blood-work to look at Free and Total T3 and T4, Reverse T3, as well as Selenium and Iodine to get a full picture of thyroid health. Also I check for TPO or Thyroid peroxidase auto-antibodies as well as TGA or Thyroglobulin autoantibodies. In addition Anti-sodium/Iodide (Anti–Na+/I?) symporter antibodies are a more recent discovery and their clinical relevance is still unknown.

Next if they have auto-antibodies I have them get off gluten, because it feeds the fire of the body attacking itself. So what does gluten do in the gastrointestinal tract? Well if one has Celiac disease it wears off the villi in the small intestines thereby decreasing the areas of absorption for nutrients. It also causes inflammation by irritating the gut cells enough that they swell up and that opens up the cells junctions so now the wrong kind of food particles get out in the blood stream. This sets one up for what is called “Leaky Gut Syndrome”.

You can also have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance which is not a full blown allergy but I would think is on the way to that situation. Because if one eats non-organic wheat products, and Americans eat a lot of wheat products daily, than you are exposing yourself to pesticides and Round-Up which has an adverse effect on gut function. It used to be that doctors thought eating anything did not matter to one’s health – of course this has been reputed many times over now for at least 70 years.

What pesticides do to the gut exactly, we now understand because of the Human Food Project. http://humanfoodproject.com/americangut/ These pesticides wreck our healthy gut bacteria’s processing functions. I could go more into the science but if you check out the link included it has more detailed information.

Now these good bacteria can’t work properly to help the body digest food. These pesticides are sprayed on many foods and are stuck into many food seeds which is what Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) foods are about. This includes ~ 90% of America’s corn and soy as well as canola, and cottonseed. This is a good case of why eating organic produce as well as grass fed, free ranging animal meats is so important.

Listed, are many other things one can do to support thyroid health and I can speak from personal experience that doing the following can lower ones auto-antibodies and help anyone feel better.

1) Eat a proper diet.

a. Eat as much organic produce as possible. If cost is a factor look at the Environmental Working Group‘s (EWG) list of the “Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen” http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php which highlights which foods are most pesticide laden so you can avoid these. This is particularly important if you have children under the age of 10.

b. Eat only organic meats, fish, eggs and dairy. *Personally I can’t eat dairy and many folks feel better getting off of it altogether – consider this, we aren’t baby cows.

c. Stop eating junk food, highly processed foods, sugar and sodas. At the very least. eliminate anything containing High Fructose Corn Syrup under any name it goes by. All chemically created sugars are bad news.

2) Drink plenty of clean filtered water – daily goal of ½ your body weight in ounces.
3) Get plenty of rest – make a habit of going to bed and getting up about the same time daily. Have your bedroom be an electronics free sanctuary.
4) Do something that feels meaningful to you and that makes you happy.
5) Surround yourself with people that love and support you for who you truly are.
6) Move everyday – find some form of movement that you enjoy and will keep doing whether its walking, yoga, dance, Tai-Chi, running or swimming. Our bodies do better anytime we move!
7) Stress Management – find tools to help you cope with life’s daily challenges. *I get renewed by nature, by bodywork, by talking with someone who knows how to listen.

There may be more that each individual may need to do and this is not a “One Size Fits All” so it is best to get evaluated by someone who knows thoroughly about thyroid disorders.

I also am gluten free and have been for many years, as well as dairy free. I also do not eat any genetically modified foods. And I diagnosed myself with hypothyroidism while I was in medical school. After treating it with herbs for a few months I also had my anti-bodies tested and found they were high. This red flag caused me to change my diet and increase my exercising even while studying medicine. I also take a daily thyroid medication but many folks do not.

There are so many resources out now regarding Thyroid health and Gluten. I am familiar with and have used information from;

1) “How I Reversed My Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Hypothyroidism” by Robert Dirgo, 2001.
2) “Overcoming Thyroid Disorders” by David Brownstein, 2002.
3) “Why do I still have thyroid Symptoms? When my Lab tests are Normal” by Datis Kharrazian, 2010.
4) Gluten Intolerance Group or GIG, a national organization about living gluten free.
5) “Thyroid Disorders” by Chris Kesser.

By Dr. DeeAnn Saber, Naturopathic Physician

Transformational Medicine, PLLC @ WellnessFirst!

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Tucson, AZ 85719
Office: 520-209-1755
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