As we continue our thoughts on autoimmune disease, today let’s look at the relationship between gluten and the thyroid. In previous posts we have talked about the increasing prevalence of autoimmune disease in the United States, and autoimmune thyroid disease is acknowledged as being one of the most common autoimmune disorders in this country and other western societies. In previous posts we have also discussed the mounting research regarding how the phenomenon of Leaky Gut Syndrome is being associated with autoimmune disorders.
There are several forms of autoimmune thyroid disease, but today we will be talking about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s disease refers to the process where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, by either killing the thyroid gland itself or the enzyme in the thyroid gland which makes thyroid hormone. Many researches site this as being the most common cause of frank hypothyroidism, however patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can have normal thyroid hormone levels as well.
In fact, a study out of Norway cited that 13.9% of females had an autoimmune attack against their thyroid (1)! This means that upwards of 14% of the female population in that country have an autoimmune disorder directed against the thyroid gland. Please keep in mind that we have an immune system to protect us from microbes such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. In addition, our immune system has a significant number of checks and balances built in so that it does not attack our own tissues. To date, researchers continue to search for the exact reason why autoimmune thyroid disease is becoming so prevalent, and to determine why the checks and balances of the immune system are failing for this large group of patients. Could gluten be part of the problem?
An article out of the Journal Thyroid in 2008 stated that upwards of 43% of Celiac Disease patient’s had thyroid antibodies, and the researchers speculated that there may be cross reactivity between antibodies to the thyroid and gluten antibodies (2). However, other research has shown that individuals with autoimmune problems to both gluten and the thyroid, demonstrated a lack of improvement in thyroid function with a gluten free diet by itself (3). This is congruent with our clinical experience, which has shown that individuals with gluten sensitivities and autoimmune thyroid disease may have a host of other issues such as small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO), Leaky Gut Syndrome, cross sensitivities to other foods, alterations in the stress hormone known as cortisol, and viral infections within the thyroid gland itself. None the less, this is fascinating research and is helping the clinical and scientific communities to better help those with thyroid disease.
- Bjoro T1 et al., Prevalence of thyroid disease, thyroid dysfunction and thyroid peroxidase antibodies in a large, unselected population. The Health Study of Nord-Trondelag (HUNT). Eur J Endocrinol. 2000 Nov;143(5):639-47.
- Naiyer AJ et.al., Tissue transglutaminase antibodies in individuals with celiac disease bind to thyroid follicles and extracellular matrix and may contribute to thyroid dysfunction. Thyroid. 2008 Nov;18(11):1171-8. doi: 10.1089/thy.2008.0110.