Gluten And Hashimoto’s Disease
August 26, 2013

Gluten And Hashimoto’s Disease

So, as I have written about before, I am now gluten-free. There are several reasons for this, but the most important is that I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease, which causes the immune system to release antibodies against the thyroid, thereby attacking the thyroid. As the Mayo Clinic explains, this leads to an underactive thyroid and can eventually lead to greater issues. In fact, some with Hashimoto’s have had their immune systems attack more organs.

The symptoms of Hashimoto vary. Most sources agree that they include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Pale, puffy face
  • Feeling cold
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Constipation
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Heavy menstrual flow or irregular periods
  • Depression
  • A slowed heart rate
  • Problems getting pregnant

So, what exactly causes Hashimoto’s? Well, that is a good question. Doctors simply do not know just yet. The Mayo Clinic says that “Some scientists think a virus or bacterium might trigger the response, while others believe a genetic flaw may be involved.” They go on to note that a combination of factors are likely culprits. supports this as well.

“Many factors are thought to play a role in getting Hashimoto’s disease. These include:

  • Genes. Some people are prone to Hashimoto’s disease because of their genes. Researchers are working to find the gene or genes involved.
  • Gender. Sex hormones also might play a role. This may help to explain why Hashimoto’s disease affects more women than men.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnancy affects the thyroid. Some women have thyroid problems after having a baby, which usually go away. But about 20 percent of these women develop Hashimoto’s disease in later years. This suggests that pregnancy might trigger thyroid disease in some women.
  • Too much iodine and some drugs may trigger the onset of thyroid disease in people prone to getting it.
  • Radiation exposure has been shown to bring on autoimmune thyroid disease. This includes radiation from the atomic bomb in Japan, the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and radiation treatment of Hodgkin’s disease (a type of blood cancer).”

As you can see, it is not a simple equation. And, just for re-emphasis, doctors and scientists do not know for sure. The research is moving toward connecting gluten to Hashimoto’s, though.

Dr. Datis Kharrazian is an expert on thyroid health, particularly in regards to Hashimoto’s disease. In his book, “Why do I still Have Thyroid Symptoms?” he lays out the connection between Hashimoto’s, the thyroid, and gluten. To summarize his explanation, the thyroid protein and the gluten protein look remarkably similar—almost identical—thus the immune system sees too much of both and mistakes them for only thyroid protein. As the immune system is supposed to do, it then releases the antibodies to combat any potentially damaging foreign bodies and protect against disease as Livescience shows. Now, the immune system is supposed to be able to determine the differences between the different proteins in our body; however, for those with Hashimoto’s, the immune system cannot or does not see gluten and thyroid proteins as different.

So, Dr. Kharrazian and a plethora of other doctors and scientists suggest and prescribe that those who have Hashimoto’s eat a gluten-free diet. I have some other health concerns that make this even more important as gluten could seriously lead my body to attack itself. But this blog is about Hashimoto’s and gluten-free.

Who does this affect most? Well, more women than men suffer from this disease, and claims many who have Hashimoto’s often have other thyroid or autoimmune diseases including:

  • Vitiligo (vit-ihl-EYE-goh) — a disease that destroys the cells that give your skin its color
  • Rheumatoid arthritis  — a disease that affects the lining of the joints throughout the body
  • Addison’s disease — a disease that affects the adrenal glands, which make hormones that help your body respond to stress and regulate your blood pressure and water and salt balance
  • Type 1 diabetes — a disease that causes blood sugar levels to be too high
  • Graves’ disease — a disease that causes the thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone
  • Pernicious (pur-NISH-uhss) anemia — a disease that keeps your body from absorbing vitamin B12 and making enough healthy red blood cells
  • Lupus — a disease that can damage many parts of the body, such as the joints, skin, blood vessels, and other organs.

In my case, I have pernicious anemia. This is a condition whereby my stomach does not absorb vitamin B12 in foods or supplements. The only way that I can get B12 is via a B12 shot at least once a week (Yes, I give this to myself.).

For me, the question of gluten and Hashimoto’s is not precisely answered and confirmed, but I feel better. I have not suffered from the symptoms of Hashimoto’s since I stopped eating gluten. Moreover, my other issues have been lessened as well. As a researcher and questioner, I will continue to look into this connection, but for now I will continue to be gluten-free. Just because it has not been scientifically proven exactly does not mean that I should ignore how I feel. Furthermore, it has not been scientifically disproven.

It is important that we understand our health. I did not run out and just jump into a gluten-free lifestyle without first reading up on Hashimoto’s. I also spoke to another doctor for a second opinion, asked questions of my own primary care physician, and read everything I could. I mean, it is a pain to eat gluten-free not to mention the fact that I am also a vegetarian. I will continue to research and question, but I also know that for me, for right now at least, this is the best choice. Talk to your doctors. Read up on your health. Be an informed patient.

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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