03 Jan Hashimoto’s: Do I Really Need to Eliminate Gluten and Dairy?
One of the most frequently asked questions I’m asked is “Do I really need to eliminate gluten and dairy from my diet if I have Hashimoto’s?” The short answer? Yes. But, the long answer isn’t as straightforward.
First thing first: What is Hashimoto’s? Hashimoto’s, or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, is an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid gland. When Hashimoto’s is present, the body mistakes the thyroid tissue as non-self and the immune system attacks it. This immune response results in chronic inflammation and unwanted physical and mental symptoms.
Do I Really Need to Eliminate Gluten and Dairy if I Have Hashimoto’s?
While many people feel intimidated and frustrated by the thought of eliminating gluten and dairy from the diet, it is a non-negotiable for my Hashimoto’s patients. However, ultimately, most Hashimoto’s patients quickly find that the health benefits of gluten and dairy elimination far outweigh the benefits of enjoying these comfort foods. That said, here’s why it’s necessary to eliminate gluten and dairy when Hashimoto’s is present:
First of all, gluten and dairy are two of the most inflammatory foods that often trigger leaky gut (intestinal permeability), autoimmune reactivity and chronic inflammation. Because of the high likeliness that people with autoimmune conditions and Hashimoto’s have leaky gut and/or food sensitivities to gluten or dairy…their immune systems have “tagged” the gluten and dairy proteins as “bad guys” and look for any presence of them to launch an immune attack.
Physiologically, the protein sequence of gluten and dairy very closely resembles some of our human body tissue, such as the thyroid and cerebellar (brain tissue). This phenomenon is called molecular mimicry. Even more interesting, there is a strong and clear resemblance between the protein sequence of gluten (gliadin) and the thyroid gland, causing confusion in the body, and likely, leading to physiological imbalances such as emotional dysregulation, balance issues, weight gain, and more.
So imagine, someone has an immune response to gluten and/or dairy and when these foods are consumed, the body overreacts and also attacks the very similar-looking thyroid tissues. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why those with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune response to gluten, are more likely to be diagnosed with other autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s.
Gluten is a general name for a type of protein in wheat and other grains. However, wheat has other proteins and components that make up the whole plant. In addition to molecular mimicry, wheat itself has many more fractions that can be troublesome in those with Hashimoto’s. While “gluten” has become the mainstream term for wheat, it’s important to recognize that gluten is only a small portion of the wheat crop. Meaning, for many the issue isn’t solely with gluten, but with other wheat fractions. Wheat is composed of multiple proteins that can be problematic. While many with Hashimoto’s are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, others might suffer from Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NGCS), which is a sensitivity to wheat proteins (not necessarily gluten or gliadin.)
Some people might be tested for “gluten sensitivity” or “Celiac Disease” and show a negative (or possibly false negative) because they aren’t testing ALL the wheat fractions and components. If the person or the practitioner testing are not well-versed in the finer points of food sensitivity and wheat fractions, they may not understand the full spectrum of reactions that can result from immune-mediated inflammation from wheat.
Another theory states that the frequent use of glyphosate on wheat crops has elicited a strong immune response in our population, today. Regardless of this possibility being the cause for increased sensitivity to wheat and grains, glyphosate is so often bound to the wheat and once the immune system “marks” the wheat proteins as “foe”, there’s no turning back. An antibody response to a food will continue once it’s been elicited. (And don’t forget about the previous section that discussed the similarities in the protein structure of wheat and human body tissue like thyroid and brain.)
Common Symptoms of Food Sensitivities
In case you didn’t know, the majority of the immune system is located in the gut. As we explore the role of gluten and dairy in Hashimoto’s, this connection becomes even more pressing. As we now know, gluten and dairy are strong triggers for those with autoimmunity, and specifically, Hashimoto’s. Gut permeability increases when these foods are consumed, leading to “leaky gut” and impaired immune function. Once again, the common link between autoimmunity and sensitivities to gluten and dairy is shown.
As a result, food sensitivities can present as gut-related symptoms, but also as a range of whole body symptoms, including:
- Mucus in stool
- Smelly gas
- Skin – Rashes, eczema, hives, acne
- Neurological – Poor cognitive function and mood dysregulation, such as anxiety and depression, balance issues, vertigo, brain fog
- Nerve – Tingling and muscle spasms
- Mucous Membranes – Wheezing, coughing, post-nasal drip, allergies, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, etc.
An immune-mediated reaction causes these symptoms. As a result, symptoms can arise immediately or develop over the course of three months. Luckily, studies show that the elimination of gluten and dairy from the diet improves most symptoms in those with Hashimoto’s.
A Functional Approach to Hashimoto’s Healing
Given the close connection between food and autoimmunity, a functional approach to healing can be extremely beneficial.
The first step is to work with a functional medicine professional who can utilize advanced functional medicine testing. These tests can successfully identify physiological imbalances such as: leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, and digestive insufficiency or malabsorption. Testing can also identify immune reactions to foods, such as allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances.
Once imbalances are identified, it’s important to implement foundational lifestyle and diet changes. To start, an elimination diet is crucial to lower inflammation levels. Eliminate gluten and dairy (and other triggering foods) from the diet for 3-6 months, minimally. Throughout elimination, keep close track symptoms, regressions, and improvements.
Taking broad-spectrum digestive enzymes, specifically including the DPP-IV enzyme helps to break down the gluten and dairy protein sequence. In theory, these enzymes will break down the reactive protein sequence into it’s amino acid components and the body won’t recognize the protein sequences as “triggers,” which naturally mitigates an immune response. This is especially helpful when gluten and/or dairy was accidentally consumed directly or through cross-contamination.
At the end of the day, the main goal is to understand which foods nourish our bodies well (and those that don’t). When nourishment comes from a place of choice and willingness, not obsession and restriction, health benefits are vast. More so, the microbiome begins to shift and the body adapts when these changes are continuously made over time. Eventually, the brain and palate start to shift and the body no longer craves or misses the foods it once did.
Note: While making these dietary changes can be extremely beneficial health-wise, feelings of overwhelm and stress are counterproductive. It’s important to not let these sudden changes or temporary setbacks burden you. To prevent these negative (and counterproductive) feelings, remember your body is dynamic and is doing the best it can with the resources it has. So, take it step-by-step and day-by-day. These are not overnight changes. Focus on one change at a time until it becomes an easy habit. Then, move forward with the next change. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, DEFINITELY ask for support and work with an experienced practitioner.