The Thyroid Gluten Connection

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition where the body creates antibodies to the thyroid gland, is the most common cause of low thyroid function in the U.S. today. This is not surprising since the U.S. also has the highest rate of autoimmune conditions worldwide but why does the body attack itself? And why the thyroid gland in particular?

The most common answer to that questions is, “we don’t know”. It is true that we can not point to one reason why it happens but the recent study of the human microbiome, as well as decades of Naturopathic clinical experience, help steer us in the right direction.

The human microbiome (all the friendly bugs that live in and on us) has been extensively studied in the past decade. The findings of that research have shown that we have way more friendly bugs inside us and on our skin than we ever imagined (healthy humans can carry hundreds of thousands of different species) and those bugs are an extremely important part of our overall health. They provide defense against pathogenic bacteria in every system of the body and they help us digest and absorb nutrients from the food we eat.

The #1 destroyer of the human microbiome is antibiotics. The U.S. also has the highest use of antibiotics in both humans and the livestock we eat. The overuse of antibiotics decreases the diversity of our microbiome and leads to increased incidence of autoimmunity.

So where does gluten fit in? Gluten sensitivity develops when the body creates antibodies to the very large gluten molecule. This would never happen in a healthy gut but when the microbiome is compromised that large molecule gets into the bloodstream where the body’s immune system sees it as a foreign invader and creates an antibody that attaches and acts as a flag, letting the body know to take it out of the bloodstream, break it down and excrete it.

The gluten antibody looks similar to proteins that make up the thyroid gland. This can ‘confuse’ the body and in its amped-up, overreactive autoimmunity state it begins to also create antibodies to the thyroid gland.

Many people with low thyroid are diagnosed with a single test: TSH – thyroid stimulating hormone. Naturopaths also look at T4, T3 and two types of thyroid antibodies. This gives a complete picture of the thyroid gland and allows for a more targeted therapeutic approach to correcting the dysfunction.

So, step #1: have your thyroid antibodies checked. Step #2: remove gluten from your diet if your antibodies are positive. And Step #3 (which I will address more fully in my next blog post): have a chronic, homeopathic intake done and find a homeopathic remedy to balance your unique system as a whole.

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