Before you make dietary changes to improve your thyroid health, you would want a solid answer to the question, what is gluten? Although you may have heard of gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, and gluten-free diet you may not understand them. Since gluten is in a variety of products, you may be impacting your thyroid in an unhealthy way. Small changes, such as sticking to a gluten-free diet, cause large results in the overall health of your body, including your thyroid.
What Is Gluten? | Find Out What It Does to Your Thyroid
In this article:
- What Is Gluten?
- How to Identify a Gluten Sensitivity
- Autoimmune Disease and Gluten
- Similarities Between Gluten Intolerance and Thyroid
- Watch Your Eating Habits
- Identifying Gluten Foods
- Talk with Your Physician
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein in grains. These grains include rye, wheat, barley, and triticale. The purpose of gluten is to help foods maintain their shape. In some people, however, gluten causes an inflammatory reaction. When the gluten enters the bloodstream, the body views it as a threat and it activates the immune system. The immune system then sends out antibodies to protect your body against the gluten. Gluten can create inflammation and also create a mistaken response from your autoimmune system. This affects the thyroid.
How to Identify a Gluten Sensitivity
If you have a gluten intolerance or a gluten sensitivity, you may notice physical symptoms. These include an upset stomach, stomach cramping, and bloating. Other symptoms such as joint and muscle pain may also occur. Also, you may not be getting all the nutrients you need. The lack of nutrition occurs because the gluten damages your small intestines. Then, your body is unable to bring in the healthy nutrients it needs.
If you notice these symptoms after you eat a meal high in gluten such as spaghetti, speak with your doctor about ways to make changes in your diet. A gluten-free diet may be ideal for you if you are having physical symptoms that resemble those of irritable bowel syndrome. Other times, you may not have any idea that gluten is affecting your body. This is when gluten can be hard on your thyroid health.
Autoimmune Disease and Gluten
When you have gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance symptoms, you may be diagnosed with celiac disease. Celiac disease is common in approximately one in every 100 people. Having celiac disease also increases your risk for autoimmune disorders. This includes those that affect the thyroid such as Hashimoto’s disease. If you are struggling with thyroid problems that include symptoms such as weight loss or gain, hair loss, sweating, irritability, rapid heart rate, and fatigue, you need to understand how your eating habits add to your symptoms.
If you have hypothyroidism from an autoimmune disorder such as Hashimoto’s, speak with your doctor about the benefits of switching to a gluten-free diet. Plus, when you have an autoimmune disorder, your body is at the ready to attack anything it views as an invader. Thyroid hormones can be mistakenly viewed as an invader and your body attacks them, which leads to dysfunction.
Similarities Between Gluten Intolerance and Thyroid
Interestingly, thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s, have symptoms such as depression, constipation, joint stiffness, weight loss or weight gain, and swelling. A gluten intolerance or sensitivity can have the same symptoms. Speak to your doctor about removing gluten from your diet if you are already struggling with a thyroid condition. Removing gluten can help eliminate some of your symptoms. Once you are able to identify any triggers to your thyroid concerns and remove them, your body is able to function better as a unit. As a result, you feel better and your overall health improves.
Watch Your Eating Habits
Before you decide to never eat gluten again, watch your eating habits with a food tracker or food diary. Write down everything that goes into your mouth. Include that piece of licorice, which also surprisingly contains gluten. Also, write down how you feel after each meal and snack. Track symptoms such as energy level, mental focus, pain, and mood. This helps to determine if you have any connections between gluten and your physical responses.
Do not worry that you have to remove spaghetti completely from your diet. Many gluten-free kinds of pasta are available which makes for a simple meal replacement without the uncomfortable side effects. Just be sure to double-check the spaghetti sauce as many of these are made with spices that have gluten.
Identifying Gluten Foods
The previous section may have given you an answer to what is gluten. But, you still need clarification on specific foods that contain gluten. Here are a few to be mindful of when switching to a gluten-free diet:
- Grains – Wheat, barley, and rye are the biggest gluten culprits. Switch to gluten-free flour such as rice or almond when baking and choose gluten-free kinds of pasta, bread, and cereals for your meals.
- Soy sauce – Switch to tamari sauce for a similar flavor without the gluten.
- Salad dressings – Check labels to be sure your favorite salad dressing does not contain wheat spices, flour, or malt vinegar.
- Beer – made from barley
- Soups– May use wheat flour as a thickener. Check the label for options that are gluten-free.
- French fries or potato chips – If you make your own, you do not have to worry. If you eat out, these items may contain gluten seasonings.
- Candy – Many candies are made with wheat flour, so choose ones that are specifically certified as gluten-free.
- Meats – Processed lunch meats, pre-packaged meats, and vegetarian meat products can possibly contain wheat. Check ingredients carefully or select free-range natural meats that you prepare.
Make the switch to gluten-free living and you may notice a reduction in your thyroid symptoms. Your brain fog disappears. Your joints are less achy and you have more energy. In addition, you do not experience the bloat or stomach discomfort that comes from eating gluten-rich foods.
Eating gluten-free is not difficult but it does require a conscious choice. It also helps to prepare meals early and have many gluten-free snacks on hand.
Most grocery stores have a gluten-free food section where you can find items such as cereals, bread, pasta, salad dressings, energy bars, candy, cracker, and cookies. Also, fill your cupboards with fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, beans, rice, and quinoa. Soon, you will have a variety of meals that are gluten-free so you and your family can enjoy the same food selections you are used to, but without the discomfort.
Talk to Your Physician
If you suspect a gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, talk with your doctor. In many cases, a simple blood test can tell you whether or not you have celiac disease. Your doctor will also help you switch to a gluten-free diet. Then, you are not lacking in any essential nutrients. Plus, your doctor will identify any connection between gluten and your thyroid function. This will help you feel your best now and in the future.
Still wondering what is gluten? Watch this lesson from TED-Ed for an animated explanation of what is gluten.
A thyroid condition affects you on a daily basis. You may feel as if your body is out of your control, which can be unsettling. By doing all you can for your thyroid, including avoiding gluten and eating healthy foods, you are able to take back some of that control. Feel your best every day by making healthy choices for your body. Even if that means getting rid of the gluten.
Have you tried cutting off gluten from your diet? How did it affect your thyroid health? Share your experiences below.