Paleo diet and hypothyroidism

From Exhausted to Energized: I Beat Hypothyroidism with a Plant-Based Diet

Hypothyroidism saddled Ashley Sharples with chronic fatigue for a decade—until she changed up her diet.

In 2009, not long after suffering a heartbreaking miscarriage, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I just wasn’t feeling myself: fatigue, aching joints, poor digestion, brain fog, the list goes on. The doctor prescribed me levothyroxine and sent on my way with the promise that the drug would help me return to “normal” life as I knew it. Only, it didn’t.

I continuously pestered the doctors and joined countless online support groups in the hope that I would get more answers. I tried everything to get better, including changing my diet and taking supplements. Still, I wasn’t feeling “normal.” The daily fatigue and constant brain fog left me viewing my life from the outside. I was merely existing.

A New Approach

In 2017, my husband and I emigrated with our two young sons from Scotland to the Sunshine Coast, Australia. I was happier than I had ever been, yet gradually my health was getting worse. My body was becoming more inflamed, and I was gaining weight like never before. I was eating a strict paleo diet at the time. I didn’t know what else to do. I had hit my rock bottom and felt like I had used all the resources that were available.

Thankfully, my husband managed to find me a new doctor with a very different perspective on healing, which I openly embraced. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain at that point. One of the keys was to consume a plant-based diet while removing all inflammatory foods from my life. This new approach gave me hope.

As I started putting my new knowledge and protocols into place, I began to notice changes quite quickly. That was all the confirmation I needed. I slowly gained the energy to do light exercise. I started with bike rides. Eventually, I hitched a trailer on the back for my boys, and we made it a family affair!

Feeding Our Health

That was over a year ago now. Today, I am better than I’ve ever been: Gone are the brain fog, daily fatigue, inflammation, and joint pain. And my thyroid is functioning normally! I work out four or five times a week, as well as doing yoga and cycling. I am more mindful about what I consume mentally, physically, and emotionally. The best part? Being medication-free. That’s right: I now take no pharmaceuticals or any type of natural thyroid pill, none!

For 10 long years, I suffered from hypothyroidism and struggled to get out of bed, and here I am living life to the fullest. Things have changed beyond measure. It hasn’t been an easy path, but it has been worth every step. I am not the same person; I live very differently today, but I lost good health once and I am not going to lose it again. I get to take part in life once more. It had been so long that I’d forgotten how good it feels!

My husband and two young children are also now following a whole-food, plant-based diet and are all thriving, too. Cooking has become something that we all really enjoy and take great pleasure in. We know that with every forkful, we are feeding our health and not disease. And when you begin to see it like that, it changes everything.

Ready to get started? Check out our Plant-Based Primer to learn more about adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet.


  • hypothyroidism

A VEGETARIAN diet has been linked to the soaring number of Scots suffering from thyroid problems.

The latest official figures show that NHS Scotland spent £8 million treating thyroid conditions in 2011 compared with just £2.2 million in 2001. Over the same decade, the number of prescriptions for thyroid problems soared from 1.2 million to 2.2 million.

Experts believe a lack of iron from reduced red meat consumption and large amounts of soya in some vegetarian meals has contributed to the increase of more than 300 per cent in Scotland’s thyroid drug bill.

The combination can cause the thyroid, which controls metabolism, to malfunction, causing rapid weight gain or loss. It is now estimated that one in five Scots will suffer from a thyroid condition during their lifetime.

• Read the official government statistics behind the findings

Lyn Mynott, chief executive of charity Thyroid UK, said a lack of proper nutrition and a meat-free diet were contributing to a rise in the numbers of people seeking support.

She said: “We know there is an increase in cases of thyroid problems as we have an increasing number of people coming to us. You can also look at prescription cost analysis to see this trend.

“Your thyroid needs iron and a lot of people don’t eat meat and are eating a lot more soy.”

Mynott added: “When people are put on medication for thyroid conditions, in most cases they will be on it for life. This is certainly a bigger problem than it used to be.”

Peter Taylor, senior lecturer in physiology at Dundee University, agreed that a diet with high levels of soya, and low in foods containing iron, can be a cause of thyroid problems.

He said: “If your diet is low in iodide and iron selenium and you have very high levels of soya in your diet then it is possible that this will contribute to thyroid problems. Soya can compete with your body’s ability to process iodide.”

Dr Damian Dowling, of New Medicine Group, in London, said: “There are things in soya that can limit the body’s intake of iron and other important nutrients and minerals. Soya can disrupt the hormone function, particularly in woman, and can disrupt the thyroid directly.”

The popularity of soya products is on the rise in Scotland; around two-thirds of all manufactured foods contain soya. Soya can be ingested as whole beans, soya flour, soya sauce or soya oil, and soya flour is widely used in foods including breads, cakes, processed foods, ready meals, burgers and sausages, and baby foods.

But William Shand, chairman of the Scottish Vegetarian Association, said: “The vegetarian diet is far healthier than a meat-based diet and these claims are just another example of scaremongering.”

• Read the official government statistics behind the findings

Can a Special Diet Help You Manage Hypothyroidism?

A Mediterranean diet is rich in fish and plant-based foods like vegetables and fruit. Nadine Greeff/Stocksy

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If you have hypothyroidism, you may experience symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, constipation, or feeling cold when others are warm, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA). While there isn’t a proven diet that can cure hypothyroidism, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet may help provide relief from some of your symptoms.

Shane Steadman, a chiropractic neurologist and functional medicine practitioner at Integrated Health Systems in Englewood, Colorado, says there are benefits to modifying your diet if you have hypothyroidism. “The physiology of the thyroid gland is affected by many different areas of the body,” Dr. Steadman says. “A change in diet can help with cortisol, inflammation, and providing nutrition to help with thyroid function.”

But all diets have pros and cons. Learn about these special diets that may benefit hypothyroidism and then talk to your doctor to see if one might be right for you.

Paleo Diet

Also known as the Stone Age or caveman diet, the paleo diet eliminates grains, dairy products, refined sugar, processed foods, and salt, says Virginia Turner, RD, LDN, a clinical nutrition manager at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville and a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Based on foods that could have been obtained by hunting or gathering during the Paleolithic era, the diet is rich in lean meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables, she explains.

Pro: Inflammation can damage the thyroid and thyroid cells, which can affect hypothyroidism, according to the ATA. Following a paleo meal plan reduces hard-to-digest foods like wheat and corn that can cause inflammation while focusing on antioxidant-rich foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, says Madeline Given, CNC, a holistic nutritionist in Santa Barbara, California.

Con: Any diet that eliminates an entire food group will lack balance, and key nutrients will likely be missed, Turner says. “Dairy is the primary source of calcium and vitamin D, and both are essential for not only bone growth and development but also bone health maintenance,” she says. “A paleo diet also eliminates salt. A person with hypothyroidism must achieve optimal iodine intakes from iodized salt to minimize thyroid dysfunction.”

Gluten-Free Diet

This diet focuses on avoiding foods that contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It’s medically recommended for people with celiac disease — an autoimmune condition in which eating gluten can damage the small intestine — and some people with gluten sensitivity, Turner says. It may be a good diet to try, because celiac disease is more common among people with hypothyroidism than in the general population, according to a study published in March 2012 in the American Journal of Medicine (AJM).

And a meta-analysis of 13 studies examining the association between thyroid disease and celiac disease, which was published in December 2016 in PLoS One, found further evidence to support the hypothesis that thyroid disease — particularly euthyroidism autoimmune thyroid disease and hypothyroidism — is more prevalent in individuals with celiac disease. According to the researchers, this evidence suggests that patients with celiac disease be screened for thyroid disease.

Pro: For people who have hypothyroidism and celiac disease, treating celiac may also help with better absorption of hypothyroidism medications, the AJM study noted. And if a gluten-free diet results in eating fewer processed and fatty foods and more healthy options, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, then you may feel less fatigued.

Con: Eliminating enriched whole-grain foods from your diet may result in deficiencies in nutrients such as calcium, iron, and niacin. Plus, whole-grain breads and cereals are the most common sources of dietary fiber. Not getting enough fiber can lead to constipation, which is a common symptom of hypothyroidism.

Low-Glycemic Diet

The glycemic index is a means of measuring the effect carbohydrates have on blood glucose (sugar) levels, Turner says. “Low-glycemic foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while high-glycemic foods include white bread and baked goods.”

Pro: A low-glycemic diet is beneficial for people who have diabetes or eat a poor diet high in refined carbohydrates, Steadman says. High blood sugar can stimulate cortisol production and increase inflammation, which may have a negative effect on hypothyroidism, he explains.

Con: A low-glycemic diet may not be helpful if a person with hypothyroidism already has low blood sugar, Steadman says.

Mediterranean Diet

This anti-inflammatory diet focuses on plant-based foods, fish and other seafood, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Red meat, butter, and processed foods are generally avoided with the Mediterranean diet.

Pro: Anytime you reduce inflammatory foods in your diet, it helps with thyroid conversion and pituitary function, Steadman says. In addition to eliminating processed foods that could cause inflammation, the Mediterranean diet has the added benefit of being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Con: A high-quality Mediterranean diet may be too expensive for some people to maintain, according to a study published in November 2013 in the journal Nutrients.

A Special Diet Is Not a Replacement for Hypothyroidism Treatment

Whichever eating plan you choose, think of it as a complementary treatment; special diets aren’t meant to replace medical treatment for hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism can’t be cured, but it can be controlled by using synthetic hormones to replace the hormones the thyroid isn’t able to produce on its own.

The ATA cautions that alternative remedies, such as diets and supplements, aren’t suitable replacements for traditional treatment and won’t make a nonfunctioning or low-functioning thyroid work better. Special diets may be beneficial for helping relieve specific symptoms of hypothyroidism, but they won’t restore hormone levels to where they need to be.

Always talk to your doctor before making significant dietary changes that could affect your hypothyroidism.

Additional reporting by Katherine Lee

Hashimoto Disease Diet

There are specific nutrients you should be regularly consuming to maintain a healthy and functional thyroid. The top nutrients are:

  • iodine
  • selenium
  • zinc

A diet optimizing these nutrients is vital to an overall recovery plan. The best way to get the daily requirement of these minerals and nutrients is to eat a balanced diet. If this isn’t possible, supplements are available.

Avoid eating any food within 1 to 2 hours of taking thyroid medication, since it affects how the medication is absorbed in the body. Always discuss any changes in your diet or medication with your doctor.

In addition, some diets are thought to be beneficial for people with Hashimoto disease:

  • paleo diet
  • gluten-free diet
  • vegetarian or vegan diet


The mineral iodine is common in a Western diet because it’s in foods like salt and bread. For this reason, it’s uncommon for people in developed countries to be iodine deficient.

Still, it’s important to be conscious of the iodine in your diet. Too little iodine can cause goiters in some people. Too much iodine can make hypothyroidism worse. Iodine is vital to the production of thyroid hormone.

Under your doctor’s supervision, you can naturally add iodine to your diet by eating iodine-rich foods such as:

  • seafood
  • table salt
  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • prunes

Be careful if you choose to eat foods packed with iodine, such as seaweed, kelp, or iodine drops, as you may consume too much.


The thyroid has the highest selenium content in the entire body.

One study found selenium treatment to be effective for those with Hashimoto thyroiditis, whether used alone or in combination with levothyroxine. According to the Cochrane Library however, more research is needed to guide clinical treatment using selenium.

Another study showed people living with the disease who take selenium supplements have shown a decrease in the number of antibodies attacking the thyroid.

Foods rich in selenium include:

  • eggs
  • pork
  • Brazil nuts
  • tuna and sardines
  • beef
  • chicken

While the body does excrete low amounts of selenium, chronic high doses can build up in the body’s tissues and can lead to toxicity.

Brazil nuts are the richest food source of selenium. Since selenium varies widely in Brazil nuts, from 55mcg to 550mcg, it’s often recommended to consume no more than seven Brazil nuts a week.

Those with thyroiditis may be advised to rely on supplemental selenium rather than food sources for more reliable selenium intake.


Zinc is an essential element used to produce thyroid hormone. A 2009 study showed that taking zinc supplements increased thyroid hormone levels in people with goiters.

Zinc deficits, like iodine, are extremely uncommon in the developed world. If you want to add more zinc to your diet, the following foods are excellent sources:

  • oysters and shellfish
  • beef
  • chicken
  • legumes such as lentils and beans
  • cow’s milk

Paleo diet

The paleo diet (sometimes called the caveman diet) focuses on eating what humans ate during the Paleolithic period of evolution. The focus is on “hunter-and-gatherer” style food.

The paleo diet is a highly effective diet for Hashimoto’s disease. It eliminates foods that can trigger an autoimmune reaction such as:

  • grains
  • dairy
  • highly processed food

The paleo diet also excludes legumes.

The paleo diet’s anti-inflammatory benefits can be achieved by eating the following foods:

  • lean meat
  • fish
  • seafood
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds

Gluten-free diet

While foods containing gluten aren’t the cause of Hashimoto disease, for some people, those foods can trigger an autoimmune response. This results in inflammation and tissue destruction.

Gluten is part of every wheat flour product, is found in rye and barley, and can hide in many different foods. You should avoid:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • cookies
  • cakes
  • pizza
  • pasta
  • bread

Gluten-free alternatives for common flour-based foods are available, though they can be expensive. If you’re living with Hashimoto disease, you can try the gluten-free diet and see if it improves your symptoms.

Vegetarian and vegan diets

Vegetarians don’t eat meat.

Vegans don’t eat any animal products, including:

  • honey
  • milk
  • butter
  • eggs

These diets are said to help improve the autoimmune response involved in Hashimoto disease. They also reduce inflammation and promote gut health.

However, be aware that vegetarian and vegan diets may leave you deficient in important vitamins and minerals such as:

  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • iron
  • B-12
  • vitamin D

Supplements should help balance the nutritional deficiencies found in this type of diet.

If you choose to try this diet to help improve your thyroid and gut health, focus on introducing whole, plant-based foods into your diet like:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • vegetable oils
  • legumes like lentils and beans
  • vegetables proteins like tofu and tempeh, in moderation

Is your thyroid making you fat? Does your thyroid feel stuck in low gear? Then one doctor has an easy thyroid diet plan for you to try. His easy eating strategy will help rev your thyroid — also known as your “metabolism gland” — so that you lose weight faster than ever. When your thyroid is happy, your metabolism soars, so spare pounds melt away quickly.

Thyroid Diet Plan That Works

Millions of people in America have thyroid problems and could use a boost. Are you one of them? “Up to 90 percent of women experience thyroid issues at some point in their lives, so I recommend everyone start eating for improved thyroid health today,” says Gary Foresman, MD, a California-based integrative physician who has worked with the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. “There’s no downside, and you’ll likely lose excess weight and feel great in the process.”

A fan of the book Paleo Thyroid Solution (Amazon, $14.92), Dr. Foresman encourages us to switch to staples similar to those enjoyed by ancient hunter-gatherers. Why? As it turns out, “cavewoman-style” meals and snacks load our bodies with thyroid-revving nutrients while eliminating thyroid blockers. So our thyroids — little glands in our necks that regulate metabolism and dozens of other crucial functions — do a way better job of helping us turn calories and stored fat into energy making this a great diet for longevity. No wonder thyroid patients who have gone Paleo report slimming down by up to 200 pounds! “When you optimize your thyroid, it can make your life amazingly better,” says Foresman.

How to Start a Paleo Thyroid Diet

The No. 1 rule of Paleo eating means enjoying meals and snacks similar to ones that our ancestors might have hunted or gathered before farming existed. “The types of foods that helped humans survive when many species went extinct still deliver the nutrients we need to thrive,” explains Foresman. Go for lean protein (eggs, fish, poultry, beef, pork); nonstarchy vegetables and fruit (preferably in season); nuts, seeds, plant-based fat; and small amounts of root vegetables and wild rice. There are no rules beyond that. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.

Quick-start trick: “For a basic meal, sauté lots of veggies in coconut oil or make a big salad with olive-oil vinaigrette. Add a nice portion of high-quality protein, and that’s it!” says 40-pounds-slimmer Paleo Thyroid Solution author Elle Russ, 42, whose thyroid-related weight gain wouldn’t budge until she went Paleo. If you’re in the mood, add some fruit, sweet potatoes, or wild rice pilaf.

Why your thyroid responds: Research shows that Paleo-style eating delivers up to 900 percent more nutrients than a typical diet, which helps ensure you get everything you need for optimal thyroid health, including vitamin A, selenium, zinc, and more. You also get a lot more omega-3s — fatty acids that are being studied for their ability to help thyroid hormone clear away fat. That’s not all: Omega-3s and a flood of antioxidants from Paleo foods help soothe an internal inflammation strongly linked to poor thyroid function. Paleo also eliminates the main culprits behind that inflammation — especially blood-sugar surges triggered by excess sugar and grain. One preliminary study even found that a Paleo diet relieves signs of thyroid-suppressing inflammation by up to 82 percent.

Bye-bye, big appetite: Natural culinary staples amp up the production of your hormones that tell you to “stop eating” so much, that one study found Paleo dieters eat 400 fewer calories per day than other healthy dieters — and they do it without trying. “I used to think about food all of the time. Luckily, going Paleo eliminated every food obsession I ever had,” says Russ. “That freedom is miraculous!”

Do I need to see my doctor first? Always talk to your doctor before starting a new diet. If you’re experiencing stubborn weight gain, unexplained fatigue, intense PMS or menopausal symptoms, thinning hair, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, or insomnia, ask to have your thyroid screened. Prescription medication may be necessary to protect your health. Already take an Rx? Never stop unless your doctor tells you to.

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Can a Gluten-Free Diet Help Hypothyroidism?


Denise Mann Was this helpful? (62)

Gluten gets its fair share of press these days with many nutritionists and doctors telling us that a gluten-free diet can be the key to better health for certain individuals.

But is avoiding gluten, the protein found in certain grains, such as wheat, barley and rye, helpful for people with underactive thyroid glands?

A growing body of research hints this may just be the case.

When people who have celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system misfires against their small intestines. Symptoms run the gamut from abdominal pain and cramping to headache, joint pain, and brain fog. Left undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease can damage the small intestine which will interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients.

As many as one in 100 people worldwide have celiac disease.

Autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease tend to cluster. This means that having one puts you at risk for others. People with celiac disease are nearly four times more likely to develop an autoimmune thyroid condition such as Hashimoto’s disease, a common form of hypothyroidism.

Exactly how the two are linked is not 100% clear, but undiagnosed celiac disease may be part of the process that triggers an underlying autoimmune disease.

Are you at risk?

If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, such as Hashimoto’s disease, talk to your doctor about getting tested for celiac disease. This includes blood testing, imaging tests, and sometimes a biopsy of the small intestine.

If you do have celiac disease, your doctor will recommend a gluten-free diet. Some people may not have full-blown celiac disease, but could be gluten intolerant. This means that they don’t feel well after eating gluten.

Cutting out gluten may make a difference in how you feel if you fall into either camp.

Tips for Going Gluten-Free

To go gluten-free:

  • Avoid wheat, barley, and rye and any foods that contain these grains.

  • Choose naturally gluten-free foods such as beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts, milk, yogurts and cheeses, vegetable oils and avocados.

  • Opt for gluten-free grains and grain-based foods such quinoa, kasha, millet, rice and potatoes.

Check out the gluten-free section of your favorite food store. Many gluten-free alternatives to your favorite foods are available.

Keep a food diary.

Write down what you eat and how you feel afterward. This exercise will help you better understand how avoiding gluten affects your health. It may have positive effects on your thyroid function as well. Research has shown that people with celiac disease and hypothyroidism are often on higher doses of replacement hormones than their counterparts with underactive thyroids who don’t have celiac disease. Gluten-free diets may allow for lower doses of these hormones.

The good news is that it’s not a sacrifice to give up gluten given the abundance of gluten-free foods that are available and accessible. Make sure you talk to your doctor before making any radical changes to your diet.

A publication of the American Thyroid Association

Summaries for Patients from Clinical Thyroidology (March 2012)
Table of Contents | PDF File for Saving and Printing

The effect of celiac disease on the absorption of levothyroxine tablets


Autoimmune disorders: A diverse group of disorders that are caused by antibodies that get confused and attack the body’s own tissues. The disorder depends on what tissue the antibodies attack. Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are examples of autoimmune thyroid disease. Other Autoimmune disorders include: type 1 diabetes mellitus, Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency), vitiligo (loss of pigment of some areas of the skin), systemic lupus erythematosus, pernicious anemia (B12 deficiency), celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Celiac disease: an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in people of all ages from middle infancy onward. The antibodies that attack the small intestine are only active when the patients ingest the protein gluten, which is present in many grains, including wheat. Avoiding gluten in the diet markedly improves the symptoms of celiac disease.

Hypothyroidism: a condition where the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Treatment requires taking thyroid hormone pills.

Primary hypothyroidism: the most common cause of hypothyroidism cause by failure of the thyroid gland.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. It is caused by antibodies that attack the thyroid and destroy it.

Levothyroxine: the synthetic form of the major hormone produced by the thyroid gland, available in pill form as Levoxyl™, Synthroid™, Levothroid™ and generic preparations.

TSH: thyroid stimulating hormone — produced by the pituitary gland that regulates thyroid function; also the best screening test to determine if the thyroid is functioning normally.

One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism is the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This occurs when the body generates antibodies that attack and destroy the thyroid. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is associated with other autoimmune diseases, including celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the stomach when those affected eat gluten, a protein found in certain grains such as wheat. These patients develop antibodies that attack cells of the small intestine. While patients with celiac disease may exhibit severe stomach problems, some may have symptoms so mild as to not be aware there is a problem. Most of the symptoms of celiac disease improve on a gluten-free diet. In many patients with celiac disease there is some evidence of problems absorbing some nutrients and/or medications. In particular, celiac patients with hypothyroidism may have poor absorption of levothyroxine. In fact, problems absorbing levothyroxine can lead to a diagnosis of celiac disease. This study examined the dose of levothyroxine required to treat hypothyroidism in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis alone and with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and celiac disease. In addition, the effect of a gluten-free diet on the absorption of levothyroxine in these patients was examined.

Virili C et al. Atypical celiac disease as cause of increased need for thyroxine: a systematic study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. January 11, 2012 . doi:10.1210/jc.2011-1851.

This study examined 68 patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis alone and 35 patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and celiac disease. The average dose of levothyroxine needed to treat patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis alone was lower than the average dose required to treat patients with Hashimoto’s and celiac disease. When the patients with celiac disease went on a gluten-free diet while staying on the same dose of thyroxine, their TSH level decreased, indicating that their absorption of thyroxine had improved.

Patients with even mild celiac disease may need a higher dose of thyroxine and this increased requirement may be reversed by a gluten-free diet. Also, if a patient with hypothyroidism requires a very large dose of thyroxine, especially if they were previously doing well on a lower dose, the possibility that they have celiac disease should be considered.

—Glenn Braunstein, MD



Thyroid Hormone Treatment:

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It is estimated that approximately 90 percent of hypothyroidism in the United States is caused by an autoimmune condition. In these cases of autoimmune hypothyroidism, known as Hashimoto’s, antibodies attack the thyroid, resulting in thyroid tissue destruction. There is evidence showing gluten plays a significant role in driving the antibody attack against your thyroid.

Gluten tricks your body into attacking itself.

The protein portion of gluten, known as gliadin, enters the bloodstream through the gut in those with sensitivities or intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Your immune system recognizes this protein as non-self and creates antibodies against gliadin. In a process known as molecular mimicry, gliadin closely resembles the thyroid gland, leading the gliadin antibodies to mistakenly attack the thyroid. So, your body’s response every time you eat gluten is to make antibodies to the gliadin molecule – antibodies that then attack your thyroid.

If you have Hashimoto’s, you are producing thyroid antibodies. If you have thyroid antibodies and are eating gluten, you are driving your body to attack your thyroid.

What if I’ve tested negative for gluten antibodies?

Unfortunately, testing for gluten antibodies isn’t always accurate in Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s is most commonly a Th1-driven response (Th1 is a type of T cell that fights infections), which can lead to suppression of Th2, the aspect of the immune system that is responsible for antibody production. If your antibodies are depressed, your gluten antibody test may reflect a false negative.

While an elimination diet can help you determine which foods are not well tolerated in your diet, I do not recommend the reintroduction of gluten to test for intolerance in Hashimoto’s because of the how quickly it can drive autoimmunity and cause tissue destruction.

Think you can cheat?

The idea that you can eat gluten-free the majority of the time and have some “cheat” days is false. The reality is that eating gluten just once can result in an immune response that lasts up to 6 months. Because these antibodies are destructive to the thyroid and other tissues in the body, including the brain and joints, I recommend all of my autoimmune thyroid patients completely avoid gluten in their diet.

Hypothyroid? Quit Gluten with These 5 Tools

  1. Know where gluten hides. Aside from foods, gluten can also be found in your vitamins, herbal teas, make-up, shampoo, envelope adhesion and over-the-counter drugs. Look for dextrin on your supplement and medication labels. It is a filer that is often wheat derived. In my office, I only carry gluten free supplements to help patients avoid potential gluten ingestion.
  1. Read labels. Gluten is found in soy sauce, imitation crab, meatballs and soups, to name a few. It is also found in many vegetarian products.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask when you are eating out. Ask for clarification on menu items. Not everyone knows what contains gluten so be specific, asking about breadcrumbs and flour as a thickening agent, for example.
  1. When in doubt, skip it. If you aren’t sure, it is best to just avoid foods that might be contaminated with gluten.
  1. Remember BROWS: Barley, Rye, Oats, Wheat and Spelt all contain gluten.

What should you do if you suspect you have hypothyroidism?

Symptoms of hypothyroidism Include:

  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Cold intolerance
  • Hair loss
  • Dry hair or brittle nails
  • Dry skin
  • Infertility
  • Irregular and/or heavy menses
  • Constipation
  • Brain Fog
  • Low mood or depression
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Weak muscles
  • Elevated cholesterol

If you are experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism, you should have comprehensive blood testing done to determine the health of the thyroid. As a Naturopathic Physician, I look for patterns that reveal a poor functioning thyroid and work with my patients to prevent disease whenever possible. To do this, I look at more than just TSH, which is only one piece of the thyroid picture. In addition to TSH I recommend free T3, free T4, Reverse T3, Anti-Thyroid Peroxidase and Anti-Thyroglobulin antibodies as part of a patient’s screening labs. I also believe that patients should be heard and that their symptoms should also be strongly considered along with lab findings.

But my doctor said my thyroid antibodies were negative.

Unfortunately, thyroid antibodies are not always detected in Hashimoto’s. Sometimes the body isn’t producing sufficient amounts of B cells (the ones that make antibodies) in order for a lab test to show elevated antibody levels. And other times, people just never test positive for antibodies, although they have the condition. How do we know they have Hashimoto’s? Because despite being negative for thyroid antibodies, their biopsy and other immune markers are all consistent with the diagnosis.

The bottom line is that if you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the odds are that you have an autoimmune condition. And autoimmunity doesn’t stop at just one tissue. Once your immune system has lost tolerance for your thyroid, it is much more likely to lose tolerance to other tissues. Or in other words, if you have one autoimmune disease, you are much more likely to develop another.

The Hashimoto’s Celiac Connection

There is a If you have tested positive for thyroid antibodies or suspect your have Hashimoto’s and have yet to eliminate gluten, you should consider having celiac testing performed to rule out this condition.

In the last 50 years we have seen an increase in celiac disease from 1 in 650 to 1 in 120 people.

And if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, you should be aware that you are at higher risk of developing a second autoimmune disease.

Eliminated gluten can help you reduce the damage to your thyroid and improve your overall health. I have had many of my patients reduce their antibody levels and symptoms by adopting diligent dietary practices that included gluten elimination.

If you are struggling with symptoms and have yet to find the root cause, please consider scheduling a complimentary 10 minute phone visit to learn more about how I can help you reclaim your health.

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Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is one of the leading experts in women’s medicine and is a pioneer in her exploration of the far-reaching impact of hormonal birth control and the little known side effects that impact health in a large way. In her best selling book, Beyond the Pill, she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. A trained nutritional biochemist and Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Brighten is the founder and Clinic Director at Rubus Health, an integrative women’s medicine clinic. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and has been featured in prominent media outlets such as Forbes, Cosmopolitan, ABC news, and the New York Post. Read more about me here.

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