Majority of thyroid dysfunction is caused by autoimmunity. Shockingly, many people with thyroid dysfunction don’t even know if their condition is autoimmune-related or not. This is because conventional doctors don’t routinely check for thyroid antibodies when testing thyroid blood levels. The important thing to know is that if you are experiencing thyroid dysfunction, there’s a good chance that it’s autoimmune, and I would recommend asking your doctor to check your thyroid antibodies next time she checks your thyroid blood levels.
So if the majority of thyroid dysfunction is caused by autoimmunity, what causes the autoimmunity in the first place? The answer is complex, but without a doubt, one of the biggest contributing factors is gluten. Gluten wreaks havoc on your gut, increases your inflammation, and can directly cause your immune system to attack your thyroid.
Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Alessio Fasano*, we know that leaky gut is one of the primary triggers for all autoimmune disease, including autoimmune thyroid disease. As you might guess by its name, leaky gut occurs when your gut (specifically your small intestine) becomes permeable, allowing particles to leak from your digestive tract and travel freely through your bloodstream.
When anyone, whether they have gluten sensitivity or not, eats a gluten-containing food, the gluten proteins make their way through the stomach and arrive at the small intestine, where the body responds by producing zonulin, a chemical that signals the tight junctions of the intestinal walls to open up, creating temporary permeability. This permeability will heal as the gut cells renew every 48 hours. However, if you have gluten sensitivity and you eat gluten, then this permeability will not heal in that 48 hours and your gut remains leaky. Leaky gut can also be caused or exacerbated by gut infections such as Candida overgrowth or SIBO, medications such as antibiotics, steroids or birth control pills, as well as a high stress lifestyle. New research shows that spraying Glyphosate (Roundup) on the wheat is also a major contributor of leaky gut and gluten sensitivity.
Now that your small intestines are open and permeable this allows toxins, microbes, and partially digested food to leak into your bloodstream, your immune system goes on high alert to neutralize all of these threats. But, because your gut is still leaky, the threats just keep on coming, putting your body in a state of chronic inflammation and putting you on the path to develop an autoimmune disease (including thyroid dysfunction) as your immune system becomes so stressed and confused that it begins attacking your own tissue by mistake. Unfortunately, the gluten that caused your gut to become leaky makes it even more likely that you will develop thyroid dysfunction (autoimmune and non autoimmune), thanks to a phenomenon called molecular mimicry.
Gluten, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Molecular Mimicry, A Case of Mistaken Identity
Unfortunately for the thyroid, it has a common doppelgänger that puts it at risk for rogue autoimmune attacks. You guessed it – gluten. What’s more, 50% of people with gluten sensitivity experience molecular mimicry with casein (a protein found in dairy). This is known as cross-reactivity, where you react not only to your original trigger, but also to another trigger that resembles the first one.
How to Heal the Damage Caused by Gluten
The bottom line is, if you have a thyroid dysfunction, ditch gluten for good. Once you’ve eliminated them from your diet, your gut can begin to heal, your inflammation will decrease, and your body will slow and eventually stop its rogue attacks on your thyroid.
In addition to eliminating gluten, I recommend using functional medicine’s 4R approach to heal your leaky gut. The process involves
1. Removing other toxic and inflammatory foods, including gluten and dairy
2. Restoring the ingredients needed for proper digestion
3. Re-inoculating with healthy bacteria
4. Repairing the lining of your gut so that gluten and dairy proteins and other particles can no longer escape into your bloodstream and trigger molecular mimicry.