A Gluten Diet & the Thyroid

Millions of Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and millions more suffer from gluten intolerance that causes conditions such as celiac disease. Research is discovering that thyroid disease and celiac disease are linked in many patients. Although one condition doesn't necessarily cause the other, if you have difficulties digesting gluten, you also have an increased risk for hypothyroidism and thyroiditis.


Thyroid Disease

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the middle of your lower neck. Its primarily function is to equalize your metabolism by producing thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH, which in turn creates the hormones T4 and T3, which tell cells in your body how much energy to use. Too much hormone leads to a condition called hyperthyroidism, while too little hormone is called hypothyroidism. Other thyroid disorders include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which your immune system attacks your thyroid gland, and thyroid cancer.


Gluten is a glue-like substance that is an important part of bread baking because it makes dough elastic and prevents yeast from forming air pockets. If your body is sensitive to gluten, it will produce antibodies that attack your intestinal system. The most serious gluten-related condition is celiac disease. It causes symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and foul-smelling or grayish stools. Patients have to avoid gluten-containing grains and flours, including barley, bulgur, durham, farina, graham, kamut, matzo, rye, semolina, spelt, triticale and wheat.

Scientific Evidence

In a study of 241 patients with untreated celiac disease in Italy in 2001, researchers examined rates of thyroid disease. The results, published in the "American Journal of Gastroenterology," found 13 percent of celiac patients had hypothyroidism, three times higher than the control group, and 16 percent had autoimmune thyroid disease, five times greater than the control group. A study published in January 2006 in the "Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology" showed that thyroid disease rates were higher even in people with celiac disease who were on gluten-free diets. Celiac patients also have a 2.5-fold increased risk of papillary thyroid cancer, as reported in a 2011 issue of the "Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology."


A gluten-free diet can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, particularly iron, calcium, B vitamins and fiber. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to design a meal and supplement plan that addresses your particular nutritional needs. Also, beware of processed foods, many of which contain hidden forms of gluten, such as malt extracts made from barley, soy sauce made with wheat, natural flavors, food starch, soups and alcoholic beverages.


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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.