If you are someone who has Hashimoto’s, you have probably already heard about how important it is to be gluten free. Many patients with Hashimoto’s also have gluten sensitivity. In fact, there is a good deal of research that suggests a kind of chicken-or-the-egg argument regarding gluten sensitivity and autoimmunity. Meaning, we aren’t really sure which came first.
Let’s face it, the gluten of today ain’t your grandfather’s gluten. Wheat has been all kinds of modified and there are many economic and political pressures to create a super wheat that will reign supreme in today’s industrial agriculture food system.
Firstly, it has been bred to have more gluten, and to be disease resistant , insect and heat resistant and to survive all kinds of difficulties.
It is also deamidated. Deamidation is a process that creates a dough that has more plasticity and is easier to work with. It also makes wheat based products useful as binding agents and fillers and for emulsifying, forming films, and making stuff more stretchable.
Wheat is in almost everything that is processed. It is used by food scientists in meat products, sauces, soups and as a clarifying agent in red wine.
This new super gluten and deamidated wheat messes with your small intestine. It gets deep into the folds (villi), and it confuses the immune system into thinking that it is a foreign invader. The result is a gradual destruction of your intestines. It can also destroy your nerves, your brain, your thyroid and lots of other tissues.
And this is where the chicken-or-the-egg argument comes in. This breakdown of the intestine causes intestinal permeability, but it also causes the immune system to not recognize its own tissue and to start destroying it. So you get this vicious cycle of your intestines leaking, your immune system going crazy and and both things making each other worse. And being gluten free is often the only thing that reverses this process and stops the destruction.
Proteins are made from amino acids. The body doesn’t have very many of them to work with so they are creatively arranged and rearranged in different combinations. The problem is many of these arrangements look a lot like each other. Especially in certain pieces. In fact, some pieces are exactly the same.
For example, gliadin (gluten) proteins look a lot like proteins in your cerebellum (foggy brain?). Myelin basic proteins look a lot like streptococcus proteins. In fact, when your immune system is making antibodies, antibodies for one of these proteins fit receptors on the others. So these antibodies work for both.
Many Hashimoto’s patients have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. And when they eat gluten, they get flare ups. Sometimes they don’t test positive for allergies to gluten, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have it.
This is because most doctors only test 2 antibodies to gluten, anti-gliadin antibodies IgA and Transglutaminase IgA. 40% of people test negative for these, even when they are intolerant to gluten.
There are 22 other gluten antibodies that you could have. I work with a lab called Cyrex labs that tests for all of these.
The idea of cross reactivity is this. Those similar amino acid sequences result in an autoimmune attack whenever you have any gluten or anything that acts like gluten. (In my next blog post we will explore what other foods have a similar amino acid sequence to gluten and may act just like gluten in your body.)
This means, if you have antibodies to gluten and you have autoimmune disease, you get flare ups every time you eat those foods. Every time. The immune system is not designed to cheat when you do. It doesn’t disarm antibodies, once created, they work forever.
Back to my original question – and this is an important one because there are many people who think that being almost gluten free is still almost good.
I’m sorry to say the data says NO. A study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychology looked at this question and their answer?
“Even minute traces of gliadin are capable of triggering a state of heightened immunological activity in gluten sensitive people.” Crap!
What they are saying is even a little bit, just an eeny weeny bit of gluten, triggers a major immune response. That translates to a flare up of your symptoms and further tissue destruction.
I’m afraid its true, people. One thing you need to realize is that you only need a tiny amount to get a response from your immune system. Antibodies have memories better than elephants.
You have to be vigilant. And you have to do the right testing so that you know what you are dealing with. Its also a good idea to work with people who are aware of these things and who think about how they may affect your care. You also need to know that there are hidden sources of gluten.
Many people are not aware that you can also react to gluten from things that are not food or stuff that may be in the air. Handling wheat based dog foods, breathing in flour from the air in a bakery, kissing, and skin lotions are common examples where hidden gluten can be found.
Common Sources of Hidden Gluten:
1.) Licking envelopes or stamps
2.) Sauces for meats, salads, etc
3.) Tooth paste
5.) Frying oils
6.) Shared cutting boards or utensils
7.) Grain based sweetener (i.e. malt, corn sugar)
8.) Thickening agents used in processed foods
The bottom line is this – Be careful and read your labels.
If you are careful and you eliminate these triggers, you can significantly calm your immune system and slow or stop tissue destruction. There are also some herbs and botanicals that can reduce the damage done from gluten if you are accidentally exposed to it.
Still not convinced?
Check out this other article on Celiac and Hashimoto’s, I looked at over 30 peer reviewed studies on this issue.
Comments, thoughts, suggestions? I’d love to hear your comments on this.
Autoimmunity.2008 Feb;41(1):116-121.Celiac disease in Northern Italian patients with autoimmune thyroid disease
Autism File. 2009;31:56-64
J Neurol Neurosurg Psych. 1997;63:770-775