If you have Hashimoto’s, the chances are that you have gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance (whether or not it has been diagnosed). Research has shown a strong correlation between the two.
One important thing that you need to understand is that there are other foods that can act like gluten in your body. And your immune system reacts to them in the same way that it reacts to gluten.
These foods are called cross reactors and even if you are diligent about avoiding gluten, you may be not making the progress you want because you are not aware of these other foods.
Basically, when your body creates antibodies against gluten, those same antibodies notice antibodies in other foods. When you eat those foods, even though they don’t contain gluten, your body reacts like they do.
In the same way that even a small amount of gluten can trigger an immune response, even a small amount of these foods can cause inflammation and an immune response.
Proteins are made from long chains of amino acids (like those pictured above), and it is the exact sequence of these amino acids that determines how the protein is formed and what it does. The way that the amino acid chains are folded, bent and buckled in different ways determines what the function of that protein is.
An antibody is a Y shaped protein produced by immune cells in your body. This antibody is like a lock and the sequence of amino acids is the key that unlocks it. There are different classes of antibodies, IgE, IgA and IgG. All 3 play a part in allergies and food sensitivities and reactions.
IgE is responsible for allergies, like someone’s face blowing up after eating shellfish. IgG and IgA are responsible for food sensitivities and intolerances. They are found in high concentrations in the gut, and also in the lymph fluid, in saliva and in tissues themselves.
When antibodies are made, they recognize specific short sequences of amino acids in a protein. Some of these sequences are more likely to cause antibodies to be created. This is why certain foods tend to cause more allergies and sensitivities than others (gluten, for example).
Since antibodies are formed to these sequences, anything that has them is attacked by the immune system. So, depending on what antibody or antibodies your body forms against gluten, it may or may not cross-react with other foods.
But, if your body makes antibodies for sequences in other foods, then you are not only sensitive to gluten, you are sensitive to all those other foods.
There is a lab called Cyrex labs that tests for these cross reactors and they offer the following list of foods that may cause a gluten like response in your body:
You may notice that some of these are grains that are commonly thought to be gluten free. They may be, but they may also cross react which means they cause the same problems that gluten causes in your body.
And just like we discussed in our last post, only tiny amounts of these foods are needed to cause inflammation and an immune response.
In my program, Healing Hashimoto’s: The 5 Elements of Thyroid Health, you will discover more about the tests available to you and learn what you can do to minimize the damage from exposure to gluten and cross reactive foods, and how to clear out circulating antibodies. Click here to learn more.
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
Green Health Acupuncture and Marc Ryan, L.Ac. are proud to announce the launch of their new website www.hashimotoshealing.com, devoted to offering community, tools and resources for better management and treatment of Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism and related issues.
I have been treating patients with Hashimoto’s for over 10 years and I have developed a system that combines the wisdom of Eastern medicine and ideas with Western diagnostics techniques and understanding of how the body works. This system is called Healing Hashimoto’s: The 5 Elements of Thyroid Health.
The 5 Element system is a way of looking at interactions in the natural world and was discovered while observing nature. The ancient Chinese noticed that things affected one another and they looked for way to explain it. They came up with the 5 elements as a way of describing these interactions within living systems.
The 5 element system can be applied to almost anything. It is used to describe the human body and human personalities. It has also been applied to business, management and marketing. Basically, it says that there are distinct groups within any living system and they influence each other. If one of these groups is unhealthy or neglected then the others will eventually suffer. If you want to be healthy or successful, you must make sure that all of the systems are healthy and in balance.
For example, if bees die out, we will have no pollination and no fruits or vegetables. If a predator dies out, then some species of animals grow out of control and they eat all the plants and push out other species. If we continue to emit excessive amounts of CO2, the earth will get warmer and we will create more extreme weather and dangerous storms. We see this idea playing out, all around us, every day.
The 5 Elements of Thyroid Health system applies this idea to the thyroid and looks at 5 areas that can (and often do) prevent people from effectively managing their Hashimoto’s or hypothyroid conditions. These 5 areas are the digestive system (earth), the immune system (metal), the kidneys and adrenals (water), the liver and gall bladder (wood) and the heart and blood (fire).
In the weeks and months to come we will explore these interactions in this blog and look at how each of these systems affect each other and how they affect thyroid health.
If you want to get started right away, please check out my free 4 video series that explores this system and how it help you.
We look forward to exploring this with you and we want to learn about your challenges and solutions for managing Hashimoto’s. So please leave your thoughts and comments.
I wish you good health and happiness,