Can a Gluten-Free Diet Help Hypothyroidism?

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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.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 2
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  5. Celiac and the Thyroid. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
  6. Gluten Free Diets. American Diabetes Association.