Most of the time your immune system keeps you healthy by fighting pathogens and preventing infections. Sometimes, though, for unknown reasons, your body can launch an attack against its own cells. This is called autoimmunity and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. It is also responsible for celiac disease, a condition that requires you to follow a gluten-free diet. Science is still unraveling the mystery of autoimmunity, but evidence suggests a connection between hypothyroidism and celiac disease.
The Autoimmune Connection
Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the clinical name for when your immune system produces antibodies that attack your thyroid tissue. Over time, this ongoing attack can cause thyroid dysfunction. If you have one autoimmune disease, you're at risk of having another. For example, if you have celiac disease, you're at risk of having Hashimoto's and vice versa. Celiac is when your immune system produces antibodies that attack the lining of your intestines in response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
An Intriguing Discovery
The journal "Thyroid" published a study in 2008 that found a connection between celiac disease and thyroid dysfunction. Researchers discovered that the antibody responsible for celiac can bind to thyroid tissue and may contribute to the development of hypothyroidism in people with celiac. Prior to this discovery, it was thought that the antibody involved in celiac only affected intestinal tissue. The authors noted that in people with celiac disease, thyroid dysfunction improves with a gluten-free diet.
Gluten-Free Diet and Hypothyroid Medication
In a study published in the "Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism," researchers found that celiac increases the need for thyroid medicine in people who have both celiac and hypothyroidism. Celiac damages the wall of your intestines, which decreases its ability to absorb nutrients, as well as thyroid medicine. Researchers found that patients with celiac needed a higher dose of thyroid medication to normalize their levels, compared those who don't have celiac. They also found that following a gluten-free diet eliminated the need for a higher dose of thyroid medicine. The study was published in March 2012.
Food for Thought
Obtaining a list of safe foods for celiac patients can help you with grocery shopping and meal planning. Gluten is found in many foods, such as pastas, cookies, crackers, breads, gravies, salad dressings, soups, cereals, processed lunch meats and seasoned snack foods. You'll need to restrict your diet to more natural, less processed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh lean meats, rice, quinoa, dried beans and other legumes, unprocessed nuts and seeds. Check labels for ingredients containing wheat, rye or barley. Ingredients that contain wheat include durum flour, bulgur, graham flour, spelt and semolina.
- Thyroid: Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies in Individuals With Celiac Disease Bind to Thyroid Follicles and Extracellular Matrix and May Contribute to Thyroid Dysfunction
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: Atypical Celiac Disease as Cause of Increased Need for Thyroxine: A Systematic Study
- MedlinePlus: Celiac Disease
- WomensHealth.gov: Thyroid Disease Fact Sheet