Food Intolerance & Hypothyroidism

oatflakes with milk
A glass of milk on a table. (Image: pilip76/iStock/Getty Images)

The thyroid gland produces hormones important for many aspects of your wellness, including metabolism, energy, body temperature and mood. When you have hypothyroidism, your thyroid produces too few hormones, making way for depression, sleep problems, fatigue, constipation and sensitivity to cold. Hypothyroidism is treatable, typically through synthetic thyroid medications. A healthy diet can support medical treatment in managing your symptoms and preventing complications. In some cases, food intolerances play a role in the disease.

About Food Intolerances

Most physical reactions to food involve intolerances, not allergies. Unlike food allergies, food intolerances do not stimulate immune system reactions. After consuming a small amount of the food you have difficulty tolerating, you may not experience any notable symptoms. If you are lactose intolerant, for example, you may tolerate small amounts of lactose in bread and cereals but experience adverse reactions after drinking a glass of milk. Food intolerance symptoms come on gradually and may include bloating, gas, diarrhea, a sense of warmth or headaches. Causes include absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a particular food, a sensitivity to food additives, food poisoning, celiac disease and psychological factors, such as stress. Although hypothyroidism isn't known to cause food intolerances, the two conditions may coexist.

Common Culprits

Because celiac disease and types of hypothyroidism, such as Hashimoto's disease, are autoimmune disorders, having one of the two diseases increases your risk for the other. In a study published in the "Journal of Pediatrics" in February 2011, researchers analyzed the blood of 302 patients with thyroid disease. The blood of 4.6 percent of the participants indicated signs of celiac disease, and 2.3 percent of the participants tested positive for the disease -- a prevalence markedly higher compared to the general population. If you have celiac disease, you are intolerant to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Lactose intolerance, in which you do not properly digest the naturally occuring sugar in cow's milk, is also common, affecting up to 30 million Americans to some degree by age 20.

Challenges

Food intolerances can be difficult to notice or pinpoint when you have hypothyroidism, because symptoms can mirror those of the disease. A gluten intolerance, for example, may cause bloating, fatigue and depressive moods. And nearly 97 percent of the estimated 3 million Americans with celiac disease are undiagnosed, according to a "Today's Dietitian" article published in November 2010. Lactose intolerance can also trigger bloating, which may be perceived as weight gain. Gluten and lactose intolerances can lead to unintentional weight loss -- symptoms that often derive from hyperthyroidism, in which your thyroid is overactive. As a result, you or your doctor may suspect that these symptoms stem from too much thyroid medication rather than a food intolerance.

Suggestions

If you suspect a food intolerance, seek guidance from your doctor or dietitian. Your doctor may suggest an elimination diet, during which you avoid suspected problem foods, to determine whether an intolerance is at play. Screening for celiac disease typically involves a blood test or biopsy. For the blood test to be effective, you must have gluten in your system. Treatment for food intolerances involves avoiding or limiting problematic foods. Treatment for celiac disease involves a strict gluten-free diet. Because gluten, lactose and food additives are prevalent in a variety of healthy and common foods, seek professional guidance rather than attempting to diagnose or treat yourself.

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