A healthy gut is crucial for optimum thyroid health. In this video Dr. Ruscio discusses how gluten and food allergies can negatively affect your thyroid health.
Dr. Michael Ruscio: Hi, this is Dr. Ruscio, and welcome to the next video in our Thyroid Solutions video series.
Thyroid and Your Gut – Hidden Cause of Thyroid Problems, Number 3. We’ll be talking specifically about gluten, food allergies and how those affect your gut and your thyroid. This is a very, very important topic.
Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut.” Certainly, in the functional medicine approach, we have a very very strong look at gut function. I have to say that from my own personal health experience, and from that of my patients, the conventional approach toward gut-related issues, in my opinion, is absolutely terrible for most people. Again, I say that having been through it myself. I had gut issues that were missed by every doctor I went to, until I found one that practiced functional medicine. Now we’ll be coming back to our topic of gluten allergies, food allergies, and how that affects your gut and your thyroid.
What are food allergies and food intolerances? Technically, food allergies are when someone will eat a food and will have a very quick anaphylactic response. They may have a rash, they may have their throat close, they may need to be rushed off to the Emergency Room or inject themselves with an EpiPen. Those are food allergies. There’s also this area of food intolerances, where people don’t have a very sudden “throat-closing” event, but it’s more of a subtle, low-level, delayed reaction. This could be brain fog that comes and goes, and they don’t know it, but it’s being caused by their food. Someone could have breakouts on their skin, being caused by their food. Someone could also have bloating or gas, being caused by their food. They may have energy dips being caused by the food that they eat. It’s not something that hits you a minute after you eat the food, highly severe, it may not hit you until 30 – 60 minutes, several hours, or even a day later. That’s when you may find these low-level symptoms. This makes it hard for people to be able to figure out what their food intolerances are.
When you consume a food that you’re intolerant to, this food will cause many things, but the fundamental thing is this: it’s almost like you’re swallowing a piece of barbed wire. This food will be very noxious and irritating to your intestines. As it goes through your intestinal tract, it will cause inflammation. A number of other things are a byproduct of that inflammation.
Food allergies and food intolerances, as I just mentioned, will cause an inflammatory reaction in the intestines. It’s also been shown that people who consume foods that they’re allergic to, in some cases, can really irritate the immune system and may provoke or stimulate the autoimmune process that we’ve been talking about.
There’s also the potential to cause toxicity. When you have this inflammatory response in the intestines, it causes damage to the intestines, and then it causes not to be able to break down their food properly. Some of these foods that are not getting broken down properly can actually form toxic byproducts. Additionally, people can start to have imbalances in their gut flora which can then lead to improper detoxification and the buildup of certain chemicals in the gut.
The potential to cause a stress hormone reaction. Again, coming back to our analogy, think about swallowing that piece of barbed wire. As that piece of barbed wire goes through your intestines and causes inflammation, the body responds to that damaging process by releasing stress hormones. We’ve already discussed the stress hormone/ thyroid connection in previous videos.
There’s also the potential to cause nutrient deficiencies by malabsorption, because if there’s damage occurring in the intestines, the intestines can’t absorb food, and you can start to have signs and symptoms of malnutrition.
There’s also the potential to imbalance male and female hormones, in two different ways. First, by causing a stress hormone reaction, prolonged stress hormone reactions will eventually cause imbalances in male and female hormones. Also, the inflammation will cause a woman to have high testosterone, and a man to have high estrogen… exactly what you don’t want if you’re a man or a woman.
Coming back to our list of causative factors that we’ve gone over in previous videos, you see that these gut issues and gut food allergies can cause any one of the causative factors on our cause list:
Identifying food allergies is one of the interventions that can yield a lot of benefit for thyroid patients. Please don’t take my word for it, let’s look at a few quotes from the medical literature.
This is from the Journal of Thyroid Research in 2012:
“Most of the patients with positive serologic (meaning blood) test for CD (Celiac Disease) had HT (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) (54.5%) and overt hypothyroidism (54.5%).”
What they’re saying here is that most patients who have an allergy to gluten also have Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism.
“Screening high-risk patients for CD, such as those with autoimmune diseases (which Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism are), is a reasonable strategy given the increased prevalence.”
A quick side note here: You may not be Celiac, but there was a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2012 where the American Journal of Gastroenterology said there is an entity of people who don’t have full-blown Celiac Disease, but they do have gluten intolerance. It’s not a full-blown diagnosable disease like Celiac Disease, but it’s an intolerance. These patients need to be on a gluten-free diet also. This won’t be everybody. I’m certainly not a gluten-free zealot, but something that we want to evaluate with any patient with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s.
What exactly happens in this gluten intolerance phenomenon we hear so much about?
Here you’re seeing two slides, again, from the American Journal of Gastroenterology. The one in the upper left hand corner is a healthy sample of intestinal tissue, and you see here these fluffy, little, finger-like projections called microvilli. They’re a very, very important part of intestinal architecture that allows you to absorb nutrients from your food. In full-blown Celiac Disease, it ends up looking like this. The villi actually get burned away from this inflammatory response. This is legitimate. This inflammatory response in the intestines is not just theoretical or conjecture. This is a legitimate thing we see, we actually take samples of intestinal tissue in these people. When you progress from healthy intestinal tissue to this damaged tissue, your thyroid function will plummet. We see visual evidence of this here, and like I mentioned from the Journal of Thyroid Research previously, we also see the clinical trials that substantiate that. Food allergies, and your gut and your thyroid, very intimately related.
A few more quotes from the research:
“…in most patients who strictly followed a 1-year gluten withdrawal (or gluten-free diet) (as confirmed by intestinal mucosa recovery), there was a normalization of subclinical hypothyroidism.”
Wow! Some people can reverse hypothyroidism just by changing their diet. Continuing:
“The greater frequency of thyroid disease among Celiac Disease patients justifies a thyroid functional assessment. In distinct cases, gluten withdrawal may single-handedly reverse the abnormality.”
Wow, again! In some patients, not in all, but in some patients going gluten-free can be very helpful for a thyroid condition. Finally:
“On a gluten-free diet an excellent clinical and histological (meaning the way your intestines looked) response was recorded with an improvement of hypothyroidism and reduction of the thyroxine dosage.”
These people were able to have increased intestinal health, feel a lot better, and reduce their dose of medication by being on a gluten-free diet. For some people, this can be very helpful.
How does your gut connect to your thyroid?
Now, how does your gut connect to your thyroid? Gut inflammation will decrease the conversion of T4 into T3. We’ve already talked about how incredibly important it is to have good conversion of T4 into T3.
Just the gut inflammation itself will a decrease in conversion, which will cause hypothyroidism. Continuing, as the gut inflammation stimulates the immune system, the immune system then starts attacking the thyroid gland (remember, that’s what Hashimoto’s is). Then, as the thyroid gland becomes damaged, it can’t produce enough hormone. That’s hypothyroidism. There are two different mechanisms through which gut inflammation will cause hypothyroidism.
Here’s what that looks like. We talked about this in one of our prior videos, but this is an actual sample of the intestinal lining, stained, so that immune cells will become blue and green. As you can see, there’s an immense amount of immune cells in the intestinal lining… one of the reasons why there’s such an intimate relationship between your intestinal health and your immune system.
There are some other important food allergies to mention. Gluten, we’ve already talked about. Dairy is another one that can be a problem for people, as soy can be for some, corn for others, eggs, nuts, and artificial sweeteners. Not every patient is allergic to all of these, but when a patient first comes in, we want to carefully evaluate if they’re allergic or sensitive to any of these foods. By helping a patient determine this and get them off these foods, patients can experience a remarkable level of improvement.
That’s our Thyroid and Your Gut – Hidden Cause of Thyroid Problems, Number 3, specifically on gluten, food allergies, and thyroid. In our next video, we’ll be talking about something I’m very passionate about, which is thyroid and infections, which is Hidden Cause #4. We’ll discuss how infections can cause inflammation and stimulate thyroid autoimmunity. This is Dr. Ruscio, and I hope you find this helpful. Thanks!
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