Should I go gluten-free if I have Hashimoto’s?

“You have to go gluten-free” is often one of the first things people are told when they get a Hashimoto’s diagnosis. Is it true? Do you have to give up gluten for better thyroid health? Today, we will explore that question in detail.

I’ve hesitated to tackle this topic because I strive to provide simple and sustainable solutions on this podcast. While going gluten-free is sustainable, it’s not necessarily simple. That’s why it’s taken almost 100 episodes to address this topic, but today is the day.

 

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A pile of freshly baked breads of all sorts with text: do you have to go gluten-free if you have Hashimoto's?

Do you need to go gluten-free if you have Hashimoto’s?

Welcome to another episode of Health with Hashimoto’s! Today, we’re diving into a top question: gluten and its impact on Hashimoto’s. Many of you have likely Googled, “Should I go gluten-free if I have Hashimoto’s?” and I’m here to address that.

Why haven’t I tackled this before? Because while I strive to provide simple and sustainable solutions, going gluten-free isn’t simple. It’s sustainable, yes, but not easy. That’s why I’ve waited until now—episode 96—to discuss it.

Have you tried going gluten-free? How did it go? Join the discussion in the Health with Hashimoto’s community. Food is a deeply personal and emotional topic, and making dietary changes can bring up big feelings. Let’s talk about your experiences and what worked or didn’t work for you. You can access our free community via the Health with Hashimoto’s app.

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The app also offers the free Hashimoto’s Decoded course, which covers the basics and root causes of Hashimoto’s, plus the Holistic Hashimoto’s Course to guide you on what to do next. Let’s get started on this journey together!

What is Gluten?

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in many grains, especially wheat, that gives baked goods their texture. If you’ve ever tried gluten-free bread or cookies, you might have noticed they feel different—often drier or more cardboard-like. That’s due to the absence of gluten, which helps with the elasticity and texture of these foods.

Gluten can sneak into products that do not contain wheat. For example, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies contain barley malt, which has gluten. However, Rice Krispies from Aldi do not contain barley malt and are gluten-free. Rice Krispie bars are often thought to be a “safe” treat, but they might not be.

Over the years, grains have been bred to contain more gluten, especially in the U.S., making our baked goods different from those in Europe. Many people who are sensitive to gluten in the U.S. find they can eat baked goods in Europe without issues.

Gluten, Zonulin, and Leaky Gut

Gluten is inflammatory; it causes inflammation in the body when consumed. This is partly due to a chemical called zonulin, which is released when gluten is ingested. Zonulin signals the gut to open small gaps in the gut wall, allowing substances to pass through. This reaction is more pronounced in individuals with celiac disease, but it happens to everyone to some extent.

These small gaps in the gut wall can lead to a condition known as leaky gut, or intestinal wall permeability. This means that substances that shouldn’t pass through the gut wall into the body can do so, triggering an immune response. The body recognizes these substances as foreign invaders and attacks them. Over time, this can lead to the development of food allergies.

Leaky gut is also linked to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. While I’ve heard it said that everyone with Hashimoto’s has leaky gut, I haven’t found enough good research to confirm this. However, A gut component is present in all autoimmune issues.

Gluten and Molecular Mimicry

So, how does gluten affect the thyroid? Good question. Allergies occur when the body identifies and attacks a specific substance. This mechanism is similar to what happens in autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks its own tissues, mistaking them for foreign invaders.

When you have thyroid problems or Hashimoto’s, your body is already in a state of attacking your thyroid. Gluten and the thyroid are very similar on a molecular level, so much so that gluten is referred to as a molecular mimic of your thyroid.

If your immune system is already attacking your thyroid and you consume gluten, your body can confuse the gluten for thyroid tissue. This confusion leads to more of an attack on the thyroid. Therefore, eating gluten when you have Hashimoto’s or other thyroid issues might increase your problems due to this molecular mimicry.

86% Feel Better When Gluten Free

When Dr. Isabella Wentz, The Thyroid Pharmacist, conducted a survey, she found that 86% of respondents with thyroid issues felt better when they went gluten-free. These individuals did not necessarily have celiac disease but had thyroid problems and experienced symptom relief by avoiding gluten.

There is not a simple lab test to discover if you are part of the 86% who feels better when gluten-free. No, you have to experiment on yourself.

Personally, I went gluten-free because my youngest son, as a tiny baby, suffered from severe eczema. As his sole source of nutrition, I went on a strict elimination diet to identify the cause. Through this diet, I realized that my body did not tolerate gluten well, even though it was not the thing causing my son’s problems.

Despite my love for gluten-containing foods like donuts and bread, I found that I had to be gluten-free. At first, I would “eat normal food” during special occasions like birthdays. I even experimented with long-fermented sourdough bread, which some claim alters gluten enough to be tolerable. That didn’t work for me. I discovered that gluten triggered not just gut symptoms but also significant depression and migraines.

Discovering if you will feel better when gluten-free or not is something you can identify by trying it. If you’re considering whether gluten affects you, here’s how to conduct your own experiment.

Going Gluten-Free: Step One – Commit

  1. Make the Decision: Decide that you are going to commit to a gluten-free diet. Understand that gluten is an all-or-nothing dietary component; you can’t just partially eliminate it. To truly assess its impact, you need to go 100% gluten-free.
  2. Commitment Duration: Be prepared for a significant time commitment. Some experts suggest it can take up to 90 days to completely clear gluten and its effects from your body. A minimum of one month is recommended to begin noticing changes. Three months is an ideal trial period.

By fully committing to this process, you can better evaluate whether gluten is contributing to your health issues.

Going Gluten-Free: Step Two – Identify

  1. Inventory Your Food: Start by examining all the food in your house. Write down everything you consume, including meals, snacks, and beverages. Maintaining a detailed food diary can be very helpful.
  2. Check Personal Care Products: Look at the ingredients of your personal care items such as shampoo, conditioner, lotions, and makeup. Gluten can be found in many of these products, sometimes listed as wheat protein.
  3. Identify Hidden Sources: Be vigilant about hidden sources of gluten in both your food and personal care items. Many products might contain gluten without it being immediately obvious. The GF-Finder website can be helpful.

By taking a thorough inventory, you can ensure that you eliminate all sources of gluten from your diet and daily routine, which is crucial for an effective gluten-free trial.

Going Gluten-Free: Step Three – Plan

  1. Commit to Meal Planning: Plan out two to three weeks of meals and snacks in advance. While you may not strictly adhere to the plan every day, having it prepared gives you a foundation to follow. Even if you’re not accustomed to meal planning, it’s essential when transitioning to a gluten-free diet. Changing your diet can be challenging, so having a meal plan reduces stress and ensures you have suitable options available.
  2. Prepare for Stressful Days: Anticipate challenging moments during your transition where you may feel stressed or overwhelmed. Having a meal plan in place prevents the frustration of not knowing what to eat when hunger strikes.
  3. Include Gluten-Free Snacks: Stock up on gluten-free snacks that you enjoy and are convenient to have on hand. Consider options like seeds and nuts, fruit, and veggies. My personal favorite is hummus + microgreens and/or sauerkraut with gluten-free crackers or carrot sticks for scooping.
  4. Explore Paleo and Keto Recipes: Many paleo and keto recipes are naturally gluten-free since they exclude grains. Take advantage of the abundance of recipes available in these dietary approaches to diversify your meal options.

By planning your meals and snacks ahead of time, you’ll be better equipped to navigate your gluten-free journey with confidence and ease.

Going Gluten-Free: Step Four – Track

  1. Try It Out: Begin your gluten-free journey and keep track of how it affects you. This is your opportunity to observe firsthand how eliminating gluten impacts your body and overall well-being.
  2. Maintain a Log: Keep a detailed log of your experiences during the gluten-free period. Note any changes in symptoms, energy levels, mood, digestion, and overall health. This log will serve as valuable data for evaluating the effects of gluten on your body.
  3. Reintroduce Gluten: After completing your chosen duration of the gluten-free period, reintroduce gluten into your diet in small amounts. Pay close attention to how your body reacts. This reintroduction phase allows you to assess your sensitivity to gluten and how it influences your health.
  4. Acknowledge Bio-Individuality: Recognize that everyone’s response to gluten is unique. While research indicates that many individuals experience improvements on a gluten-free diet, individual responses may vary. Your health journey is personal and requires self-experimentation to determine what works best for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dietary choices. Your body’s response to gluten is specific to you, and the only way to discover it is through self-experimentation and observation.

By conducting this experiment and keeping a log of your experiences, you empower yourself to make informed decisions about your dietary choices and their impact on your health.

Going Gluten-Free is Your Choice and an Experiment May be Necessary

In conclusion, implementing a gluten-free diet involves four key steps:

  1. Commit: Commit to going gluten-free completely, understanding it’s an all-or-nothing endeavor. Decide on the duration of your gluten-free period.
  2. Inventory: Take stock of your current diet, including personal care products, to identify sources of gluten and wheat.
  3. Meal Planning: Plan a comprehensive two to three-week rotation of meals and snacks to alleviate stress and ensure preparedness during the transition.
  4. Track: Keep a detailed log of your dietary changes and how they affect your well-being. Experiment with reintroducing gluten after the designated period to assess your body’s response.

Remember, knowledge is power. By following these steps and staying attuned to your body’s signals, you can determine whether gluten is compatible with your health goals.

Join the free Health with Hashimoto’s community to share your experiences and engage in discussions about gluten and dietary choices. Your stories and insights contribute to a supportive and informative dialogue.

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