I have already discussed my disdain for gluten in previous articles, citing numerous research studies reporting its negative effects on the brain and digestive health. Gluten is a very hard protein found in wheat, barley, and rye products, and most individuals today are sensitive — if not downright intolerant — to its structure. One topic frequently overlooked is the relationship between gluten consumption and thyroid disease. Although the connection between nutrition and thyroid health has been circulating in the medical and nutrition literature for years, it’s only recently that we’re seeing an increasing amount of scrutiny being placed on gluten’s effects on thyroid health.
The Problem with Gluten
Gluten contains gliadin, a protein that is foreign to the human body. The unfamiliarity leads to the initiation of an immune response, an action that is amplified in individuals with Celiac disease. Many people today are sensitive or intolerant to gluten, and an immune response is not just excluded to those with Celiac. Depending on the intensity of the immune response, an individual may notice little effect; for intolerant individuals, profound symptoms may present themselves immediately.
Through the years, wheat has been extensively cultivated and gluten has become much harder to digest. The wheat of our ancestors resemble nothing of what it is today, as evidenced by the ever-increasing cases of Celiac disease in the last 50 years. Individuals merely sensitive to gluten may experience symptoms that seem unrelated to wheat consumption. These symptoms include hormonal imbalance, skin issues, brain fog, fatigue, depression, arthritis, and migraines. Many of these annoying symptoms remain prevalent in the lives of many people today simply because it’s difficult to connect these symptoms to eating gluten-containing products.
Gluten and Thyroid Health: What’s the Connection?
To the body, gliadin looks very similar to transglutaminase, an enzyme needed to form chemical bonds throughout the human body.  While present in many organs, the thyroid possesses a higher concentration of this enzyme. When the immune system attacks gliadin, the antibodies also attack the thyroid.  As the immune response continues, the thyroid suffers damage for up to 6 months after gluten consumption.
Not only can digestive health suffer when people with Celiac disease or intolerance/sensitivity participate in prolonged gluten consumption, but thyroid health also drastically degrades. An inactive or underproductive thyroid can interfere with proper hormone synthesis and metabolism, and it can also affect weight and energy.
Thyroid Disease and Gluten Intolerance
Researchers have determined those with an autoimmune thyroid disease (ATD), especially Hashimoto’s (hypothyroidism) or Grave’s (hyperthyroidism) disease, should be regularly screened for Celiac disease and gluten intolerance.   A significant focus of research to date has examined the incidences of gluten intolerance in patients with ATD. Many patients with ATD do show an immune response to gluten, indicating a need to introduce nutritional approaches for individuals with chronic and debilitating autoimmune disorders.
Does Gluten Only Affect the Thyroid?
When gluten stimulates an immune response, other areas of the body can also be affected, such as the brain. Research has also found that patients with ATD suffer immune attacks on the endocrine system, the main system responsible for managing hormones.  In patients with Celiac disease, gluten is a known to be a prime trigger for endocrine disorders. 
Gluten and Hormonal Imbalance: The Hidden Link Behind Common Health Concerns
Any chemical, whether it be natural or synthetic, that interferes with thyroid and endocrine function creates an imbalance within the entire human body. That’s because these organs control hormone production, and malfunctioning hormones can interfere with metabolism, fertility, and mood. Even cardiovascular health is related to proper hormone function, making it crucial that you employ various health strategies (like avoiding gluten) to keep hormones in check. In this light, gluten may be contributing to many of our most common health problems in a much more significant way than previously considered.
One Final Thought
If you have an autoimmune thyroid disorder, it is imperative that you completely avoid gluten. For those who suffer from a gluten sensitivity, avoiding gluten may be the best choice to protect your thyroid and overall health. Many people who have chosen a gluten-free lifestyle either by need or by choice report incredible and even dramatic improvements in their health. The best answer for all of us may be a gluten-free lifestyle, especially if we are seeking to balance hormone levels. Instead of wheat, choose gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and millet.
- Griffin M1, Casadio R, Bergamini CM. Transglutaminases: nature’s biological glues.Biochem J. 2002 Dec 1;368(Pt 2):377-96.
- Naiyer AJ1, Shah J, Hernandez L, Kim SY, Ciaccio EJ, Cheng J, Manavalan S, Bhagat G, Green PH. Tissue transglutaminase antibodies in individuals with celiac disease bind to thyroid follicles and extracellular matrix and may contribute to thyroid dysfunction. Thyroid. 2008 Nov;18(11):1171-8. doi: 10.1089/thy.2008.0110.
- Hakanen M1, Luotola K, Salmi J, Laippala P, Kaukinen K, Collin P. Clinical and subclinical autoimmune thyroid disease in adult celiac disease. Dig Dis Sci. 2001 Dec;46(12):2631-5.
- Sategna-Guidetti C1, Bruno M, Mazza E, Carlino A, Predebon S, Tagliabue M, Brossa C.. Autoimmune thyroid diseases and coeliac disease. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1998 Nov;10(11):927-31.
- Akay MN1, Akay G. The presence of the antigliadin antibodies in autoimmune thyroid diseases. Hepatogastroenterology. 2003 Dec;50 Suppl 2:cclxxix-cclxxx.
- Kumar V1, Rajadhyaksha M, Wortsman J. Celiac disease-associated autoimmune endocrinopathies. Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 2001 Jul;8(4):678-85.