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Gluten Intolerance & Hashimotos: A 3 Step Approach

It is said that every food we eat is either good for us, or bad for us - there is no neutral food.

If we consider this in terms of how our body is observing and responding to every food we eat, we realise that the digestive system, and particularly the gut is a key area where the integrity of our inner biology meets the larger 'external world'. The digestive system is effectively a 'tube', whereby external substances can 'pass through' our body, but it is the job of the digestive system to break down those substances as they pass through that tube, and decide if and how to use them.

Part of that process requires the body to assess whether those substances are, first an foremost, 'safe' to remain in the body. Hence, the immune system (which is our primary line of self-defence against any organism that has found its way into our inner biology) sits right alongside the digestive system, and in key areas is required to assess whether the foods we have ingested are 'good for us' and therefore assisting and supporting the body; or if they are 'bad for us'.

To differentiate good from bad, often requires that the digestive system begin the process of breaking down the foods into their different constituent and smaller 'parts'.

This requires the body to expend energy in the process of digestion: enzyme activity will be required to break down foods into their 'useable' smaller bio-dynamic forms. Sometimes the foods we ingest are simply unnecessary, or unusable by the body, and therefore the body uses energy in breaking down and eliminating these, which at the very best means that we are wasting energy resources on eliminating unwanted foods. At its worst, some ingested foods may not be assessed as being harmful to the body, and may remain in the digestive system, landing in the gut, where they later become not just a digestive issue, but an immune issue.

Whilst the digestive system itself may sometimes be able to eliminate highly toxic foods successfully via the digestive system itself (i.e. through vomiting etc.), some foods that are not toxic, but are difficult to break down and digest properly, may pass into the gut, where they remain hard to digest, and begin to ferment.

An ongoing bombardment of 'difficult to digest' food particles can build up in the gut, and cause large amounts of fermentation gases, a situation known as 'gut dysbiosis' and eventually, as the environment of the gut deteriorates, the gut wall itself may become compromised. A condition commonly known as 'leaky gut syndrome'.

If this happens, the epithelial cells of the gut wall have become weakened, and the 'tubular' structure of the digestive tract has lost its integrity. Therefore, as particles of incompletely digested food begin to pass through the weakened gut lining, and move beyond the confines of the gut, the immune system goes on high alert, and the identified toxin (which has moved from the gut, into the blood stream) will be 'marked, or 'tagged'' for destruction by the immune system.

It is this process of the body dealing with ongoing toxic or irritating foods that will show up for an individual as them either having a food intolerance (a food which is causing the digestive system extra effort and energy to address), or will move that intolerance into a full blow 'allergy', at which point the food which has been causing an issue in the digestive system has moved into the blood by permeating the gut wall, and is now identified as an immune issue by the immune system. The food has moved, over time and because of a long term chronic exposure, from an irritant, to become a 'trigger' of an allergic reaction.

If we continue to eat foods which 'irritate' our digestive system every day, or even multiple times a day, first the digestive system, and then the immune system will be weakened, and the energy reserves of the individual will also become more and more depleted. This is important, because protection and safety, in terms of survival of an organism (i.e. a person) will always outweigh the body's need to receive ongoing sustenance. Just imagine that the body is having to make a decision about whether to take foods that have been ingested and extract essential nutrients from them in order to strengthen the whole body, or if it needs to prioritise the identification and elimination of a substance which it considers is toxic or harmful - potentially life threatening. Which will be prioritised by the body? Self-preservation will of course mean that the immune system will be prioritised and in a chronic situation, the overall nutritional and energetic balance of the individual will become depleted, as the body spends more and more time and energy on trying to protect itself from invading external invaders, toxins and foreign bodies. In this scenario, good digestion is compromised (as it is always switched down when the body is in a situation of ongoing 'survival mode'). Digestion becomes impaired, sluggish. IBS and other 'auto-immune' digestive issues may result, all whilst the immune system and endocrine system are completely bombarded and overworked.

One of the big culprits of switching on the auto-immune system for people with hashimotos, is eating GLUTEN.

GLUTEN is identical in a part of its amino acid chain, to the amino acid chain of the thyroid tissue itself, which means that when the gluten molecule eventually travels through the compromised gut lining of a person who has been gluten intolerant for some time, their immune system will 'tag' the amino acid profile of the gluten molecule for destruction, and simultaneously, the immune system may inadvertently then begin to also destroy the thyroid tissue that "looks very similar" to the gluten molecule. This is because the immune 'tag' travels throughout the whole body, carried via the bloodstream, and will identify its target by the amino acid chain, regardless of where, or in which tissue that chain is found.

This is why we will see that there is a higher risk and a correlation between people who have autoimmune digestive issues going on to have autoimmune thyroid issues. (Although NOT necessarily in the reverse order: i.e. there is no evidence yet that there are higher numbers of people with autoimmune thyroid issues who will necessarily go on to develop autoimmune digestive issues).

But it is important for us to remember that Gluten intolerance is not a rigid state!

Just as an intolerance or allergy to gluten is 'built up' as the body's resilience is broken down; it is possible to rebuild the body and reduce or reverse these gluten responses.

Our bodies are built to respond dynamically and they are ever resilient in their ability to repair damaged cells.

This means that if we can stop the exposure to gluten, our immune systems can start to 'power down' their 'tagged' responses.

In addition, if we can provide the best resources for our body to rebuild the damaged epithelial cells in our gut wall, we can support our bodies internal repair system and reverse leaky gut.

STEP ONE - entirely eliminate gluten from your diet!

Firstly, gluten needs to be eliminated from keep entering the digestive system. By stopping the ongoing stream of the gluten based amino acid chains from moving through the gut wall and into the blood circulation, the immune system will eventually be able to stop its 'reactivity' to these pathogens.

We need to ensure not any single gluten molecules enter our digestive system - no matter how little the portion may seem to be - as ANY MOLECULES will pass through a leaky gut wall and compromise our immune system once more - reintroducing the inflammatory process we are trying to eliminate!

Three Tips to support you when you are eliminating Gluten

Deciding to eliminate a food group from our diet is a big change to make. For some people it will be very difficult to eliminate gluten from the diet because are so used to it being in the majority of our foods! This is where emotional support is helpful in achieving a goal.

1 Positive Thinking:

Changing our mind about what we think of food and how we approach the food we eat is something worth taking some time over. How does glutenous food affect you, make you feel? And when and where do you normally eat it? How will you feel when you cut it out? Why are you eliminating it? What are the positives to be gained from doing that? It may be worth building up an idea of the benefits and creating them as internal or external visualisations. Set yourself up with gluten free support groups and getting some tips and tricks on board to help you to 'get around' the thinking or feeling of 'deprivation' that can often accompany trying to maintain a reduced diet are positive ways to address any sense that something is being lost.

Thinking about what is to be gained is a good way to readdress and rebalance how you feel about these types of lifestyle and dietary changes!

2 Creative Food:

You can also find non-gluten substitutes for some of your foods! Make your food an occasion - eat mindfully - make it look good, every time you eat. Get colour, texture, taste and even smell into your breakfast, lunch and dinners. Looking into the autoimmune Paleo diet is something worth considering - if not only for inspiration on creative food ideas. You may even eventually end up going the whole way and converting to Paleo eating.

3 Expectations:

Don't expect to feel massive changes immediately - it can take several months to get gluten and the autoimmune antibodies out of the system and to start to feel a difference.

Keep a diary - notice all your symptoms before you start - and check in to see how different you feel through out the process.

STEP TWO - Support the healing phase of the gut wall: inflammation

When the Gut is inflamed, absorption of the nutrients from our food is compromised! Introducing protocols to support the body's ability to repair inflammation is fundamental to a long term healing strategy.

Inflammation will undoubtedly be present with leaky gut and any gluten intolerance or allergy.

Nutritional Supplementation

L-Glutamine will help to reduce inflammation and repair the intestinal epithelial mucosa. Research has shown that the number of cells in the small intestine and the volume and height of villi within the intestine wall are increased with L-Glutamine supplementation. It has also been shown to prevent & repair leaky gut. It supports the immune system and stress recovery, and additionally it has been shown to help protect the heart during heart attacks, with the contractile heart function of ALL CELLS receiving L-Glutamine recovering, and NONE of the cells without L-Glutamine recovering functionality.

Red Cabbage is considered the most dense form of L-Glutamine in vegetable form. They are also high in Raw Dairy products and in meat.

Red Cabbage Sauerkraut made with Apple Cider Vinegar is one of the best ways to make this bio-available

Due to the enzymes and bacteria created in the fermentation process that makes it more easily absorbed

Also try juicing

B6 deficiency has been shown to be prevalent in people with inflammation and a higher risk of inflammatory-related diseases including chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease (and rheumatoid arthritis - which is also often seen in people with thyroid issues). There is also evidence that B6 deficiency may also be related to higher risks of Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) - another long-term risk associated with thyroid conditions.

Personally, I enjoy one Fizz Stick each day, of which there are three different flavours: Blackberry, Pomegranate and Citrus.

Research which foods are best for B6 on this FACTSHEET

Vitamin C is the best know vitamin for its antioxidant effects; vitamin C can be taken in higher doses (of a few thousand mcg). It is considered harmless, but if you are taking too much, the body expels it noticeably as diarrhorea.

Research which foods a best for Vitimin C on this FACTSHEET

Magnesium can be taken into the body through nutrition and nutritional supplementation and also through the skin. It is eliminated through the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract. In order to be able to utilize Magnesium, we need to be both be taking in the mineral, and also expelling it appropriately. Magnesium deficiency can become an issue with leaky gut problems as the ability to absorb it through the small intestine is impaired. Some foods may need to be avoided to increase Magnesium absorption, whilst some studies have shown that Vitamin D has increased Magnesium absorption, and therefore they may be worth taking together.

Research which foods are best for Magnesium on this FACTSHEET

Selenium helps in regulating excessive immune responses (as occurs when the gluten Amino Acids break through a leaky gut, or indeed as is seen in hashimotos) and it also reduces chronic inflammation (again as we might see in the gut and also at the site of the thyroid when thyroiditis is present). Selenium has been widely talked about as a supplement for thyroid disorders, not only because it is an essential nutrient in the activation and deactivation of T4 and T3 (as Selenium is found in iodothyronine deiodinase in the form of selenocysteine) but because it may address the immune system and inflammatory responses that might be contributing specifically to an autoimmune thyroid dysfunction.

Research which foods are best for Selenium on this FACTSHEET

Biocare provide a liquid selenium, and if you

H2O - the forgotten hero! To support healthy expulsion of the increased free-radical production which occurs as the body begins to heal and repair itself. This support is essential and increased intake of good, clean, non-flouride water is also essential.

Nutritionally Supportive Foods

Food's that are full of:

  • Anti-oxidants - Personally, I use a powdered supplement called Greens Balance, a powdered proprietary blend of fruits and vegetables.

  • Anti-inflammatory properties

  • Vitamins & Minerals

STEP THREE -Support Gut Repair & Rebalance

Pre and probiotics

Start to Introduce pro-biotics and pre-biotics into the gut. The more diverse numbers of microbiome you can introduce - the better!

Add this through supplementation, but also look into introducing varied and more complex forms of bacteria into the gut. Fermentation is a great way to do this. Using as many different veggies and fermentation liquids as possible.

A fabulous book on this is "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Katz.

Increase and introduce enzymes into the digestive process.

Again this can be done through supplementation - I use digestive plus every day as an essential part of my health protocol.

However, increasing the number of 'living' foods we eat is also key to increasing our enzyme activity and taking the load off of our digestion. This can be in the form of raw vegetable juicing or smoothies, of eating more sprouted seeds and pulses and reducing the amount of 'dead' foods we are eating.

Dead foods are described as foods that have no 'life force' or 'chi' in them!

They essentially take more enzymes from our own body to digest than they provide us with. Therefore they deplete our overall energy system through using more enzymes to break down our food - we will often feel sleepy and sluggish after eating if we are left in an enzyme deficit!

In comparison, living foods are full of live enzymes which assist the digestive process within our gut, and bring life-giving energy to us! Following an enzyme rich meal we will feel full of energy and vibrantly alert!


JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr January 1999 vol. 23 no. 1 7-11


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