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