Why I went gluten free…

If you’re reading this post, first and foremost – thank you for your interest! As Hashimoto’s (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in full) has been the reason I went gluten-free, I thought it important to put a bit of a spotlight on it and do a quick lowdown on how it works.

I’m guessing if you’ve come to this post you’ve likely heard of Hashimoto’s before, but for those who haven’t – Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that causes an attack on the thyroid gland so it can’t work properly. I know – sounds ‘fun’ right? Since the thyroid gland is integral to all sorts of systems in the body functioning properly (digestion, metabolism, hormonal & growth to name a few) the fact that it’s essentially being ‘eaten’ is a big issue! I’ve been learning over the last decade, that ‘Hashi’s’ has been responsible for the damage to my thyroid, unleashing a whole load of symptoms on my body.

Symptoms that for me have included:

  • Fatigue – I felt like I had no energy ever no matter how rested I was.
  • Needing to sleep – A LOT, and struggling with daytime drowsiness.
  • ‘Brain fog’ – Feeling mentally slow and often ‘losing my words’ was so frustrating.
  • Headaches – especially first thing in the morning, like I’d been on the wine all night!
  • Weight gain – I’d always been a consistent weight and then suddenly BOOM an extra stone appeared out of nowhere.
  • Feeling cold – me & my blanket in the office was a common sight.
  • Dry skin/ brittle nails – I lost a toenail once… traumatic I tell you.
  • Feeling low/ depressed/ no motivation – this doesn’t have to be related to the thyroid under functioning but research is showing often it is!
  • Constipation – ahem…
  • Night sweats – yuk!
  • Heart Palpitations – scary mary.
  • Anxiety – this is a whole different ball game and doesn’t have to be autoimmune related.

This is not a definitive list of the symptoms Hashi’s causes, nor all the symptoms I’ve experienced/am experiencing but right now I can’t remember anymore (this thyroid drama creates havoc with my memory!) Regardless of whether I’ve forgotten anything, what this list shows is that the symptoms are vast, weird and most annoyingly can be attributed to other problems which, certainly for me, has made getting diagnosed a slow process. *It’s also worth mentioning that the last three symptoms on this list are likely caused by an overactive thyroid, whereas the nine symptoms above are caused by an underactive thyroid – Hashi’s likes to create both problems!

So what actually is Hashi’s doing to the thyroid to make all these symptoms appear? Well to explain it simply – being an autoimmune disease, it sparks malfunction in the immune system, so it sees the thyroid as something that needs to be destroyed, creating antibodies that go and do just that. The result being the thyroid doesn’t release the right amounts of chemicals/hormones it needs to, which is what causes all these odd symptoms.

The reason this has happened to me, or to anyone with Hashi’s (it’s really common in women particularly), isn’t completely clear, research has shown that genetics & stress can play a role amongst other things. This is a problem because it makes stopping it difficult, if not impossible and by the time the symptoms appear damage has already been happening to the thyroid for a while.

The disease is identified by blood tests where the Dr checks Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level & presence of antibodies – thyroid peroxidase (TPO Abs) & thyroglobulin (TGB Ab). The problem with this is that you can have a normal TSH level and still be suffering from Hashimoto’s – something that the NHS is only starting to get to grips with. I was presenting with antibodies age 18 but it wasn’t until I turned 22 that the doctors identified a change in my TSH levels and started my thyroid replacement medication. At that point I’d been suffering symptoms and inevitably damage to my thyroid, for almost five years. Not great.

SO WHY DID I GO GLUTEN-FREE? Yeah ok, I’ll get on with the all important question! So what the doctors don’t tell you is that, even with medication (Thyroxine – T4) your symptoms might not completely go away. I was back and forth like a yo-yo, got referred to hospitals and was told across the board that there was nothing more the NHS could do – my thyroid function was now going to be fine and my symptoms must be from something else. This is because although it’s an amazing service, which I am grateful to have, the NHS has a very basic approach to treating Hashi’s and are not the best at dealing with thyroid patients whose symptoms persist. What they were telling me just wasn’t right! So I realised I needed to educate myself and not rely on my doctors to make me feel better – I needed to do some serious reading.

These two books are my thyroid bibles! Why do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When my Lab Tests are Normal by Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS and Stop the Thyroid Madness by Janie A. Bowthorpe.

What I discovered through reading these books and doing research online, was that there were so many other things I could try to lessen the symptoms (alongside taking the standard T4 medication). One of these things which I kept reading, was about removing gluten from my diet because gluten can exacerbate the attack on the thyroid. In Why do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms it is explained that the ‘molecular structure of gluten so closely resembles that of the thyroid gland’ that the immune system can end up confusing the two. Since gluten is in so much of what we eat (certainly in my diet), the already frazzled immune system can end up in a constant fight against gluten AND because it looks similar, against the thyroid – hello more symptoms.

What I noticed, fairly quickly, was after going gluten-free the fatigue lessened and crucially the daytime drowsiness STOPPED. The headaches also lessened. I felt like my mind was clearer and I felt so much quicker mentally. These symptoms had become my most hated and once they had reduced I realised how debilitating they had been. I also lost some weight which was a bonus. I don’t KNOW 100% that this was all a result of quitting gluten, but during a two-week period whilst I was on holiday in Florida I ate it again (think all american diet). I felt AWFUL for weeks afterwards and suffered what appeared to be a ‘thyroid storm’, which can be caused by an increased attack on the gland. This experience, coupled with everything I had read on gluten & Hashi’s has convinced me that removing gluten has made me feel better. Now I never even consider eating something with gluten in it.

So that’s the story! What I would say is this is a really, really, basic & condensed explanation of what I’ve learned about Hashi’s & the thyroid. I can’t stress enough that if you have Hashimoto’s, it’s important to do your own reading and really educate yourself as to not only how the thyroid works but how it is affected. Everyone has different experiences with it and you really can’t compare your own post-hashi’s body to anyone else’s!  Having said that, it does really help to know there are others out there who know what it’s like and are on the same wavelength – there are support groups, online communities and all sorts of charities fighting for better hashi’s health. Go check it all out!



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