Do you really need to be gluten free with Hashimoto’s?
I’m often asked if just a little gluten here and there is ok when you have Hashimoto’s.
I’m going to be straight up with you here, no sugar coating things!
Even a tiny amount of gluten can tip the scales and it can last much longer than you anticipated.
Here’s what happens when gluten is eaten:
Gluten increases levels of something in your digestive tract called zonulin (1).
Zonulin when increased affects the tight junctions between the cells in you gut wall. The tight junctions act like gates keeping food and bacteria, etc in the gut and out of the rest of your system.
These tight junctions open more when zonulin increases (2). This increases intestinal permeability and allows food, bacteria, etc to pass into the blood stream.
Once in the blood stream your immune system treats them as foreign as they shouldn’t be there and tags them. They’re then taken to your liver to be processed and eliminated.
Increased levels of zonulin and intestinal permeability have been found in those with Hashimoto’s thryoiditis (2).
This process can result in the auto-immune response being triggered, in molecular mimicry and in chronic inflammation (2).
Gliadin contained within gluten is similar in structure to transglutaminase, this enzyme is abundant in the thyroid.
The immune system can attack transglutaminase as well as gliadin and cause continuing damage to the thyroid, a process known as molecular mimicry (3).
So what are the consequences?
The chronic inflammation, auto-immune response and the molecular mimicry take much longer to calm than it takes for symptoms to disappear.
So even after a little gluten, some may have no symptoms others may be severely ill for days.
However, whether you have symptoms or not this process is still going on in the background, driving the auto-immune attack on the thyroid and causing systemic inflammation.
So stopping gluten will stop the auto-immune attack?
For some the answer is that simple!
For others there are other factors at play too which need to be addressed. Either way removing gluten will be beneficial, even if you don’t feel it.
Other than removing gluten what other dietary interventions can help calm the auto-immune attack?
Gut dysbiosis can also trigger increased levels of zonulin (2).
So addressing gut health is critical. You need to look at what you are and what you aren’t eating!
Inflammatory foods that can lead to dysbiosis need to be eliminated, ie sugar, refined carbs (many of which contain gluten) and processed foods.
Processed foods themselves have also been shown to increase intestinal permeability increasing the auto-immune response (4).
Sugar and sweeteners can both alter glucose homeostasis and change gut microbiota composition (5).
A continued dysregulation in blood sugar can increase inflammation due to continued raised cortisol levels. Inflammation is a major driver of autoimmune disease so needs to be controlled wherever possible.
Focus on real foods that your good gut bacteria love such as fibre, ie vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, pseudo grains and naturally gluten free wholegrains.
Is there anything else other than diet that can help?
Stress has a profound effect on digestion, especially if it becomes chronic.
Stress reduces blood supply to the digestive tract, limits the release of digestive enzymes, bile, stomach acid and other digestive secretions, resulting in poor absorption of nutrients (6).
But it also slows motility, leads to intestinal permeability, slows repair of the digestive tract and upsets the delicate balance of the microbiome as well as up-regulating the release of mast cells and inflammatory cytokines (7).
So stress can be a major driver in the auto-immune process if it is out of control or even low grade but constant!
Introducing stress management techniques can be hugely beneficial in getting control of your Hashimoto’s, yet it’s an area that is often overlooked in favour of dietary interventions alone!
Need a little help getting things back under control?
Weight loss when you have hashimoto’s can be a real nightmare!
There are so many faddy diets and weight loss plans out there! It can be hard to decide which diet to follow. Advice is often conflicting – “don’t eat fat, eat low carb, restrict your calories, exercise more, drink this wonder smoothie and watch the weight fall off”
Feel like you’ve tried them all and nothing works?
Thats because a lot of them aren’t healthy or sustainable. They’re simply not designed for hashimoto’s sufferers. And can actually lead to weight gain and make your symptoms even worse!
Lets debunk a few myths.
Burn more calories than you eat to lose weight:whilst the idea behind this sounds simple, in the long run it can actually lead to increased hunger and cravings, reduced metabolic activity and increased weight gain. Sure in the short term this will likely help you shed a few pounds. But its not sustainable. Eventually your willpower will no longer be enough to drown out those cravings and you will cave. The end result will be you’ll feel hungry, miserable and like a failure.
Want to know a little more about how calorie restriction can cause problems and why it doesn’t work long term then check out the link below.
Eat low fat foods to lose weight: fat is not the cause of weight gain, sugar is! Sugary and refined carbohydrate foods are turned to fat in our bodies when blood sugar levels become too high. And what do most manufacturers replace the fat with in low fat products? You guessed it: Sugar or Sweeteners. So those low fat products are really not helping.
You can eat what you want if you exercise hard enough: Wrong! You cannot out exercise a bad diet. And to make matters worse if you exercise excessively it can cause a huge stress on our body. This can actually lead to weight gain, especially with hashimoto’s.
A calorie is just a calorie: what we eat is far more than just fuel to supply energy. The nutrients we consume are essential for 100’s of different functions in our body and brain. If you don’t supply the body the nutrients it needs for these tasks then it simply can’t do its job effectively or in some cases at all! So if you’re eating foods that contain the calories but not the nutrients then you’re body is going to keep demanding more until it gets what it needs.
So now we’ve addressed the myths lets take a look at factors that affect weight loss when you have hashimoto’s:
Sub-optimal thyroid levels
Poor digestive health
Lack of exercise/movement
Fortunately pretty much all of these can be addressed with some diet and lifestyle changes, with the exception of medication of course. But even this can be impacted massively by what you’re eating or not eating and what’s going on your life.
The changes I see in my clients when we address these areas are phenomenal. In just a matter of weeks I hear over and over again that their energy has sky rocketed, the brain fog has disappeared and the weight is finally shifting and it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying to lose weight! They’ve finally got that spark back and you can see it!
Take Gilly, this is what she had to say after just a few weeks of following the bespoke health plan I drew up for her:
“I haven’t felt this well in years!! My diet is great, I don’t feel like I’m being deprived of anything, I no longer have that ‘starving’ feeling, no indigestion or reflux at all, I’m sleeping better and weight has fallen off!! So its brilliant! I cannot thank you enough for taking that time to talk me through a program that definitely works for me!! This really has turned my future around and given me my life back!!”
And she’s not on her own! This is what Kate had to say:
“I’ve been working with Helen for the last 2 months and I’ve been following her suggestions for the past 6 weeks. Not only do I feel better mentally but I’ve lost an amazing 17lbs!! 17lbs in 6 weeks!!! Woohoo! I’ve still got a way to go but I’m confident I’ll be in my bikini this summer (if we are ever allowed back to a beach!!) Now, you should know that I didn’t sign up to lose weight. I signed up to help with my Hashimotos. My weight loss has been a massive bonus for me. I’ve struggled for years to lose weight due to my medication and a lack of knowledge about Hashimotos and Helen has helped me to understand. She is amazing and I’m very lucky to have found her!”
And it didn’t stop there, at our next appointment Kate had lost another 3lbs so that’s a whopping 20lbs in just 9 weeks!!
There was no crazy dieting involved, no fads or calorie restrictions and certainly no feeling miserable!!
Just a simple, healthy and sustainable roadmap to weight loss and healthy eating.
If you want to shift that hashimoto’s weight and keep it off then check out my weight loss roadmap.
It comes with a 60 minute pre-recorded masterclass on what’s stopping you from losing weight and how to fix it, plus a 14 day meal plan, recipe book and shopping list to get you started. All the hard works done, all you need to do is follow it step by step!
Organic food can have great benefits for Hashimoto’s symptoms. Since starting the AIP protocol nearly 5 years ago, I have made a huge effort to eat Organic food wherever possible. I seem to be extremely sensitive to chemicals. Both in my beauty products and in what I eat. So for me its definitely worth it. Plus its something I recommend my clients try and follow if they can.
I often hear that organic food is too costly and that there is no noticeable benefit.
But there are various benefits of buying organic food, especially when it comes to improving Hashimoto’s symptoms. Not only the lack of chemicals from pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in the meat we eat. But also the environmental impact, the animal welfare and the nutritional value.
Still not convinced? I’ve explored some of the research specifically in the area of nutrition and have discussed it briefly below.
2 recent studies conducted by the University of Newcastle show that Organic food has huge benefits when it comes to Nutrition.
The study below compared organic crops to non-organic crops and showed that organic crops are upto 69% higher in a number of key antioxidants than non-organic crops. Organic foods provide additonal antioxidants which are equivalent to eating 1 to 2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day! There was also a significant increase in minerals and vitamins in organic crops compared to non-organic crops.
Another study compared organic milk and meat vs non-organic milk and meat. It showed that Organic Milk & Meat contained 50% more Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Plus it showed a clear difference in the concentrations of essential minerals and antioxidants.
Why are antioxidants so important? They help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and certain cancers.
And Omega 3 Fatty Acids? They help reduce inflammation which drives autoimmunity. So lowering inflammation can only be a good thing when it comes to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Are pesticides really that bad for us?
The health of our gut bacteria directly influences the health of our immune system. So the healthier your gut bacteria the less severe your Hashimoto’s symptoms are likely to be. Pesticides can affect the delicate balance of our gut bacteria, leading to dysfunction and overgrowth of “bad” bacteria. Causing inflammation, leading to leaky gut, food intolerances and an over taxed immune system. Which makes you more susceptible to developing autoimmune diseases. Or makes your autoimmune disease symptoms worse.
Our liver has to work hard to detox all of these chemicals. But has less antioxidants, vitamins and minerals with which to do it. This can have a huge impact on Hashimoto’s as a large proportion of our T4 hormone is converted to T3 hormone in the liver. The liver prioritises detoxing over hormone conversion. So less T3 will be produced. Which leaves us with all the classic hypothyroid symptoms – fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues, dry & itchy skin, weight gain, feeling cold, etc.
So is it really worth it?
YES! For me organic food is worth every penny!
Where to start when buying organic
If you can’t stretch to organic for everything, make sure your meat is organic. Or at least grass fed and finished. Go for wild caught fish or organic, as pesticides are heavily used in farmed fishing. After that you can avoid the fruit, vegetables and grains that are most heavily treated with pesticides. And buy non organic for those products that have the least amount of pesticide traces detectable. The EWG in the USA and Pan-Uk both have a great list called the dirty dozen. It lists the most heavily pesticide treated fruits and vegetables. So you know which ones to definitely buy organic.
I’m sick of hashimoto’s hair loss! It’s just falling out by the handful! Sound familiar?
Check out my hashimoto’s hair loss tips below and find out more importantly what’s causing it.
It was something I once struggled with too. I’d wash my hair and feel like crying when my hair just came out in my hands, the plug hole would be blocked, as would my hairbrush. I used to have such thick, healthy hair, why was it now so thin and brittle?
This went on for years on and off, I was so tempted to cut it all off! But I knew if I did I’d need to style it and holding a hairdryer above my head caused too much pain, tying it up whilst wet was so much easier.
Its now back to what it used to be; healthy and thick, it actually shines again now and its longer than ever!
Let me tell you exactly how I got my hair back to full health, so you can too.
1. Get your thyroid levels checked, they need to be optimal for you!
2. If your on a T4 only medication and its not working for you speak to your doctor about adding in T3 or an NDT.
3. Get your iron levels checked, they need to be optimal, not just in range.
4. Get your vitamin B12 levels checked, again they need to be optimal not just scraping into range.
If you’ve done all this and still haven’t seen the results you want, don’t despair there is so much more to explore in regards to diet and lifestyle that can get your hair back to its former beauty! A couple of common areas I always explore in clients with hair loss are:
1. Low stomach acid levels – stomach acid is needed to help breakdown and absorb our nutrients. If we aren’t absorbing our nutrients our hair definitely won’t be getting what it needs to be at its best.
2. Sluggish liver function – this can be partly due to low stomach acid or eating foods you’re intolerant to, or just a poor diet. This will mean we can’t detox efficiently so toxins will build up, this requires extra nutrients will be needed to deal with this, robbing you of even more nutrients for things like hair growth as your body will always prioritise detox over hair growth.
3. Hormone imbalance – often caused by points 1 & 2. We need fat soluble vitamins to make hormones, if we’re struggling to absorb these then we can’t make sufficient hormones. Hormones also need to be detoxed by the liver once they’ve served their purpose, if its busy dealing with toxins it can’t do this effectively. This causes certain hormones to build up a dominance, which we don’t want and will certainly affect things such as hair growth.
So what can you do to improve stomach acid levels, liver function and hormone balance?
Tips to improve low stomach:
sit down to eat your meals (not at your desk, or on the go)
take your time
chew thoroughly (20 -30 times per mouthful)
limit distractions when eating
take 5 – 6 big deep belly breaths before each meal to lower stress levels, as stress shuts down digestion
drink water with a spoonful of apple cider vinegar 20 minutes before eating
Tips to improve liver function & balance hormones:
eat plenty of green vegetables
eat plenty of bright coloured berries
include plenty of beetroot and radishes in your diet
start each meal with a small salad using bitter greens such as rocket, radicchio, endive, etc.
drink plenty of fluids
drink herbal teas containing bitter herbs such as dandelion 20 minutes before meals
limit sugary foods, white refined carbohydrates and processed foods
manage your stress levels
get good sleep
Ditch the toxic hair and skincare products
I love the tropic skincare range, especially their hair conditioner!
If you want to know more about my hashimoto’s hair loss tips and what you can do to prevent it, get in touch below to arrange a free health discovery call to find out how my hashimoto’s healing programme can help you regain your beautiful mane once more.
I started this post in March this year whilst I was in the middle of a thyroid flair, I found it so hard to write as I was feeling so low that I stopped halfway through, every time I tried to write I’d end up in tears. I’ve revisited it a couple of times but still struggled to write what I feel. I really wanted to finish it because I feel it is so important and one of the areas of my health I discuss the least, its the area I try the hardest to mask. Below (in italics) is what I wrote in March.
This is a hard one to write and I’m sure it might not make comfortable reading either but its a major part of my illness and the one part of it I struggle with the most.
After 3 months of feeling really good after starting taking LDN (Low Dose Naltrexone), things have taken a turn for the worse. I’ve had a thyroid flare, which wasn’t exactly unexpected as the LDN works to modulate your immune system and I was aware that it could cause my thyroid medications to need adjusting as it does this, but I was expecting it to need a reduction in medication as my thyroid went towards a hyper state not to need an increase as it went in to a hypo state! So I was on the look out for hyper symptoms not hypo symptoms. That was my first mistake, my second was ignoring the symptoms that were slowly starting to occur and dismissing them as due to physically doing more than I’ve been able to in years, being stressed and actually having a social life for once among other things.
So what are my hypo symptoms and why did I not recognise them straight away?
Cold hands and feet (to the point of pain)
Needing to Sleep more
Muscle pain and weakness
Lack of coordination
Difficulty processing my thoughts and speech
Feeling irritable and anxious
Hairloss, dry brittle hair, skin and nails
Loss of appetite
Digestive slowness, bloating, pain and constipation
These are just some of the symptoms and not everyone’s experience is the same so I can only speak for how it affects me. For me the start of the symptoms start with an increasing level of fatigue, which is easy to put down to overdoing things, the winter is very busy for us in the Alps, everyone is busy so who isn’t tired at this time of the year!
This is then followed by cold hands and feet but it starts intermittently and gets gradually worse until its there constantly and is causing pain so at the start its easy to put it down to the external temperature being below zero, its winter of course I’m cold!
I start to become irritable and jumpy, which again is normal when you’re tired so its easy to ignore at the start. The musclepain, weakness and breathlessness again are gradual so you don’t notice it until its pretty bad and your struggling to walk properly.
The digestive symptoms start slowly and as I am sensitive to so many foods its easy to start examining what you’ve eaten to see if something has inadvertently been contaminated (especially if you’ve been eating out at all). The weight gain is slow so again its not instantly obvious although the loss of appetite should be a little more obvious.
Its a bit of a kick in the teeth to lose your appetite and to gain weight! You can probably see a pattern here without me explaining every symptom, they start slow and intermittently so individually its easy to miss what is happening until you start to put all the symptoms together.
But for me the tipping point comes when the depression hits. Again this is a slow process, but it’ll start out with the irritability and jumpiness that I mentioned earlier and progresses into irrationality, inability to cope with the slightest change in plans or things going wrong, followed by huge mood swings and feeling a little down.
At this point this quickly progresses into a constant overwhelming feeling of sadness, lack of motivation for even the most mundane things. This is followed by what I call the blankness, which scares the shit out of me! Its a feeling or should I say a lack of feeling, any feeling. You know you should feel something but there is nothing just an empty space, the situation often seems hopeless and is underlined by thoughts of whats the point, if this is what living with this illness is going to be like do I want to live the next 40 years like this.
Suicidal ideation often occurs throughout this period and it is quite scary to have thoughts like this in your head, even if you know you won’t act upon them. It is not living its existing. Its easy to see on a good day that things might be better the next day or week, but prior to starting the LDN and changing my diet I felt like this a lot, my thyroid flared at least twice a year (usually from winter into spring and then again at autumn to winter time), and if it can take roughly a minimum of 6 weeks for the symptoms to reach a point where its obvious what is happening before changing my dose and then another 6 weeks for it to get back to what it was before, thats 3 months gone and if thats just twice a year thats half the year feeling this way. Luckily thanks to the changes I’ve made it now generally only happens once a year in winter.
Just as the symptoms creep up on you, when you realise what is happening and you adjust your medication accordingly it can be just as slow for the medication to take effect and for the symptoms to subside. So it can be months feeling like this, which is particularly unpleasant.
Looking Back With Hindsight
The one area that I failed to consider whilst in the midst of my flair was a pattern I’ve since noticed thanks to a blog I read regarding how the winter months affect your thyroid. Basically when the temperature drops your body has to work much harder to keep you warm and functioning, it needs to produce extra energy to do this. Your thyroid is a major component of energy metabolism and when it doesn’t function properly you will likely struggle to cope with the changing temperature without a medication adjustment.
After requesting further testing in April when my dosage change seemed to be taking a particularly long time to improve my symptoms, it became obvious that whilst I was getting sufficient thyroid medication, my body was struggling to convert the T4 medication in the active T3 hormone that our body needs, so I switched to a combination T4/T3 medication which has helped hugely.
The cold temperatures are compounded for me by living at altitude too, which is also harder on the body. Sunlight exposure is much less and my Vitamin D level drops into deficiency range, this a major factor for those with autoimmune disease, research has shown that those with autoimmune disease have less symptoms and flares when there Vitamin D levels are at optimal levels.
In fact there is a direct correlation with the rise in autoimmune disease the further away you live from the equator and vice versa. All this explains why I feel better in the summer when I live and work at sea level (not that this doesn’t come without its own issues, such as heat intolerance) and why my health drops off in the winter back at altitude in the cold temperatures.
Learning From Experience
Its been 7 years since I was diagnosed and every winter this has happened. It has become so bad at points that we have considered moving to a climate that is more moderate all year round. At the moment this is not an option thanks to the uncertainty of Brexit, yes I know politics, bleurgh. But the fact is whichever way you voted (if you did) it makes life more complex for us right now and all the options and rights we had before are now not guaranteed, so a move is off the table.
As a result of this I’ve come to a decision that I will be doubling my vitamin D supplement dosage and adjusting my medication come next month in the hopes that I can pre-empt a winter flare or at least the worst of it hopefully. I’ve also bought a SAD lamp to help with light level exposure to hopefully help boost my mood. I have also re-committed to meditation, I’m not very good at this, I do it for awhile and then stop for ages. And I’ve just started doing a little Qi Gong. Every little helps right! Lets hope so!!
A Message To My Friends!
To those friends I don’t see for weeks or months on end in the winter months this is why. Its not that I don’t want to socialise or that I’m uninterested in your life. I’m usually just struggling to cope with this shitty illness.
Why do we find it so hard to talk about mental health? I have plenty of friends who would happily listen to me when I feel like this, friends who have already offered. Yet I still don’t pick up the phone. I’d say its more not wanting to offload onto others than thinking they won’t want to help that stops me. After all how can I explain why I’m crying uncontrollably or why I feel so depressed or hopeless if I don’t even know why, it just is. It is so easy to isolate yourself when you feel like this.
So as well as all the physical things I am changing I’m also going to try to reach out more, to go out, to speak to people or even to message friends more often. Feel free to hold me to this if I’ve turned into a hermit again!
Taking Back Control
The seasonal work we do seems unsustainable to me for my health as from week to week my workload can go from nothing to unmanageable, this undoubtedly does not help as my thyroid cannot adapt to this like it would if it functioned correctly, and the medication is slow acting so you can’t just take extra if you know you’ll be doing more.
So in September I started to retrain to become a Nutrition and Health Coach and then hopefully a Nutritional Therapist, the idea is to find ways in which I can improve my health yet further and then eventually to be able to help others do the same. This was a hard decision for me as the course runs through the winter when I’m usually at my worst and I didn’t know if I would be able to manage this on top of my usual workload. But something needs to change so I’m hoping it all works out. In the 3 months I’ve been doing it I’ve learnt so much and I’m loving it, hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the stuff I’ve learned and not take 8 months to write my next post!
I’d love to hear any techniques you use to cope with chronic health & mental health conditions and the positive things you’re doing to change your life.