Gluten to Hashimoto’s is like jet fuel on fire. Anyone with autoimmune disease needs to be off gluten. There’s nothing good about gluten’ (Dr Gil Kajiki, founder of the Valley Thyroid Institute in California

[1] Kajiki, G. (n.d.) ‘Thyroid Therapy Revolution with Gil Kajiki’, Inspirations with Lisa Carr. Available from Gaia.

It’s been a while since I wrote my blog. For a few reasons really. I was slightly put off by the number of hateful trolls out there. I say slightly because it really was only slightly. I haven’t taken it personally as such, but it does shock me how many horrible people are out there. Anyway, we are also in Canada seeing Chris’s family and I have a couple of projects that are keeping me busy too. But I have caught Covid so I’m in isolation in my sister-in-law’s camper (seriously, Canadian campers make British ones look like boxes). So, this blog may not be my best as I’m not 100 percent although that said, I’m comfortable and have a great view with mountains all around me with a beautiful sweep of snow on top.

My luxury camper – not a bad place to isolate.

Also, this has been a complicated blog to write. When we start talking about the root cause of something, we get into all sorts of sciency stuff that is difficult to get your head around. At least it is for me. In my last blog I talked about making the two-hour drive to see a private pediatric endocrinologist because the NHS appointment was another four months’ wait.

We enter his office, sit down where he scans the paperwork.

‘The posh name for it is ‘Hashimoto’s’’, he declared at once.

OK, at least now we had the diagnosis, confirmed of course by Seren’s high levels of peroxidase antibodies.

‘So, you’re looking at being on medication for life’, he told Seren, ‘because the thyroid will continue to be destructed until there’s nothing left’.

Crikey, is it OK to say this to my 10-year-old?

The truth is, if Seren hadn’t been there I would have cried at that news. In my lack of knowledge about Hashimoto’s I didn’t realise that the immune system attacks the thyroid until it’s completely dead. I thought that perhaps the Levothyroxine would ameliorate some of those effects. I couldn’t quite believe how matter of fact the endocrinologist was.

‘How did this happen?’ I asked weakly.

‘Genetics’. Again, so matter of fact.

‘Yes, but something must have triggered it. Like a pathogen or something?’

The pediatrician agreed with this but then quickly blinded me with science about the inner workings of a faulty immune system and why it is that you can’t stop it in its tracks and put it into remission.

I felt glum. And despite what he said, I kept asking in my head ‘Yeah but how did this happen?’ It didn’t just happen on its own, something must have triggered or caused it. And I just kept going back to the idea that if we can find what triggered or caused it and treat that, then maybe her condition would improve, and possibly go away?

Seren was then examined where the Endocrinologist confirmed that she was constipated, and it would be because she was suffering with slow gastrointestinal motility which means that her slow thyroid was causing food she ate to struggle moving through her digestive system. The result was a slowed down ‘gastric emptying time’.[1] In other words, the food wouldn’t move properly through her system, and she was constipated all the time. It was a relief to hear it was just constipation because some Movicol would easily sort that out and then we’d get back to normal. Wouldn’t we?

The gluten issue had really intrigued me. I was becoming more and more curious as to why Seren was now suddenly reacting very strongly to it when she hadn’t previously. Before we went to see the Endocrinologist, I started doing some homework. Here’s what I found…

A German Nutrition and Dietetics Professor, Aaron Lerner and colleagues reviewed several studies that explored the logic behind using a gluten-free diet in autoimmune diseases other than celiac disease (which is an allergy to gluten). Reduction of symptoms associated with people’s autoimmune disease was observed in more than 79% of the 83 studies selected. What is particularly intriguing is that the review highlighted that autoimmune thyroiditis is the ‘most responsive to gluten withdrawal’.[2] Despite not being an essential nutrient, you may have noticed that gluten is everywhere, even in non-food products like sunscreen or shampoo. Lerner at al. highlight studies showing that there are toxic and immunological effects of gluten on human health including gut problems such as dysbiosis. The human intestine is made up of literally trillions of microorganisms. This microbiota works with the immune system to protect you against pathogens (such as a virus, bacteria, or parasite). The microbiome also helps you extract energy and nutrients and although the role of gut microbiota is a relatively new area of study, research is suggesting that intestinal microbiota may contribute to health and indeed, the development of disease. The alteration of your gut microbiome can be a consequence of your diet, toxins, drugs, and pathogens. According to Carding et al. (2015)[3], foodborne viral pathogens appear to have the greatest potential to cause dysbiosis, triggering inflammation and serving as a mechanism for developing autoimmune disease. Anyway, the main point is that following one year of a gluten-free diet, the gut microbiome normalised in Coeliac Disease patients[4] although the exact mechanism for this is unclear. In other words, we don’t really know why (although see Lerner et al.’s article for a list of possible reasons).

But that point leads me to saying that once again, nothing is straightforward. Gluten is only part of the puzzle. As Dr Gil Kajiki says, common triggers for Hashimoto’s include anaemia, unstable blood sugar, adrenal dysfunction, inflammation, hormone imbalance, gastro-intestinal issues, food sensitivities, environmental toxins, genetically modified foods, and stress. Kajiki argues that by addressing these triggers, you’ll get a good jump on your condition.

But could Seren have Coeliac disease? Could that have been the trigger? Put simply, Coeliac, Hashimoto’s and Type 1 diabetes are genetically connected. The blood test came back negative for Coeliac, but it was a waste of time anyway. To get an accurate result, you need to be eating gluten regularly for six weeks. As I mentioned in the last blog, Seren lasted 10 days after reintroducing it into her diet and she lost four pounds, taking her down to 3 stones 3 pounds. We simply couldn’t carry on. I started to wonder if there was a different test. A more detailed test. My research lead me to opening up an explosion of information that was to change so much in our lives. I was already beginning to lose interest in other things as I became more determined to find out what had caused this condition. Unless the topic was about Hashimoto’s I wasn’t really interested in what anyone had to say. Aside from anything else, Seren was almost constantly ill, and her school attendance was as low as 72%. I have since learned from both a Gastroenterologist and Endocrinologist that some people with Coeliac aren’t symptomatic (or not very symptomatic). If, for whatever reason, gluten is removed from the diet and then reintroduced, it can spark a huge inflammatory response. Perhaps that’s what we were seeing. Regardless, I knew that time was of the essence. If we had any chance of making these peroxidase antibodies dropping and stopping them from attacking the thyroid, then we needed to remove the thing that was causing them to grow and be so angry at her body. As I can see looking back, gluten was a very good place to start and marked the journey towards healing. But it wasn’t the only answer and there was still a long way to go. Our lives were being taken over with putting so much effort in to trying to do the right thing only to be met by defeat each evening as Seren seemed to be getting sicker. Honestly, I could have screamed. Many times, in fact. Just as I became convinced that we had found the magic answer, I was always stopped in my tracks. Why would I naively believe that the human body could be that simple anyway?! Like it or not, I was going to have to continue seeking help and learning as much as I could.

[1] Yaylali, O., Kirac, S., Yilmaz, M., Akin, F., Yuksel, D., Demirkan, N. and Akdag, B. (2009) ‘Does hypothyroidism affect gastrointestinal motility?’ Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2009:529802.

[2] Lerner, A., Freire de Carvalho, J., Kotrova, A. and Shoenfeld, Y. (2021) ‘Gluten-free diet can ameliorate the symptoms of non-celiac autoimmune diseases’, Nutritional Reviews, 00(0): 1-19. P.3.

[3] Carding, S., Verbeke, K., Vipond, D. T., Corfe, B. M. and Owen, L. J. (2015) ‘Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota in disease’, Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, 26:1.

[4] Tjellstrom, B., Hogberg, L., Stenhammar, L., et al. (2013) ‘Faecal short-chain fatty acid pattern in childhood coeliac disease is normalised after more than one year’s gluten-free diet’,  Microb Ecol Health Dis. 24:20905.

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