If you follow me on facebook, you may’ve seen the gluten-free sloppy joe recipe I shared on Sunday. In that post, I shared that I started eating gluten-free on July 19th. So, why in the world would someone want to give up wheat? Before I explain, let me tell you that I am a HUGE fan of bread. It is one of my favorite things. When I was in grade school, I would grab a loaf of bread out of the cabinet and eat it as a snack. Nothing on it. Just bread. So, going gluten-free was not an easy decision for me.
Let’s rewind the story and start from the beginning.
(Sorry, this is going to be a long post)
For a long time, I didn’t feel like myself. I really can’t explain it. I just felt like something wasn’t right with me. Most of the time, I feel I am pretty in-tune with my body. Last fall, I went to the doctor for what I thought was strep. I woke up with a fever and a major sore throat. So, I immediately went to the dr. knowing I was going to get a strep diagnosis. Well, I didn’t.
It turned out, it was only my sinuses acting up. But, when the doctor felt my throat, she said that when I got well, she wanted me to come back and get my thyroid checked. She felt it seemed a little large. In my mind, I really wanted to laugh. I had always associated thyroid issues with someone that was severely overweight. Granted, I would like to be about 10 pounds thinner and haven’t been able to lose weight, no matter what I give up, how early I stop eating, or exercise that I do. But, I am not overweight. I am 5’8 and weigh 143 pounds. I have been 143 pounds, roughly, since 2007 when I got married. So, I just knew that my thyroid was ok. I just couldn’t lose the weight due to having two kids.
Fast forward to Spring 2015…
This is when the “I don’t feel right” really started. I was extremely moody. I relate it to a rollercoaster. I could mark on a calendar how I was going to feel. Well, this week I am going to be super happy, then next week, my family will not want to be around me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t change the mood I was feeling.
Then, I started feeling really exhausted all the time. I told my husband that I needed to do something because I was feeling a lot older than I was. Even though I was feeling this way, I still pushed through. I was working and pushing out blog posts like nothing was wrong.
Then, the bubble feeling started. All day every day, I was having trouble remembering things, completing sentences, and thinking clearly. I felt like I was living in a bubble and I didn’t like it. But, I chalked it up to having two kids, working, and not getting enough sleep.
Next came the part that I couldn’t ignore. I started having trouble focusing. This was around April of this year. When I sat still, I felt like I was going to fall out of my chair, words in books were spinning, and my balance felt completely off. The icing on the cake was when I was standing at my white board at work in front of my class. I went to write on the board to explain something to them and the entire room felt like it was spinning around me. After that class, I called my husband and told him I needed to go to the doctor that something wasn’t right.
I went immediately after work that day. My doctor tested my thyroid and iron levels. I have been known to be anemic.
The next day, her office called with my results… I had a low functioning thyroid and my iron levels were low. I am not at the point where they would diagnose me with hypothyroidism, but I am at risk.
She told me to get on an iron supplement and she called me in a prescription for the Armour thyroid pill. Honestly, I was relieved. I was finally going to get some relief… Or, so I thought.
Those two things helped for a little bit, but then I still wasn’t feeling like myself. So, after two months, I had to go back to get more labs to check to see how the medicine was working. I had a different doctor this time because my doctor was off work that day. I told her that I still wasn’t feeling like myself, so she said she wanted to check my Vitamin D levels as well with my workup. She said a large number of people do not get the amount of Vitamin D that they need daily.
And, guess what?
They called and now my Vitamin D levels were very low. So low that I had to start taking 5000 IU of Vitamin D3.
So, now, I am on Armour thyroid, Vitamin D3, and iron supplements. Anyone that knows me well knows that I do research about everything. I don’t even buy a shirt online without reading the reviews. So, this situation wasn’t any different.
I called my aunt and talked to her about it. Evidently, thyroid issues run in my family. I had no idea! Then, I did some online research. Yes, I know that isn’t wise to do, but I only use reputable sources. And, this is what I found.
The Gluten-Thyroid Connection
Several studies show a strong link between AITD (both Hashimoto’s and Graves’) and gluten intolerance. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] The link is so well-established that researchers suggest all people with AITD be screened for gluten intolerance, and vice versa.
What explains the connection? It’s a case of mistaken identity. The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. This means if you have AITD and you eat foods containing gluten, your immune system will attack your thyroid.
Even worse, the immune response to gluten can last up to 6 months each time you eat it. This explains why it is critical to eliminate gluten completely from your diet if you have AITD. There’s no “80/20″ rule when it comes to gluten. Being “mostly” gluten-free isn’t going to cut it. If you’re gluten intolerant, you have to be 100% gluten-free to prevent immune destruction of your thyroid.
So how do you find out if you’re gluten intolerant? Unfortunately, standard lab tests aren’t very accurate. They test for antibodies to gluten in the bloodstream. But antibodies in the blood will only be found in cases where the gut has become so permeable that gluten can pass through. This is a relatively advanced stage of disease. Blood tests will miss the many milder cases of gluten intolerance that haven’t yet progressed to that stage.
This was only one of the many articles I found addressing the connection. And, of course, I checked the comments under that article as well.
Then, it got serious when I found this article:
10 Signs you are Gluten Intolerant
If you have any of the following symptoms it could be a sign that you have gluten intolerance:
1. Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and even constipation. I see the constipation particularly in children after eating gluten.
2. Keratosis Pilaris, (also known as ‘chicken skin’ on the back of your arms). This tends be as a result of a fatty acid deficiency and vitamin A deficiency secondary to fat-malabsorption caused by gluten damaging the gut.
3. Fatigue, brain fog or feeling tired after eating a meal that contains gluten.
4. Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Ulcerative colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma or Multiple sclerosis.
5. Neurologic symptoms such as dizziness or feeling of being off balance.
6. Hormone imbalances such as PMS, PCOS or unexplained infertility.
8. Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. These diagnoses simply indicate your conventional doctor cannot pin point the cause of your fatigue or pain.
9. Inflammation, swelling or pain in your joints such as fingers, knees or hips.
10. Mood issues such as anxiety, depression, mood swings and ADD.
How to test for gluten intolerance?
I have found the single best ways to determine if you have an issue with gluten is to do an elimination diet and take it out of your diet for at least 2 to 3 weeks and then reintroduce it. Please note that gluten is a very large protein and it can take months and even years to clear from your system so the longer you can eliminate it from your diet before reintroducing it, the better.
The best advice that I share with my patients is that if they feel significantly better off of gluten or feel worse when they reintroduce it, then gluten is likely a problem for them. In order to get accurate results from this testing method you must eliminate 100% of the gluten from your diet.
I placed everything I had been experiencing in bold. I wasn’t really convinced until I read #5. Neurologic symptoms such as dizziness or feeling of being off balance. It was almost like a huge lump formed in my throat and I immediately showed it to my husband.
At that moment, he started doing his research as well. My husband is a football coach and has a Physical Education degree. He is pretty aware of the body and how it works.
Once he did his research, we both decided I needed to cut the gluten completely out of my diet.
Now, if you think I have jumped the gun, you wouldn’t be alone. My mom told me that I needed to get tested before making that decision. Well, if you read the articles I posted above, you know that I could take a test and it could come back normal. Gluten sensitivity doesn’t always show up on a test.
I don’t want my issue to get so bad that doctors want me to get my thyroid removed. From what I have read, that doesn’t fix the problem. The problem just starts targeting other areas. And, I have learned your thyroid is pretty important.
The thyroid gland produces hormones which regulate the body’s metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development and bone maintenance. Its correct functioning depends on having a good supply of iodine from the diet.
So, I would kinda like to keep it.
I am a big girl. I know when something isn’t right and it is my responsibility to try and fix it. If I can cut sodas completely out of my diet in 2010 (yes, I haven’t had a caffeinated soda since 2010), then I can cut the gluten.
How long will it take for me to notice a difference?
My husband said that gluten stays in your system for at least 6 to 8 weeks. So, I still have a good amount of time to go to really tell a huge difference, but I can already tell you that I am not nearly as bloated as before and I don’t feel like I need to vomit after eating.
Please understand that I am not doing this to lose weight. There are many other ways to do that. I am doing this to feel 33 and healthy. I don’t want to feel like I can’t think clearly, feel fatigue, or aggravated at everyone.
This may not be the answer I am looking for, but I won’t know that until I give it a shot.