There has been much research on the relationship between celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid disease, and a new study out of Italy confirms that indeed celiac disease “is significantly increased in patients with thyroid autoimmune disorders.”
People with either Hashimoto’s Disease (also known as hypothyroidism) or Grave’s disease (also known as hyperthyroidism) should be screened for celiac disease, according to doctors and researchers knowledgeable about the relationship between the two disorders.
A 2005 study found that the prevalence of celiac in patients with Graves’ disease was 4.5% as compared with 0.9% in matched healthy controls. A 2007 Dutch study found that 15% of people with Hashimoto’s disease has positive blood work for celiac disease, and 4.8% had villous atrophy (flattened villi in the intestines), a higher number as compared to the general population.
According to Dr. Peter Green, in his book Celiac Disease, A Hidden Epidemic, celiac disease may predispose a person to thyroid disease, meaning that celiac disease actually happens first, but that doctors will more often test for thyroid disease first. Therefore, celiac disease is being missed in people who are being treated for their thyroid problems. And to make it even more confusing, many of the symptoms of these thyroid diseases can also be symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance — fatigue, feeling run down, feeling cold, constipation, weight gain, weight loss, just to name a few. Interestingly, many of the people with thyroid disease who test positive for celiac have “silent” celiac disease, meaning that they don’t have the obvious gastrointestinal symptoms.
Can a gluten-free diet improve thyroid conditions? If a person has celiac disease or gluten intolerance underlying a thyroid disease, then the person must be gluten-free to relieve other symptoms and to lower the risk of developing other autoimmune disorders. Whether or not it will reverse the thyroid disease just depends on the individual. According to one study, most patients with hypothyroidism normalized after a year of following a strict gluten-free diet and so, the researchers concluded, “gluten withdrawal may single-handedly reverse the abnormality.”