Wheat & Your Immune System

Many of the patients we see at The Emperor’s Medicine have at least one autoimmune condition. And unfortunately, for the most part, it’s one of those situations of when it rains it pours: people who tend to have autoimmune conditions tend to have more than one. Many of these autoimmune conditions have one surprising thing in common: people tend to get better when they avoid wheat. Thankfully, we’ve all seen the myriad of gluten-free products available to us in grocery stores. But how exactly does wheat exacerbate an autoimmune condition, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?

Wheat is a grain that is primarily starch, but it also has many proteins within its structure – glutenins, gliadins, agglutinins, and prodynorphins. All these proteins have parts that can activate the immune system. But in the case of thyroid autoimmunity, it’s the glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) in the wheat, not the gluten, and an enzyme made by our own bodies to break down the wheat, called tissue Transglutaminase (tTG) that ends up being the culprits. The tTG enzyme has many roles in the body but it is also important in the breakdown of gliadin. GAD, on the other hand, plays a role in ripening the wheat. These are the proteins that are the thyroid cell lookalikes.

So, you can surmise from the above that every time you eat wheat, you are exposing your immune system to that magical epitope that looks like a virus, that looks like your thyroid gland, which looks like many other tissues (hence the co-occurrence of various autoimmune diseases). Autoimmune diseases that tend to occur together with Hashimoto’s are celiac disease, vitiligo, multiple sclerosis, diabetes Type I, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic urticaria. In short, the immune system gets activated and starts attacking everything that looks like wheat.

Now, wheat does not actually start the problem. To start the Hashimoto’s rollercoaster, you need to be genetically predisposed to it, and you need to have been exposed to things like ingesting foods high in iodine, pregnancy, hormonal imbalances, stress, toxins, heavy metals, smoking, botox injections, cytokine therapy, etc. Yet, after the initial trigger activates the immune response, something causes the immune system to perpetuate the attack over the course of the person’s life. In part, it is wheat ingestion that will perpetuate the autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland.

When you weigh the possible effects of Hashimoto’s on your life, such as heart failure, muscle failure, bone loss, infertility, miscarriage, menstrual abnormalities, and brain inflammation, to name a few, then add to that the symptoms of the 50+ autoimmune disorders that can be connected to wheat, I think it’s worth really trying to avoid it.

At least give it a try and see how you feel! – Dr. Selma Gladney, DAOM