Diagnosis

Gluten and the Thyroid

butterfly
Wondered where I’ve been? I started writing this post well over a year ago, but didn’t have the energy to finish it… Now, though, after a period of enforced rest and nearly a year on medication, I’m feeling a lot better!

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Well, that was a surprise… and not much fun. I’ve been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid.

Did you know there was a connection between coeliac disease and thyroid problems? It was mentioned to us all those years ago, when coeliac daughter was first diagnosed, and has been tested for annually by daughter’s blood tests – at least, until she was discharged from paediatric care. But I hadn’t really focused on it and in any case, had assumed that since daughter’s coeliac disease was well-managed, her risk was no greater than anyone else’s.

Wrong.

According to Coeliac UK, “people with autoimmune thyroid disease are four to 15 times more likely to have coeliac disease than the general population.” And it works the other way round too… coeliacs are more likely to have thyroid problems than non-coeliacs – about four times more likely, it seems.

The exact connection isn’t known yet, but both are autoimmune conditions, so it is assumed that it must be partly to do with a common genetic predisposition.

Symptoms

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck, which produces hormones to regulate your metabolism, affecting every system in your body.

  • An underactive thyroid slows down your metabolism, and symptoms include: tiredness, weight gain, constipation, aches, feeling cold, dry skin, lifeless hair, fluid retention, mental slowing, depression, a hoarse voice, heavy menstrual periods, confusion…
  • An overactive thyroid speeds up your metabolism, and symptoms include: restlessness, irritability, tremor, poor sleep, anxiety, tearfulness, weight loss, palpitations, rapid heart rate, sweating, feeling hot, increased thirst, diarrhoea, breathlessness, skin problems, light or infrequent menstrual periods, tiredness, weakness, swollen thyroid gland, eye problems…
  • And of course coeliac disease symptoms include: diarrhoea, steatorrhea, excessive wind, constipation, nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloating, iron/B12/folic acid deficiency, aneaemia, tiredness, headaches, weight loss, mouth ulcers, hair loss, skin rash, tooth enamel problems, osteoporosis, depression, infertility/miscarriages, joint/bone pain, liver abnormalities, clumsiness, numbness/tingling in hands and feet, lack of periods in women, epilepsy, type 1 diabetes, failure to thrive in infants, distended stomach in infants/children…

Charming set of problems, aren’t they? And with a significant overlap…

Should people diagnosed with a thyroid problem give up gluten?

If you’ve been diagnosed with thyroid problems it’s probably worth getting tested for coeliac disease – and certainly if you are still experiencing symptoms that might be related to coeliac disease.

If you have coeliac disease, then going gluten free is the only answer, and in this case a gluten free diet may help manage your thyroid-related symptoms. Anecdotally, people do say that a gluten free diet has helped them with their underactive thyroid symptoms.

Note that if you are experiencing nutritional malabsorption due to coeliac disease, and go gluten-free, that your absorption levels will change – and therefore the levels of thyroid medication needed may also change.

I haven’t found anything to indicate that someone with an overactive thyroid – and no coeliac disease – should go gluten free. I’ll let you know what I find out – and if you have any information, do please share!

(Note: I am not a doctor; if you are having medical problems, you should consult an expert.)

More reading:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2111403/

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/110310p52.shtml

http://www.thyroidmanager.org/

http://elaine-moore.com

http://www.british-thyroid-association.org/

http://www.thyroiduk.org.uk/tuk/index.html

http://www.btf-thyroid.org/

You Will Never Guess What is Associated with Gluten Sensitivity

This is a guest post by Julia Wiesniewski, who lives gluten free to help with her fibromyalgia.

If you are reading this blog, then likely you or a loved one has gluten sensitivity. Chances are, though, that you are unaware of all the different kinds of health conditions that are associated with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. Here is a list of conditions and disorders that you may not have realized are associated with a gluten sensitivity or allergy.

  1. Blood deficiencies.
    An inability to absorb gluten is associated with a deficiency in many vitamins and minerals in the blood. You need to visit your doctor to take a blood test and determine if you need to start a supplemental regimen. The deficiencies range from Vitamin A to Zinc.
  2. Addison’s Disease.
    People with celiac disease are 11x more likely to develop Addison’s Disease according to a Swedish study. Addison’s disease is when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones causing symptoms similar to IBS, which brings me to my next point.
  3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
    Symptoms of IBS include bloating, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea. If you experience discomfort often during the month, you should see your doctor to see if IBS is responsible.
  4. Fibromyalgia.
    IBS is found in 30-70% of fibromyalgia patients. Fibromyalgia can have many symptoms that range from chronic pain and fatigue to episodes of extreme pain. There are many support groups, such as the FMS Community, that help those suffering from this illness find support.
  5. Arthritis.
    Anti-connective tissue antibodies are found in increased numbers in patients with celiac disease. Arthritis is becoming more and more manageable with new drugs on the market.

As with any kind of diet or disease that affects the nutrients you receive from food, there can be widespread effects throughout your body. Don’t let this list scare you into thinking that you have any of these conditions. Talk to your doctor about your concerns in terms of your health and s/he will help you.

Lastly, living gluten-free can be a very manageable lifestyle. You don’t have to give up all your favorite foods like bread or pasta. You can buy a gluten free bread maker, gluten free flour or gluten free pasta. There are many of us living without gluten and our community can provide a lot of support.

Thanks Julia!

Julia Wisniewski has been living with Fibromyalgia her whole life. She blogs for Bready, the gluten free bread machine company, about her experiences with FM and living without gluten for GF communities. In her free time, she likes to read and her guilty pleasure is reality TV.

Diagnosed Doctor Supports Coeliac Petition

Dr Chris Steele at 10 Downing StDr Chris Steele handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street today, calling on the UK Government to help improve the diagnosis of coeliac disease – a condition with which he has just been diagnosed.

8,783 people (yes, including me – did you sign?) are asking the Government to find the half-million people in the UK at risk from undiagnosed coeliac disease by introducing a target for diagnosis to the GP contract. The idea is that setting targets changes behaviour (just as in any management situation) so if GPs have to list how many people they’ve diagnosed this year, they will actively be looking for the disease.

I’m not sure whether the idea is that they get paid on results, as they used to in some cases for vaccinations (and may still, for all I know), but that really doesn’t matter for the individual who is diagnosed

It is estimated that 1 in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, but that only 1 in 8 have been diagnosed. As you probably know, untreated coeliac disease can lead to infertility, multiple miscarriages, osteoporosis and bowel cancer – and the treatment is a gluten free diet.

Dr Chris Steele MBE is one of our television doctors (on This Morning, which I catch at my hairdressers every six weeks or so – I do remember that he was ill at some point before Christmas), and has been Ambassador of the charity for the last three years. He says:

“I have supported the need to raise awareness of diagnosing coeliac disease for many years but never thought that I would be diagnosed myself! It is a condition often over looked and misdiagnosed by GPs, which has resulted in half a million people in the UK currently undiagnosed. Consequently, people are suffering unnecessarily for many years which can also lead to an increase risk of osteoporosis and bowel cancer. There is also the possible increase cost to NHS caused through undiagnosis, by ongoing repeat visits by patients to their GP, and we also know of people having unnecessary operations such as gall bladder removal when a simple blood test could start the road to diagnosis; so I urge the Government to include a target for coeliac disease into the Quality and Outcomes Framework”

I think that finding those people who are as yet unaware that they have coeliac disease has got to be a good thing – as has speeding up the time to diagnosis. Targets are always difficult things to set, as people tend to act to fulfil the targets, so you have to be sure you have the right ones. However, this one seems straightforward enough, assuming that the funds will be there to cover an additional 500,000 biopsies and blood tests.

What do you think?

Image Credit: Chantal Richards

Glad to be coeliac: osteoporosis, the hidden threat

dairy-productsWe caught the end of a programme on Radio 4 this afternoon, while driving, which caught my daughter’s attention. “Like me!” she said, when the speaker revealed that she’d been diagnosed with coeliac disease.

The programme was actually about new treatments for ostoporosis, but – helpfully – the risks of developing osteoporosis as a result of undiagnosed coeliac disease were clearly stated.

Luckily, the woman speaking on the radio had been diagnosed with coeliac disease, and as a result, was automatically sent for a bone scan, which caught the osteoporosis. She’d never broken a bone and had no idea she had osteoporosis. As a result, she was delighted to have been diagnosed as coeliac!

The problem with undiagnosed coeliac disease is that valuable nutrients are not being absorbed, with the resulting damage to bone. Coeliacs who’ve been gluten free for long enough will in most cases be absorbing these nutrients again, because the lining of their small intestine will have healed. My daughter’s risk of bone damage is minimal – she’s had years to rebuild her bone strength. But there it is: one very good reason not to cheat. As if you needed any more reasons…

If you’ve recently been diagnosed as coeliac, and you’ve not had a bone scan to check for osteoporosis, then perhaps you should ask for one. As well as remembering to eat calcium and do some exercise!

If you’re interested in the osteoporosis programme, you can find it on the BBC website at the moment, and it will probably be there for a while longer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q3gjn.

Also available via the BBC site is the FRAX risk assessment tool to assess the probability that you’ll suffer a broken bone in the next decade, based on gender, BMI and medical history. Definitely worth a look.

Coeliac disease, diagnosis and petitions

signatureIf you’re a UK citizen, and are concerned about those people who have undiagnosed coeliac disease, then please consider signing the petition now available via the 10 Downing Street site.

It is asking ‘the Prime Minister to find the half million people in the UK at risk of serious damage to their health from undiagnosed coeliac disease by including a target for diagnosis in the Quality and Outcomes Framework of the GP contract’.

You know what they say: you get what you measure. If doctors have a target to meet, then they might have testing for coeliac disease higher up on their agenda … it works for infant vaccinations!

Signing the petition is easy. You do it online, here:

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/coeliacdisease/

Then they’ll send you an email to confirm that you are a real person; click the link in the email and you’re done.

Go on – and have a look at the other petitions online while you’re there. Interesting!