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Food Sensitivities and Hypothyroidism (Or Is It a Gut Problem?)

Are food sensitivities or intolerances a trigger for hypothyroidism?

Do you have multiple food sensitivities? Have you given up gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and a dozen other foods to try and “heal” your thyroid disorder? Here’s why that might not be the best strategy…

Video Transcript

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Today we’re covering a series of listener questions focused on food sensitivities and thyroid physiology issues. 

Do food sensitivities cause thyroid antibodies to go up and cause hypothyroidism? Could food sensitivities or food reactivity be one of the things that trigger inflammation and thyroiditis? If there’s damage to the thyroid gland and if there’s inflammation in the system, could food be a cause?

It could be… but for a lot of people, I don’t think food in itself, or food reactivity is the primary driver of thyroiditis.

And yes, I know people have reactivity to wheat and to gluten and all kinds of things, and you can test positive for it. And hey, when I gave up gluten, my thyroid antibodies went down, my thyroiditis improved and my symptoms improved. 

If you’re reactive to one or two foods, it’s probably a really good idea to remove those foods at least temporarily, and then do what I’m going to talk about here in this video.

But what a lot of people have challenges with is this: they get diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or some condition, and somebody says, “give up gluten, and you’ll feel better.”

And so you give up gluten and you start to feel better, and then you plateau. And then you start to have signs and symptoms again, and somebody says, “well, you gotta give up dairy too.” And so now you give up gluten, now you’ve given up dairy and you feel a little bit better. 

But then over time, the signs and symptoms start to creep back. You’re not eating gluten, you’re not eating dairy, and now you find out, oh, it’s this cassava powder I added into my diet, or it seems to be the corn. 

And so now you remove another food, and then you remove and you remove, and it keeps going… until eventually you might be down to chicken and water and you just don’t feel well at all and you have nothing that you can really eat.

I’m really concerned about restrictive diets. I think they’re a great tool. An anti-inflammatory protocol is a great tool early on to help make some changes to the gut biome, to what’s going on in the GI tract. 

But the more restrictive diets get, I think it becomes more and more problematic. 

If you have more than one food that you’re reactive to or sensitive to, the issue is probably less about the food. 

The issue is probably more about the function and physiology of your GI tract, low stomach acid, not taking time to sit down and eat so you’re not producing appropriate levels of acids and enzymes to break things down, or maybe permeability issues in the GI tract. 

So could foods be part of the process that’s creating some inflammation that’s triggering cell stress response and maybe thyroiditis? Yes.

Are the antibodies, the little Pac-Man eating away at the thyroid gland? That’s really not the case. In most part, thyroglobulin antibodies don’t cause any damage to the gland based on the literature. And TPO antibodies cause very little damage to the thyroid gland themselves. It’s the T cells that are probably causing more of the damage. 

Do I need to remove all foods I’m sensitive to to reduce the thyroid antibodies? That’s a tough question because it all depends on what you’re reactive to. If you’re reactive to 150 foods, you can’t remove 150 foods… so I don’t think that makes sense. 

If it’s one or two foods and they’re really problematic, I think it makes sense to reduce those or eliminate them temporarily. 

But if you’ve got multiple food sensitivities – maybe you’ve done a food reactivity or food sensitivity panel, maybe you’ve done that too early. If you get one of those tests done and you’ve got lots of antibodies to lots of foods, you probably have digestion, dysbiosis, and permeability issues that are resulting in poorly digested food proteins and peptides crossing the GI barrier and triggering immune reactivity. 

If you’ve got multiple things you’re reactive to, you’ve got a gut-based problem. 

So it might be beneficial to just eat a cleaner whole-food diet and get focused on trying to improve stomach acid production, bile physiology pancreatic enzyme output, make sure you’re feeding the bacteria that should be producing short-chain fatty acids that keep the immune system in check and help maintain the integrity of the GI barrier so it doesn’t become too permeable. 

Because if you have poor digestion, if you are in fight or flight mode when you’re eating and you’re kind of shutting down the rest and digest system, you probably aren’t going to break your food down well, you’re probably not going to have real healthy integrity of what we call the tight junctions of the GI tract, and those poorly digested proteins are going to cross the barrier and trigger reactivity, and that’s usually the biggest cause. 

I’m not opposed to running food sensitivity to food intolerance tests, but I don’t think you should do that too early. I think one of the best things to do is try and work on improving the health and the function of the GI tract, improving your dietary habits, and then if that seems like it’s in check, then maybe doing the food sensitivities, food reactivity after that may be a better idea.

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The most important thing you can do if you have multiple food sensitivities is to improve your digestion, improve intestinal permeability, identify dysbiosis and imbalance in the bacteria in the GI tract, and work to support the immune system.

But you’re probably going to need the help of a functional medicine practitioner who really understands some gut physiology and its tie to thyroid physiology.


Is it possible to add back foods that you’ve been reactive to? Yes, I think it is, and I think it’s probably beneficial to add healthy whole foods back if you can digest them. 

If the immune system’s calmed down, if the GI barrier’s in better shape, you want to add back as many healthy whole foods as possible because the more diverse your diet is, the more diverse the gut flora – and the more diverse your gut flora, the healthier you will be as an individual. 

Yes, there are lots of religious wars out there when it comes to what type of diet is better or best. I think for the vast majority of us, the long-term plan should be a healthy whole food-based diet that includes both plant and animal sources. 

Any radical diet change that you do could change how you feel. It could make you feel better, it can make you feel worse, but it’s going to change something in your gut. Radically changing your diet isn’t necessarily the best strategy…

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Hi, I’m Dr. Eric Balcavage, owner and founder of Rejuvagen. If you’re struggling with health issues or have questions, let’s chat. You can schedule a 15-minute call with me to get started.