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Thyroid Disease and Celiac: My Journey

Thyroid Disease, My Answer (I thought)

My thyroid (a fun little butterfly shaped gland located in the neck) wasn’t functioning properly. I discovered this when I was twenty-four. Having struggled with varying health issues for years before this, I thought, “This is what’s been wrong!” Hypothyroidism.

This was not the complete answer, however, as I discovered years later. I had to wait sixteen more years before discovering I had an even bigger issue with my health. Celiac. 

We Aren't Limited To One Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases: the more the merrier, right?Well, not really. But autoimmune diseases like to join up, unfortunately. Patients with celiac should be tested for thyroid disease, and patients with thyroid disease should be tested for celiac, according to this article from Very Well Health. 

Thyroid Disease and Celiac: My Personal Story

I discovered that I had celiac the year I turned 40, even though I experienced many related symptoms throughout those four decades. I wonder, sometimes, how different life would have been had gluten been removed earlier. What if I was tested for celiac when I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism? 

“A significant number of patients with thyroid disease also have celiac disease,” according to this article from Beyond Celiac.

My kids surely would have had a happier and more energetic mom. But I cannot change the past. I cannot change the timing of the answers I received. The cause for my zapped  energy wasn’t discovered until my oldest was in high school and my youngest was in 6th grade. 

But I still feel blessed. And I still feel blessed, because discovering the true impact gluten had on me all those years fueled my need to advocate and support. If my efforts have impacted one life, I’ll take it!

*Besides people I will never know, my diagnosis benefited many I do know (and love dearly). Family. Celiac is genetic. Having this awareness and having celiac on our radar opened eyes to symptoms. My son, my youngest, became happier, healthier and more energetic when we discovered that gluten was impacting him just a year or so after my diagnosis. Other family members followed along the way. 

Celiac, Pregnancy, and Thyroid Disease

My health actually improved through the nine months of pregnancy (with my first two babies, anyway).  I struggled with “IBS” before I got pregnant, but that just disappeared.  And what appeared was renewed energy and an overall sense of well-being. This whole mommy thing sure suited me. But that was only temporary. Once baby was born, the exhaustion returned. Exhaustion after having a baby is natural, however, isn’t it?

There were four very distinct times in my life when I experienced an obvious improvement in my health, energy, and weight: my late teens, my first two pregnancies, and when I was diagnosed with celiac and removed all gluten.

The question, “Why do certain diseases go into remission during pregnancy,” is explained in this Science Daily article.

Yes indeed, I felt amazing when I was pregnant (the first two times). I just thought pregnancy agreed with me. *(I didn’t experience this improvement in health, however, with my third pregnancy.)

Thyroid Disease Continued: Could It Be A Brain Tumor?

Talk about a long way of getting to the whole thyroid connection.

I went to my doctor two months after I stopped nursing my first baby because my milk production didn’t stop. This started examples of incredible waste of time, money, and unnecessary fear.

I got to experience a brain scan. A pituitary tumor can cause continued milk production, apparently. This was the first test. A brain scan. When the scans didn’t discover a tumor, blood tests were next. The testing order was a little backward in my opinion, but that was the process.

The blood tests discovered that I had an under-active thyroid. Daily medication was required. Within weeks, milk production finally ceased.

I remember hoping to see resolution in other health issue I struggled with as well: fatigue, bruising, very dry skin, brittle hair. I experienced some improvements, but it certainly didn’t fix things completely.

My inability to gain weight didn’t change. Actually, doctors suggested it odd that I was so thin.  A symptom of an under-active thyroid is often weight gain not weight loss. But no one had an answer or suggestion for why I was so thin.

I even remember one physician telling me I was lucky. Lucky?! I couldn’t gain weight and I was lucky?! Yup, that’s the value we put on being skinny. Sad indeed.

Blank Stares

Fatigue continued. The IBS returned with a vengeance, (which of course wasn’t really IBS). Occasional tests of my thyroid continued to call for increases in my daily thyroid medication. When I asked why, I only got blank stares.

I showed the doctor a very large bruise on my leg at one of my annual physicals. This bruise was accompanied by many other smaller bruises. I asked if this could be caused by a lack of certain vitamins. Blank stares.

Routine blood work showed very low cholesterol. I asked again, “Could it be that I’m not absorbing nutrients properly?” Blank stares. Oh–and I was also told to consider myself lucky that my cholesterol was so low.

Yes, indeed, I sure was lucky. (Sarcasm here. Lots of sarcasm.)

Osteoporosis Too

By the time I was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1998, my thyroid med had finally reached the maximum dosage.

Guess what I asked again. “Could it be that I’m not absorbing nutrients properly?” 

And guess what the response was. Blank stares.

Between a thyroid that appeared to be increasingly less efficient, and this new diagnosis of osteoporosis, the whole brain tumor connection surfaced again. I went through more tests. I went through more scans. And I went through more fear.

So much time and so much wasted money.  One simple blood test (followed by a simple upper endoscopy for an intestinal biopsy) would have provided the answers that would have put me on the right health track. 

Guess what happened once I was finally diagnosed with celiac and removed gluten? I amazed the doctors by gaining nearly 15% bone density in the first year. And my thyroid medication decreased until it was cut nearly in half. Almost  HALF! It is currently even less than that. Bye-bye gluten, hello healthy changes.

Was my little voice correct? Hell yes it was!

Celiac–simple test. Gluten-free diet–simple solution. Of course, gluten free doesn’t cure celiac, but it cured the symptoms brought on by my body’s rebellion to gluten.

I suffered years (and years and years) of various health issues. Thanks gluten. Thank for nothing. 

*A gluten-free diet isn’t real simple. This is all about perspective and dependent on each person’s situation, but you know what I mean. Diet compared to illness is simple. My series, The Emotional Side of Gluten Free, is all about those hills, both up and down. 

I Was Diagnosed Through A Celiac-Osteoporosis Study.

I was the first person to test positive for celiac in this Celiac-Osteoporosis Study in the year 2000. This was a pivotal time in my life. It was a hugely pivotal time in my life. I have my before diagnosis years, and I have my after diagnosis years.

Let the good health out and let the roller coaster ride begin. I was ecstatic to have an answer and to know what I needed to do in order to improve my health. Eating gluten again wasn’t an option. I was focused and I was strict. And yet. . . 

. . . as relieved as I was to have an answer, I still found myself facing that emotional roller coaster that often comes with strict dietary requirements. 

Years later, I used my personal experience to create a 12-month series, The Emotional Side Of Gluten Free.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Rand

    I read the above article, amazed as if you are talking about me , the only thing is missed was that over and above I have hashimoto

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