Call it acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD, but having stomach acid splash back up into your esophagus is painful and distressing. Although researchers cite various causes, one that many doctors overlook is gluten, the protein found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and other wheat-like grains.
People with hypothyroidism may already struggle with heartburn due to a slowed metabolism and weak production of stomach acid—ironically, heartburn is frequently caused by stomach acid not being acidic enough. When acidity is poor, digestive function falters and gut maladies, including heartburn, ensue.
However, most cases of hypothyroidism in the United States are caused by an autoimmune thyroid disease called Hashimoto’s, and many studies link gluten with Hashimoto’s. For the hypothyroidism patient, an undiagnosed gluten intolerance can be a determining factor in heartburn.
Studies link gluten with acid reflux
Research shows acid reflux symptoms more commonly affect those with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. One study found 30 percent of celiac disease patients had GERD compared to less than 5 percent of those not diagnosed with the disease. Another study found almost 40 percent of children with celiac disease suffer from esophagitis, inflammation of the esophagus and heartburn.
Gluten-free diet found to relieve heartburn
Fortunately, researchers also found a gluten-free diet relieved symptoms of GERD rapidly and persistently. Some people have found they also need to give up grains, processed foods, or other foods to which they are intolerant (such as dairy) to completely relieve acid reflux.
GERD could be autoimmune
Some research shows that stomach acid is not acidic enough to immediately damage the esophagus. Instead, it triggers an inflammatory reaction within the tissue of the esophagus, causing damage.
What does gluten have to do with this? Gluten has been shown to be very pro-inflammatory in many people, and has been linked with 55 autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. It’s possible acid reflux could be yet another inflammatory disorder triggered by gluten.
Antacids increase health risks
Most people relieve acid reflux by taking an antacid to neutralize stomach acid, with sales of the drug topping $10 billion annually. Not only does this fail to stop stomach acid from washing back up into the esophagus (one study showed protein-pump inhibitors actually induce acid reflux), it also impairs nutrient absorption.
Antacids may increase food poisoning risk
Stomach acid is vital to the absorption of minerals and vitamins, and protects the stomach from bacteria, fungus, and infection. Chronic use of antacids has been linked to increased risk for bacterial infections, candida (yeast) overgrowth, and food poisoning.
Antacids may increase osteoporosis risk
Chronic antacid use also impairs absorption of minerals, including calcium, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Proper testing for gluten intolerance vital
With one in five people now believed to be suffering from celiac disease, it’s important to know whether you are too, and whether undiagnosed gluten intolerance is contributing to heartburn.
The conventional tests to screen gluten intolerance are notoriously inaccurate. For cutting-edge testing, please contact my office.