Denise Richards says cutting out gluten helps her thyroid disease — here’s what an expert says

Denise Richards thanked Instagram fans for noticing that she had an enlarged thyroid during a recent “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” reunion. The attention led to her thyroid disease diagnosis.

“A few of you pointed out after the #RHOBH reunion that my thyroid was enlarged,” Richards wrote this week. “You were right, it was something I ignored until pointed out.”

Fans of Denise Richards pointed out an enlarged thyroid during the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" reunion episode, which led to the actress being diagnosed with thyroid disease. (Photo: Getty Images)
Fans of Denise Richards pointed out an enlarged thyroid during the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" reunion episode, which led to the actress being diagnosed with thyroid disease. (Photo: Getty Images)

The actress also shared that going gluten-free has helped with her thyroid disease. “It’s amazing to me in a short time eliminating gluten from my diet how much my thyroid has changed,” she wrote. Adding: “I had no idea how much our diet really can affect our body and for me how toxic gluten really is ... I thank all of you who sent me messages.”

About 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, according to Cleveland Clinic. Women are up to eight times more likely to have thyroid disease than men. The disease affects a small, butterfly-shaped gland, located in the lower front of the neck, which helps control metabolism and regulate body temperature. The thyroid produces the hormones T4 and T3, but with thyroid disease, the gland can produce too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism).

For hypothyroidism, that can cause symptoms such as “unexpected weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, cold intolerance, constipation and depression, and menstrual changes,” Shirisha Avadhanula, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, can cause “unintentional weight loss, inability to sleep at night, tremors, heat intolerance, diarrhea, palpitations, and irregular periods.” Both diseases are typically treated with medications.

But does cutting out gluten actually help with thyroid disease?

Bottom line: Not really. “Very limited data exists on the implications of what a gluten-free diet may do in thyroid dysfunction,” Avadhanula tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Only a small amount of data has been reported and shows mixed results. Further research is needed to explore this very interesting topic.”

However, it’s worth noting that celiac disease — an immune reaction to consuming gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — is common in people who also have an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid — namely, Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease. With Hashimoto’s, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and causes hypothyroidism, while Graves’ disease is an immune system disorder that causes hyperthyroidism.

“There is a well known association between autoimmune thyroid dysfunction and celiac disease,” notes Avadhanula. “The most common causes of both hypo and hyperthyroidism are autoimmune conditions, called Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Grave's disease. In fact, autoimmune thyroid diseases are among the most prevalent auto-immune co-existing conditions in patients who suffer from celiac disease. The etiology behind this phenomenon is not well understood. In clinical practice, offering assessment for celiac disease in the presence of an autoimmune thyroid disorder is justified.”

So cutting out gluten may make people with thyroid disease feel better because they may also have underlying celiac disease.

This isn’t the only time a fan has pointed out a thyroid problem to a TV star. A nurse watching a “Flip or Flop” marathon in 2013 noticed that Tarek El Moussa’s thyroid was enlarged and reached out to the show’s producers. El Moussa got it checked out and was diagnosed with stage-2 thyroid cancer. He is now in remission.

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