My nutritionist says I should be eating gluten-free. Right at this moment, this sounds scarier than having brain cancer.
I don’t mean to sound flippant in any way. Brain cancer is serious stuff. But eating “gluten-free” has also always sounded like a big mystery to my little mind. It means I cannot eat any wheat. It also means I should not eat many (any?) pre-packaged foods anymore either, which actually dovetails quite nicely with my new healing-cancer eating routine.
But I need to explore exactly why I need to be gluten-free. Why do I need to do it now? What does it mean, exactly, for me? There is some connection between being gluten-free and having brain cancer. What is it?
I have been hypo (low) thyroid for more than 12 years – since before Hannah was born. I just recently found out that my hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease – like my dad’s rheumatoid arthritis or my aunts’ cases of juvenile diabetes.
This means that my autoimmune system creates antibodies that attack and damage my thyroid gland. Doctors don’t really know all of the “whys” of Hashimoto’s – it might be caused by a bacteria or a virus or a genetic flaw. The bottom line is that my body is attacking itself and so doesn’t/can’t produce as much TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) as it should. This slows down my metabolism and can make me feel fatigued, or cold, or chronically tired, or give me any number of other “hypothyroid symptoms.”
Until very recently, I didn’t know my hypothyroidism was caused by an autoimmune disease. But now that I have a brain tumor, apparently understanding my hypothyroidism has become more important – a LOT more important.
Why? Because Hashimoto’s Disease causes something called “leaky gut syndrome.” Apparently, “leaky gut syndrome” means a person’s intestinal lining allows certain proteins to sneak out of the digestive tract and go into the blood stream – places they are not supposed to be. This causes the person’s immune system to attack itself. In the case of Hashimoto’s Disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to produce less TSH than it should.
So how, exactly, is my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis related to my brain cancer?
Well, that’s the $100,000 question. I am no expert on this – in fact, I am the absolute opposite of an expert right now. I am an utter newbie. So I’ve spent the last several days at the computer trying to gather a little information on the subject. As you well know, doing this on the Internet is fraught with peril. But hey, in the last couple of months, peril has become my middle name! Bring it on!
As far as I can tell, “leaky gut syndrome” (where proteins seep out of the digestive tract and into the blood stream, causing the body to attack itself in an autoimmune response), is somehow related to the “blood-brain barrier” that protects the brain. But what, exactly, is the connection?
Apparently, both the intestinal lining of the gut and the blood-brain barrier are protective lines of defense for the body. When the intestinal lining becomes “leaky” then autoimmune disease symptoms can appear – in my case, my immune system will start attacking my thyroid gland and I’ll start having Hashimoto’s Disease symptoms. For other people, symptoms might be for multiple sclerosis or diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases.
Like the intestinal lining, the “blood-brain barrier” (BBB) is a physical barrier that protects the brain. Apparently, the BBB is like a safety net that normally prevents harmful substances from getting to the brain and damaging it. The BBB does this by having “tight junctions,” that capture the offending intruders and keep them away from important areas of the brain.
When the blood-brain barrier breaks down, as is the case in some brain cancers and brain infections or when tiny ruptures to blood vessels occur, some substances that are normally kept out of the brain gain entry and cause problems for the brain. Brain facts.org. Other times, scientists want to “open up” the BBB so that medicines can pass through the barrier to reach brain tumors and treat them more effectively.
So…What does this mean for me and my brain cancer?
Real truth? I don’t know yet.
I believe it means that nutrition is going to be a very important factor in my healing since being gluten-free – or not being gluten-free – can cause my body to attack itself. Or not. This appears to be true at both the intestinal lining and blood-brain barrier levels.
Clearly, there is a lot I need to learn as I move forward.
If any of you know any good (scientific-based) books on why it is important to be gluten-free, or any really good gluten-free cookbooks – I would love to have your recommendations!