We know that certain foods can both make Hashimoto's worse while others can potentially improve thyroid function and antibody levels.
But where do red meat and other animal products fit into the equation?
Is it possible that these products trigger Hashimoto's or exacerbate it?
New research has suggested that there may be a link between the two.
- 5 Neu Gc is an animal-derived product which does not naturally occur in humans but can become incorporated into the body through diet.
- The body can create antibodies to this product and a very high percentage of patients with positive anti-TPO antibodies also have antibodies to 5 Neu Gc.
- It's possible that there is a connection between consuming animal products and the development of Hashimoto's.
- Correlation does not mean causation, however, as not everyone with Hashimoto's may react negatively to animal products.
Hashimoto's and Your Diet
Many patients are quick to point out that there is likely a connection (probably a strong connection) between the development of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's thyroiditis and the food that you put in your mouth.
Certain types of foods, for instance, have been shown to cause alterations in immune function, damage to the intestinal lining of the gut, and changes to healthy bacterial species found within the gut.
And all of these changes have been associated with the potential development of Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
New research has shed light on a product which may trigger autoimmune disease and this product is primarily found animal products.
The implication is that a diet high in animal products, especially red meat, may trigger autoimmune disease.
The idea that a diet heavy in animal products is not healthy (1) is not new.
There have been many doctors pushing predominately plant-based diets for some time.
The question is:
Does removing or reducing the amount of meat (or animal-based products in general) that you consume affect autoimmune disease in your body?
Would it also make sense, therefore, that there are certain individuals who are sensitive to animal products as well?
The answer is probably not as clear cut as you might think and that is exactly what we are going to explore today.
And the star of the conversation is a product known as Neu 5 Gc.
For the record, I'm not advocating a diet which is absent of red meat, I'm just exploring new research and its potential implications on the body.
My personal experience suggests that diet is highly individualized and while it may be wise for some people to be on a plant-based diet this doesn't mean that ALL people should be on one.
Neu 5 Gc and its Association with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
What exactly is Neu 5 Gc?
It's a product which is primarily found in animals and one in which humans don't produce.
If you have Neu 5 Gc in your body it's most likely because you've consumed animal products at some point in your life.
Recent studies have shown a very strong (and I mean very strong) correlation between the presence of antibodies to Neu 5 Gc and the presence of TPO antibodies (4).
I should point out, however, that the correlation between these two things does not mean that one causes the other.
Just because patients with TPO antibodies also show antibodies to Neu 5 Gc does not guarantee that they are related in any way.
But, back to our story.
You probably know about TPO antibodies because they are the antibodies which your body creates which help destroy your own thyroid gland if you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
If you have Hashimoto's then you've probably had your blood tested and you've seen that these antibodies were elevated.
If you also tested blood levels of Neu 5 Gc you would find that those are most likely ALSO elevated.
The connection between TPO antibodies and Neu 5gc antibodies is important because of the point that I just mentioned previously:
Humans don’t make this product which means the main way that we get it in our bodies is through to be through the consumption of animal-based products.
We can extrapolate further and ask this question:
Is it possible that consuming animal products may cause the creation of Neu 5gc antibodies which then triggers TPO antibodies and autoimmune thyroiditis?
Furthermore, does this mean that patients with Hashimoto’s disease should avoid animal products?
Understanding this connection is incredibly important beyond the food we eat because there are animal-derived medications (such as Armour Thyroid, WP thyroid, NP thyroid, Nature-throid, etc.) which may theoretically exacerbate Hashimoto’s if this information were true (we are going to discuss this very topic later).
The Connection Between TPO Antibodies and Neu 5 Gc
There are many potential explanations which may help us understand the connection between Hashimoto's and the presence of Neu 5 Gc antibodies.
It has been shown in studies that high concentrations of Neu 5 Gc can actually kill your cells (they are cytotoxic).
If this occurs then it is possible that these damaged cells may allow for your immune system to interact with portions of cells that they wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with.
Imagine this scenario:
Imagine you are consuming a diet which allows for unnaturally high levels of Neu 5 Gc. As these levels reach some critical threshold (which is probably different for each person) they start to damage certain cells in the body.
Among these cells which are being damaged are your thyroid cells.
As they are destroyed your immune system comes into contact with portions of thyroid cells which contain thyroid peroxidase (which is an enzyme found inside of your thyroid gland (5)).
Under normal healthy conditions, there would ever be no reason for your immune system to come into contact with these cells (6) but if these cells are destroyed or damaged (say in the presence of 5 Neu Gc) then it may be possible for your immune system to identify portions of yourself as 'foreign' and trigger an autoimmune attack.
This could result in the production of autoantibodies to TPO which then triggers thyroid damage and ultimately Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
This is one plausible explanation of how Hashimoto’s may be connected to Neu 5 Gc antibodies.
None of this has been proven, however, but it’s interesting as a thought experiment to try and potentially explain the connection between these two things.
Another theory, which may explain the connection between these two antibodies has to do with how Neu 5 Gc can enter into our cells.
Some studies show that dietary Neu 5 Gc, from sources such as red meat, can become incorporated into your cells starting from a young age (7).
It’s possible then that after years of consuming meat-based food products that this product is found within your cells and isn’t necessarily causing any issues but as your immune systems damages your cells it may be released.
Upon release, your body may recognize it as foreign and produce antibodies to it.
In this example, the autoimmune disease comes first which then triggers the release of 5 Neu Gc.
This could explain the high correlation between these two antibodies while also providing a reason as to why levels of Neu 5 Gc is not clinically relevant or important.
While we have information showing there is a strong correlation between Hashimoto's and this antibody we don't completely understand the reason.
Meaning it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the data and information until we have more to draw from.
Should you Avoid Animal Products?
The worst-case scenario for many people would be that animal products, particularly meat, may exacerbate or trigger Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
I don’t believe that this is actually the case based on my research, personal experience, and history of treating and managing Hashimoto's in hundreds of patients.
Instead, it’s much more likely that there are some individuals who are simply more prone to developing Hashimoto’s (or other autoimmune diseases) due to a variety of reasons including their own genetics and the foods that they eat (8).
These individuals simply can’t tolerate the same foods as others who are not in the same situation as them.
So, is it possible that consuming meat or animal products may trigger Hashimoto’s in these select individuals?
The answer is yes, it’s always possible and even probable.
The problem is trying to determine where you fit into this equation and whether or not you are someone who should avoid animal products.
The truth is that the tolerance and the amount of animal products that one should consume probably varies from person to person.
There are a number of individuals, including readers of this blog, who experience worsening thyroid function when they adopt a ketogenic diet.
It’s possible that some of these changes may be related to how your body interacts with foods which are high in fat (9), especially if those foods are animal based.
So, how can you use this information and apply it to your situation?
While I am not able to provide you with personal medical advice I would offer this as a guiding resource:
If you are someone with Hashimoto’s who has tried other diets in the past without success then a good rule of thumb may be to reduce the frequency with which you consume meat.
This doesn’t mean that you have to completely eliminate meats or animal products from your diet, but reducing how frequently you consume these foods by 25 to 50% may make a difference.
As you make this change be sure to follow your thyroid lab tests, your antibody levels, your gut function, and your general symptoms.
If you notice a positive change in these markers then you are probably heading in the right direction.
If not, then you can try to further reduce the amount of red meat that you consume and re-evaluate.
Reducing or eliminating red meat from your diet for a short period of time (say 3-4 months) is not likely to have any long-lasting negative effects on your body and may potentially help your situation.
Armour Thyroid and TPO antibodies
Lastly, it's also important that we touch on thyroid medications which are animal-derived.
NDT medications, such as Armour Thyroid (also included in this list would be NP thyroid, Nature-throid, and WP thyroid) are often considered as 'natural' medications even though they are derived from an animal source and not by a human source.
If it is true that animal products contain 5 Neu Gc and that this is potentially harmful to your body then we also have to consider the class of medications known as Natural Desiccated Thyroid which are typically porcine-derived.
If it's possible that food can contain this product then it's also possible that NDT medications can contain it as well (and likely do).
If this were true, however, then we would probably see that some people with Hashimoto's would not be able to tolerate this type of medication and may experience a worsening in their symptoms.
We generally do not see that, however, and I'm speaking as someone who has given countless patients with Hashimoto's NDT.
I have, however, seen robust negative reactions in certain individuals (very few to date) who start with NDT medications who also have Hashimoto's.
These patients often react negatively with a 'storm' of negative symptoms, an abrupt increase in serum antibody levels, and a negative change to their thyroid function lab tests.
It's not clear what is causing this reaction, but it's been suspected by me (and by other physicians) that this type of reaction may be related to immune system response to the animal-derived medication.
So it's hard to say with any degree of certainty whether there is a correlation between negative reactions to NDT and 5 Neu Gc levels.
As always, I will be following the research as it comes out to determine if there is something more to it but at this point, I don’t believe that we can make any definitive claims or suggestions.
It is, however, a reasonable approach to adjust your diet (at least temporarily) to reduce your exposure to Neu 5 Gc products if you’ve already tried other dietary approaches with little success.
Altering up your diet is always a good idea as it provides more variety to the foods that you consume and it will help provide you with a different array of nutrients and vitamins.
Just be sure to incorporate essential nutrients into your diet in the form of supplements if you take this route as meat does provide high levels of certain nutrients that can be difficult to get in plant-based products.
Now I want to hear from you:
Do you believe there is a connection between animal products and Hashimoto’s?
Have you tried vegetarian or vegan diets in the past?
Did they work well for you? Why or why not?
Leave your questions or comments below!
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