Auto-immune Hypothyroidism and Veganism
Q&A with Bill Harris, M.D.

Q. I recently became vegan, and am intrigued by the articles that refer to milk proteins as possible causes of auto-immune disorders. There is no history of either hypothyroidism or diabetes in my family, but my brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 16, and I started to have symptoms of hypothyroidism at the same age, though it wasn't diagnosed for two years.

A. Dear Treena,

There appears to a causative link between bovine beta lactalbumin and insulin diabetes and I append the reference below. There are a number of references linking hypothyroidism to celiac syndrome (gluten sensitivity from grains) and I append one below. I always recommend that a vegan diet be based on fresh vegetables and fruit rather than on grains so you might consider that as an option.

I am curious, now that I have eliminated these proteins from my diet, how would I know if my thyroid started working again?

You would most likely begin to feel more energetic. A T4 test or whatever other lab study your physician regards as the gold standard would also be in order.

I take 125 mcg Synthroid daily, and it's my understanding that because my body is receiving adequate replacement hormone, my thyroid gland may remain dormant even if it becomes capable of functioning again.

I think that's right.

Is there any way to tell without ceasing Synthroid?

I don't think so, however taking a trial off Synthroid isn't likely to be as much of a gamble as your brother going off insulin. I would suggest a full adaptation to a vegan diet first though, since that by itself may be a big help.

Also, are there any articles you could recommend for my diabetic brother, who eats SAD, and my other brother, also SAD, who has prostate problems?

See below. Good luck.


-William Harris, M.D.


Thyroid/celiac ref:

Horm Res 1999;51(3):124-7

Prevalence of coeliac disease in patients with thyroid autoimmunity.

Valentino R, Savastano S, Tommaselli AP, Dorato M, Scarpitta MT, Gigante M, Micillo M, Paparo F, Petrone E, Lombardi G, Troncone R

CNR, Experimental Endocrinology and Oncology Center (CEOS), Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology and Pathology, University Federico II, Naples, Italy.

The occurrence of autoimmune thyroid disorders among patients with coeliac disease (CD) is well documented, but the exact prevalence of CD among patients with autoimmune thyroid diseases (ATD) is as yet unclear. We screened 150 newly diagnosed patients with ATD by serum endomysial antibody detection (EmA). In 5 subjects (3.3%) EmA positivity was found; all underwent jejunal biopsy. On gluten-free diet an excellent clinical and histological response was recorded with an improvement of hypothyroidism and reduction of the thyroxine dosage. Our data suggest a significant high prevalence (3.3%) of CD in patients with ATD, in particular with Hashimoto's thyroiditis.


Diabetes Refs:
Relation between antibodies to islet cell antigens, other autoantigens and cow's milk proteins in diabetic children and unaffected siblings at the clinical manifestation of IDDM. The Childhood Diabetes in Finland Study Group.
Vahasalo P; Petays T; Knip M; Miettinen A; Saukkonen T; Karjalainen J;
Savilahti E; Akerblom HK
Department of Pediatrics, University of Oulu, Finland.
Autoimmunity (SWITZERLAND) 1996, 23 (3) p165-74, ISSN 0891-6934
Journal Code: A5H
Contract/Grant No.: DK-37957, DK, NIDDK
Languages: ENGLISH
Document type: JOURNAL ARTICLE

The relation between islet cell specific antibodies, other autoantibodies and antibodies to cow's milk proteins was studied in IDDM and pre-IDDM by analysing islet cell antibodies (ICA), insulin autoantibodies (IAA), anti-nuclear (ANA), anti-reticulin class IgA [ARA(IgA)], smooth muscle, anti-mitochondria, parietal cell (PCA), adrenal and thyroid antibodies and antibodies to cow's milk formula (CMF), beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) and bovine serum albumin (BSA) in a population based study with more than 650 children with newly diagnosed IDDM and more than 550 initially non-diabetic siblings. After adjustment for age a weak association was seen in the diabetic children between IAA and ANA but none between ICA and autoantibodies directed against the other organ-specific or non-organ-specific antigens. There was no significant difference in cow's milk antibodies between diabetic children with and without ICA or IAA. The siblings with ICA had higher CMF (IgA and IgM) antibody levels and BLG (IgA) antibody levels than the remaining siblings, but no such differences were found when comparing IAA-positive and negative siblings. Siblings positive for ICA had PCA more often than did the ICA-negative siblings, whereas siblings positive for both ICA and PCA had increased levels of antibodies against CMF, BLG and BSA. These findings indicate that the humoral islet cell-associated autoimmunity characteristic of recent-onset childhood IDDM is clearly restricted to the islet cells and not directly related to signs of other organ-specific or non-organ-specific autoimmunity. The observation of increased levels of antibodies to cow's milk proteins in siblings positive for ICA suggests that the immune response to cow's milk proteins may be related to the progressive autoimmune process resulting in beta-cell destruction and ultimately in the clinical manifestation of IDDM. Gastrointestinal autoimmune mechanisms may play a role in the pathogenesis of IDDM, and the association observed between combined ICA and PCA positivity and increased levels of antibodies to cow's milk proteins in the siblings implies that there may be an enhanced transfer of nutritional antigens across the gut barrier in these subjects.

Nutritional factors and worldwide incidence of childhood type 1 diabetes1,2

Sandro Muntoni, Pierluigi Cocco, Gabriella Aru, Francesco Cucca and Sergio Muntoni

1 From the Center for Metabolic Diseases and Atherosclerosis, Ministero dell'Università e della Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica, the ME.DI.CO. Association, Cagliari, Italy, and the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Biotechnologies and the Institute of Occupational Medicine, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy.

Background: Some dietary factors have been associated with the risk of type 1 diabetes in childhood.

Objective: We investigated relations between dietary energy from major food groups and incidence of childhood type 1 diabetes by using an ecologic study design.

Design: We conducted univariate and multivariate regression analysis with incidence rates of type 1 diabetes in the late 1980s and early 1990s among children aged <15 y in 40 countries as the dependent variable and average per capita daily intake of major food items and other socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic risk factors as the independent variables.

Results: In the univariate regression model, per capita total energy intake was nonsignificantly associated with type 1 diabetes incidence (r = 0.31, NS), whereas energy from animal sources was associated (r = 0.61, P < 0.01) and energy from vegetal sources was inversely associated (r = -0.35, P < 0.05) with diabetes incidence. Among dietary items of animal origin, meat (r = 0.55, P < 0.001) and dairy products (r = 0.80, P < 0.0001) were predictors of elevated incidence rates, whereas among dietary items of vegetal origin, cereals (r = -0.64, P < 0.001) were inverse predictors. In the multivariate analysis, the inverse relation of diabetes incidence with energy from vegetables and the direct correlation with energy from animal sources explained the positive associations of type 1 diabetes incidence with geographic and socioeconomic covariates.

Conclusion: The incidence of type 1 diabetes varied worldwide according to dietary patterns. In-depth exploration of dietary risk factors during pregnancy and early neonatal life is warranted to confirm whether and to what extent diet cooperates with genetic susceptibility in the early onset of type 1 diabetes. ********* Prostate refs:

Altern Med Rev 1999 Jun;4(3):162-9 An ecologic study of dietary links to prostate cancer. Grant WB 803 Marlbank Drive, Yorktown, VA 23692-4353 email:wbgrant@norfolk. [Medline record in process] Background: The etiology of prostate cancer has not been fully resolved in the scientific and medical literature, although the non-fat portion of milk and calcium are emerging as leading dietary risk factors, with lycopene (found in tomatoes) and vitamin D apparently being risk reduction factors. Methods: The ecologic (multi-country statistical) approach is used to study dietary links to prostate cancer. Mortality data from 1986 for various age groups in 41 countries are compared with national consumer macronutrient supply values for 1983 and tomato supply values for 1985. Results: For 28 countries with more than five Kcal/day of tomatoes in the consumer supply, a linear combination of non-fat milk (risk factor) and tomatoes (risk reduction factor) was found to have the highest statistical association with prostate cancer mortality rates for men over the age of 35, with the Pearson regression coefficient (R2) for those aged 65-74 years = 0.67 and p < 0.001. For the 13 countries with fewer than six Kcal/day of tomatoes, non-fat milk had the highest association (R2 = 0.92, p < 0.001 for men aged 65-74 years). For 41 countries combined, the non-fat portion of milk had the highest association with prostate cancer mortality rates (R2 = 0.73, p < 0.001 for men aged 65-74 years). Conclusions: These results support the results of several cohort studies which found the non-fat portion of milk to have the highest association with prostate cancer, likely due to the calcium, and tomatoes to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, most likely due to lycopene. PMID: 10383480, UI: 99316131

Animal fat consumption and prostate cancer: a prospective study in Hawaii
[see comments]
Le Marchand L; Kolonel LN; Wilkens LR; Myers BC; Hirohata T
Epidemiology Program, Cancer Research Center, University of Hawaii, Honolulu 96813.
Epidemiology (UNITED STATES) May 1994, 5 (3) p276-82, ISSN 1044-3983
Journal Code: A2T
Contract/Grant No.: PO1 CA-33619, CA, NCI; NO1 CA-05223, CA, NCI
Comment in Epidemiology 1994 May;5(3):271-3
Languages: ENGLISH
Document type: JOURNAL ARTICLE

Whereas case-control studies have been very consistent in suggesting a positive association between intake of dietary fat, especially animal fat, and prostate cancer, the results from past cohort studies have been mostly inconclusive. In this study, we evaluated consumption of high-fat animal products, raw vegetables, and fresh fruits, as well as obesity, smoking, and drinking, in relation to subsequent occurrence of prostate cancer. We studied a cohort of 20,316 men of various ethnicities interviewed between 1975 and 1980 in Hawaii. As of December 1989, 198 incident cases with invasive prostate cancer were identified by computer-assisted linkage of this cohort to the statewide Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results registry. Relative risks (RRs) for prostate cancer computed by proportional hazards regression were elevated for intake of beef [RR for highest to lowest tertile of intake = 1.6; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.1-2.4] and milk (RR = 1.4; 95% CI = 1.0-2.1), and for a summary variable for intake of high-fat animal products (RR = 1.6; 95% CI = 1.0-2.4). Weight was not consistently associated with prostate cancer, but there was an association with height (> 167 cm) (RR = 1.8; 95% CI = 1.0-3.2 for the third and fourth quartiles relative to the lowest quartile in height). These associations were stronger in men diagnosed before age 72.5 years. The risk estimates for raw vegetable and fresh fruit intakes were close to 1.0. Smoking and alcohol drinking appeared to be unrelated to risk.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)