Does quitting sugar heal autoimmune disease?

Does quitting sugar heal autoimmune disease?

I am a fan of this Australian journalist and TV presenter named Sarah Wilson. She is the author of the Australian and UK best-sellers I Quit Sugar and I Quit Sugar For Life. I Quit Sugar was released in the USA and Canada April 2014 and is a New York Times best-seller. I was a sugar addict (yes I confess) so quitting sugar has been a big part of my personal path to thyroid wellness. Sarah’s book was extremely helpful. Thank you to Sarah for sharing her story of thriving through Hashimoto’s disease here at Hypothyroid Mom.

Written by Sarah Wilson

This is actually a post I’ve been busting to write for a while. I first quit sugar because of my autoimmune (AI) disease. I have Hashimoto’s. And a big part of why I’ve stuck to the sugar-free program is that it’s made such a damn big difference.

So the simple answer is this: Quitting sugar has had the biggest impact on my AI, more so than my medication or any other medical fix (and, trust me, I’ve tried everything). In the past three years, I’ve been able to better manage my AI, but also – yes – heal and reverse the damage.

  • I have zero thyroid antibodies now.
  • I’m on the most minimal dosage of thyroxin.
  • My hormone levels have fallen back into the right range.

It’s taken years to get to this point. I put it down to the massive change to my diet that quitting sugar precipitated. And to breaking the clusterf*ck cycle that autoimmune disease invariably locks you into.

But why? And how? Let me explain…

Warning: As I always remind people, even if you don’t have an AI, you’ll probably find it helpful because the advice I share relates to all of us. Or you probably have a loved one who has an AI…please share this with them.

Sugar mucks up your gut

Blood sugar imbalances inflame the digestive tract, causing leaky gut (literally, a perforated gut lining). In turn, leaky gut triggers the development of AI. Toxins are able to pass through the perforations into the bloodstream triggering an autoimmune reaction as our antibodies head out to attack the foreign invaders. These little antibody soldiers can then get confused and head off to attack parts of our bodies, such as the thyroid. Gluten, for instance, has a very similar molecular structure to the thyroid gland.

Sugar causes inflammation

The process above obviously creates inflammation, which compromises immune function. In addition, sugar compromises the ability of our white cells to destroy toxins. This effect begins within 30 minutes of eating the stuff and lasts for five hours.

Insulin spikes destroy the thyroid gland

As many of you know (yeah?), sugar causes our pancreas to secrete insulin to move excess sugar from the blood into our cells where glucose is used to produce energy. But over time, the cells lose the ability to respond to insulin. Our poor little pancreas responds by pumping out even more insulin, leading to insulin resistance.

Studies have shown that these repeated insulin surges increase the destruction of the thyroid gland.

Also, this: we’re programmed to see low blood sugar as a threat to survival. Thus our adrenal glands respond by secreting cortisol. Cortisol then tells the liver to increase the amount of glucose available, bringing blood sugar levels back to normal.

As you know, again (um, yeah?), cortisol is the “flight or fight” hormone, reserved for special occasions (like being chased by a tiger or some such). It causes an increase in heart rate, oxygen, and blood flow while shutting down digestion, growth and reproduction so all energy can go to our brains and muscles.

Problem is, if cortisol is over-used ‘n’ abused (from eating sugar daily), this all suppresses pituitary function. Um, which is vital to thyroid function (the hypothalamus, thyroid and pituitary work as a threesome).

And around and around and around we all go, right?

Flipside, a bung thyroid can then cause insulin issues

How’s this work? Our thyroid function depends on blood sugar being kept in a normal range, and keeping our blood sugar in a normal range depends on healthy thyroid function.

How so? Low thyroid function slows down the way we process sugar – in our cells, guts, the insulin response and the clearance of insulin. Which means…

We might even have normal levels of glucose in our blood, but because we’re slow to respond to it, and to absorb it we very easily get hypoglycemic (and thus clutch at sugar)…know this…

Anyone with thyroid issues has a much harder time with sugar than everyone else.

You have to break the clusterf*cky cycle… yourself

It’s been shown an increased frequency of thyroid disorders in diabetics, and a higher prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome in people with wonky thyroids. It’s hard to say which comes first – metabolic issues or bung thyroids…chickens or eggs. But does it really matter? At the end of the day, my friends, it all comes down to sugar. And the solution really is to quit it.

For me, I know my AI issues stem back to a sugary carb addiction in my late teens. It led to gut issues, insomnia, addictions, hormone issues, nervous disorders, adrenal collapse…and then Graves (another form of thyroid disease)…and then Hashimoto’s.

The only way to break the cycle – and to eliminate both the trigger and exacerbator – is to quit sugar.

Anyway, I reckon that’s enough for now. It was quite a rant.

A bit about Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is a blogger and wellness coach whose journalism career has spanned 20 years, across television, radio, magazines, newspapers and online. She’s the former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and was the host of the first series of MasterChef Australia, the highest rating show in Australian TV history. She appears regularly as a commentator on a range of programs including Channel 7′s Sunday Night, The Morning Show, Sunrise and Weekend Sunrise, Ten Network’s Good News Week and The Project, Nine’s 60 Minutes and A Current Affair. Sarah lives in Sydney, rides a bike everywhere and when asked what her hobbies are cites “bush hiking”, planning her next meal, and being fascinated by other people with real hobbies.

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About Dana Trentini

Dana Trentini founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby she lost to hypothyroidism. This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.


  1. Hello, I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I agree that sugar and carbohydrates are a big key to this disease. I now think there is actually two parts to this Hashimoto’s disease. One is the low thyroid and of course the doctors will give you thyroid replacement hormone to help with that but for many of us with this disease, we do not feel much difference after taking the pill. I believe there is a separate second part of this problem that is plaguing us. Sugar/carbs are feeding an overgrowth of Candida Albicans in our bodies. An overgrowth of Candida can cause Leaky Gut and enters the body. The by-product of Candida gives off a estrogen-like hormone that can throw off your other hormones. Too much estrogen can slow down your thyroid. When I went on a ketogenic diet and kept my carbs to less than 20 grams, I saw on my lab report for my TPO antibodies that they dropped a lot when I did it for a week. The first week, it dropped 47 points. Later, I did it again for another week, my TPO antibodies dropped another 38 points. I am doing it right now and I am hoping to get my TPO antibodies down within the normal lab range. For some reason, there seems to be a connection between Candida and TPO antibodies. When you diet to get rid of Candida, you also lower the TPO antibodies. Anyone that has the TPO antibodies that is above the lab range absolutely DOES have the autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. So, if you lower the TPO to within the normal lab range, you put your Hashimoto’s into remission. The attack on your thyroid is gone. Then, there is a question if your thyroid will work or not. I do know that after my TPO antibodies have gone down to 111 that I started becoming Hyperthyroid. My doctor lowered my thyroid medication to a lower dose. I do believe sugar/carbs make a difference. It is because it feeds the Candida. Candida is the culprit behind it all. That is just my opinion. My antibodies used to be 240 when I started. It was 111 on my last test in June since going low carb (low sugar/low carb) a while back. I will be tested again in three weeks. I think the trick is to stay low sugar/carb until the TPO antibodies are within normal range on your lab test. Take probiotics to help combat and crowd out the bad bacteria and fungus/yeast from your body.
    I hope this helps anyone. This is just from my experience and my observation on my own self.
    My conclusion is that sugar/carbs feed Candida overgrowth and somehow Candida is connected to the rise of TPO antibodies causing autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
    Thank you,
    Mrs. Kunis

  2. Hi,
    I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism earlier this year. I am now told that due to this condition I have high cholestrol. I am already a ‘healthy’ person. I hardly eat any sugar; I eat a fibre rich diet; I exercise everyday – mostly at a high level; I only occasionally drink alcohol; I eat lots of fruit & nuts; hardly any dairy except for an occasional ice cream and i don’t smoke.
    I don’t know where to go to now as having a healthy balanced diet; exercising regularly
    not smoking; not drinking etc are all things I am already doing.
    What do I do?

    • Hi Clive,
      I’m an amateur at all of this myself, but I wonder if you might want to focus on a more alkaline diet, and maybe even reduce the amount of fruit you’re eating. It’s sugar too, though not like refined sugar. There’s the Paleo Auto Immune diet- very restrictive but if you want to try tackling it with diet, this may be a good thing to try.
      All the best to you!

    • @Clive….the facts on cholesterol are a bit muddied. Having high cholesterol doesn’t necessarily mean you are not healthy, although I can’t see your blood work to know for sure. I have read many times that Paleo people have high cholesterol levels. Without eating sugar, my good cholesterol is very high. Also complex carbs are healthy only in moderation and simple carbs are just sugar. Only fruit with a lot of fiber is healthy, ie. bananas are sugar laden.

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