If there's one thing true about Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fans, it's that they are dedicated. And now, RHOBH star Denise Richards has some of those same eagle-eyed fans to thank for sparking a serious change in her health.
In an Instagram post shared Sunday, Richards, 48, revealed that some fans indicated that her thyroid looked enlarged after the RHOBH reunion show. "A few of you pointed out after the #RHOBH reunion that my thyroid was enlarged. You were right, it was something I ignored until pointed out."
Richards didn't reveal the exact diagnosis of her enlarged thyroid, but she went on to say that a change in her diet—and her health—made her realize just how closely the two are related. "It’s amazing to me in a short time eliminating gluten from my diet how much my thyroid has changed," she wrote. "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. #selfcare."
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), an enlarged thyroid is also known as a goiter—and even when the thyroid is enlarged, it doesn't necessarily mean a person's thyroid gland is malfunctioning. Per the ATA, one of the main causes of an enlarged thyroid worldwide is an iodine deficiency—but that is no longer commonly observed in the United States.
Hashimoto's disease (an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland) and Graves' disease (an autoimmune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid gland) are two more common causes of goiters, according to the ATA, along with less-prevalent causes like genetic defects, injuries or infections in thyroid, or even tumors (both cancerous and non-cancerous).
Goiters are typically diagnosed via thyroid function tests, per the ATA, and any subsequent tests—like a thyroid ultrasound or a biopsy of the thyroid—are dependent on that. The same goes for treatment, which entirely depends on what's causing the goiter in the first place.
But as for Richards's claim that going gluten-free helped whatever thyroid issue she suffered from, there's no real medical evidence to back it up. In fact, the myth that a gluten sensitivity can trigger a thyroid condition is just that: a myth. "Graves' disease and thyroid cancer are not going to get better by staying away from gluten," Christian Nasr, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic previously told Health. The same goes for Hashimoto's disease or hypothyroidism, he said.
And while Dr. Nasr said celiac disease is common in those with thyroid conditions—and that it makes sense to remove gluten from your diet if you have both a gluten sensitivity and a thyroid condition—you shouldn't expect your thyroid to improve from dietary changes. "The antibodies from the thyroid do not come down and become normal on a gluten-free diet,” said Dr. Nasr.
Still, props to Richards for taking an active role in her health—and to her fans letting her know when something seems off.