One of the best ways to support digestion (and subsequently, thyroid function) is to eat fermented foods.
Fermentation is an age-old technique, still used today, to preserve food. The process of fermentation breaks down carbohydrates like starch and sugar using bacteria and yeast to make food come (literally) alive with good bacteria.
During the transformative fermentation process, the added bacteria prepare vitamins and minerals to be used by the body, remove some non-nutrients, and produce beneficial microbes. Research suggests that fermented foods offer a range of health benefits as a result. Benefits may include anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, manifests in the body as decreased metabolic functions. Hypothyroidism affects virtually every system in your body, including your gastrointestinal tract (a.k.a your gut).
Generally speaking, the thyroid is sensitive to changes in the gut microbiome. A well-balanced gut supports metabolic functions like digestion, nutrient absorption, detoxification, and vitamins' synthesis. Beneficial bacteria maintain your gut barrier integrity and help maintain an acidic environment to discourage pathogenic bacteria from moving in.
Often, people with Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune thyroid condition, have an imbalanced gut microbiome - meaning that there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria in the gut's environment. There is evidence that the gut microbiome and thyroid autoimmunity influence one another, and an imbalance can lead to intestinal permeability (a.k.a leaky gut).
Leaky gut means that the integrity of your intestinal junctions are weak, allowing microorganisms to escape into your bloodstream. When this happens, your immune system attacks them, thinking they are foreign invaders.
Fermentation produces beneficial microbes (a.k.a probiotics) that can introduce helpful bacteria to the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria. Rebalancing the bacteria in the gut through these fermented foods, probiotic supplements, or medication may help reduce intestinal permeability, which can help to manage autoimmune conditions and improve overall health.
Generally speaking, probiotics are useful in the treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal issues.
Fermented foods are considered safe for most people. However, studies show that some people may experience minor digestive symptoms like cramping, nausea, irregular stools, and gas. These side effects are only temporary due to the high probiotic content of fermented foods that cause colonic activity.
Look for fermented foods that are refrigerated, not room-temperature jars or cans. Refrigeration ensures that active cultures stay alive.
Pay attention to nutrition labels to choose the healthiest option for you. Some pickled foods are mass-produced and treated with sodium, citric acid, or other chemicals that do not allow probiotics to develop properly. You want to see mention of live bacteria, fermented, or probiotics on the label, not high levels of sugar, salt, or fat. Only pure fermentation, without pasteurization (sterilization through heat), produces probiotic enzymes and all their benefits.
You can also ferment foods at home. Be sure to keep correct temperatures, fermentation times, and sterile equipment to avoid spoiled, unsafe food.
Fermenting at home is relatively cheap and easy. (Plus, you'll impress all your friends!) Lacto-fermentation is one of the most common fermentation processes. Lacto refers to the Lactobacillus bacteria, which transforms sugars into lactic acid during ferment.
Organic produce is preferred because the good bacteria stays intact due to it not being sprayed with pesticides. Hearty vegetables like cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, or celery also better maintain their crunch after fermentation.
No need to get fancy. Any glass jars will do! Make sure to clean them thoroughly with soap and water and let dry. You don't want any harmful bacteria hanging out in there.
The method you choose may depend on personal taste or special dietary requirements. A fermentation starter is a microbiological culture that contains bacterial strains that perform fermentation. Find a friend who is willing to give you some of theirs, or buy a powdered starter online. If using salt, try Himilayan, kosher, pickling, or sea salt. Avoid iodized salt as it may inhibit the culturing process.
Put your veggies, seasoning, and starter in your jars, and then cover with filtered water. Put your jars in a cool, dark place, and wait for one to two weeks until you see probiotic activity. Remember: bubbles are a sign of life!
Once your veggies are fermented, move them into the fridge, where they will store for several months to enjoy!
We recommend that you work with a Registered Nutritionist Dietitian to develop a way of eating that works for you individually. Our nutritionists can help you identify dietary triggers and reverse nutritional deficiencies.
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