Healthy gut, healthy thyroid, you say? How can part of the endocrine system be related to part of the digestive system? The thyroid gland to the intestinal tract? Are the two systems not different?
Start with the thyroid
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate your body's energy use, along with many other essential functions your body performs.
As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland makes and stores hormones that help regulate the body's metabolism in the form of blood pressure, blood temperature, and heart rate.
When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change. This slowed activity is called hypothyroidism, and it can significantly affect your body.
Untreated thyroid disease puts patients at risk for other ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and infertility.
What is the gut, really?
What we like to call the gut is a cute name for our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract is an extensive internal organ system responsible for turning the food you eat into nutrients, giving those nutrients to the body to use for energy, and expelling any leftover waste. The mouth, esophagus, Stomach, and intestines are all part of this system.
The human body works synergistically. That is, everything is connected. So, while the gastrointestinal tract is responsible for the complete digestion of food into energy, the thyroid regulates the speed at which your body uses this energy.
The most significant connection between the tiny thyroid gland and the large digestive system is the complex immune system.
The Immune System Resides in the Gut
Research suggests that 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, so it's essential to keep her healthy!
We know that nearly all adult cases of hypothyroidism in the US are due to an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's disease. Alternatively, the autoimmune condition Graves' is often the cause of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
For an autoimmune condition, it is not only essential to strengthen the immune system with a diet rich in fruits & veggies, regular movement, and proper sleep hygiene but also to address intestinal permeability (colloquially known as leaky gut).
Leaky gut - what's that?
Intestinal inflammation and/or genetic predisposition can lead to the weakening of "tight junctions" in your intestines. Typically, healthy tight junctions create a watertight seal between two adjacent cells to keep liquid from escaping. When microorganisms escape from these tight junctions and get into your bloodstream, your immune system attacks them thinking they are foreign invaders.
Interestingly, leaked gluten in the bloodstream closely resembles the thyroid hormone, which science believes to be part of the reason for the autoimmune attack of the thyroid gland in Hashimoto's disease.
Many experts think that leaky gut could be one factor that predisposes a person to an autoimmune condition. The theory, then, based on preliminary research, is that if we can reduce intestinal permeability, we might prevent autoimmune disease and improve overall health.
But wait - the stomach!
Stomach acid typically helps to make sure that enough nutrients are absorbed from the food that we eat. Those with Hashimoto's Disease commonly suffer from low stomach acid, which can often cause fatigue that can exacerbate symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Also, 10-40% of those with Hashimoto's have some form of a gastric disorder that affects the stomach.
When considering treatment plans, restoring stomach acid levels with the help of food and supplements may be one way to improve energy and overall health.
The big question - how to heal digestive issues for thyroid health?
No one wants undigested food particles hitching a ride in their bloodstream. So, how then do you prevent (or reverse) this intestinal permeability?
Follow the 4R program:
- REMOVE the triggers and potential pathogens
- REPLACE with nutrients
- REINTRODUCE with healthy bacteria (probiotics)
- REPAIR with proper diet and supplementation
Of course, when determining a prevention or treatment plan, it's best to work with a qualified professional to get personalized and relevant care based on your symptoms and history.
Unaddressed digestive concerns can stop you from feeling like your best self, and often make hypothyroid symptoms even worse. Digestive concerns are also easy to ignore, yet should be put at the forefront for thyroid health. Tackle this one foundation to proper thyroid health, and you will be one step closer to feeling more energized!