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You probably have heard that experts know more about outer space than about what goes on in the deepest oceans on our earth. Surprisingly, when it comes to health, our guts are like the ocean. So much about gut health and the human gut microbiome is unknown; it's a mystery still to be explored and discovered. What we are learning, however, is that the gut plays a pivotal role in our overall health. And the bacteria that live in our gut -- our microbiome -- are perhaps the most important players of all.
The gut is home to both good bacteria and bad, harmful bacteria. When the gut is in balance, we should have an abundance of healthy gut bacteria. When harmful bacteria become prolific, it can lead to a slew of health-related issues. Some of these health issues seem pretty obvious, like inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome. Others may manifest in more subtle, albeit challenging ways, such as autoimmune diseases, and Hashimoto’s flare-ups.
Fortunately, tweaking your diet to provide fuel for beneficial bacteria while starving bad gut bacteria can make a significant difference in your overall health.
A healthy gut includes:
- A robust amount of good bacteria
- Good communication with the brain via a strong gut-brain axis (the network of hormones and nerves), and
- Plenty of immune cells to prevent foreign invaders like viruses, pathogenic bacteria, and fungi.
When a gut isn't healthy, the balance of bacteria is disturbed, and the bad bacteria can outnumber the good bacteria. This puts you at greater risk for contracting infections, suffering from mental health problems like depression, anxiety, brain fog, immune response and autoimmunity, and other issues that include obesity, fatigue, and chronic illness.
There is plenty of evidence that suggests that gut health is a key component of a healthy thyroid. The thyroid-gut axis has been well-explored and shows us that intestinal and thyroid diseases often coexist in the same person. For example, people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis often have celiac disease and non-celiac wheat sensitivity.
Behind this co-existence is the theory that gut dysbiosis and intestinal permeability may allow harmful toxins from the gut to exit the gut lining and enter the bloodstream. Known as the leaky gut theory, it is purported that toxins cause the immune system to become hyperactive, whereby causing it to attack healthy tissues in the body. When a leaky gut activates the immune system, autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s, Graves' disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus can develop.
When the immune system is overactive, it can target the thyroid gland. With time, chronic inflammation causes thyroid cells to produce less thyroid hormone and eventually die. By not being able to make enough thyroid hormone, a person can develop hypothyroidism.
People with Hashimoto’s not only experience the challenging symptoms of having an underactive thyroid, but also have to navigate the difficulties of living with autoimmune-related chronic problems like fatigue, brain fog, low mood, and gut problems.
Having random experiences of digestive upset is normal. For example, sometimes we overeat, eat something undercooked, or contract a stomach virus. But, when digestive issues persist and don't respond to basic care or the occasional antibiotic (for things like traveler’s diarrhea), it may be a sign of a gut imbalance.
Here are some signs that you may have an overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria:
- Frequent episodes of loose or mucous-filled stool, diarrhea, constipation, or gas
- Recurrent nausea, vomiting, and bloating
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight loss or weight gain without explanation
- Blood sugar problems
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Frequent autoimmune flare-ups
- Intense food cravings
- Skin problems
- Frequent headaches and migraines
If any of the above signs are present, it may indicate your gut microbiome is out of balance. When harmful or opportunistic bacteria like staphylococcus, clostridium perfringens, E.coli, and streptococcus are allowed to proliferate, it can decrease the presence of healthy bacteria that boost your immune system, break down food, and synthesize vitamins.
You can starve bad gut bacteria and help restore balance in the following ways:
By ingesting good bacteria, you can start to tip the scales toward a healthier population of bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are live cultures of bacteria or yeasts found in fermented foods and drinks. Foods and supplements that contain Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces boulardii are often the most helpful.
Cut out sugar
Bad bacteria love nothing more than cheap energy, and sugar is their favorite source. Sugar that comes from processed foods, low-nutrient carbohydrates, conventional dairy, alcohol, and even fructose in fruit is the fuel harmful bacteria love to help them proliferate.
This generally goes without saying now, but choosing water over other drinks is important for digestive health. Water helps to keep waste from the digestive tract moving, thereby preventing constipation. It also supports the mucosal lining of the gut and is free of potentially problematic ingredients like lactose and sugar.
Avoid irritating foods
Food intolerance is usually a sign that what you are eating is making your gut ecosystem unhappy. Food sensitivities can irritate your stomach lining and promote the growth of harmful bacteria, so avoiding problematic foods is crucial. The best way to determine if you have a food intolerance or sensitivity is to do a strict elimination diet like the autoimmune protocol diet.
Fuel your good bacteria
Feeding your good bacteria the foods that help them thrive, like whole foods and fiber, will tip the balance in their favor (and yours). Indeed, fiber is primarily food for these organisms as our bodies cannot break it down. Cruciferous vegetables in specific quantities, nuts, and root vegetables are good sources of fiber.
As a thyroid patient, if you have any imbalances in your gut bacteria, it’s important to focus on your good thyroid care and your gut health. Monitoring your thyroid levels is easy with Paloma’s home thyroid test kit. The Paloma kit makes it convenient to accurately test your levels of thyroid hormone at home. You can then schedule a virtual visit with one of Paloma’s knowledgeable thyroid practitioners. Paloma’s thyroid-savvy doctors can work with you to ensure that you are getting optimal thyroid treatment and relief of symptoms.
If you’re confused about how to restructure your diet and supplements to starve gut bacteria and get your gut microbiome back into balance, a session with one of Paloma’s expert thyroid nutritionists can help you get on track.