Are you convinced yet that the gut is literally the center of health?
If you have been following me for awhile, I've given some pretty clear examples and today I’ll be drawing another important connection between gut health and overall health: the thyroid. There’s a lot of talk about the thyroid in the world of wellness today. But, what exactly is it?
It’s a butterfly shaped gland located in the front of the throat. It is part of the endocrine system. The thyroid is small, but mighty. It creates hormones that regulate the body’s energy, otherwise known as metabolism! We all know why we need to care about that! Summer is coming! JK, but really, it's important.
The thyroid also plays a role in:
● Immune function
● Determining your weight
● Your sex drive
● Regulating blood pressure
● Tissue development
● Energy levels
● Sleep patterns.
The thyroid is constantly in conversation with your body and the environment. As you can imagine, when it stops working properly, many functions are affected.
Two main ways that the thyroid can malfunction:
Hypothyroidism occurs when not enough thyroid hormone is produced. The most common cause is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
● Weight gain
● Hair loss
● Dry skin
● Brain fog
● Mood swings
● Constipation and/or SIBO
Hyperthyroidism occurs when too much thyroid hormone is produced. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is another autoimmune disease called Graves’ disease.
● Weight loss
● Brain fog
● Difficulty concentrating
● Bulging eyes
● Heart palpitations
Another common thyroid condition is goiter, which is a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid.
Did you notice how all 3 are a type of Autoimmune Disease (AID)?
The common theme with these thyroid imbalances is that they typically emerge as autoimmune issues, which result from a combination of genetic and environmental toxins. They have to make it into the body somehow, and it's usually through the gut. When the toxins leak into our body (aka leaky gut) it makes matters way worse!
Around 80% of our immune system resides in the gut, so it makes sense that gut health will affect the health of the thyroid. It's easy to see that an issue with the immune system in the gut can play a role in thyroid autoimmune conditions.
Gut health is proving to be directly correlated to autoimmune disease in the thyroid! Thyroid autoimmune conditions occur at higher rates in those with celiac disease. Hypothyroidism has been correlated with heartburn. Many people with autoimmune diseases of all kinds also test positive for a leaky gut. Studies are finding that people with AID tend to have altered gut bacteria! Yikes.
As I mentioned just earlier, when the gut is leaky, all kinds of toxins can irritate the system. This can activate the immune response and irritate the immune tissue that lines the gut. When gut immune tissue is irritated, it causes cortisol to rise, which, in turn, decreases thyroid hormone production. Stay tuned for a more detailed article about gut bacteria's role in the production of T3 and T4.
So, what are some steps to help? Below are my top 5 tips in helping the gut/thyroid connection.
1. Crowd out gluten and dairy.
2. Avoid endocrine disruptors in the environment.
3. Eat your (organic) veggies.
4. Support the gut with fermented foods and probiotics.
5. Limit foods with heavy metals.
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, 2017.