Did you know that in order to have a healthy thyroid you must have a healthy gut? This is because gut health significantly influences autoimmunity. Therefore, patients with any thyroid based autoimmune diseases, such as Graves or Hashimotos disease, really need to maintain healthy gut function.
Why is a healthy gut so important?
Have you ever considered that one of the most important functions of the gut is to prevent foreign substances from entering the body? The gut is like a hollow tube leading from the mouth all the way to the anus and everything that passes through the digestive tract is either digested or excreted.
Another major function of the gut is that it hosts 70% of the total immune tissue. This tissue is involved in carrying out attacks and producing antibodies against antigens and molecules that are considered foreign or potentially threatening to the body. This means your whole immune regulation starts in the gut.
What is leaky gut?
The words ‘Leaky Gut’ still make my sister laugh nervously every time I say them. I suppose to her it sounds rather disgusting and, to be honest, it is. ‘Leaky gut’ (or hyper permeability) is caused by inflammation of the gut and is when the tight junctions in the gut, which control what passes to the blood stream, don’t work properly. Imagine undigested food particles, toxins, pathogens and other bad guys leaking straight into your blood stream… pretty gross, isn’t it? Once this happens, it sets off an immune response, and the body attacks these foreign particles causing inflammation. Not only does leaky gut cause body-wide inflammation but these attacks also increase the risk for developing autoimmune disorders.
What causes a leaky gut?
There is no straight answer as to what causes leaky gut, but there are a variety of factors that can contribute. They include poor diet, prescription drugs, antibiotic over use, stress, dysbiosis (imbalance of intestinal bacteria), parasites, yeast, exposure to environmental toxins, food allergies, celiac disease, crohns disease or ulcerative colitis, and chronic alcoholism.
Another factor to consider is nutritional deficiencies- especially low vitamin D status. Vitamin D acts as part of the gate keeper system in the digestive tract allowing good digested food in and keeping toxins out. Vitamin D has an anti-inflammatory effect, which helps put out the fire of inflammation, and is therefore required to prevent or heal these degenerative diseases. Low vitamin D is frequently present in patients with chronic digestive diseases such as celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, possibly due to their damaging effect on the gut. Other essential nutrients for healthy gut function include zinc, B vitamins, Vitamin A and amino acid-Glutamine. These nutrients are important for gut health and immune function. Poor glutathione levels can also be a factor in leaky gut. Glutathione is often called the master antioxidant and it is necessary to repair and defend the gut lining.
How are the thyroid and gut connected?
Thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) have been found to help maintain tight junctions between cells lining the intestines and have been shown to protect mucosal lining from stress-induced ulcers. This means a healthy thyroid can reduce the risk of leaky gut. Conversely, a healthy gut with heathy gut bacteria assists in converting inactive T4 into the active form of thyroid hormone T3 which means that we need a healthy gut to help convert our thyroid hormones. Therefore an imbalance in good bacteria verses bad bacteria (dysbiosis) significantly reduces this conversion, meaning people with poor gut function may experience thyroid symptoms but have normal pathology results.
Other Gut –thyroid connections are:
- Constipation and a sluggish gall bladder both interfere with liver detoxification and can impair thyroid hormone clearance
- Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria, or atrophic body gastritis), increases intestinal permeability, inflammation and infection, which has been found to increase your risk of an autoimmune thyroid disease
The question is what comes first- the chicken or the egg? Is it the leaky gut that causes the autoimmune disorder, or the autoimmune disorder that causes the leaky gut? With this being unknown, treatment must happen simultaneously for both the thyroid and the gut. I do this through proper investigation and a digestive healing program.
The digestive healing program focuses on:
- Discovering what is causing the gut dysfunction
- Addressing the cause and removing any triggers
- Restoring gut integrity and improving digestive function