Published: October 19, 2010 Last Updated: November 27, 2017
Thyroid health goes beyond thyroid medicines and supplements, it requires a comprehensive approach and must include some basic fundamentals. There are significant factors to improve thyroid health, and it is important to remember that gut health is foundational to thyroid health. If you have leaky gut, gut inflammation, gut infections or parasites, heartburn, poor digestion, or chronic constipation or diarrhea, you'll never experience optimum thyroid health .
Hypothyroidism can cause poor digestive health, and poor digestive health may cause hypothyroidism. This is why it's so important to appropriately manage Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism, which involves more than finding the right thyroid medication.
Gut Health and Thyroid
For most people, hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto's, an autoimmune thyroid disease. Since most or your immune system is situated in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, poor gut health is a significant factor in triggering and exacerbating autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's. Therefore, repairing your gut is a primary step to restoring thyroid health and conversely, restoring thyroid function can improve your digestive health.
There are many studies to show that both thyroid hormones T3 and T4 protect the intestinal lining and hypothyroidism can cause intestinal permeability, or "leaky gut", which allows undigested food and other unwanted substances to enter the bloodstream instigating an immune attack.
Gut Flora and Thyroid Hormones
Our digestive tracts host an array of bacteria that contribute to our health including the production of active thyroid hormones. At least 20% of your thyroid function depends on healthy gut bacteria to convert T4 to the active hormone T3.
When your diet is inadequate, or you have digestive disturbances, dysbiosis (an overabundance of bad bacteria populating your gut), your body's production of active thyroid hormone can become impaired.
Bacterial gut infections have also been shown to reduce thyroid hormone output and dull thyroid hormone receptor sites, which can lead to increased levels of inactive T3, and decreased levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which can promote autoimmune thyroid disorders.
Low Stomach Acid
If your hydrochloric acid is low in your stomach you'll have difficulty digesting your food thoroughly. The food in your stomach starts to rot and putrefy and your small intestine will try and reject this rotting mess, so this putrefied food flows back up into the esophagus, but it is now too acidic for the delicate tissue of the esophagus so it causes painful heartburn. When this poorly digested food eventually does make it;s way into the digestive tract, it contributes to intestinal inflammation, infection and leaky gut.
Although hypothyroidism can contribute to low stomach acid, low stomach acid can also contribute to hypothyroidism. There are many people suffering from hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), due to stress, age, and nutrition poor diets of processed foods. The digestive dysfunctions stemming from low stomach acid likewise set the stage for autoimmune disease, chronic stress and poor absorption of nutrients, all of which can lead to hypothyroidism.
Poor gallbladder function
Your gallbladder secretes bile to emulsify fats, which in turn aids in mineral absorption and prevents irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Hypothyroidism can cause the gallbladder to become sluggish and congested, which increases the risk of gallstones.
A sluggish gallbladder can also hinder the liver's ability to detoxify and interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3.; also with the elimination of excess estrogen. Excess estrogen leads to an overabundance of thyroid-binding proteins, which are involed with transporting thyroid hormones throughout the blood. Too many thyroid-binding thyroid hormones prevent thyroid hormones from getting into the cells and lead to hypothyroid symptoms.
Manage stress and blood sugar swings
Long-term chronic stress can lead to either too much or too little of the stress hormone cortisol. Both extremes weaken the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract. Blood sugar imbalances from diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia are the most common chronic stressors today and contribute to poor gut and thyroid health.