Hashimoto’s disease is one of the most common autoimmune conditions we see in clinic. It is the main cause of hypothyroidism. Although Hashimoto’s disease is an organ specific autoimmune disease, which means it affects just the thyroid, it’s cause is in many cases inflammation outside the thyroid gland, most often in the gut. Here I answer some questions about why thyroid problems should make you look into your gut health.
How does gut health affect your thyroid gland?
Inflammation in the gut is the sign that the intestinal mucosa, the epithelial cells that act as guards, protecting us from harmful substances we ingest when we eat, drink, breathe…are damaged. The tight junctions between these cells become opened, allowing the foreign particles to penetrate the gut barrier and get into our blood stream. This condition is called intestinal hyperpermeability or leaky gut and is one of the main causes for autoimmune conditions.
As these foreign particles are not supposed to cross the gut barrier, the body’s immune system triggers a response by producing antibodies. These are special proteins that recognize and fight bacteria and viruses but can also cause a huge systemic inflammation and tissue destruction (including thyroid tissue) and play a key role in development of autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s disease.
What is the role of gut bacteria in development of Hashimoto’s disease?
We now know that your gut flora regulates the inflammation in your body by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory proteins. Research also suggests that good bacteria in your gut also produces an enzyme that helps convert the inactive thyroid hormone (T4) into the active form (T3). On top of this, healthy gut flora is essential to protect against leaky gut. Diets high in sugar and processed foods and low in vegetables as well as chronic stress negatively affect the health of our microbiome and have major impact on the development of autoimmunity.
What about if I have Hashimoto’s but have no gut problems?
Gut problems don’t always manifest with classic digestive symptoms and autoimmune disease can be the only symptom of your gut problems. Given the close link between autoimmunity and gut health, gut healing should still be one of the top priorities in Hashimoto’s disease. Healing the gut will also prevent further autoimmune issues and reduce systemic inflammation which will also result in better overall quality of life such as better sleep, clearer mind, better weight management and higher energy levels.
How can nutrition help with gut-thyroid imbalances?
Besides leaky gut and imbalanced intestinal microbiota there are other factors that contribute to gut-thyroid issues such as sluggish digestion, constipation, high cortisol levels, low stomach acid, liver issues…A qualified nutritionist will look at all the potential causes and aim to address them with dietary changes and supplements. The treatment will focus on removing dietary triggers as well as restoring the balance through reducing inflammation, re-population of healthy gut bacteria, restoring healthy levels of stomach acid and healing the gut lining. For any further questions contact our Mosman clinic.