How Gut Health Affects Your Thyroid Function

Gut Health And Thyroid FunctionThe intestinal lining is an important immune barrier that is responsible for more than 60% of the immune defense. Good bacteria performs a range of essential health critical functions in the human body, however its benefits are not fully recognized by Western medicine.

In fact, in 1908 European scientists Paul Ehrlich and Ilya Mechnikov were awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine as a recognition for their work on autoimmunity and discovery of phagocytosis.

One of the major responsibilities of the beneficial intestinal bacteria is to enable phagocytosis which is a destruction by the immune system of the pathogenic bacteria, viruses, allergens and other foreign objects that act as antigens. The specific blood cells called phagocytes attack the invaders as a part of the immune system defense before the antibodies get involved.

The part of the immune system situated in the intestine is considered as an independent organ called gut-associated lymphoid tissue which involves all intestinal bacteria and several types of lymphoid tissues that store T and B cells. These cells carry out attacks and produce antibodies against antigens to defend against potential threats.

3 Types Of Intestinal Imbalances

Normal intestinal flora is comprised of hundreds of varieties of bacteria, which are specific to the human body. Imbalances in digestion and intestinal flora causes the immune system to malfunction and can trigger autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. There are three common intestinal imbalances contributing to low thyroid function and autoimmunity:

  • Leaky gut syndrome and damage to the intestine due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance cause an increase intestinal permeability and therefore compromise the natural defense mechanism of the immune system. The undigested particles of food, bacteria, parasites, molds and environmental toxins go undefeated through the barriers and can trigger the autoimmune disease.
  • Dysbiosis is the deficiency or absence of good bacteria in the intestinal flora and affects thyroid hormone conversions and can trigger autoimmune response.
  • Bacteria overgrowth which is an abnormally high level of invaders such as candida, helicobacter pylori and parasites in the small intestine is called bacterial overgrowth. Bad bacteria can suppress the good bacteria, diminish thyroid function and interfere with absorption of thyroid medication and nutrients.

How intestinal bacteria affect thyroid function

Humans obtain good bacteria from mother’s milk and build their intestinal flora during the first six months of life. If the mother of the newborn was previously exposed to environmental pollutants, use of antibiotics or is sensitive to the mercury found in the dental amalgams, the breast milk could lack the essential bacteria due to dysbiosis.

Children who were put on the infant formula, did not receive breast milk long enough or had mothers who were suffering from acute dysbiosis are likely to develop following health issues later on:

  • gastrointestinal problems such as food allergies, diarrhea and constipation
  • poor general health
  • autoimmune disorders related to absence of beneficial bacteria including thyroid autoimmune diseases.

Good intestinal bacteria prevents colonization of pathogens on the skin, the epithelium of eyes, nose, oral cavity, pharynx, urethra, penis and vagina. In addition to supportive thyroid and gastro-intestinal tract function, beneficial bacteria support conversion of T4 into T3 thyroid hormones in the intestine and modulation of both Th1 and Th2 immune responses.

Up to 20% of thyroid hormone conversions from T4 to T3 take place in the intestine but only in the presence of good bacteria. Having not enough beneficial bacteria makes less active T3 hormone available causing hypothyroid symptoms in many patients despite normal lab test results.

Constipation is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism that slows down metabolism causing longer transition time of food through the digestive tract. Absence of good bacteria aggravates this problem. One of the side effects of constipation and dysbiosis is enlarged hemorrhoids that are present in about half of the general population by age 50.

Imbalance of the intestinal flora contributes to colonization of undesirable bacteria such as Candida (yeast) or the infective strains of E.coli. Pathogenic bacteria affect the intestinal walls causing adhesion of mucosa and contributing to leaky gut syndrome, allergies and thyroid autoimmunity.

The decimation of intestinal flora weakens the immune system and causes shortage of essential vitamins. Bacteria participate in the synthesis of a wide range of substances such as vitamins B complex, B12 and vitamin K which are essential for proper blood coagulation. Healthy gut supports the conversions of vitamins A and D into the form that helps thyroid hormones enter into the cells.

Intestinal distress and inflammation contribute to adrenal exhaustion causing further complications in treatment of hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis. High cortisol levels suppress the immune function and promote conversion of active T3 thyroid hormone in its inactive form reverse T3.

How To Restore Your Intestinal Balance

In the process of restoring the integrity of the immune system, addressing the gut issues is often the first and most important step in taking control over an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s.

Although you could not have any influence whether you got enough bacteria with the breastfeeding as a child, there are some steps you can make to achieve the intestinal balance. You may want to consider start with a reliable testing to evaluate digestion, bacterial imbalances and immune status of the intestine.

It is important to find out the causes of gut dysfunction and remove antigen that triggers over reaction of the immune system. Leaky gut syndrome and dysbiosis with resulting health complications such as diarrhea, constipation, infectious diseases, sever colorectal disorders, thyroid dysfunction and vitamin deficiencies can be successfully treated with a diet and supplements.

Excessive use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture is one of the major causes of dysbiosis.  Chemical compounds found in foods interfere with thyroid function and increase digestive distress. Consumption of whole organic foods without hormones and environmental toxins contributes to faster and long-lasting recovery.

The restoration of intestinal flora always should follow a treatment with antibiotics. The practical and inexpensive way to prevent dysbiosis, restore intestinal flora and support immune system is to get more good intestinal bacteria.

The fermented dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, kefir and others do not cause lactose intolerance or allergies as much as regular pasteurized milk does. Combining such products with leaky gut treatment produces a synergetic effect in the healing of the gut, improvement of digestion and prevention of constipation.

Commercial yogurts and other fermented dairy drinks are rarely as effective as high quality probiotic supplements because they are often treated with heat to stop fermentation and prevent the products from spoilage, which destroys good bacteria.

If you make kefir and yogurt at home using the starter cultures you have more control over the preparation process. This guaranties you to produce more effective liquid probiotic preparation with different kinds of good bacteria.

What Is Kefir?

Kefir is a drink similar to liquid yogurt that contains beneficial yeast and friendly probiotic bacteria. Kefir can be made from any type of milk, coconut, rice or soy. During the preparation healthy bacteria and yeast produce lactase which is an enzyme that consumes most of the lactose during the culturing process. Kefir and other fermented dairy products do not cause lactose intolerance as greatly as milk products.

There are two types of active cultures that could be used for kefir preparation:

It is easy to make kefir at home by adding the fresh milk to the kefir grains that yield a probiotic drink within 24 to 48 hours. After the kefir is ready and the grains are removed to be reused you could add different flavors, use it for smoothies, make some types of cream cheese or drink it alone.

How To Make Kefir

There are easy to make dairy-free alternatives to milk kefir which are probiotic rich beverages:

  • Water kefir that is made with sugar water, juice or coconut water and kefir grains. It could be used as a replacement for juices, soda pops and water, and makes a great base for dairy free smoothies. Water kefir can be flavored using juice, dried and fresh fruits, flavor extracts such as vanilla and different herbs.
  • Coconut milk kefir made using milk kefir grains and coconut milk.
  • Cultured fruit juices that make a delicious refreshing beverage made with water kefir grains.

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References:

Fiber menace: the truth about fiber’s role in diet failure, constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and colon cancer. K. Monastyrsky, Ageless Press, 2005

Why do I still have thyroid symptoms? When my Lab tests are normal: A revolutionary breakthrough in understanding Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism. D. Kharrazian, Morgan James Publishing, 2009

Leaky gut syndrome. Elizabeth Lipski, McGraw-Hill Professional, 1998

Association between hypothyroidism and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Nov;92(11):4180-4.

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