Did you know that your thyroid has to pay a tax if you have gut problems?
I call it the thyroid-gut tax.
Despite the fact that anatomically your thyroid gland isn’t all that close to your gut, they are still connected.
The reason for this is multi-fold:
- Estimates suggest that 20% of circulating T4 is converted into T3 in your gut.
- Healthy bacteria can bind and hold onto thyroid hormones allowing for recycling of these hormones instead of elimination in the stool.
- Your gut is the site of the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from both the food that you eat and the supplements that you take. Your thyroid needs these nutrients to function optimally.
- It’s the site where your thyroid medication is absorbed.
- 70% of immune cells live there.
- The ratio of good to bad bacteria, known as your microbiome and found in your gut, influences your metabolism and ability to lose weight.
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The Thyroid-Gut Axis
Collectively, the connection between your gut and your thyroid is known as the thyroid-gut axis (1).
So you can imagine what happens when your gut isn’t in working order:
Your thyroid pays the price!
You end up with…
…less circulating T3, the most powerful thyroid hormone, because of decreased thyroid conversion.
…you end up absorbing less of your thyroid medication thereby rendering it less effective.
…you put yourself at increased risk for inflammation and autoimmune disease (2) (the most common cause of hypothyroidism).
…and it’s harder to lose weight both from decreased thyroid function and from changes in how many calories are absorbed from the food that you eat.
This is exactly why I say that improving the health of your gut is one of the fastest ways to increase thyroid function by 20% or more.
There’s no scientific study to prove this claim, it stems from an understanding of thyroid physiology and my own experience in observing patients who take their gut seriously.
How Gut Problems Cause Thyroid Problems
Imagine this scenario (which is probably not far from what many of you are experiencing right now):
It all starts in your stomach where your thyroid regulates, in part, how much stomach acid is being produced (3).
When your thyroid is sluggish, your stomach can’t produce the acid that it needs.
As a result, you have a hard time digesting your food which alters the concentration of bacteria in your gut so you end up with a condition called dysbiosis.
If this problem isn’t addressed, you will end up with another condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (which about 50% of thyroid patients suffer from (4)) and symptoms like gas, bloating, and constipation.
Because of all of these problems, you now have a hard time absorbing the thyroid medication that your doctor gave you so your thyroid function is even worse than when you started.
And the problems don’t stop here.
Worsening thyroid function then slows down the rhythmic motion of your gut, known as peristalsis, which makes your constipation worse and makes you feel even more bloated.
This then causes acid reflux because the contents of your stomach stay put for longer which means stomach acid makes its way up to your esophagus.
To treat this acid reflux, your doctor gives you an acid blocker which further reduces your stomach acid thereby rendering your thyroid medication even less effective and decreasing nutrient absorption even more (5).
And the cycle then goes on and on and on until you do something about it.
That something can’t just be taking another medication, because that won’t solve the problem.
Fixing The Problem
In order to fix it, you have to address two things at once:
Your thyroid and your gut.
Your thyroid because the problems all started with thyroid function and your gut because the problems are potentiated by the gut.
Let’s start by talking about your gut first.
You can spend a lot of time trying to fix your gut and end up diving down rabbit hole after rabbit hole in the process, but that’s generally not needed because there are three treatments that can give you 80% of the benefit for 20% of the work.
Yes, some people may need to address problems like gut infections, yeast overgrowth syndromes, and histamine intolerance, but most people can get by without ever knowing what these things are.
The 80% of the benefit you get to your gut will come from these 3 treatments:
#1. Putting the right healthy foods into your body.
#2. Removing unhealthy and inflammatory foods.
#3. Taking probiotics.
It’s tempting to jump straight to probiotics first but here’s the deal:
Yes, other things can impact your gut health like certain medications and even other medical conditions, but food still remains the top priority.
This means that #1 and #2 go hand in hand.
Not only do you need to remove the unhealthy foods that you are probably eating, but you also need to replace them with healthy alternatives.
Here’s how to do it:
Eating For Your Gut & Thyroid
First, stop eating foods that fit into any of these categories:
- Any and all processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Inflammatory oils
- Trans fat
- And excessive meat proteins
On top of these general categories, thyroid patients tend to have problems with dairy and gluten so you may want to exclude these as well.
Instead of eating these foods, replace them with the following:
- Foods that are rich in prebiotics:
- Like chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, bananas, oats, apples, and kiwis
- Foods that are rich in polyphenols and bioactive compounds:
- Pretty much any vegetable, fruit, or fruit juice is included here but especially orange juice, pomegranate juice, berries, and vegetables from the Brassica family
- fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and even yogurt.
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like chia seeds, hemp hearts, and flaxseed.
- And healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter
There will definitely be some variation in how you react or respond to each of these food groups so it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.
If you find any of this confusing, just remember to eliminate processed foods and eat real whole foods instead and you’ll be 80% of the way there.
The next step?
Start taking a probiotic.
You might be tempted to think that probiotics aren’t necessary, especially if you are eating a lot of fermented foods already.
After all, don’t these foods already have probiotics in them?
Yes, they do, but the probiotic diversity and species found in fermented foods vary quite dramatically.
For instance, yogurt is not a great source of probiotics because the dosing is relatively small and the diversity is not very robust.
In addition, thyroid patients tend to have a hard time with dairy-based products so foods like yogurt and kefir may be off the table for you.
This is where probiotics step in:
They provide you with a quick easy way to get beneficial bacteria and yeast into your gut which can have an immediate impact on your microbiome.
Are they required? No, not if you are following the dietary guidelines that we just talked about.
But they can accelerate your results which is why I do think using them is a great idea, especially if you are trying to break the gut-damaging cycle that I mentioned before.
This leaves us with an important question:
The Best Probiotics for Thyroid Problems
Which probiotics are best if you have a thyroid problem and want to heal your gut?
Thyroid patients tend to do best using a multi-species approach.
That is, using multiple different types of probiotic species to get as much diversity as possible.
Most people think that when they take probiotics, they colonize their gut and crowd out the bad bacteria but this is more wrong than it is right.
Yes, some species do colonize the GI tract, but, for the most part, probiotics work through a different mechanism (6).
They work by:
- Enhancing the barriers of the gut known as tight junctions
- Improving mucus production
- Modulating the immune system
- Directly impacting host neurotransmitter levels
- And by producing anti-microbial substances like short-chain fatty acids which help keep bad bacteria in check
These benefits are realized almost instantly which makes probiotics a powerful tool for healing your gut right away.
And the species that provide the most benefit to thyroid patients include:
- Soil-based organisms including bacillus clausii, bacillus coagulans, and bacillus subtilis
- Beneficial yeast such as saccharomyces boulardii
- And Bifido and lacto strains: there are a lot of different types here but pay special attention to b. bifidum, b. Lactis, b. longum, l. acidophilus, l. Casei, l. Brevis, and l. Rhamnosus.
Each of these is usually sold as a separate probiotic supplement so unless you get a supplement like this one, you will probably need to purchase multiple types in order to get all 3.
By combining healthy eating with daily probiotics, you will be well on your way to extracting an additional 20% bonus in thyroid function in just a matter of a few months.
Putting It All Together
Remember the imaginary scenario that we talked about before?
Well, here’s what happens when you do everything right (instead of everything wrong):
- Removing harmful processed foods reduces inflammation in the intestinal lining of your gut allowing it to repair its tight junctions and to heal.
- Healthy foods in the form of prebiotics and probiotics promote the growth of healthy concentrations of bacteria which bring your microbiome back into balance.
- As a result, you are now absorbing more nutrients from your food and more thyroid hormones from your thyroid medication.
- More nutrients like selenium and iodine mean better thyroid function which means better acid production and better digestion of your food.
- This translates into even better gut function which means you can now properly convert T4 thyroid hormone into T3 and your bacteria are now able to bind to and recycle thyroid more appropriately.
- Your intestinal tract speeds back up to a normal rate so now your constipation is reduced and you shouldn’t need your acid blockers anymore.
The end result? Better thyroid symptom control of things like fatigue, hair loss, weight gain, and more, as well as better digestive symptom control of things like bloating, constipation, and acid reflux.
But if you remember from the very beginning, I mentioned that treating your thyroid is also just as important as treating your gut and that you need to do both of these things at the same time.
When it comes to treating your thyroid, you have two options:
The natural route and the use of thyroid medication.
If you want more information on how to naturally treat your thyroid so you are less reliant on thyroid medication then I’d recommend checking out this article next.
Now I want to hear from you:
Do you think your gut is impacting your thyroid?
If so, have you tried to do anything about it?
Do you have any symptoms to indicate you have a gut problem?
Have you tried taking probiotics, prebiotics, or enzymes in the past?
Did they help?
Let me know!