Our thyroid is the powerhouse of our body. It fuels almost every cell function throughout our body, from metabolism, mood, cognition, hormones, to growth and repair, and so much more. If you’re reading this blog, you might be dealing with thyroid issues and are wondering how to heal your thyroid.
Our gut is also equally important, it is like the second brain for our body. It has the ability to influence our brain, mood, and behaviors. The gut is responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients. It also influences how strong our immune system is.
Our gut health and thyroid health work hand in hand with another to make sure everything runs smoothly. If you are struggling with thyroid problems, get ready to dive into understanding why you should focus on gut health for healing your thyroid. By the end of this blog, you should learn how to heal your thyroid by focusing on gut health.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Thyroid
Thyroid health begins with the hypothalamus, a small, yet very important region of our brain and has a key role in thyroid function. The hypothalamus produces thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), then stimulates the pituitary gland to release and control the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.
TSH is in charge of stimulating the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones. TSH also plays the role of a messenger by signaling the thyroid to increase or decrease thyroid hormone production. The thyroid gland releases four types of thyroid hormones: T1, T2, T3, and T4.
The primary thyroid hormones that are in charge of jobs throughout our body are T3 and T4. These major thyroid hormones are responsible for metabolism, digestion, hormone creation, energy, body temperature, heart rate, ability to absorb nutrients, mood and so much more.
The Gut and Thyroid Connection
About 80%-90% of the hormones produced by our thyroid is T4 and 7%-20% is T3. Thyroid hormone, T3, is active in our body, however, thyroid hormone, T4, is inactive in the body. But clearly, our thyroid created that hormone for a reason, right?
T4 is also critically important, it must be created for proper regulation of so many functions. This is where our gut comes in. One of the many roles of our gut flora is to aid in the conversion of inactive T4 into the active form, T3. This conversion must occur in order for the “work” of the thyroid to happen.
T4 is converted to T3 in the gastrointestinal tract into T3 sulfate (T3S) and triiodothyroacetic acid (T3AC), which requires an enzyme from healthy gut bacteria called intestinal sulfatase. Once the conversion occurs, T3 begins entering the cells.
Effects of Reverse T3
One thing to take note of is that T4 can also be converted to Reverse T3 (RT3), however, RT3 is like a backup mechanism when there are issues in T4 to T3 conversion. Reverse T3 is not preferred and becomes metabolically inactive in times of stress or inflammation, such as poor gut health.
Reverse T3 also competes with T3 when entering cells, which is not what we want. Because if RT3 takes the lead, that means it’s going to have a negative effect on the rest of the functions throughout the body. Think about it like this: if one thing goes wrong, the rest can too.
The adrenal gland will eventually become too tired when RT3 is created, causing an imbalance of cortisol levels, putting you into a problematic state of adrenal fatigue. Once the adrenals get fatigued this can cause chronic anxiety, paranoia, nausea, sensitivity to light or sounds, psychological issues, etc.
Several issues in thyroid health have been found to be related to RT3. Optimal gut health is essential to keeping RT3 levels down, so let’s dive into how to heal your thyroid by focusing on gut health.
Why focus on gut health for thyroid health?
Long story short, the conversion of our thyroid hormones occurs in the gut. The thyroid depends on a healthy gut flora for the conversion of T4 to T3. You can’t have a healthy thyroid without a healthy gut, and vice versa.
We want to focus on gut health for healing the thyroid because poor gut health is a contributing factor to common root causes of several thyroid problems, including hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Poor gut health can cause leaky gut, poor digestion and decrease nutrient absorption. The gut is so important for immunity, hormone issues, increased risk of infections, mood issues, and the list goes on.
Fun fact: Did you know that about 90% of the “happy chemical” serotonin, is made in your gut? This is due to the huge amount of T4 to T3 conversion in the gut.
Diving into root causes of thyroid & digestive issues
Here are a few common thyroid problems that are related to poor gut health and its effect on thyroid and gut regulation:
(SIBO-small intestine bacterial overgrowth, candida, fungal overgrowths, parasites)
Effect: Inhibits proper production of thyroid hormones
Selenium, B vitamins, iodine, vitamin D, iron, thiamin, zinc, magnesium, omega 3’s, tyrosine, vitamin E, and vitamin C
Effect: Increases conversion of T4 to RT3, affects proper production of thyroid hormones, and impacts cellular sensitivity to thyroid hormones
*Remember, we don’t want RT3 to dominate over T3! *
Effect: Increases conversion of T4 to RT3 and reduces T3 by raising cortisol levels
Imbalance of cortisol levels (high or low)
*Cortisol is not our enemy, we need it! It’s when we have too little or too much when it impacts our health.*
Effect: Increases conversion of T4 to RT3 and inhibits proper production of thyroid hormones
Intestinal Permeability (“leaky gut”)
Effect: Lowers stomach acid leading to nutrient depletions
We have thousands of “good” bacteria within our gut that protect us from the “bad” bacteria that try to overrule our gut. However, when there is an imbalance between the good to bad bacteria, this is a condition called dysbiosis.
Overtime, if dysbiosis is left untreated, it can negatively affect our gut lining. It can also prevent good bacteria from protecting the overgrowing bad bacteria and create inflammation in the gut. Eventually this leads to an increase in intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) – which is a common root cause for several thyroid problems.
Thyroid hormone conversion and gut health
If we do not consume an adequate amount of nutrients and have poor gut health, the conversion from T4 to T3 in our gut will not happen.
Not having enough T3 will trigger:
- A decrease in stomach acid
- Reduced bile production
- Reduced digestive enzyme production
- Slowed gut motility
- Slower migrating motor complex – in which can lead to nutrient deficiencies (vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, zinc, and iron)
- Increased risk for infections or overgrowth, such as SIBO, dysbiosis, and candida
- Increased risk for leaky gut
A poor diet, such as a low calorie intake or the Standard American Diet (SAD), can in fact also create nutrient depletions due to its lack in micronutrients not properly fueling our body and creating damage to our gut and thyroid.
Another factor contributing to nutrient depletions are medications. Medications can impact thyroid activity and how the digestive system can digest and absorb nutrients due to altering the gut microbiome and gut lining.
How can I improve my gut health to heal my thyroid?
There are a number of things you can do to optimize thyroid and gut health. **However, before making any major changes, make sure you consult with a dietitian or doctor to make sure it’s appropriate for you.**
If you want to fix nutrient depletions for specific issues related to your thyroid or gut try incorporating these techniques:
- Low stomach acid: Add in apple cider vinegar, betaine HCL, or pepsin
- Insufficient digestive enzymes: digestive enzyme complex
- Low bile: Bile acid sequestrant or ox bile
The 4R Program is highly recommended for optimizing thyroid health, healing your gut, and hormone imbalances. This is a brief overview, but you can check out my podcast episode “The 4 R’s of Gut Healing” to dive into more about this program and how it works its magic!
- Remove: allergies, intolerances, and infections
- Replace: Hydrochloric acids (HCl), digestive or pancreatic enzymes, or bile acids seq.
- Reinoculate: with probiotics
- Repair: Seal gut lining by providing nutrients
You want to make sure you are providing the nutrients for your thyroid and gut to work their magic in our bodies. If you’re wondering how to heal your thyroid and gut health with diet, here is a list of foods to skip or consume to ensure you are getting the necessary nutrients.
Foods to avoid and to include for optimal thyroid and gut health
Reduce these foods
- Refined grains & added sugars
- Processed vegetable oils & processed meats
- Red meats
- Trans fats *look for “hydrogenated oil”*
- Alcohol – It’s okay to treat yourself to a glass of wine every now and then though 😉
- Artificial sweeteners, non-organic corn products, caffeine
- Your food intolerances (Common: gluten, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, and nuts)
*Very individualized, different for every person*
Include & increase these foods
- Healthy fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega-3’s)
- Seeds (chia, flax, hemp)
- Wild caught fatty fish
- Nuts & nut butters (almond, peanut, cashew)
- Oils: avocado, olive, flax
- Whole grains
- Lean proteins
- Fermented foods – kefir, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi
At the end of the day, diversity of foods is key for your overall health and well-being. But it is also greatly appreciated by our gut and thyroid as well.
Anti-inflammatory diet for thyroid and gut health
An anti-inflammatory diet is highly recommended to achieve a healthy thyroid and gut. The foods incorporated in an anti-inflammatory diet provide our bodies with a variety of nutrients that are essential for proper regulation from head to toe.
Inflammation in the gut is a common root cause found to cause thyroid issues. Whether it be not reaching your goals (weight loss or weight gain), feeling in a not so great mood, or having health issues… Just remember to consider it may be a hint from your thyroid and gut telling you something isn’t going right!
Maybe it’s that T3 to T4 conversion? Who knows, so many factors play in. But just remember, when you’re thinking about how to heal your thyroid, you should focus on healing our gut.