Improving your digestive health can be tricky. Because so many factors affect your gut, like stress levels, toxins, and nutrition - it can be hard to pinpoint the specific area that needs to be tweaked and supported. One aspect that might not have crossed your mind yet? Your thyroid gland.
The thyroid is a critical gland, affecting many systems throughout your body, from metabolism, muscle control, and yes, even your digestion. Read on to find out more about the thyroid-gut connection and what changes can be made to improve yours.
Why Is the Thyroid So Important?
The thyroid gland is a part of the body that is essential for good health and well-being. As it is part of the endocrine system, it is a crucial hormone gland that works to regulate metabolism and development of the human body. Your thyroid uses iodine from the food you eat to make two hormones, T3 and T4. These hormones affect everything from muscle strength to body temperature and heart rate (1). You can probably imagine just how important it is to keep the thyroid gland healthy and working effectively!
Because of how important it is for your body's normal functioning, thyroid issues can lead to a host of problems. Interestingly, most people with thyroid issues are often unaware of this problem due to thyroid disorder symptoms overlapping with other health issues, making them hard to identify (2). However, don't underestimate the severity of thyroid issues. Because the hormones produced by the thyroid gland affect almost all bodily tissues, changes in thyroid function will impact the health of the gut.
The Thyroid-Gut Connection
Most thyroid issues are due to abnormal production of thyroid hormones. When too many thyroid hormones are produced, a condition known as hyperthyroidism occurs. An overactive thyroid is generally associated with symptoms including diarrhea and malabsorption of nutrients since an excess of thyroid hormones leads to stronger contractions through the digestive tract (3).
On the other hand, when insufficient thyroid hormones are produced, hypothyroidism can occur. Without the correct levels of thyroid hormones present, many of the functions within the body slow down. Unlike a normal digestive tract, where the muscles lining the intestines regularly contract to move food down the tract, hypothyroidism causes the contractions to slow down or lessen in intensity. Thus, elimination of stool slows down, resulting in constipation, one of the significant signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism (4).
How Thyroid Hormones Affect the Gut Microbiome
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can wreak havoc on your delicate gut microbiome. When the passage of food through your gut slows down, this increases the chance of bacteria growing in the small intestine since the food is sitting there for longer. This leads to a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which can cause excess gas production, bloating, and abdominal discomfort (5).
Like constipation, diarrhea can also affect the delicate balance of the microbiome. Even one bout of diarrhea can flush out the majority of beneficial bacteria present in the gut (6). These beneficial bacteria can play many roles in your body, from stabilizing mood levels to controlling weight. Ensuring sufficient beneficial bacteria is in your gut is essential for good health.
How the Gut Affects the Thyroid
Just like how the gut is affected by the production of thyroid hormones, the health of the thyroid can be affected by poor gut health. The conversion of thyroid hormone T4 into the active form, T3, can occur in the gut. However, this relies on a healthy gut microbiome, so if gut health is poor, this might result in insufficient conversion of T4 to T3 when needed (7). Because both the gut and thyroid influence each other, this can result in a feedback loop, with one influencing the other and vice versa, making it hard to treat.
Keeping the Thyroid-Gut Connection Healthy
Thyroid issues, especially when severe, need to be diagnosed by a physician. This will often be done with a thyroid panel to see if adequate amounts of thyroid hormones are being produced and rule out any antibodies suggesting autoimmunity. A tailored treatment plan will then be addressed for your particular needs. However, there are several things to consider to improve thyroid function naturally. Always check with your physician and healthcare practitioner when adding anything new to your regimen.
When it comes to gut health, keeping the number of beneficial bacteria high is essential. While many factors can affect your gut health, including exercise and stress levels, numerous studies have strongly linked a diet high in fiber and low in processed sugar to a healthy microbiome (8).
The Bottom Line
Your thyroid and the hormones produced play numerous vital roles throughout the body. This can also affect the health of your digestive system, known as the thyroid-gut connection. Abnormalities in thyroid hormone production can result in changes during digestion, directly impacting the bacteria present in the gut microbiome.
Likewise, the health of your gut can directly impact the availability of thyroid hormones, resulting in a feedback loop. Luckily, several natural steps can improve thyroid and gut health. Incorporating more of these changes means greater health and well-being for you, your thyroid, and your gut.