Medically reviewed by
Natalie Bessom, D.O. Board-certified family medicine doctor with specialty training in nutrition, USA
What is the connection between your thyroid and your gut? One is part of the endocrine system – your thyroid -, and the other is part of the digestive system – your gut.
One common question asked by those with a thyroid condition like Hashimoto’s is, “Is there something wrong with my digestive or gut health as well?”
What is Hashimoto’s?
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck that is part of the endocrine system.
The endocrine system is made up of different glands throughout the body that secrete and distribute hormones. The thyroid gland is in charge of managing your body’s metabolism; which in turn plays an important part in regulating energy levels, body temperature, and heart rate.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a form of hypothyroidism and is also the leading cause for hypothyroidism in the United States.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder in which the thyroid gland is chronically inflamed and causes the body to attack its own healthy thyroid cells.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis include:
- Brain Fog
- Dry Skin and Hair
- Irregular Bowel Movements
- Unexplained Weight Gain
What is the Gut?
The gut is another name for the body’s gastrointestinal tract. “Gut health” is determined by the functions and balance of bacteria in parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Organs that are part of the gastrointestinal tract include:
- Pharynx (throat)
- Small intestine
- Large intestine
Ideally, all the organs work together to eat, digest food, and absorb nutrients without any discomfort.
While the gastrointestinal tract is in charge of digestion of food and turning such into energy, the thyroid is responsible for managing the speed at which the body uses the energy.
When in full health, everything in the body works cohesively together and is connected.
What is the connection between the Thyroid and the Gut?
The main connection between the thyroid and the gut is the immune system. When your immune system is not functioning correctly, it can cause autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s and Graves’.
Bacteria in the gut is essential for regulating the body’s immune system. Research shows that 70-80% of our immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract.
The hormones that the thyroid produces and regulates are also linked to the strength of the immune system.
Immune cells throughout the gut interact with the diverse array of bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract.
The autoimmune disorder, Hashimoto’s, is the most common form of hypothyroidism. Alternatively, the autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is Graves’ Disease.
It is essential to strengthen your immune system through a nutrient dense diet, regular exercise and rest, in order to support bodily functions – from energy production, hormone balance, mental health, and more specifically – to prevent leaky gut.
What is Leaky Gut?
The term “Leaky Gut” has received a lot of attention on social media. Leaky Gut is also known as increased intestinal permeability.
Your intestines have an extensive lining that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream for nutrients and energy.
An unhealthy gut lining may have cracks or holes which allows toxins, bacteria and other things to penetrate into the body.
Having an unhealthy gut lining or leaky gut causes inflammation and changes to the normal bacteria in the gut which leads to problems throughout the digestive tract and beyond.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut may include:
- Food sensitivities
- Existing digestive issues
- Skin problems
Research has shown that a leaky gut is a warning sign for an autoimmune disease. In individuals who have genetic predispositions, a leaky gut may trigger the initiation and promote an environment for autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s.
Therefore, if individuals are able to reduce the risk of intestinal permeability, they might be able to prevent an autoimmune disease and also drastically improve their overall health.
Some contributing factors to leaky gut can be:
An unhealthy diet full of sugar, specifically fructose, can be harmful to your intestinal lining.
An excessive amount of alcohol can lead to increased intestinal permeability.
A diet lacking in nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and zinc have shown to increase the chances of intestinal permeability. Similarly, a lack of these nutrients can greatly affect the thyroid function as well.
Chronic stress is a contributing factor to gastrointestinal disorders including leaky gut.
Poor gut health leads to an imbalance of the bacteria that resides throughout the gut. When the balance between both good and bad bacteria is disrupted it can affect the barrier of the intestinal wall.
How do I prevent Leaky Gut?
Although leaky gut is not a medically diagnosed condition, there are steps you can take to improve your gut health which in turn boosts your immune system and overall health.
The main way to improve your gut health is to increase the amount of “good” bacteria in the system.
A few ways to support and improve gut health include:
Limited refined and processed food intake
Harmful bacteria thrives on excessive sugar and processed foods cause inflammation. This inflammation in turn can lead to more thyroid-related symptoms and autoimmune flare-ups.
Increase probiotics in the body
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can improve your gut health. Taking probiotic supplements and eating more fermented foods can help your gastrointestinal tract. Fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha are all full of probiotics to help boost gut health.
Eat foods high in fiber
High fiber foods like fruits and vegetables help feed the “good” bacteria in your gut.
- Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder in which the thyroid gland is chronically inflamed and causes the body to attack its own healthy thyroid cells.
- The gut is another name for the body’s gastrointestinal tract which includes the mouth, stomach, and intestines.
- The main connection between the thyroid and the gut is the immune system.
- Leaky gut, known as increased intestinal permeability, is a digestive disorder where toxins and bacteria “leak” through the unhealthy lining of the intestinal wall.
- Leaky gut may trigger the initiation and promote an environment for autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s.
- The main way to prevent leaky gut and improve overall gut health is to increase the amount of “good” bacteria in the gut.
If you are looking for a better way to manage your symptoms, weight changes, medications, and supplements, download the ThyForLife app.
ThyForLife will help you notice and better understand any changes that happen over time in your body.
At ThyForLife, we do our utmost to provide accurate information. If you require more detailed information regarding medical terms, conditions, and practices please consult your healthcare professional. Always listen to the advice of your healthcare provider.