Dr. Joni Labbe, Contributor
My specialty is helping women identify and then effectively manage autoimmune thyroid conditions. When my clients sit down with me, they expect a discussion about hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s.
Imagine their surprise when I deliver the news that they have a leaky gut. Their eyes widen as they start envisioning carrot sticks, bites of turkey sandwich, and the cookie they ate for lunch floating around untethered inside their bodies! This is an over-dramatization, of course, but it isn’t as far from the truth as you might think. After the initial shock wears off, my clients ask the inevitable question:
“What does leaky gut have to do with thyroid disorders?” The answer is – everything!
Why Your Gut Starts to Leak
When it’s working well, the small intestine absorbs nutrients from the food you eat and sends all the leftovers to your large intestine. Different factors can damage the small intestine over time, such as environmental toxins, chronic stress, alcohol, and inflammatory foods. The primary foodie offenders are gluten, dairy, and highly processed foods that contain excess sugar.
Think of your small intestine as a fine, tight mesh. As it gets battered by stress, toxins, and inflammatory foods, the normally tight junctions of the intestinal tract begin to loosen. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, yeast, and other “nasties” to make a prison break and invade the bloodstream. When it senses an invader, your immune system kicks into high gear and sends in troops of white blood cells to destroy the rouge particles. Unfortunately, these soldier cells can get a bit too overenthusiastic and can also attack the small intestine, making it even more porous.
Can you see where this is going? The cycle of leaking food, immune response, and more damage to the small intestine keeps happening over and over again, until your entire gut is in a state of constant inflammation. Most of my clients have no idea that this war is raging inside of them, but they definitely notice the uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The Thyroid Connection To Leaky Gut
How is what’s happening in the gut related to the butterfly-shaped thyroid that sits all the way up your neck? Remember how the immune system tends to get overzealous when it fights off invading food particles? The small intestine isn’t the only civilian caught in the crossfire. The immune system may also attack the thyroid, eating away at it and triggering Hashimoto’s.
In many of the women I see, the key to getting their Hashimoto’s under control starts with managing their leaky gut. You can bail out a sinking boat for the rest of your life with thyroid medication, but I think it’s smarter to just plug the leak! If a leaky gut keeps triggering an autoimmune response, which is harming the thyroid, we have to fix the leaky gut to fix the thyroid.
Healing a leaky gut is as simple as removing the elements that cause inflammation. Your body is an amazing healer and wants to get better – you just have to let it. For my leaky gut clients, I often recommend an elimination diet, which removes any food that has been shown to be toxic or inflammatory. Over time, we reintroduce foods on an experimental basis to see how the body reacts.
Since every body is different, you may find that you can eat all the dairy you want, while nightshades (like tomatoes) cause a spike in your autoimmune symptoms. Almost all clients with a leaky gut need to be on a permanent gluten-free diet, and everyone (leaky gut or not) should try to avoid highly processed foods as much as possible. Garbage in, garbage out!
Before you start tossing every bagel and muffin from your cabinets, I encourage you to speak with a functional or holistic medical practitioner to learn more about leaky gut and to receive professional guidance on managing your health.