Health Tips

Could your thyroid problems be gut-related?

Your thyroid plays a crucial role in the release of hormones into your body to help regulate body temperature, metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure [1]. If the thyroid glands are not functioning properly, then these body systems will become inefficient and as a result, you will feel unwell.

An underactive thyroid is called Hypothyroidism and it’s mainly caused by auto-immune dysfunction where the immune system attacks the hormone thyroxine. [2]

Let’s take a closer look at the thyroid glands.

The thyroid glands are located in the neck. They look like a butterfly shape and release two hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) [3]. The hormone thyroxine is converted into triiodothyronine which is responsible for regulating the body’s metabolism [4]. This is very important because when a thyroid gland becomes underactive, releasing less of the hormone triiodothyronine, the metabolism slows down. The metabolism of our body is the speed of chemical reactions in which the breakdown of food happens and is then converted to energy. You may have heard someone say that they have a fast metabolism, well this simply means that the body can break down and convert energy much quicker than someone who has a slower metabolism. Having a slower metabolism usually results in weight gain, particularly if the person is not doing very much physical exercise. The body’s metabolism speeds up when someone exercises frequently, thus helping to convert food to energy much quicker, therefore resulting in weight loss.

Having an underactive thyroid is extremely common these days. In fact in the UK alone, the condition affects one in 70 women and one in 1,000 men, according to the NHS [5]. Looking at those figures, it seems that women are more prone to an underactive thyroid than men.

So why is that? Good question. Some health professionals believe that it’s linked to oestrogen. Women who often have an underactive thyroid will also present as having oestrogen dominance but did the oestrogen imbalance cause the thyroid problems, or did the thyroid problems cause the oestrogen problems? What if hypothyroidism was linked to the health of the gut? We already know that hypothyroidism is caused by auto-immune dysfunction, and we know that most auto-immune diseases are caused by harmful bacteria and gut inflammation [6], so surely we should be looking more at the gut, rather than our oestrogen levels. Because if we look at the gut, and get that right, then oestrogen will surely naturally balance itself. As we begin to understand more and more about the function of the gut, it makes sense that chronic conditions should relate to the gut. We know that without food we cannot function, so if the digestive system isn’t able to break down food efficiently then how can we expect the rest of us to function properly?

At the moment, the current treatment on the NHS for hypothyroidism is a tablet called Levothyroxine. [7] This hormone tablet helps to replace the lower levels of thyroxine. The idea of taking this medication is to help balance the hormone levels produced by the thyroid glands. In many cases, taking Levothyroxine has helped many people who suffer from hypothyroidism. However, my question would be how long do you take a pharmaceutical drug for? Not only is it costing the NHS a lot of money, but it could also be completely unnecessary if you turn your attention to the health of your gut.

The idea of looking after your gut health is that you aim to remove pharmaceuticals completely from your life. Pharmaceutical drugs can help short-term, there is no denying that, but as a long-term solution, drugs are not the answer.

If you have hypothyroidism or even hyperthyroidism, then you might want to look at your diet first and look at food initially to help improve your symptoms. I mentioned previously that we are learning that most auto-immune diseases are a result of poor gut health (this makes sense seeing as the prevalence of auto-immune diseases has risen in the last few decades). The human body needs some basic tools to function; the first is complex carbohydrates, proteins, fats vitamins and minerals. This is basic stuff but our body simply cannot function without carbohydrates these are not carbs that you will find in refined sugars, these are carbs you will find in vegetables and grains. I won’t even mention fruit, wheat or potatoes because many of these are known to irritate the gut, if someone has poor gut health, so, therefore, you need to go back to basics.

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