Are you being treated for a sluggish (or even overactive) thyroid? Millions of Americans are on medication to improve thyroid function, most of which is for hypothyroidism. Like most problems we can develop in our bodies, an issue with an underactive thyroid is closely related to gut health. 

The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate metabolism, heart, digestive, and muscle function, as well as brain development and even bone maintenance. The thyroid itself only produces about 20% of the active form of thyroid hormone, T3. The other 80% of thyroid hormone produced by the gland is T4, which has to be converted by your body into the usable form of T3.

Where does your body convert T4 to T3? Most happens in the liver but about 20% of the conversion happens in the GI tract, pointing to yet another reason to focus on gut health.

There are a couple ways that poor gut health can affect thyroid hormone conversion.

Long term consumption of inflammatory foods like sugar and processed/refined carbohydrates and vegetable/seed oils can compromise gut health by creating an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. There is a specific enzyme produced by friendly microbes in the gut that is responsible for that 20% of T4 to T3 conversion mentioned above. If your gut is home to too few good guys and too many bad guys, you might not end up with enough circulating T3 hormone. This can leave you with a sluggish digestive system, constant fatigue, and weight gain. 

Another way compromised gut function can harm thyroid health is through increased release of LPS (lipopolysaccharides) through the lining of a “leaky gut.” LPS is a component of the cellular walls of certain bacteria, and though its release is normal, when the gut barrier isn’t performing well, there can be increased amounts of this LPS. This has been shown to dull thyroid hormone receptor sites, particularly in the liver. 

It’s one thing to have enough thyroid hormone, but you also want to make sure it is being attached to receptor sites and able to be used.

There are other ways poor gut health can influence thyroid health including low stomach acid production and a sluggish bile in the gallbladder, but we’ll save that for another day 🙂

If you already know you have low thyroid function or wonder if you do, I recommend paying attention to your gut health. Focus on assembling meals that have protein (I recommend animal sources), adequate fat (olive oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, ghee, or organic coconut oil), and plenty of different colored veggies. What’s good for your gut is good for your thyroid!

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