The gut and the thyroid are perhaps two of the most complex and widely misunderstood systems in the body. Interestingly, the two are related in a variety of ways.
Because the gut is an essential part of immune functionality it has significant influence over the development and prevention of autoimmune disorders including thyroid-related conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. A leading cause of autoimmune dysfunction is an easily overlooked and misdiagnosed condition known as leaky gut syndrome.
Understanding the impact of this condition on immune function and its subsequent contribution to the development of autoimmune disorders informs the relationship between leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune thyroid disease.
Go with Your Gut
The gut houses over 70 percent of the immune system and is responsible for producing many of the antibodies used to combat foreign substances and disease. Unfortunately, many factors of modern life including elevated stress levels, greater exposure to toxins, increased consumption of processed foods, and common use medications, can weaken the gut making the body more susceptible to disease.
When the gut is not functioning at its best, the risk of developing autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis increases.
Taking a Look at Leaky Gut
A key component of gut function is its semipermeable intestinal wall. When working correctly, this barrier allows nutrients to pass into the bloodstream and subsequently transported to be utilized by other tissues throughout the body. Additionally, the gut lining prevents passage of harmful bacteria, toxins, yeast, partially digested foods, and other large particulates from escaping and triggering an immune response that can cause damage and dysfunction.
As harmful substances “leak” into the bloodstream, the immune system responds by releasing antibodies to combat the offending particulates. This action is justified and typically eliminates the threat. However, if harmful substances continue to escape the gut, the immune system can become overstimulated and overreact to the situation leading to widespread chronic inflammation.
Continued activation of the immune system causes long-lasting inflammation which is the leading cause of autoimmune disease. Therefore, as gut health declines and particulates continue to escape into the bloodstream, the risk of developing autoimmune disorders increases.
Various factors can damage gut lining, which inhibits its ability to block unwanted substances from entering the bloodstream. Some of the most common contributors of leaky gut include:
- Unhealthy diet
- Increased stress level
- Imbalance of healthy gut bacteria or dysbiosis
- Gluten consumption
- Medications including antibiotics and NSAIDS (Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen etc.)
These factors promote intestinal inflammation that causes cells in the intestinal wall to expand. As the space between the cells increases, larger particulates are able to pass into the bloodstream and induce further inflammation.
Heading Towards Hashimoto’s
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune thyroid condition resulting in hypothyroidism or slowing of thyroid function. Because of this, it’s important to understand how leaky gut promotes the development of this inhibitive disorder.
At first, it may seem difficult to find a connection between the gut and the thyroid. In actuality the two are closely related. Autoimmune dysfunction, often caused by leaky gut, is one of the leading causes of thyroid disease. Another major factor in the development of autoimmune dysfunction is the misidentification of threats. Together, these two contributors significantly increase the risk of developing Hashimoto’s.
Many proteins that pass through the gut share similar characteristics with healthy tissue in the body. When proteins unexpectedly pass through the intestinal wall, antibodies respond by targeting and eliminating them. However, if the fugitive protein shares similar attributes with other bodily tissue, such as the thyroid, a stressed or overactive immune system can incorrectly target healthy tissue in addition to the foreign substance. Once this misidentification occurs, the immune system produces antibodies to specifically target the healthy tissue. In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, antibodies attack and destroy thyroid tissue.
Is It Hashimoto’s or Something Else?
Much like leaky gut, the symptoms of Hashimoto’s are vague and can be easily overlooked or misidentified. Symptoms of Hashimoto’s are inconsistent among patients meaning that individuals will likely experience a selection of symptoms and often at varying degrees of intensity. Those with Hashimoto’s may experience some or all of the following symptoms at different levels of severity:
- Coarse hair and hair loss
- Cognitive difficulties
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
- Difficulty regulating heat and coldness in the extremities
- Dry skin
- Joint and muscle pain
- Menstrual abnormalities
- Unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight
Individually, many of these symptoms can be attributed to other conditions. However, if a group of the above symptoms develop, it’s best to have thyroid and immune function thoroughly tested.
The Impact of Gluten
Those with a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease are at greater risk of developing autoimmune disorders.
Gluten consumption is closely related to gut inflammation thereby increasing the likelihood of leaky gut. Gliadin is a protein found in gluten that shares similar characteristics with the tissue of the thyroid gland. When gluten sensitive individuals consume gluten, the inflammation promotes the escape of gliadin and the release of antibodies to attack it. Because gliadin is similar to thyroid tissue, antibodies can easily misidentify the protein and begin targeting healthy thyroid tissue thus promoting the development of Hashimoto’s.
Resolving Autoimmunity by Restoring the Gut
The correlation between gut health and autoimmune disease is well established. Leaky gut is rarely seen alone and is associated with the development of numerous autoimmune disorders including Hashimoto’s.
Many medical professionals agree that resolving autoimmune disease often requires healing the gut. Because the gut is complex and many of the contributing factors are unique to the patient, an individual approach is the best method for restoring gut health and eliminating autoimmune dysfunction.
Regardless of the specific needs, treatment plans should include supporting the gut through proper nutrition, reducing toxin exposure, improving lifestyle factors such as stress and sleep, and eliminating foods that trigger immune activity and inflammation. Furthermore, enlisting the aid of a doctor who is knowledgeable of the gut, immune function, and the thyroid is hugely beneficial.
Hopefully it is clear that healing and supporting the gut are critical to effectively treating not only leaky gut, but also autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s.
1. Leaky Gut Linked to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Holtorf Medical Group. https://www.holtorfmed.com/leaky-gut-linked-to-hashimotos-thyroiditis/
2. Leaky Gut: The missing piece in many Autoimmune Diseases, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hypothyroid Mom. https://hypothyroidmom.com/leaky-gut-the-missing-piece-in-many-autoimmune-diseases-like-hashimotos-thyroiditis/
3. Hashimoto’s Disease – The Link Between Thyroid and Leaky Gut. Dr. Doni. https://doctordoni.com/2015/09/hashimotos-disease-and-leaky-gut/