Consider this: If you collected all the microbes in your body, they would weigh about three pounds — about as much as your brain! And those tiny bacteria, which live mostly in the gut, are just as vital to your health as your brain is: Groundbreaking new research is showing that the trillions of microorganism living in the gut play an important role in thyroid function, mood, mental acuity, and immunity.
“When the microbiome is imbalanced, fatigue, foggy thinking, anxiety, weight gain, and GI complaints can occur,” explains Raphael Kellman, MD, author of The Microbiome Breakthrough ($9.59, Amazon), noting that even a slight imbalances can negatively impact health.
It’s a common problem. In fact, for 75 percent of women suffering from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that hinders the production of thyroid hormones, an imbalanced microbiome is to blame, notes Dr. Kellman. “The bacteria that live in the GI tract maintain the integrity of the gut wall and oversee immune system function,” he explains. But when bad bacteria outnumber good, the gut wall can become permeable, allowing bacteria and undigested food into the bloodstream — a condition called leaky gut syndrome.
This causes the immune system to go haywire, attacking the body’s own healthy tissue and leading to a cascade of vague symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, unexplained weight gain, and joint and muscle pain that many doctors wrongly chalk up to signs of aging. But routine tests often fail to detect low thyroid hormone levels, which means many women don’t get the treatment they need, says Kellman.
What’s more, the gut and the thyroid gland rely on each other to function properly: Thyroid hormone is activated in the intestines. “But when the microbiome isn’t balanced, that is not possible, and the body experiences a low-thyroid state,” explains Kellman. Thyroid hormone also signals the gut to contract, digest food and expel waste, he notes. “Without it, leaky gut is more likely.”
You can ask your health-care provider to order a stool or breath test to determine if your gut is overrun by bad bacteria, Kellman says. But if you frequently experience any of the symptoms shown below, there are natural strategies that can help restore microbiome diversity to heal your thyroid and restore your energy — fast!
Is a gut imbalance draining your thyroid?
If you feel exhausted and have two or more of these symptoms, a bacterial imbalance in your gut may be affecting your thyroid:
- Memory lapses
- Blue moods
- Brain fog
- Cold fingers or toes
- Achy joints
- Thinning hair
- Difficulty losing weight
Keep reading for fast, natural fixes.
Sprinkle on seeds.
Omega-3 fats soothe the inflammation that impairs thyroid function, and chia seeds are nature’s number-one source of omega-3s: Just 2 Tbsp. provides eight times more of the hormone-balancing fats than 1 oz. of salmon, and they offer a dose of fiber, which feeds good gut bacteria. To get the benefits, simply sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt, oatmeal, or salads, or blend into smoothies.
A brand to try: NOW Foods White Chia Seed ($7.99, NOW Foods)
Add good bugs.
“You have to take the right probiotic strains to get the results you want,” asserts Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, author of The Probiotic Promise ($6.49, Amazon). If you’ve taken antibiotics recently, a supplement with L. paracasei, L. rhamnosus, and B. bifidum will help your system rebound. Try the Life Ultimate Flora Adult Formula ($22.49, Renew Life). Many women find that combination of L. acidophilus and B. breve, found in Nature’s Way Primadophilus Bifidus ($20.39, iHerb) is especially powerful. When taking probiotics, Cook recommends taking a supplement with at least 5 billion colony-forming units once daily, ideally first thing in the morning. And for the best results, Kellman advises rotating your go-to brand every 30 days to give your system a broader variety of bugs: “By regularly introducing new strains, you’ll create a more diverse microbiome.”
Switch your sweetener.
“Sugar and refined carbs are like an IV drip for bad bacteria,” says Cook. “You want to focus on cutting refined sugar.” Instead, sweeten with 1 drop of liquid stevia, like SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Stevia Clear ($13.61, Lucky Vitamin), for every teaspoon of sugar.
Opt for red wine.
Siping red wine increases the diversity of good gut bacteria, according to new research from Kings College London. “Red wine has polyphenols, compounds that feed beneficial gut bacteria,” explains study author Caronline Le Roy, PhD. Not a wine drinker? Polyphenols are also found in red berries and chocolate.
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Heal Your Thyroid.