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The Connection Between Thyroid and Digestive Health

Discover the connection between healthy digestion and a healthy thyroid to help balance your hormones and weight.

| November/December 2015

  • Mother and son hiking in the woods
    Participate in stress-relieving activities, such as exercise or meditation, to reduce cortisol levels.
    Photo by iStock
  • Vegetable Soup
    Adding living foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut, to every meal to support healthy digestive and thyroid health.
    Photo by Fotolia

  • Mother and son hiking in the woods
  • Vegetable Soup

It’s easy to see why it seems everyone is suddenly talking about the  thyroid—one in every 12 Americans has a thyroid disorder, according to 2008 statistics from the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms of thyroid disorders can include changes in weight; anxiety or depression; exhaustion; infertility; and possibly even problems with blood sugar.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of our throats and affects functions throughout our bodies via hormones that control metabolism. As one digs deeper into the endocrine system—the thyroid gland in particular—it seems there’s no way to truly separate our endocrine health from what’s happening with our digestion. In fact, the two are so tightly linked it becomes a “chicken or egg” situation: Poor gut health can suppress thyroid function, while poor thyroid function can affect the digestive tract and potentially lead to an inflamed gut.

If your digestion is slow, or you suffer from bloating or gas issues, ulcers or acid reflux, you may be experiencing or developing thyroid issues. As with many aspects of health, it’s comforting to know that we can often effect change on such complex disorders by listening to our bodies and making simple changes to our diets and habits.

Note: If you think you have a thyroid problem or have been diagnosed with one, be sure to discuss any efforts to remedy the issue with your doctor. 

Diet and Thyroid Function

These days, thyroid trouble often stems from our diets. Too much or too little iodine is a common culprit—iodine is necessary to produce thyroid hormones. Iodine is commonly found in iodized salt (it’s also in some heart medications and cold and flu medicines), but many people have decreased their iodized salt intake for a number of reasons: concerns over its impact on blood pressure; a preference for sea salt, which doesn’t contain iodine; or to avoid anticaking agents, some of which are aluminum compounds. And although many Americans eat processed foods that are high in salt, according to the National Institutes of Health, “The majority of salt intake in the U.S. comes from processed foods, and food manufacturers almost always use non-iodized salt in processed foods.” Even for those who do consume enough, water that contains chlorine or fluoride may inhibit iodine absorption. However, iodine consumption is a delicate balance. We don’t recommend supplementation without the advice of a professional health-care provider.

Selenium is another important nutrient for the thyroid, but much of it can be lost in the processing, storage and cooking of our food. Portions of our country are covered in soil that’s deficient in this trace mineral. Because of this, meats and vegetables we expect to contain selenium may not.

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