If you’ve been reading my recent blog posts, you’ve probably figured out that the gut is involved in EVERYTHING. If the gut isn’t doing it’s job, the homeostasis of your entire body will be off. To review, a leaky gut is an intestinal permeability syndrome where the gut lining is damaged. With leaky gut, food particles, bacteria, and environmental toxins seep into the bloodstream. This influx of foreign material into the blood causes the immune system to go into overdrive (1).
The small intestine is home to the gastrointestinal associated lymphoid tissues (GALT), which comprises 70-80% of our immune system. It makes sense that the immune system would base its headquarters here because it is connected to our mouth—where the majority of foreign matter would be entering our bodies. The gut lining is essentially “the wall” (no politics here) that protects our blood stream. The GALT, when working correctly, will target and destroy unwanted organisms that have made their way into the small intestine. When the GALT gets backlogged, high levels of inflammation is the result, causing damage to the intestinal lining. This means that particles that normally wouldn’t be allowed into the bloodstream by the GALT will pass inspection, resulting in an additional inflammatory response as white blood cells rush to the area where partially-digested food particles and microbes have entered the bloodstream in order to prevent a bigger systemic issue. Obviously this increased systemic inflammation will affect other organs and organ systems, as we will discuss below.
What Causes a Leaky Gut?
One could argue that we did this to ourselves. Our modern lifestyle has been inundated with toxic foods, medications, infections, chemicals, and chronic stress built in. Inflammatory foods include dairy, grains, and eggs, and toxic foods include things like sugar, alcohol, and GMOs. The presence of any of these things in our diets may be major contributors to leaky gut.
The most common types of infections are yeast infections, intestinal parasites, and small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO). Essentially, the “bad bacteria” take over our gut, and this imbalance can also contribute to the degradation of the gut wall. Environmental toxics can also play a role in leaky gut, like the presence of mercury (heavy metal toxicity), plastics, and BPAs. Toxins can also include some of the medications we take on a daily basis, including NSAIDS, steroids, antibiotics, birth control, and antacids. Chronic stress directly causes inflammation and potentially, the development of leaky gut syndrome. Continual stress will decrease the effectiveness of your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight bacteria and viruses, leading to more systemic inflammation, including the gut lining.
Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases
Assuming you have a leaky gut, think about all the toxins and food particles entering your bloodstream. Your immune system is tagging them as “foreign matter” and “dangerous.” It creates a system-wide inflammatory response to address the intruders. If your gut continues to be “leaky,” your immune system continues to send more and more inflammation to the area to try to get rid of the foreign material. Eventually, it cannot keep up with demands and begins sending waves of inflammation even without a threat being present. This leads to autoimmune conditions as your own tissues and organs become the target of your own immune system.
Your immune system will begin producing antibodies against the foreign substances in your blood—the problem is many of the invaders look very similar to your body’s own cells. Because of this, your immune system will start sending out antibodies to attack your own tissues. This is called “molecular mimicry.” The type of autoimmune condition that manifests (and of course, there may be more than one) depends on the tissues being attacked. If the joints are being affected, rheumatoid arthritis is the result. If it’s the thyroid gland, the result is usually Hashimoto’s or Graves’. If it’s the gut lining, Crohn’s or colitis may develop (2).
Steps to Repair a Leaky Gut
REMOVE the problem. Get rid of the things that are negatively affecting your GI tract by not putting inflammatory foods, like alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, or sugar, in your body until you can figure out which foods you are sensitive to.
RESTORE, REINOCULATE, and REPAIR. The good news is food is medicine! By eating certain foods and adding back in the good bacteria, you can help your body seal a leaky gut. Like anything, some of these foods will work for some and not for others, so make sure you are paying attention to how you feel on certain foods. If they make you feel crappy, cut them out and try something else! Because of that, it may be best to try just one new food at a time, not adding more than one new food every 72 hours or so, until you can figure out which ones work for you and which ones don’t (3).
- Bone Broth
Bone broth has nutrients that can calm an overactive immune system while also providing the raw building blocks to produce more cells, specifically for immune function. Conveniently, bone broth can be made from anything that has bones, like chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, venison, or fish.
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a natural source of medium chain triglycerides that improve the body’s fat burning capabilities and reduce inflammation, which will help with healing the small intestine lining in leaky gut syndrome. It is also a good source of lauric acid, which works as an anti-microbial agent. It’s easy to cook with and adds a something special to your shakes or your morning coffee pick-me-up. If you can’t stand the taste or smell of coconut, MCT oil is also a good alternative with all the same benefits as coconut oil.
- Coconut Butter
Coconut butter will provide you with all the benefits of using coconut oil, but will also throw in the coconut flour, where all the fiber is located. The fiber acts as an exceptional prebiotic, which will improve your gut health by feeding a healthy microbiome.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
This is a fermented tonic that works as a natural anti-microbial to destroy bad bacteria that is associated with acid reflux and stomach ulcers. It helps “pre-digest” meats and veggies, which will reduce stress on the digestive system. It also will help with the production of digestive juices, like hydrochloric acid, bile, and pancreatic enzymes needed for the break down of foods.
Ghee is a clarified butter where all the lactose, casein, and whey are removed. Many people with a leaky gut have sensitivities to the removed ingredients, making ghee an excellent choice for their steamed veggies instead of butter. Ghee is full of gut supportive nutrients, including butyric acid that reduces gut inflammation.
- Beef Gelatin/Collagen Peptides
Both gelatin and collagen are the main ingredients in bone broth and are therefore rich in the proteins that form our gut and skin.
Just skip the “-bread cookie.” Ginger has many essential oils that are strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic formulas. It also protects our body’s stores of antioxidants and glutathione, which eliminates free radicals, which limits the formation of cancer cells and helps destroy already formed cancer cells. It is one of the best natural anti-nausea agents as well.
Peppermint is a carminative herb that helps ease gut pain related to leaky gut syndrome and increase peristalsis for movement of food and waste through the digestive system. The menthol portion of peppermint is a muscle relaxer that assists in relaxing the smooth muscle of the gut when it is overactive, which may help with irritable bowel syndrome, indigestive, and acid reflux.
- Fermented foods
These provide the body with microorganisms, organic acids, and B vitamins to improve the digestive process. Examples of fermented foods include: sauerkraut, pickles, and kefir.
- Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, B vitamins, and magnesium, all of which help contribute to digestive function. They also are a natural anti-parasitic agent (2).
Again, I cannot stress enough that addressing gut health is the first step for anyone who has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Sometimes, no matter what you try, your body just needs a little additional support to achieve a healthy gut. This is why I like to recommend my Leaky Gut Support Kit. This 4-step formula includes:
Ultimate Gut Support: Ultimate Gut Support offers comprehensive support for optimum gastrointestinal health and function. The lining of the gut must have proper permeability and integrity so it can not only absorb nutrients, but also prevent toxins, allergens and microbes from gaining access to the blood stream. Maintaining gut health is the key to maintaining overall wellness.
Paleo Protein Vanilla (available in chocolate too): Paleo Protein is a novel, great-tasting, dairy-free protein powder, yielding 21 grams of protein per serving. It contains HydroBEEF™, a highly concentrated, bone broth protein isolate, produced through an exclusive proprietary process that allows the protein to be hydrolyzed into more peptides, resulting in easier absorption and assimilation. This product contains beef from animals raised in Sweden without hormones or antibiotics, and is free of any GMO grains, grasses, and/or ensilage.
Ultimate Probiotic: Ultimate Probiotics is designed to offer support for proper flora in the gastrointestinal tract. It uses patented delivery and shelf stability technology to ensure maximum potency and viability. This is achieved using the latest techniques designed to protect fragile probiotic organisms from harsh stomach acid and deliver the highest number of live organisms to the intestinal tract.
Digest Care: is comprised of a proprietary blend of digestive enzymes along with betaine HCl to support optimal digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. This product contains the special protease DPP IV (dipeptidyl peptidase IV), which aids in the breakdown of the peptides gluteomorphin (from gluten) and casomorphin (from casein). Digest Care also includes the enzyme lactase, which helps break down the dairy sugar lactose. The use of Digestzymes™ before meals may be helpful when patients experience gas and bloating after eating, constipation, or a feeling of fullness after eating only a small quantity of food.*
It will help you Restore, Reinoculate, and Repair your gut so we can get you back to feeling your very best!
The Gut and the Thyroid
In order to have a properly working thyroid, you must have a healthy gut. If you are continuously struggling with leaky gut, inflammation, infections, heartburn, indigestion, or chronic constipation or diarrhea, you will never be able to optimize thyroid function.
In almost 90% of Americans, hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland, as discussed in previous blog posts. Since we know that most of the immune systems lives in the GI tract, poor gut health would be an excellent way to trigger and exacerbate symptoms of Hashimoto’s. Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck on the lab numbers and the dose of hormone you need to regulate your lab values, but it’s important to remember that the number doesn’t matter if our gut and/or immune system aren’t functioning properly.
However, the door swings both ways. Improving thyroid function can also help with digestive function. Both T3 and T4 protect the gut lining, so low levels of either of these hormones can help cause leaky gut. Because of this, it is clearly not enough to just address either the thyroid or the GI tract; sometimes it’s a dual battle for optimal recovery.
So if our digestive tract wasn’t already doing enough, it is important to note that it also helps to produce active thyroid hormones. Approximately 20% of thyroid function depends on the conversion of T4 to T3 in the small intestine via good bacteria. When your diet is subpar and/or causing an inflammatory reaction in your GI tract, dysbiosis is the result, which can be described as an “overcrowding” of bad bacteria within the small intestine. Infections within the gut reduce thyroid hormone levels, dull thyroid receptor site binding, increase the amount of inactive T4, decrease TSH, and perpetuate the presence of autoimmune thyroid diseases. Studies have found a connection between the presence of Yersinia enterocolitica and those with Hashimoto’s disease. Yersinia enterocolitica is a bacterium that is usually present in undercooked pork, contaminated water, meat, or milk and causes symptoms of food poisoning. Generally, people infected with it can get rid of it on their own, but in some cases, the bacteria decide they want to stay for a while and start rapidly reproducing in the gut. Yersinia’s molecular makeup is so similar to that of your thyroid receptors that your antibodies start attacking your thyroid as well as the Yersinia bacteria in a molecular mimicry reaction (4,5). The presence of Yersinia enterocolitica antibodies is 14-fold greater in patients with Hashimoto’s, suggesting a link between this bacterium and autoimmune thyroid conditions (5,6).
Hypothyroidism can also be blamed for decreased stomach acid (hypochlorhydria). Without stomach acid, food cannot be digested properly, so it is left in the stomach undigested. The small intestine wants no part of this, so it tries to send the putrid mess back up into the esophagus where it came from, causing heartburn. As the poorly digested food eventually makes it way back down in the digestive tract, it leads to intestinal inflammation and causes leaky gut.
In a properly working gall bladder, bile is secreted to help break down fats, which aids in mineral absorption and helps prevent inflammation of the GI tract via caustic stomach acid. Hypothyroidism essentially slows down gall bladder function, increasing the risk of painful gallstones. Decreased gallbladder function also decreases the liver’s detoxification abilities. Now T4 isn’t being converted to T3 and excess estrogen isn’t being excreted appropriately. Please see the Liver-Thyroid Link article on my blog from last week for more details! This will increase the number of thyroid-binding proteins in the bloodstream, preventing the thyroid hormones from binding to the cells that require their services, causing hypothyroidism (5).
If you take away anything from this post, remember this: keeping your gut happy will keep your thyroid hormones in check! Some may need to supplement with thyroid replacement hormones, but the more you can heal yourself by natural means with real food, the better you will feel in the long run. Now go grab some pumpkin seeds!
- Natural Endocrine Solutions. SIBO and Thyroid Health. https://www.naturalendocrinesolutions.com/articles/sibo-thyroid-health/. Accessed 1/29/19.
- Dr. Jockers. Top 10 Foods to Heal Leaky Gut Syndrome. https://drjockers.com/10-foods-heal-leaky-gut-syndrome/. Accessed 2/9/19.
- Dr. Amy Myers. The Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Connection. https://www.amymyersmd.com/2017/10/leaky-gut-autoimmune-connection/. Accessed 2/9/19.
- Dr. Amy Myers. The Infection-Thyroid Connection. https://www.amymyersmd.com/2015/08/the-infection-thyroid-connection/. Accessed 2/9/19.
- Dr. K. News. Good thyroid health depends on good gut health. https://drknews.com/good-thyroid-health-depends-on-good-gut-health/. Accessed 2/9/19.
- Chatzipanagiotou, S., Legakis, J.N., Boufidou, F., Petroyianna, V., Nicalaou, C. Prevalence of Yersinia plasmid-encoded outer protein (Yop) class-specific antibodies in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Mar 2001(7)3:138-43.