This is shocking: Inflammatory bowel disease costs Americans $7 billion in medical bills every year. And while there are many ways to improve your health and reduce your symptoms – a lot of the time patients with thyroid dysfunction don’t realize that Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism can exacerbate their painful, often embarrassing gastrointestinal symptoms. But everything in your body is connected, and if you’ve been struggling with both conditions, rest assured there are not only reasons behind this – but action you can take to put that pep back in your step!
What Causes IBD?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used to describe two conditions: ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. Both conditions involve chronic inflammation of the gut. Where ulcerative colitis affects the colon and rectum – causing inflammation and ulcers in the lining – inflammation of the entire digestive tract characterizes Crohn’s disease. The inflammation in Crohn’s can spread deeply into the affected tissues – bad news for your health.
Inflammatory bowel disease symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Blood in your stool
Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can lead to serious complications, including blood clots, malnutrition, bowel obstruction, and colon cancer, so it’s important to see your doctor if you suspect you have either of these conditions.
The inflammation at the root of irritable bowel disease can be caused by a number of factors:
- Consumption of cigarettes – A major, and preventable, contributor to IBD, smoking introduces toxins into your body, increasing inflammation as your body battles to detoxify. There are so many reasons to quit smoking – this is an important one, as it causes daily discomfort.
- Family history – If a close family member such as parent, child or sibling has IBD, you unfortunately have a higher risk of developing it yourself.
- Use of NSAID painkillers – Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are a very common over-the-counter remedy for pain, and they work by blocking two enzymes, responsible for the inflammation process and the healthy lining of your stomach. As a result, aspirin, ibuprofen, and other medications can disrupt the natural protection of your digestive system, and chronic use can contribute to IBD symptoms. Not good!
- Living in a developed country – You’re living your life surrounded by chemicals in a way that your great-grandparents couldn’t imagine. Pesticides are in the ecosystem, your home is full of toxins, and even something as innocuous as a glass of tap water could harbor trace industrial chemicals. An overworked immune system may trigger inflammation in the gut very easily.
- Diet – I’m sure you knew I’d mention diet! Research shows that eating processed foods and a diet heavy in meat is bad for the lining of your gut.
- Preexisting autoimmune conditions – When you have an autoimmune disease, your body is using your immune system to attack itself: leaving it compromised and unable to deal with an outside threat, but also increasing inflammation in sensitive tissues, such as the wall of the gut.
Inflammation in the body is a powerful process. When the mechanism is working right, it’s an amazing part of the defense of your body. But when inflammation goes wrong, it can cause a whole host of problems for you, including pain and fatigue. But what if IBD is only half the story?
Your Thyroid and IBD
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder where your body specifically attacks your thyroid gland. Damaged immune cells invade your thyroid, destroying blood vessels, tissues, and cells. The impact of this continued attack is that your thyroid begins to create and release fewer thyroid hormones. Worryingly, as the process is a slow one, it may take years for you to experience any noticeable symptoms. Due to the damage it causes, Hashimoto’s can lead to hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid, or even a thyroid that no longer works.
So it’s clear that Hashimoto’s, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease all are affected by a poorly functioning immune system. And we know that a preexisting autoimmune disease can increase the chances of developing Hashimoto’s. Also, there is a higher frequency of hypothyroidism in patients with ulcerative colitis. But what’s the deal with the thyroid and the gut? Are we looking at a chicken and egg situation?
Hypothyroidism and your gut
Thyroid hormones are powerful chemical messengers that signal several mechanisms around your body, including your gut. They regulate metabolic processes – everything from the way you breathe, to your body temperature. Your hormones are amazing!
But impaired thyroid function can cause the following issues with your digestive system:
- Lack of appetite
- Slowed digestion
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
This list looks suspiciously like the list of IBD symptoms, doesn’t it?
Also, I think this is interesting: up to 47% of patients with Hashimoto’s carry cellular markers for Celiac disease – also an autoimmune disorder. Gluten can be another notable inflammatory, and Celiac disease can lead to damage in the gut, and poor nutrition absorption.
Leaky gut can also be a contributor to thyroid issues, as changes to intestinal permeability can cause a strain on your immune system, and provoke systemic inflammation. The thyroid and the gut clearly have a reactive and complex relationship.
So, it’s clear that the interplay between the thyroid and the gut can have consequences for your health if your thyroid begins to underperform. Researchers are looking into the exact mechanisms that lead to these connections between hypothyroidism and gut dysfunction – but what can you do in the meantime?
5 Diet Changes for Hashimoto’s Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease
One of the reasons I entered functional medicine is because I grew dissatisfied with the way conventional practitioners treat complex conditions. After all, your thyroid isn’t floating above your head on a tether – it’s a part of your body, and the hormones it produces and releases have an effect on the whole body. Equally, other organs have a say in how the thyroid runs. You should be able to treat your body as a whole, not just the thyroid by itself.
In the case of Hashimoto’s and IBD, there are a number of actions you can take to reduce your symptoms and improve your life.
Here are some dietary changes that can naturally aid your recovery:
- Cut out alcohol – Alcohol is a known inflammatory and toxin, and can be bad news for both your digestion and immune system. Alcohol use can impact thyroid function. Of course you can still have an occasional glass at a special occasion – just exercise caution!
- Cut out grains – As stated above, gluten is an inflammatory, and patients with Hashimoto’s have a high chance of developing Celiac disease. Cutting out grains also means you reduce your consumption of simple carbohydrates – sugar can cause inflammation in the gut.
- Remove processed food – Whether it’s box mac ‘n’ cheese, diet soda, or that bag of chips you always share during movie night, most prepackaged foods contain additives, artificial colors, MSG, and refined sugar – all bad news for your gut, detoxification pathway, and immune system.
- Eat grass-fed, free-range meat in moderation – Standard farmed animals are pumped full of hormones and fed food they would not normally eat if allowed to roam. Cattle are grazers, and they’re meant to eat grass! A healthier animal provides better quality meat (including omega-6 to fight inflammation) – and no sneaky extras that may interfere with the function of your thyroid.
- Adopt healthy fats into your diet – You need fat to maintain and make new cells, and make hormones, so it’s essential that you eat enough fat to replenish your body, and help your thyroid maintain hormone levels.
If you’re struggling with a Hashimoto’s diagnosis, or feel that something is up with your thyroid, why not check out our Thyroid M.V.P. Program – Measurable, Verifiable, Progress™ our all-inclusive program, that includes lab work performed at a lab in your home town, so you can get to the root cause of your concerns. Book your free 30 minute consultation call today – because you owe it to yourself to get back on top!