Digestive issues can be particularly hard to uncover without a functional perspective.
If you’re noticing patterns of less-than-ideal physical issues in your body, such as feeling any combination of these symptoms (one or all):
…it could be time to take a look at your Thyroid.
In our body systems, hormones play a major role in switching organs and cells on and off. Now, imagine the processes of our digestion (churning of the stomach, metabolism, excretion of digestive juices and the movement, and contraction of digestive muscles that push food through our stomach and intestines - peristalsis).
These digestive processes are signaled by hormones produced by the Thyroid. If your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, it is likely that your digestive system will be affected (and vice versa, but we’ll get to that in a minute).
First, let’s get to know your thyroid
The Thyroid is the small butterfly-shaped organ under your Adam’s apple that secretes very important hormones - T3 (triodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These hormones travel through the blood stream and signal all other cells to carry out their specific function.
T3 and T4 hormones signal a variety of cells essential to digestive functions, including:
Note - T3 is the active version of T4, which means that most of the T4 needs to be converted into T3 before it can be used by cells.
So, how does my thyroid go out-of-whack?
First, here is a simple diagram showing the pathways involving proper thyroid function.
Thyroid issues typically occur when there are problems with:
For those of you who would like more detail of the above pathways, let's dive deeper into the diagram discussing the unwanted issues that can arise with production, conversion and utilization.
When the thyroid produces and excretes hormones it does not just do so automatically, it is, in fact regulated by the Hypothalamus and Pituitary gland. The Hypothalamus secretes the hormone TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone) which stimulates the Pituitary gland to secrete TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone), and only then is the thyroid signaled to release hormones T4 and T3. Common blood panels will test for healthy levels of TSH to determine if the thyroid is being stimulated optimally - too much TSH means that the thyroid is secreting too little hormone while too little TSH means that the thyroid is secreting too much hormone.*
Because T4 needs to be converted into T3 before it can be used by cells, it is very important that conversion is happening and is regulated. Two of the main ways T4 is converted into T3 is in the Liver and the in the gut bacteria. If someone has a low-functioning liver or a bacterial imbalance due to stress, diet, or lifestyle, they may be over or under-converting their thyroid hormones.
If cells cannot uptake the T3 and T4 hormones floating around in the bloodstream, those cells will not be signaled to function properly. One-way under-utilization of thyroid hormones can happen is in estrogen dominance (a greater ratio of estrogen to progesterone hormones in the body). Excess estrogen from poor metabolism in the liver, diet, oral contraceptives, and environmental factors renders thyroid hormones ineffective.
*Labs: When looking a blood markers for optimal thyroid function, we are wanting to examine not only TSH, but T3, T4, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, thyroid antibodies TPO, thyroid antibodies TgAb, B12, Ferritin, 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
How can I support my thyroid?
Thyroid symptoms can be caused by poor digestion and vice versa, and so it more effective to treat the system as a whole instead of one specific symptom.
If you are struggling with digestion and thyroid symptoms, the 4R approach - Remove, Replace, Rinnoculate and Repair - can be a huge support in rebalancing your hormones and digestive system.
To learn more about the 4R approach, visit my previous post Healing Your Gut Utilizing the 4R Approach.
Supplementing and supporting the liver and endocrine system can also aid in rebalancing the thyroid. To be most effective, supplementation should be secondary to the primary nutrient-dense whole-foods intake.
Ultimately it takes awareness and patience in uncovering hormonal imbalances. A change in daily nutrition, lifestyle habits, exercise, thoughts, stress, and other factors can greatly influence our health for better or worse, therefore need to be taken into consideration equally.
PS – Know someone with an autoimmune condition? Too many people are misinformed about autoimmunity and what we currently know about it. Please read and pass along this short read to friends and loved ones: Debunking 5 Autoimmune Disease Myths.
Hello, my name is Stacy Peterson, Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Health, Wellness and Strength & Conditioning Coach with a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine practicing whole-foods nutrition and physical training to individuals around the globe.
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