naturopath

THE GUT THYROID CONNECTION

What does the gut have to do with thyroid function? We see many patients with low thyroid function and autoimmune thyroid conditions. As a gut-health specialist clinic we will of course ask about your gut – but particularly so when we hear anything related to the thyroid or thyroid-associated symptoms. Why?

The gut and the thyroid are intimately linked and influence each other in many ways. Essentially – poor gut health suppresses thyroid function and low thyroid function causes inflammation and may contribute to leaky gut.

There is a myriad of contributing factors to gut-thyroid imbalances, such as stress and cortisol release which increase intestinal inflammation and permeability; and sluggish digestion and constipation, gallbladder issues and low stomach acid which can be caused by low thyroid function. However today I will go into a bit of detail about the two important mechanisms that link the thyroid and the gut: GALT and the MICROBIOME.

*Note: the subject is huge one and this blog is by no means an exhaustive explanation of all links.

GALT Tissue

Ever hear the statistic that 70-80% of the immune system, or rather immune tissue lies in the gut?1 It’s true. I’ll explain…

Apart from digestion – the most important function of the gut is to protect us from the unwanted microorganisms that we ingest when we eat, drink and breathe. The digestive tract runs from mouth to anus and if you think about it, this tract is essentially a hollow tube that is open to the outside world. This means we need a strong barrier and good soldiers to protect our bodies from the barrage of potential invaders every time we eat, drink, breath, kiss – you get the picture.

The body has an ingenious method of protection- its all about the GALT…GALT stands for Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue2. The digestive tract is lined with vast amounts of this GALT – immune tissue and is comprised of immune cells such as B and T lymphocytes – the soldiers of the immune system. Due to the large amounts of GALT in the gut – any issues in the gut will have a profound effect on the body’s immune system as a whole.

Problems in the immune system occur when this barrier containing immune cells becomes damaged due to various causes such as stress, environmental toxins, low thyroid function and diet – this is called Leaky Gut or Intestinal Permeability.

When the gut lining is damaged it becomes inflamed and as a result larger particles from our food are able to pass through the inflamed gut tissue into our blood stream. This is not normal and the soldiers in our immune system get confused and mount an attack/response in order to protect us. A case of mistaken identity. This causes a massive amount of systemic inflammation and tissue destruction. This ‘hyped up’ immune system plays a key role in the development of autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s - see more info about how to treat leaky gut HERE

The Microbiome

A little known fact is that good bacteria in your gut help to convert inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to the active from (T3) – by producing the enzyme intestinal sulfatase.  This enzyme is necessary for this conversion to take place. Some studies suggest about 20% of thyroid hormone is converted in the digestive tract this way. That’s huge!

This illustrates how important it is to have healthy populations of good gut flora in order to support your thyroid, and is commonly why people with compromised gut function also have thyroid symptoms. Additionally diverse populations of gut flora are essential for good gut-barrier function and healthy GALT tissue, and protect against leaky gut and pathogenic microorganisms.

Naturopathically, we say that everything in the body is linked and we like to look at the whole picture. When treating conditions such as Hashimotos we will always look at diet, environment, emotions, stress, sleep and any other factors that may be compromising your thyroid health – and of course address any underlying gut issues. 

Karen

BHSc (Naturopathy)

 

How your gut is connected to hay fever and allergies

I bet you are wondering, ‘how can my water eyes, running nose and sneezing be connected to my gut?’. As you may have noticed today, there are studies coming out linking all sorts of conditions and diseases to the health of your gut. Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is no different. 

For starters our digestive system plays a huge role in the balance of our immune system. Almost 70% of our entire immune system is located in our gut(1). For hay fever and other allergic diseases the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ was thought to have a role in the increase in allergies, with the lack of exposure to microbes in early life increasing the risk of allergies in later life(2). Now something called the 'microbiota hypothesis' is thought to play a role, meaning a change in our gut bugs influence the development of our immune system(3). Although allergies are also influenced by genetics, some of the environmental and lifestyle factors that change your gut bacteria and increase your risk for allergies include infant use of antibiotics, formula feeding and being born by caesarean section(4,5). Oppositely, growing up with pets(6), growing up on a farm(7), being born through vaginal delivery and being breast fed has been linked to positively influencing your gut’s flora to include more ‘protective strains’(4,5).

What your body does in an allergic reaction

For an allergy to exist, allergen sensitisation must first occur. Special immune cells present in the mucosal surfaces of the body such as nose, lungs and gastrointestinal tract, detect the allergen. One type of immune cells comes into contact with the allergen which are then displayed on the cell's surface. This cell then lets other immune cells know to produce antibodies (IgE) specific to the allergen. From then on, if you are exposed to that allergen, an allergic response is triggered. The allergen is identified by antibodies (IgE) causing immune cells to release inflammatory mediators, such as histamine (8). Histamine is responsible for the itchy nose and runny nose, red watery eyes and dry cough.

The gut-lung connection

The lining of your gut is structurally very similar to lining of your lungs. If you are someone with allergies, inflammation will tend to happen in both areas, as it is thought that leaky gut may have a role in 'leaky lungs'. Our gut flora are also likely have a major impact on the integrity of the lung tissue(9).

Histamine and your gut

You may think histamine is the bad guy because it is linked to your allergies, but in fact is extremely important for mood, stomach acid, blood vessels, and muscle functions (10). The problem with histamine is for some people they can be suffering from histamine intolerance. This means they produce excess histamine and/or have a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks it down. When it comes to our gut, some of our microbes are capable of producing histamine. These microbes produce an enzyme, which converts histidine into histamine. The more of these microbes you have, and the more histidine you consume, the higher the amount of histamine you can produce. Histamine can be then be absorbed and taken around the body, exacerbating allergic symptoms (11).

Balance Immune System

How to improve your allergy symptoms

1. Heal your gut. Gut health and healing isn't straight forward and may require a professional to guide you. There may be other gut issues at play, like Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO) driving gut inflammation and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which will also need to be addressed.

2. Balancing gut flora can balance your immune system. This means probiotics from capsules or fermented foods. Be careful with fermented foods if you are histamine sensitive though, as they are a source of histamine. If you feel worse on bone broths or foods like sauerkraut then get in touch with a trained professional to help you refine your diet and introduce these gut healing foods slowly. Some strains that can help reduce histamine include Bifidobacteria infantis and Lactobacillus plantarum (12, 13).

3. Eat fermentable fibre. Eat a diet full of complex, fermentable fibre as it helps intestinal microbiota make short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs help regulate the immune system and decrease allergic airway inflammation (14). 

4. Try eating low-histamine diet. Following a low-histamine diet can help reduce the severity of allergy symptoms. Foods to avoids that are high in histamines include canned and ready meals, fermented foods, aged and matured foods like cheese, fish, shellfish, avocados, spinach, cocoa and leftover meat (15).

5. Eat foods high in quercetin or take a supplement. Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and can be found in foods like grapefruit, onions, apples, black tea, leafy green vegetables and beans. Some herbs like Ginkgo biloba and Sambucus spp. are also sources.

6. Zinc. Zinc is a key nutrient involved in maintaining a healthy immune system. It is also necessary in healing and maintaining a healthy gut wall. Supplementing with zinc could significantly help in the healing of leaky gut(16). To find out your zinc levels and get the safest, and get most appropriate zinc supplement, see one of our professionals. Eating foods rich in zinc can also help including grass-fed beef, oysters, lamb, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chicken, spinach and mushrooms.

7. Eat local, raw honey. Raw honey contains both beneficial bacteria and trace amounts of pollen picked up by the bees from local plants. By eating raw honey, you can 'educate' your immune system to tolerate these local pollens (16). By local we mean the neighbouring suburbs, postcode or city. Australian honey isn't considered 'local' as the plants in Perth are very different to that in Melbourne, for example. 

8. For symptom relief try clearing your nasal passage using a neti pot. If any allergens are stuck in the passage this can clear them out and give some temporary relief.

The hidden toxins in your bathroom cabinet and how to avoid them

Part two 'on'

Following on from part one of this blog series, in part two we tackle the hidden toxins we use ON our body. These toxins are dressed up and put in products that ‘help’ you achieve particular results. The problem is, what we put on our skin affects us in ways you not may realise. Our skin is the largest organ of our body; one of its roles is to protect us from the many toxins in our environment. However, it is also permeable, meaning it absorbs everything it comes into contact with, which ends up in our blood stream(1). An average woman's 'getting ready' routine exposes her body to 515 different synthetic chemicals every single day(2). Think about it, do you really know what you wash your hair and face with? Do you know what's in your moisturiser, make-up or perfume? Read on to learn about some toxins you may be lathering, spraying and brushing on yourself.

1. Parabens are used in many cosmetic products including moisturisers and lotions, and are commonly used in the armpit and breast area. Paraben containing products have been known to cause allergic responses. They are also a significant source of hormone disrupting chemicals, which may be linked to breast cancer in women(3). One study even detected parabens in breast tumours(4). This nasty effect on hormones not only affects the adult, but if pregnant, could impact foetus development(3).

2. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners (yikes!). SLS is in hair shampoos, treatments and colours, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundation, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents and bath oils and salts. SLES and ALS are related and should also be avoided(5). High level exposure to SLS is toxic to our organs, development and reproductive and nervous systems. It also negatively affects our hormones and is possibly linked to some cancers(6). Cosmetic use may cause dermatitis and irritation to the skin and eyes(7). The real concern is that there is a lack of long-term studies on ALL of the chemicals in these products, so we don't really know what the long-term effects are(8).

3. The ethanolamine chemical group can be listed on the product label as DEA, TEA and MEA(9,10). DEA can cause skin and eye irritation and high exposure has been linked to liver cancers and precancerous changes in the skin and thyroid. The European Union classifies DEA as harmful due to the danger of serious damage to health from prolonged exposure. DEA can also react with other cosmetic chemicals which changes it to a cancer causing agent(11)

4. Triclosan is used in personal care products such as toothpaste, deodorant and soap. New studies have linked it to heart disease, heart failure(12) and thyroid hormone disruption(13,14). When Triclosan was first registered in 1969 it was registered as a pesticide! In fact, today it is still registered as a pesticide and it is also widely used for industrial uses(15).

5. Talc (magnesium trisilicate) is found in thousands of toiletries ranging from make-up cosmetics to antiperspirants and deodorants. Using talc as little as once a week raises a woman's risk of ovarian cancer. This risk is increased when used daily(16), and even more so when used regularly on external genital areas(17,18). Serious lung damage and cancer have been reported amongst talc manufacturing workers, and for this reason you should not use talc on babies. It can cause serious breathing complications, convulsions and even death(19). You can read about just one lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson here.

6. Mineral oil is made from petroleum, the same stuff you put in your car's engine. Many products use mineral oil, as it allows lotions to be spread easily across your skin. This is despite the fact that it's a known cancer causing agent! Mineral oil also blocks your pores to cause blackheads and pimples. This is because it creates a film on your skin that stops your skin's natural breathing process(20,21). Studies have found that mineral oil affects more than just your skin, samples of fat and breast milk were found to be contaminated with mineral oil. This result is likely from a build up over time from repeated exposure from cosmetics(22)

7. “Fragrance” or “parfum” actually represents a secret cocktail recipe potentially made up of hundreds of synthetic chemicals(23). These chemicals are selected from a pool of 5,000 ingredients(24), none of which have to be disclosed or tested for safety(25). Fragrances are in everything, the list is endless from the obvious deodorants and perfumes to moisturisers, hair products and anti-wrinkle creams (26). “Fragrance” contains hormone disruptors called phthalates(27), which was discussed in part one.  Fragrances commonly cause allergic reactions which can cause skin sensitivity, dermatitis, asthma attacks and migraines(28).

8. Formaldehyde is used in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap and wash and colour cosmetics(29). It is a known human cancer causing agent, with high exposure linked to some types of cancers(30,31). It can also cause allergic skin reactions and rashes(29)

Tips to clean up your bathroom cabinet

  • Read the label and know what you are talking about. Be savvy with what you are being sold. For example, if you want to buy pure rose hip oil and you turn the label over to see 10 ingredients listed = RED FLAG.
  • Ditch the perfume! A better alternative is using certified organic essential (not mineral) oil. You could even try applying no scent at all.
  • Make your way over to mineral make-up. Once again, the word natural in marketing doesn't mean a great deal, so read the label. 
  • Use certified organic products and not just organic products. There is a big difference!
  • Reduce the number of cosmetics in your daily routine. Do you really need 25 products to make-up your face when you plan to go do the groceries?
  • Have make up free days when possible and let your skin breath!

Next week we will be giving you our favourite toxin free, absolute must-have beauty products!

The perks of pregnancy; what you can do to help your morning sickness

There's nothing like a personal experience to help give some perspective on what my patient's might be going through. I'm not going to lie, my first four months pregnancy has been tough! Fatigue and all day nausea and vomiting is exhausting, not to mention unpleasant. I went through all sorts of feelings during this time, while being absolutely over the moon to be growing a baby, it was difficult to stay positive while having to stay so close to a bucket and carry a sick bag everywhere I went! I felt the guilt that I wasn't supplying my growing bub with adequate nutrition. All I wanted to eat was fruit, something I generally try to limit to one serve per day, and even supplements were difficult to keep down. 

Pregnancy Diet

My advice:

1. Don't be too hard on yourself. A few months of a less than ideal diet isn't going to undo all the good nutrition you put in prior. So far in my pregnancy, I ate a lot more fruit than I would usually, but it's better than nothing! And now that the nausea is over (thank goodness) I am weaning myself off slowly and increasing my intake of nutrient dense foods like eggs, meats and butter (things I went off completely for a few months). 

2. Eat little and often. I wasn't great with this one and would often forget or get too busy to eat. Preparation is key here, have ready to eat snacks on hand - nuts, fruit, vege sticks or rice crackers with hummus/pesto work well.

3. Try healthy foods in different forms. I usually don't eat too many raw vege's in winter but veggie sticks with hummus was the only way I could get my veg in. 

4. Preconception care. If you can, aim to spend 3-6 months preparing your body for pregnancy. This should include personalised advice from a qualified practitioner, a super nutrient dense diet for both mum and dad and prenatal vitamins and minerals.

5. Correcting nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B6 and zinc. This is easier to do prior to pregnancy to potentially prevent morning sickness and should be part of your preconception care.

From one mum-to-be to another, good luck!
 

Abi Walker

BHSC Naturopathy, PGDIP Dietetics, BSC Human Nutrition