Published November 25 2013
Many people reading this are familiar with the condition known as “leaky gut syndrome”. In this condition the intestinal lining is compromised. And as I’ll explain in this article, this in turn can potentially trigger an autoimmune response, leading to a condition such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. And if someone develops Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis due to a leaky gut, then this needs to be corrected in order for them to restore their health back to normal. What I’d like to do is discuss leaky gut syndrome in greater detail so that you have a better understanding of what it is, and how it can trigger an autoimmune response.
The intestine consists of a layer of epithelial cells called enterocytes. In a healthy gut these cells are supposed to be close together, and only allow nutrients and phytonutrients to pass through while at the same time keeping out larger molecules and pathogenic organisms. Transportation of nutrients can take place through the cells or between the cells.
But due to numerous factors I’ll describe later in this article, the spaces between the cells can increase. This allows proteins and other larger molecules to pass through these spaces into the bloodstream, where they normally shouldn’t be. So these tight junctions between the cells become “leaky”, and when larger molecules pass through these spaces and go into the bloodstream where they shouldn’t be under normal circumstances, this leads to immune system activation. This can potentially trigger an autoimmune response, thus leading to a condition such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
What Can Cause A Leaky Gut?
There are numerous factors which can cause the development of leaky gut syndrome, and here are some of the more common ones:
Stress. There is evidence that chronic psychological stress is associated with an increase in intestinal permeability (1). And of course many people deal with chronic stress on a daily basis. In addition to chronic stress having the potential to cause a leaky gut, recent evidence shows that acute psychological stress can also lead to an increase in intestinal permeability in humans (2). While you can’t eliminate the stress from your life, chances are you can do a better job of managing your stress. Eating well and exercising regularly can help greatly with managing stress, although many times other techniques are necessary to incorporate such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and/or biofeedback.
Food allergens. Certain food sensitivities can lead to an increase in intestinal permeability. Gluten seems to be a big culprit, and many healthcare professionals will recommend for everyone with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis to avoid gluten. When it comes to gluten sensitivity and leaky gut syndrome, there is controversy over whether a non-autoimmune gluten sensitivity problem can lead to a leaky gut. In other words, some studies suggest that if someone has a gluten sensitivity but does not have Celiac disease then this won’t cause an increase in intestinal permeability. I came across an interesting study which compared the effects of gluten in mucosal barrier function in people with Celiac disease and those who are gluten-sensitive but don’t have Celiac disease (3). The study concluded that unlike Celiac disease, non autoimmune gluten sensitivity is not associated with increased intestinal permeability. More research definitely needs to be conducted in this area. With that being said, there does seem to be a correlation between Celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid conditions (4). There is also some evidence that eating processed foods can lead to intestinal permeability (5).
Pathogens. Certain pathogens can result in an increase in intestinal permeability. Numerous studies show that H. Pylori can lead to an increase in intestinal permeability (6) (7). There is also evidence that other pathogens can cause an increase in intestinal permeability.
NSAIDs. Numerous studies show that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to an increase in intestinal permeability (8) (9) (10).
Alcohol. Multiple studies show that drinking alcohol can result in intestinal permeability (11) (12). The way this happens is by promoting the growth of gram-negative bacteria in the intestine, which can result in the accumulation of acetaldehyde, which in turn can lead to a increase in intestinal permeability.
How Can People With Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Repair A Leaky Gut?
At this point you should have a better understanding as to what is involved in leaky gut syndrome, as well as some of the common causes of this condition. But how can one repair a leaky gut? One’s diet usually plays an important role, as it’s important to eat mostly whole foods, while minimizing the refined foods and sugars. But you also want to minimize your consumption of foods which are difficult to digest, such as nuts, seeds, and beans. Since gluten can possibly be a culprit it’s a good idea to avoid gluten, and I usually recommend for most people to initially avoid dairy when following a natural treatment protocol.
If someone has a pathogen which is causing the increase in intestinal permeability, then it obviously is important to try to eradicate this pathogen. For example, if someone has H. Pylori, then they will want to do what is necessary to eradicate this infection. There are natural treatment methods to eradicate H. Pylori, while the conventional medical approach involves potent antibiotics. Although the antibiotics might be stronger than natural antimicrobials, they will also wipe out many of the good bacteria of the gut.
Certain supplements and herbs can also help with gut repair. L-glutamine is one of the more common nutrients taken to help to repair the gut. The herbs slippery elm and marshmallow root can also help to repair the gut. Probiotics are commonly recommended. I also recommend taking fish oils to help with the inflammation, along with a good source of gamma-linolenic acid (i.e. borage oil, black currant seed oil).
In summary, leaky gut syndrome is a common condition, especially with those who have autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. There are numerous factors which can cause the development of a leaky gut, and when trying to correct this condition it is not only important to address the cause, but certain supplements and herbs can help with the gut repair. This includes L-glutamine, slippery elm, and marshmallow root. Just keep in mind that it takes time to correct a leaky gut, as in most cases it will take anywhere from three to six months to accomplish this, and in some cases longer than this.