In the gastrointestinal tract we have billions of healthy bacteria which help to maintain our digestive health. These healthy bacteria are known as the “gut flora”, and they help to keep harmful bacteria, yeast, and parasites in check. After all, everybody has “bad” organisms living in their body. For example, just about everyone has Candida Albicans living in their body, but if one has a healthy digestive system then this usually doesn’t pose a problem, and thus won’t lead to a yeast infection. However, when the gut flora becomes compromised, this is when problems begin to develop.
How does the gut flora become compromised? I’ve discussed this in numerous posts and articles, and so I’m not going to go into great detail here. So while there are numerous factors which can cause problems with the gut flora, three of the more common causes are 1) poor diet, 2) poor stress handling skills, 3) taking antibiotics. Eating a diet high in refined foods and sugars can cause problems with the gut flora. And of course this is a common problem. The same thing can be said about stress, as dealing with chronic stress on a daily basis will also impact the digestive system. Taking antibiotics may be necessary at times, but although it will help to eradicate the harmful organisms, it will also kill some of the good bacteria as well.
Why Not Just Take Probiotics?
Many people take probiotics to help balance the gut flora. Probiotics can definitely play an important role in restoring one’s digestive health back to normal. But many times taking probiotics alone isn’t enough. First of all, if there is damage to the intestinal lining, which is the case with leaky gut syndrome, then one needs to do more than take probiotics, as taking these won’t help to repair the intestinal lining. So they might have to take a few grams of L-glutamine on a daily basis to help with the healing process. In addition, if someone has a severely compromised digestive system then they might need to take extremely high dosages of probiotics. In other words, just purchasing probiotics and taking the recommended dose may not be enough. And of course the quality of the product is very important.
For example, if someone has been taking antibiotics for a long time, then they will probably need to take a higher dosage of probiotics when compared to someone who hasn’t taken antibiotics. In some cases they might need to take up to 100 billion live organisms daily. Some of the more common cultures which can help include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Saccharomyces boulardii can also be beneficial for those who are taking antibiotics or are experiencing diarrhea.
But once again, taking these organisms alone might not be enough to completely restore one’s digestive health. If someone has gut issues then I will recommend some type of gut flora balancing protocol. This will include probiotics, as well as prebiotics (i.e. inulin), and if they have intestinal permeability problems then I will add some supplements to help repair the intestinal lining, provide some immune system support, etc.
How Does This Affect Thyroid Health?
Problems with the gut flora can affect thyroid health in a few different ways. First of all, if there are problems with the gut flora, then this can interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals, which can cause or contribute to thyroid conditions. For example, if someone has a selenium deficiency which is due to problems with the gut, then this can affect thyroid function, specifically the conversion of T4 to T3. Many natural healthcare professionals would address this by giving the person selenium supplements, which usually is a good idea. But in this situation the primary goal should be to correct the absorption problem, so that the body will be able to absorb the selenium, along with other vitamins and minerals. This might seem like common sense, but it’s amazing how many doctors overlook this.
In addition to decreasing the absorption of vitamins and minerals, an imbalance in the gut flora will also affect the immune system. An imbalance in the gut flora alone probably won’t trigger an autoimmune condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, but if unaddressed it can lead to a leaky gut, which in turn can lead to the development of an autoimmune condition. While giving the person some immune system support can be beneficial, the main goal in this situation should be to correct the underlying cause of the problem.
In summary, probiotics are definitely important for anyone who has an imbalanced gut flora. However, many times taking probiotics alone isn’t enough to correct this problem, and so prebiotics need to be considered, as well as other supplements and herbs. An imbalance in the gut flora can affect thyroid health by preventing the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, and when combined with leaky gut it can potentially trigger an autoimmune response. So while probiotics can benefit many people, other factors usually need to be incorporated into the protocol.