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Are You Digesting Your Food Properly? Little-Known Facts About How Thyroid Controls Digestion

Posted by Dr. Stephen and Janet Lewis on

In this post, you'll learn about:

  • What the thyroid gland is and why it affects so many of the systems in your body.
  • How the thyroid contributes to the proper regulation of your digestive system.
  • What symptoms you can expect when something goes wrong.
  • What to do about it and how to learn more.

Did you know that the thyroid gland has a significant impact on your body's digestive process?

In fact, digestive problems tend to be among the first signs of hyperthyroidism.

Most of us have heard about thyroid problems before, but for many people these complications are a bit mysterious - even if you're experiencing thyroid related symptoms yourself.

The thyroid is a gland responsible for producing hormones in your body, specifically the ones that regulate your metabolism. Metabolism is a bit of a blanket term that has some degree of mystery surrounding it as well, so let's clarify what it actually means.

(Fun fact: the idea of slim people having a "fast metabolism" and larger people having a "slow metabolism" is more or less an old wives’ tale. It is quite possible for an overweight person to have a "fast" metabolism and vice versa.)

The term metabolism actually describes two different processes within the body: anabolism and catabolism. Catabolism is responsible for breaking down chemicals to provide the body with energy (this is what happens when you eat food). Anabolism is the process by which we grow new cells, which happens all the time, not just when you're growing as a young person.

Since the thyroid is responsible for both of these metabolic processes in the body, you now probably have a much better understanding of why it's so important.

Let's take a moment to explore a few little-known facts about how your thyroid gland can impact your digestive system.

Digestion Can Be Affected if the Thyroid Produces Too Many or Too Few Hormones

You've probably heard of hyperthyroidism. It's a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too many hormones. This can lead to symptoms like:

  • Unexpected and/or unwanted weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Esophageal spasms
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart palpitations and/or increased heart rate
  • And more

Similarly, there's also a condition called hypothyroidism, which is the opposite case in which the thyroid produces too few hormones. Patients with hypothyroidism typically experience symptoms which may include:

  • Constipation
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Higher cholesterol readings
  • General fatigue
  • Depression
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Dry skin
  • And more

Did you notice that some of these symptoms overlap? It's important to understand what kind of thyroid issue you may have, since the treatments for each are different.

What You Eat Can Affect Your Thyroid

Nutrition plays a substantial role in the function of the thyroid gland. It's understood that individuals with hypothyroidism should avoid foods like gluten, cruciferous vegetables, excess fiber, and more. People with hyperthyroidism should generally avoid caffeine, sugars, red meat, and other fatty or sweet foods.

But is there any validity to the notion that what you eat when your thyroid is functioning normally could cause it to veer off course?

In some cases, yes. However, since glandular function is highly variable from one person to another, often the best course of action is to follow the advice of your nutritionist or physician.

Next Steps & Final Considerations

If any of the symptoms we discussed earlier seemed familiar to you, it's possible that you're experiencing the early stages of thyroid malfunction. The best course of action will be to see a physician so that you can be evaluated. The thyroid gland is still not entirely understood, but the medical community has made significant advances in understanding that make a thyroid condition manageable.

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