It is a common belief that “you are what you eat”. Let me assure you that it is not so. In fact, it is the main reason why so many people are frustrated that they don’t get the results they want and still have health and weight issues despite eating what many would consider a “perfect diet”.
Most diets, including the “perfect” one fail because they are solely focused on what to eat and completely ignore the fact that quality of food is only one of the 3 components related to our diet that contribute to our health.
So what are the other 2 factors that are even more important than the food we eat?
You are not what you eat but you are what you can digest and absorb.
Simply put, it doesn’t matter if you eat high quality organic foods, include healthy foods and exclude unhealthy ones, if you cannot digest and absorb it properly.
If your digestion and absorption of food are not optimal, the food will not be processed properly by your body and you won’t get maximum use of it. This is especially true for people with hypothyroidism and autoimmune conditions since they ALL have issues with digestion and absorption as a result of major complications with hypothyroidism or had it as a cause of the disease in the first place.
One of the major complications with hypothyroidism is slow metabolism and how it affects digestion and absorption.
Bloating, constipation, indigestion, malabsorption, dysbiosis and flatulence are the most frequent symptoms of sluggish digestion in hypothyroid patients.
Studies have shown that these symptoms occur due to lower levels of serum gastrin and other enzymes that are produced by the pancreas. Insufficient gastrin secretion inevitably results in lower production of hydrochloric acid (HCL) which is necessary for the proper digestion of food in the stomach.
Basically, due to low levels of hydrochloric acid the food will stay in the stomach longer and leave it only partially digested. Furthermore, the body will be unable to fully absorb the nutrients available in the foods you eat creating malabsorption and multiple nutritional deficiencies that can intensify your hypothyroid symptoms such as depression, fatigue and hair loss.
Multiple nutritional deficiencies bring your body into a starvation mode. You can eat plenty of healthy foods but your body can be starving and literally craving for more nutrients because of impaired digestion and absorption. Any starvation and nutrient deprivation further slows down the metabolism and this process can be further accelerated if you are dieting and skipping meals.
Other important feature of HCl is its acidic properties that help to sterilize food by killing off microbes, parasites and germs that can be found in food. Suboptimal levels of hydrochloric acid will allow unwanted microorganisms to enter your body. Combined with a reduced metabolism that significantly decreases the efficiency of the immune system, it can be a perfect set up for the development of many health conditions related to a malfunction of the immune system such as cancer and autoimmune conditions.
The next stage of food digestion occurs in the small intestine where tiny finger like villi absorb the nutrients. These villi and smaller microvilli cover the intestinal walls and produce digestive enzymes to aid digestion while at the same time block potentially harmful substances from being absorbed.
There are certain foods and medications that can cause damage to the villi and intestinal walls and result in leaky gut syndrome when the big molecules and undigested particles get through into the bloodstream and nutrients are not being absorbed.
If intestinal lining is damaged even healthy foods can irritate it.
Leaky gut can result in many unexplained symptoms, variety of health issues and kick start an autoimmune disease including Hashimoto’s.
How do you know if you digest and absorb your food?
There is a simple test called the Bowel Transit Time Test that you can do at home to find out how good you can digest and absorb the nutrients from your food:
1. You will need to get some charcoal tablets in your drugstore.
2. Take 5 grams of the charcoal tablets on an empty stomach and write down the time.
3. Now simply look for a dark stool when you go to the bathroom.
4. Note the time when the dark stool appears. This is your bowel transit time.
- You’re not absorbing all your nutrients if it has been less than 12 hours.
- The perfect transit time is between 12 and 24 hours.
- The food is sitting in your colon for too long if it has been more than 24 hours. This can indicate constipation, increased risk of colon diseases and other potential health problems because waste products that should be eliminated can be re-absorbed back into the bloodstream instead.
How to restore your digestion and absorption?
You can take HCL supplements, a multivitamin for nutritional deficiencies and increase consumption of foods fortified with minerals and vitamins but it is not the same as getting nutrients from whole fresh foods that are properly digested and absorbed.
However, keep in mind that your metabolism controls the rate at which food travels through the body and low metabolism is a feature of low disease resistance. A better way to deal with digestive problems and impaired absorption if you have hypothyroidism is to restore your metabolism. Until then any “perfect diet” won’t work.
There are two ways to restore metabolism in hypothyroid patients:
1. Thyroid drugs.
The problem is that thyroid drugs (doesn’t matter Synthroid, Armour or any other brand) seldom work as they only replace missing hormones and do not correct the underlying cause of hypothyroidism. Many people continue to have sub-optimal metabolism and impaired digestion and absorption even if they are on thyroid medication.
Furthermore, if your doctor uses only TSH test and outdated hypothyroidism treatment guidelines it may leave you with suboptimal TSH, T4 and T3 thyroid hormone levels. Many people remain undiagnosed and undertreated and continue to have impaired digestion and absorption of important nutrients without knowing that hypothyroidism is to blame.
There are a number of other reasons for sub-optimal digestion and absorption that are directly related to hypothyroidism, however CANNOT be helped with thyroid drugs:
- Undiagnosed, untreated or undertreated adrenal fatigue
- Immune dysfunction and active autoimmune process such as Hashimoto’s disease that cannot be stopped and corrected with thyroid drugs alone
- Leaky gut syndrome and impraired gut micro-flora that are the underlying cause of autoimmune hypothyroidism
- Other hormonal imbalances
2. Holistic approach.
Focus on healing leaky gut syndrome to improve absorption of nutrients. If you have hypothyroidism as a result of autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease you will most likely have leaky gut syndrome.
New recent studies have shown that some autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease where dietary triggers play a key role in initiating of autoimmune process, are IMPOSSIBLE to occur without leaky gut syndrome.
As a next step bringing your body out of a starvation mode and giving it abundance of nutrients by optimizing digestion will speed up your metabolism and here is how to do it.
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