The Role of the Gut
When I was first searching for a healing plan for Hashimoto’s, I learned about the role of the gut in autoimmune disorders.
According to research from Dr. Fasano and colleagues, every person with an autoimmune disorder has something called intestinal permeability, also knows as a “leaky gut.”
This made a lot of sense to me because I had many of the symptoms of intestinal permeability, including bloating, stomach pains, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux, as do many people with Hashimoto’s.
However, not everyone with intestinal permeability will have these symptoms. Some may have no apparent gut symptoms at all. As awful as it was to deal with IBS for almost a decade and acid reflux for three years, I’m grateful that I had them as these symptoms were signals from my body as to what part of the system was broken.
Autoimmunity has been determined to be a three-legged stool, needing a combination of the right genes, the right triggers, and intestinal permeability to manifest itself. This was exciting to me because I knew that I couldn’t change my genes, and wasn’t sure if I would be able to identify the exact trigger that set off the autoimmune cascade in my body but was hopeful that I could fix my intestinal permeability.
I found that there are various reasons why a person may have intestinal permeability. Gluten, the protein found in wheat products, has become a well-known producer of intestinal permeability, and many individuals with autoimmune conditions have been able to find relief in symptoms through following a gluten-free diet. Some people have even seen a complete remission in their autoimmune condition after removing gluten from their diet.
Another reason why a gut may be more permeable is due to an imbalance of probiotic (good) vs. opportunistic (bad) gut bacteria, also knows as dysbiosis.
People with autoimmunity have been found to have lower amounts of probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidus, and higher amounts of the opportunistic E. coli and Proteus bacteria. E. Coli & Proteus bacterial species are often referred to as “opportunistic pathogens’ because they only become pathogenic when the opportunity is just right. If they are outnumbered by probiotic bacteria, they behave like good citizens of the gut, but in times where they outnumber the probiotics, they may start to damage the gut wall, leading to intestinal permeability.
I’ve seen this pattern of low levels of probiotic bacteria/high levels of opportunistic bacteria on my lab tests, as well as the tests of many clients with Hashimoto’s that have had the GI Effects Gastrointestinal Function Comprehensive Profile -METAMETRIX KIT test that quantifies the microbial flora.
When I first took this test, I was shocked to see that I had zero growth of lactobacillus bacteria, even though I was eating yogurt on a daily basis. The problem with most commercial probiotics and yogurts is that they don’t have enough beneficial bacteria to make a difference.
I started to eat fermented foods and added high doses of probiotics and started to feel better and better (I had already been gluten and dairy free, and hit a “healing” wall).
I retested myself with the GI Effects Gastrointestinal Function Comprehensive Profile -METAMETRIX KIT (we have also been using GI-MAP with great success as well) when all of my Hashimoto’s symptoms were gone and found that my probiotic bacteria were in the optimal range and the E.Coli and Proteus species were no longer predominating my gut flora.
Thus, one of the very first recommendations I make for EVERYONE with Hashimoto’s is to be sure to get enough probiotics on board.
You can do that by eating fermented foods (like my friend and mentor Donna Gates recommends), as well as through taking probiotic supplements.
Probiotic Rich Foods
- Fermented coconut yogurt: So Delicious Dairy Free is my favorite.
- Fermented coconut water: The Body Ecology one from Donna Gates.
- Fermented cabbage (make sure you get the kind that is refrigerated, the probiotic bacteria only survive for a couple of weeks at room temperature). Check your organic grocery, otherwise Thirty Acre Farm ships in the US.
Probiotics have been widely researched for a variety of conditions; including irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, anxiety, depression and even skin disorders. Probiotics can help with improving digestion and nutrient extraction from the foods we eat, and can also balance the immune system.
Probiotics can help with all types of gut symptoms, can help with treating small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (present in >50% of people with Hashimoto’s and responsible for leaky gut), and have helped me with symptoms of anxiety and helped me with digesting my food
Here are three probiotics that I have used successfully
Saccharomyces Boulardii – beneficial yeast that helps to clear out pathogenic bacteria, Candida, some parasites (including Blastocystis hominis) and H Pylori, an infection that has been implicated in ulcers and has been linked to Hashimoto’s.
S. Boulardii does not colonize the gut wall, but instead it causes an increase of Secretory IgA, which supports our own body’s natural defense against infections and opportunistic gut bacteria.
While the label of the product recommends taking 2 capsules twice per day, I used higher doses, building up to 4 capsules three times per day.
Super doses of Probiotics
Most grocery stores and health food stores sell probiotics that contain 10 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU’s) of one probiotic strain. While this seems like a really big number, in reality, we have one trillion bacteria in our gut, and that small amount is not likely to make a difference. Additionally, new research is showing that probiotic diversity is associated with greater health and improved gut function. Thus I recommend taking higher doses of multi-strain probiotics.
You may want to start with the 10 billion CFU probiotic, but then work your way up to a higher dose. The first professional brand probiotic I recommend is Probiotic 50B by Pure Encapsulations, which contains 50 Billion Colony Forming Units.
The second probiotic that I have used with great success and that has the most research behind it is known as VSL #3 and contains 450 Billion CFU’s per dose. This particular probiotic has been clinically studied due to showing success in and labeled as a “medical food” for Ulcerative Colitis and IBS. Please note, this is a very expensive probiotic, but you can get it covered by your insurance if you have the right diagnosis.
I recently learned about a less expensive equally effective brand of high dose multi-strain probiotics from my brilliant nutritionist friend, Tom Malterre, called Klaire Ther-Biotic.
Recently, we have also been using MegaSporeBiotic with great success…
Tips for Using Probiotics…
If you’ve never taken probiotics, you will want to start low and go slow, as you may have increased symptoms if your gut flora changes too rapidly.
If you’ve found that you can tolerate that dose, but have not reached your gut health goals, you can work your way up to higher doses.
Wishing you all the best on your journey!