Have you recently found that you increasingly have constipation yet you haven't changed your diet? Sometimes things change with our body yet we don't know why. You may have monitored your diet, water intake and even menstrual cycle and wondered if your change in regularity is connected to that and found it wasn't. This can be so frustrating when you just don't know WHY you are feeling a certain way.
However, there is something else you can consider. Your thyroid! Constipation is one of the first signs of hypothyroidism, an under functioning thyroid. The other signs of this are tiredness and fatigue, weak nails, bloating, mind fog, muscle pain and hair loss among other things.
So how could your thyroid make you constipated?
Well, essentially the thyroid produces hormones which affect our metabolic rate which ultimately means it affects how fast or slow your brain, heart, muscles, liver, and other parts of your body work. This list includes our intestinal tract of course. If our body works to fast or too slowly, we won’t feel well. For example, if you are not producing enough thyroid hormone, you might feel tired or cold. on the other hand if you have too much thyroid hormone, it might make you feel nervous, jumpy, and warm.
Constipation is one of the classic signs of an under-active thyroid. This is because muscles line the digestive tract, including the small and large intestines. As we know muscles contract to move the stool through the intestine to the rectum. Hypothyroidism, or an underfuctioning thryoid can weaken the contraction of these muscles causing the stool to move too slowly and eventually cause constipation.
The nitty - gritty bit (if you don't like science skip this bit)
For those of you who love a bit of nitty gritty science you might like to get your teeth into the gut-thyroid-immune connection. As we know one of the most important functions of the gut is to prevent foreign substances from entering the body. Another important function is that the gut hosts 70% of the immune tissue in the body. This is known as GALT, or gut-associated lymphoid tissue which stores immune cells that carry out attacks and produce antibodies against molecules which are recognized by the immune system as potential threats. Problems occur when either of these functions are compromised and the intestinal barrier becomes permeable (leaky gut). Since leaky gut allows large protein molecules to escape into the bloodstream and the body mounts and immune response. Some studies have shown that these attacks play a role in autoimmune disease which can include Hashimoto's which is an autoimmune form of hypothyroidism.
We also know that thyroid hormones (TriiodothyronineT3 and ThyroxineT4) strongly influence the tight junctions in the stomach and small intestine and inflammation of the gut. Another two thyroid hormones, thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) both influence the development of the GALT.
The gut-bacteria-thyroid connection is also really interesting. One of the lesser known roles of the gut bacteria is to assist in converting inactive T4 into the active form of thyroid hormone, T3 which is the form that is needed for the body to use to keep it's metabolism in check. An imbalance between pathogenic and beneficial bacteria in the gut, significantly reduces this conversion. This is one reason why people with poor gut function may have thyroid symptoms but normal laboratory results.
As we know constipation can impair hormone clearance causing high levels of oestrogen which also decreases the amount of free thyroid hormones available to the body. On the other hand, low thyroid function slows transit time, causing constipation and increasing inflammation, infections and malabsorption. Phew!
So it works both ways - it appears we need a healthy gut to help us with a healthy thyroid and we need a healthy thyroid to keep us regular. As always there are lots of things we can do to help us keep regular. Megan has written an article on how taking probiotics and prebiotics can help to alleviate constipation.
Have you checked however, that your constipation is not connected to your menstrual cycle?
Tips for managing thyroid influenced constipation
If you have clinical thyroidism your doctor will be able to advise on medication for this however, subclinical hypothyroidism doesn't always show up on medical tests as the changes in hormones are not enough to be seen as clinical. However, they are enough to make a difference to your symptoms. Your thyroid can be affected by genetics, stress, adrenal fatigue and a sensitivity to gluten among other things. If you suspect this it might be worth getting some advice on this. However there are some things you can do to support suspected thyroid caused constipation naturally your thyroid naturally. As always though, if you are not feeling well, make an appointment with the doctor to discuss your symptoms.
- Go gluten free - there is a lot of research to suggest that gluten can cause thyroid problems
- Increase your fibre intake - as we know fibre helps with a sluggish digestive tract
- Go easy on the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale as these can exacebate thyroid problems
- Keep your healthy bacteria in balance with a probiotic
- Magnesium - this is a wonderful mineral which many of us are deficient in. It also helps the intestinal lining relax so can help easy constipation. It's also common to be deficient in this mineral if you have hypothyroidism.
- Warm water with lemon is a wonderful tonic for a sluggish gut as well as a detoxfier. It gets the intestine moving and flushes out the toxins
- Take Fluoride out of your diet as this competes with iodine to make the thyroid hormones
- Take a good multivitamin with zinc, selenium and B vitamins in it as these are also required by your thyroid.
- Get some advice on taking iodine. The thyroid needs iodine in order to produce the hormones. iodine supplementation can be really helpful if you find your thyroid is under functioning. You can also include more iodine rich foods in your diet such as seaweed which is the richest source.
As mentioned, an underactive thyroid can have all sorts of other symptoms. Looking into this as a possible cause for your constipation may reveal the reason for other symptoms which have been bothering you. Changes in diet and lifestyle may therefore help not just your sluggish bowels, but relieve you from other symptoms you are finding concerning.
NOTE: This is NOT medical advice. As always, when you don't feel well do check with your doctor first