It’s not just what you eat. It’s how it gets there.
It never ceases to amaze me how interconnected all parts of the body are and how disconnected we’ve culturally grown from that reality. I’m not just talking about “Dem Bones” here. The network is more vast and biochemical.
From a conventional perspective, for instance, the thyroid seems to float of its own accord in the region of the throat, detached from the brain, the gut, the stomach, and a host of other hormonal and chemical actions and reactions. But as I’m continually reminded, this just isn’t so.
The thyroid is affected by and affects many other functions in the body, with relationships that may have been overlooked—to your immune health, your mental health, and your environment.
What I see, time and time again for my clients and customers is that when these connections are made, when there’s finally a reason why a particular sign or symptom is not being addressed by a standard treatment, that it brings relief, insight, and the freedom to find a clearer path toward their unique recovery.
I want to help you make these important connections. And today I want to help you connect your thyroid to your stomach.
That’s right, the way to your thyroid health (or one way anyway) is through your stomach.
Let’s consider just a couple of reasons why this may be so:
Anemia and Hypothyroidism. Anemia can be an early sign of hypothyroidism. On average, between 20 to 60 percent of patients with hypothyroidism are also anemic.
Have you struggled with anemia, chronically low ferritin levels, or undiagnosed fatigue that you thought was just your thyroid sluggishness or who knows what?
There are three probable reasons for the connection between hypothyroidism and anemia:
- Low stomach acid (bingo!)
- Autoimmune destruction of the intrinsic factor in the stomach lining that helps with the conversion of iron from your food to its usable form (Bingo again if you have Hashimoto’s because autoimmune expressions don’t often stop at one location.)
- Excessive menstrual bleeding (OK, not related to your stomach, but still connected)
Stomach Acid and the Thyroid. Stomach acid has two critical purposes, both of which are upstream factors affecting your thyroid: Stomach acid helps you digest and break down the food you eat into the nutrients your cells need. This includes your thyroid cells, which need key nutrients like selenium, zinc, vitamin C, and more.
Stomach acid also kills bacteria and pathogens that may enter your body through your mouth (more than we care to think of!), so they cannot enter your bloodstream and cause the immune havoc that can lead to confusion and autoimmune expressions like Hashimoto’s.
But wait, I thought stomach acid was bad?
A common misconception is that indigestion, heartburn, and GERD are symptoms of too much stomach acid. In reality, these are typically an indication of not having enough stomach acid. Your stomach should be very acidic, generally a pH of 1–2.
When stomach acid is too low, it can trigger a myriad of digestive issues. Ample stomach acidity is necessary for breaking down and absorbing proteins and those other key nutrients for health, thyroid and otherwise. Ample stomach acid kills unwanted pathogens on contact.
While too much stomach acid is not unheard of, it’s not a common, modern-day concern. Too little stomach acid is a likely culprit in many health concerns, and there are simple daily techniques you can try to see if a shift in your stomach pH supports you.
Shore Up Your Stomach
You’ll want to slowly start to boost stomach acid and see what works for you. Remember, we are all unique, and what works for one (or even most), may not be your best remedy or your best remedy right now.
The good news is, there are easy ways to “jumpstart” your stomach’s natural talents and bring your stomach acid back to normal levels. In this way, we’re swimming upstream to address downstream problems—whether they be digestive, thyroid, or blood-related (like with anemia).
A Morning Elixir for Your Stomach
Boosting stomach acid (and improving digestion) can be as simple as looking in your pantry or fridge.
In fact, I’m betting you already have what you need to help your stomach regain a healthy state—a lovely lemon from your fridge and apple cider vinegar from your pantry. (If not, add them to your shopping list now!)
Both lemon juice and raw, fermented apple cider vinegar (ACV) support the alkalization of your body and boost the acidity of your stomach to improve digestion and the breakdown of nutrients.
Try one (or both) in a stomach-supportive morning elixir.
Freshly Squeezed Lemon. Mix freshly squeezed lemon juice (1/2 lemon or 1–2 tablespoons) with 6–12 ounces of room temperature or hot water. Lemon is generally more gentle on the stomach, making it a nice place to start if you have any throat or esophageal irritation.
Raw, Fermented Apple Cider Vinegar. Mix 1 tablespoon of fermented ACV with 6–12 ounces of water. Be sure to get the fermented ACV like Bragg’s or Eden Organic. If the label says “with the mother” or raw, you’ve got what you need.
Add a drop or two of liquid stevia if the thought of drinking vinegar makes your mouth pucker. (This is my favorite drink of the day.)
The ideal time to take your morning elixir is before breakfast (on an empty stomach), but you can also drink it during or after your meal. For an extra digestive boost, drink up before all your meals, especially when there’s a lot of protein on your plate. Remember, we’re flexing your digestive muscle here.
If you feel a warming or slight burning sensation in the stomach (that’s just below your left ribs not near your belly button) that ‘s a sign that your stomach is acidic enough and you can back down to a smaller amount or skip it altogether.
At my company Replenish, we love to mix our ACV or lemon juice with our B vitamins and herbal tinctures like ashwaghanda, rhodiola, or Diamond Mind herbal mix made by Dragon Herbs, for our morning cocktail to boost brain and digestive health and, of course, to support the thyroid.
Add ACV and freshly squeezed lemon juice to soups, dressings, and smoothies for a tasty digestive boost.
A note of caution: If you have esophageal inflammation due to GERD, you likely do need to boost stomach acid, but it may cause pain or burning when you begin because the acid comes in contact with the inflamed tissue.
Try starting by mixing water with aloe vera juice (1–2 tablespoons) for a few weeks to ease the inflammation before bringing in the ACV or lemon juice.
People often ask what effect the acid will have on their teeth.
Is drinking lemon juice or ACV really OK for my teeth? The short answer is yes, and I promise the health benefits of these beauties far outweigh the risks. Feel free to drink your digestive-health morning elixir from a straw for extra protection for your pearly whites.
With a career born of a personal family health crisis, award-winning functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama takes the idea of food as personalized medicine beyond a clinical practice. Her online programs at ReplenishPDX.com and HolisticNutritionLab.com guide her clients in taking ownership over their health. [email protected]