Stomach Health & Thyroid Function, Plus Two Functional Elixirs to Support Your Gastric pH
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
It never ceases to amaze me how interconnected all parts of the body are and how disconnected we’ve culturally grown from that reality. Our tendency is to isolate organs and systems, seeing them as distinct entities. And yet, as we’re taught in Functional Medicine and Functional Nutrition, they are all part of a complex, biochemical network. One prime example of this interconnectedness is the thyroid, an organ nestled in the throat, seemingly separate from other key players like the brain, the gut, and the stomach. But as we dig deeper, we find that the thyroid’s influence extends far beyond the gland itself, affecting immune health, mental health, and metabolism. This intricate web of connections underscores the importance of considering the thyroid’s role in maintaining overall health. Even more, it highlights how seemingly isolated organs are, in fact, intricately woven into the complex tapestry of our bodies, illuminating the need for a holistic approach to health and healing.
Students of our Functional Nutrition training program, Full Body Systems, come to realize that identifying these very connections can provide relief and insights into why a particular sign or symptom is resistant to conventional treatments. At the Functional Nutrition Alliance, it’s our mission to share these important connections with you. Today, we aim to spotlight a less-explored yet essential relationship – the one between your thyroid and your stomach.
The stomach-thyroid connection
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: A possible early sign of hypothyroidism
Anemia can be a telltale sign of hypothyroidism. In fact, it affects 20%-60% of patients with hypothyroidism. Have you seen clients or patients who have struggled with anemia, chronically low ferritin levels, or undiagnosed fatigue in practice? The link between hypothyroidism and anemia can be attributed to several factors, including low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria), autoimmune issues in the stomach lining (especially for those with Hashimoto’s), and sometimes excessive menstrual bleeding. While the latter isn’t directly related to the stomach, it’s still part of this intricate web of interconnected systems.
The functional role of stomach acid
Now let’s dive deeper into stomach acid, a factor that significantly influences the thyroid. Stomach acid serves several critical purposes with upstream effects on thyroid function. Firstly, it aids in digesting and breaking down the food you consume into vital nutrients for the cells (including the thyroid cells). Among these are nutrients like selenium, zinc, and vitamin C, which are indispensable for thyroid health, as well as breaking down the dietary proteins consumed into critical amino acids needed by the thyroid.
Secondly, stomach acid acts as a barrier, eliminating harmful bacteria and pathogens that could enter your body through your mouth – an entry point for more microorganisms than we’d like to think! When your stomach acid levels are too low, it can trigger an array of digestive issues.
And finally, ample stomach acid can support the metabolization of both iron and B12, two nutrients that impact energy levels and overall health. These can be important factors in managing thyroid conditions like hypothyroidism.
A common misconception that’s thankfully now getting more attention 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 ranging from 1 to 2.
While too much stomach acid is not unheard of, it’s not a common, modern day concern. Too little stomach acid is the more likely culprit in many health concerns and there are simple daily techniques you can trial to see if a shift in your stomach pH supports you!
Supporting stomach acid with Functional Nutrition
When it comes to supporting stomach acid production you’ll want to start low and go slow to see what works for you and/or your clients. Remember every body is unique; what works for one (or even most), may not work for all.
With the above disclaimer in mind, there are easy ways to “jumpstart” the stomach’s natural talents to bring stomach acid back to aid you. To do this, we focus on “swimming upstream” to address downstream problems — whether they be digestive, thyroid or blood related (like with anemia). Below are two of my favorite remedies to bring health into perspective and break free from diagnosis-focused confines with Functional Nutrition.
Elixirs to boost stomach acid
With Functional Nutrition as your guide, boosting stomach acid (and improving digestion) can be as simple as starting with the pantry or fridge. In fact, I’m betting most already have what they need on hand to help regain stomach health (if not, add them to your shopping list now!). Both fresh lemon juice and raw, fermented apple cider vinegar support the alkalization of the body and boost the acidity of the stomach to improve digestion and the breakdown of nutrients. Try one (or both) in a stomach supportive elixir.
The ideal time to take an elixir is in the morning on an empty stomach, although it can be taken during or after breakfast as well. For an extra digestive boost, drink before meals throughout the day.
Remember, elixirs are intended to flex your digestive muscle. If you feel a warming or slight burning sensation in the stomach (that’s just below your left ribs not near your navel) it’s a sign that your stomach is acidic enough and you can back down to a smaller amount or skip it altogether.
Freshly-squeezed lemon Elixir
Mix freshly-squeezed lemon juice (1/2 lemon or 1-2 Tbsp) with 6-12 ounces of room temperature or warm water. Lemon is generally gentle on the stomach, making it a nice place to start if you have any throat or esophageal irritation.
Raw fermented Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Elixir
Mix 1 Tbsp of fermented ACV with 6-12 ounces of water. Be sure to get the fermented ACV, which is usually indicated by a label that reads “with the mother” or raw. 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.
A note of caution: for those with esophageal inflammation due to GERD, elixirs may cause pain or burning because the acid is in contact with the inflamed tissue. Remember to start low and go slow. Try easing into elixirs by mixing water with 1-2 Tbsp aloe vera juice for a few weeks to ease the inflammation before introducing ACV or lemon juice.
And people often ask, what about my teeth? Is drinking lemon juice or ACV really ok for my teeth? The short answer is yes. Feel free to drink your digestive health morning elixir from a straw for an extra dose of protection for your pearly whites.
Soliman AT, De Sanctis V, Yassin M, Wagdy M, Soliman N. Chronic anemia and thyroid function. Acta Biomed. 2017;88(1):119-127. Published 2017 Apr 28. doi:10.23750/abm.v88i1.6048
Fatima R, Aziz M. Achlorhydria. [Updated 2023 Aug 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507793/
Cellini M, Santaguida MG, Virili C, et al. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Autoimmune Gastritis. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017;8:92. Published 2017 Apr 26. doi:10.3389/fendo.2017.00092
Filardo S, Scalese G, Virili C, et al. The Potential Role of Hypochlorhydria in the Development of Duodenal Dysbiosis: A Preliminary Report. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2022;12:854904. Published 2022 Apr 19. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2022.854904Krishnamurthy HK, Reddy S, Jayaraman V, et al. Effect of Micronutrients on Thyroid Parameters. J Thyroid Res. 2021;2021:1865483. Published 2021 Sep 28. doi:10.1155/2021/1865483
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