By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
While a healthy immune system resists infection, a weakened immune system welcomes it in with open arms. Infections thrive in unhealthy environments, and once a bug (parasite, bacteria, fungus, or virus) moves in, it can be difficult to exterminate.
Infections can worsen autoimmune conditions of the thyroid (such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease) and other parts of the body, create inflammation, disrupt detoxification, and wreak havoc on the digestive system. So the bug has moved in—here’s what you need to know to minimize infection and protect your thyroid.
Bacteria in the Gut: The Good vs. the Bad
Our gut needs good bacteria to function and thrive. A ratio of 80% good bacteria and 20% bad is a healthy level of gut bacteria.
An imbalance in this bacteria (e.g., 80% bad and 20% good) is called dysbiosis. Overgrowths of yeast (such as Candida) or infections (such as H. pylori) can cause this imbalance.
Good bacteria consume toxins and send nutrients to the body. Bad bacteria consume nutrients and send toxins to the body. Those bad bacteria can lead to a leaky gut.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition that’s driven by bacteria that’s migrated from the large intestine into the small intestine–they’re in the wrong place. This can produce toxins in the gut and disrupt peristalsis (the wavelike contractions that move stool through our intestines).
If we have a delay in peristalsis, we can reabsorb a lot of the toxicity. This is called autointoxication.
Infections in the gut can be particularly challenging and difficult when they accompany an autoimmune condition.
Infection with an Autoimmune Condition (Hashimotos)
When we have an autoimmune condition, this simply means the body is making antibodies (proteins that fight invaders such as bacteria and viruses) that can’t tell the difference between the invader and the body itself. So while the antibody may fight the invader, it will also attack a specific part of the body
In the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the body makes antibodies to thyroid peroxidase (TPO) causing thyroid breakdown. In Grave’s disease, the body makes antibodies to thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG) causing thyroid breakdown.
Infection Leads to Leaky Gut Leads to Thyroid Breakdown (Hashimotos)
The bad bacteria (overgrowths of infection) in the gut pave the way to a leaky gut.
When our gut becomes leaky, undigested food particles pass through “leaks” in the gut and enter the bloodstream. The surface proteins on gluten, for example, can look very similar to the thyroid and cases of “mistaken identity,” known as molecular mimicry, occur. (This is true for other body tissues as well—dairy can look like the pancreas, for example.)
So the immune system starts making antibodies for the thyroid because it can’t tell the difference, and the now the thyroid is under attack.
Infection and a leaky gut are two of the prime mechanisms that exacerbate the breakdown of the thyroid.
Infections That Impact the Gut and Thyroid
A few common infections that are found when dealing with leaky gut and thyroid issues follow:
- Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori)—This bacteria is common in greater than 50% of the population and can drive autoimmunity in Hashimoto’s. It is linked to other autoimmune conditions. It is transmitted through saliva or fecal contamination.
- Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease)—This bacteria looks similar to the thyroid, so it can exacerbate autoimmunity. It can be acute or chronic and is transmitted by the deer tick.
- Yersinia enterocolitica—This parasitic infection can trigger thyroid conditions and autoimmunity. It is transmitted through contaminated food and water.
- Candida—This fungal infection disrupts digestion, throws off good-bad gut bacteria balance, and creates constipation. It is transmitted through direct contact and can be spread by contact with contaminated objects.
- Epstein-Barr virus (mono, the kissing disease)—This virus causes an imbalance in the immune system and is present in 80–90% of the population. It’s connected to many autoimmune conditions, including Hashimoto’s. It is transmitted through saliva.
Removing the Infection Isn’t the First Step
Addressing infections can be stressful on the body. If we are already unhealthy (we have an imbalance in gut bacteria, poor gut function, adrenal issues, energy issues, a bad diet, poor sleep habits, etc.), when we knock out an infection, our body has to deal with the dead debris.
The infections are like soldiers fighting on a battlefield. We introduce our natural or herbal antibiotics to destroy the infections. Massive numbers of soldiers (the infections) are falling all over the battlefield.
Our immune and detoxification systems have to send out the medics to help pull the soldiers off the battlefield, but there are just too many soldiers (too much infection debris). The medics (our immune and detox systems) get backed up, and there’s a huge line of soldiers that still need help.
Once our immune and detox systems are backed up, this creates a Herxheimer reaction where all of the harmful biotoxins from the infectious debris accumulate and start creating stress on our immune, detoxification, and lymphatic systems. The medics are stressed—they can’t keep up.
- Remove hyperallergenic foods.
- Replace enzymes, acids, and bile salts.
- Repair with healing nutrients and adrenal support.
- Remove infections
- Reinoculate with probiotics.
Removing infections can leave the gut empty. It will even knock out some good stuff, too, and weeds (bad bacteria) tend to grow automatically in this world. Gardeners don’t go to Home Depot to pick out weeds to plant. Weeds just happen. So it’s important to reseed the gut with the good bacteria after removing infections.
Studies have shown that when certain infections are removed, we see a significant decrease in the amount of thyroid antibodies. This means that these infections are driving the immune system to destroy the thyroid faster. So if we can knock out the infections, ideally naturally, herbally, and safely, we can reduce the self-destruction of our thyroid tissue. That’s the goal.
Featured image from my.microbes.eu.
Benvenga S, Guarneri F, Vaccaro M, et al. Homologies between proteins of Borrelia burgdorferi and thyroid autoantigens. Thyroid, 2004 Nov; 14 (11): 964–66.
Corapçioğlu D, Tonyukuk V, Kiyan M, et al. Relationship between thyroid autoimmunity and Yersinia enterocolitica antibodies. Thyroid, 2002 Jul; 12 (7): 613–17.
Molina V, Shoenfeld Y. Infection, vaccines and other environmental triggers of autoimmunity. Autoimmunity 2005 May; 38 (3): 235–45.
Tomer Y, Davies TF. Infection, thyroid disease, and autoimmunity. Endocr Rev, 1993 Feb; 14 (1):107–20.
Wentz, Izabella. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause. Wentz, 2013: 238–241.