Gluten, Leaky Gut and the Autoimmune Connection

A vast majority of people and even health professionals simply do not understand the extent to which the lifestyle choices we make, including the foods we eat and the environment we create, can so severely impact our health. One of the biggest and most misunderstood culprits is gluten. Recent research has shown links between gluten sensitivity and a host of conditions, including hormonal imbalances such as endometriosis and amenorrhea, infertility, inflammatory bowel diseases and autoimmune diseases such as coeliac, psoriasis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Gluten is a protein naturally found in certain grains and is now found almost everywhere. It is found in flour-based foods such as pasta and bread and it is also used as a filler in both supplements and medications. Scientists have also been able to denature gluten, allowing it to be dissolved into liquids and other products such as meat and even shampoo! As a result we are being exposed to even greater amounts of it!

 

What does gluten do in your body?

 When you consume gluten, it travels through your stomach to your small intestine where it triggers the release of zonulin. Zonulin is a protein that signals the tight junctions of your intestinal wall to become porous, leading to intestinal permeability or leaky gut.

Leaky gut is a predisposing factor for autoimmune disease. Leaving leaky gut untreated can cause your condition to progress and putting you at higher risk of developing further autoimmune disease. This is because your immune system then marks all the toxins, microbes and food particles, such as gluten, that are now flooding through the porous intestinal wall and into your bloodstream as “dangerous invaders.” This creates a perfect storm as the immune system incites an inflammatory cascade in order to rid the body of these “invaders.” It sends wave after wave of indiscriminate attacks, destroying your own healthy cells and body’s own tissues in the process, leading to autoimmune disease.

 

Molecular mimicry

 Gluten poses a serious risk for those with autoimmune disease because of a phenomenon known as molecular mimicry. Every time your body is exposed to an invader (in this case gluten), your immune system memorizes its structure so that it can recognise it in the future and develop an adequate defence to it.

However, gluten happens to be structurally similar to a number of your own body’s tissues. The immune system then registers it as an invader and attacks your own tissue. For example, in those with autoimmune thyroid disease, every time they eat gluten, the immune system sends out antibodies to detect and destroy the gluten, but since the gluten and thyroid gland are structurally very similar, some of those immune cells end up attacking the thyroid by mistake. Casein in diary also has a similar molecular structure to gluten and can trigger the same immune reaction.

 

What now?

The best thing you can do if you have an autoimmune disease is to remove gluten from your diet as soon as possible. Even small amounts of gluten can cause leaky gut, leading to the inflammatory cascade and your body mistaking its own tissues for gluten by way of molecular mimicry.  In fact, recent research has shown that eating gluten can elevate your gluten antibodies for up to three months, meaning that even if you only ate gluten four times per year, you would be in a state of chronic inflammation year-round! Thus, removing gluten completely from your diet and seeking help in healing your gut are two of the most valuable changes you can make to reverse your autoimmune disease.

 

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