If you have been following along, we have now established how an autoimmune disease starts, what gut permeability is, how stomach acid may be a problem, and now we can start talking about what causes it in our lifestyle that we can control! On one hand, I am oversimplifying this part of the discussion so that I can focus on the aspects that you can actually have control over. I am skipping over some of the things out of our control like certain genetic attributes, environmental exposures, and infections that may have been just bad luck in terms of wrong place, wrong time. However, even those factors can be overcome most of the time with proper care. So, lets get to it!
Gluten: Yes, I am starting with our beloved friend, gluten. Why? Because this is the most controversial topic that flies around and it’s simply hard for most people to understand how on Earth, eating a bagel and some bread can cause such a problem as serious as autoimmunity….especially if their physicians haven’t said a word about it, or may have even discounted the connection when a patient asks. If I could have everyone start with A SINGLE change, this would be it. Antibody production against gluten has been reported to affect as much as 30 percent of the population! The mechanism by which it contributes to leaky gut has to do with zonulin. Zonulin is a protein sent into the gut by that single layer of cells called enterocytes and regulates the opening and closing of the tight junctions (shout out to all my AP101 students! remember those tight junctions I tested you over?!) that hold the cells together. They are kind of like the pegs that allow legos to fit together in a flush manor. Gluten has the ability to increase zonulin and therefore increase the amount of time those tight junctions are open, allowing undigested proteins, bacteria, and toxins to cross over inappropriately.
There are also pathways where a enzyme known as transglutaminase is affected. Transglutaminase is an enzyme that is important in protein modification as they are produced in the cell. (I promise to not start talking about transcription and translation!) This enzyme activity is increased in the lining of the intestines when we consume gluten. Increase of this enzyme’s activity increases the likelihood of antibody production against gluten. The bigger issue is that if antibodies are produced against this enzyme, we can’t perform tissue healing like we normally would. So, let’s say you have tissue damage and one of your body’s ways of helping heal it is to send transglutaminase to the site, but because of increased gluten ingestion, you have created antibodies against it. Now you are sending this enzyme to all these sick parts and your immune system is going “OMG, what is he doing here?! Produce more antibodies! We are gonna need ’em to eradicate him!” When you start eating a gluten free diet, you decrease the antibody formation against transglutaminase and you decrease zonulin activity, which allows those junctions to stay shut.
*This part is my opinion although is a topic of discussion. Why now and not before? Wheat has changed in various ways. We have changed it from Einkorn wheat to dwarf wheat in order to increase crop yields and increase gluten levels for desired texture of baked goods. We also now have an issue with Round Up Ready seeds causing damage to our DNA by damaging the microorganisms living in our gut. We are also not preparing wheat products like we originally did. We no longer, soak, sprout, or ferment grains. We NEED to do that in order to get nutrients out of the bran. Anyway, I don’t know what the largest contributing factor is, and it may just be a combo; but I do know, that many patients do extremely well without these products in their diet.
According to Dr. Peter Osborne (who is an expert on gluten sensitivity), there are 140 autoimmune diseases that science has identified and the ONLY SCIENTIFIC agreement for the cause has to do with gluten and its many mechanisms by which is can cause this cascade of events. I chose not to focus on a few of the other pathways that I usually do in a health talk like lectins and their contribution. However, know that there are even more reasons that gluten can cause changes to the intestinal wall!
I’m going to stop there and do another article on more causes because this could get overwhelming. So, what can you do TODAY? Try to cut out all of the wheat products in your diet and see how you feel. No bread, pasta, pizza, donuts, beer, etc. When you think about it, you may be consuming these things multiple times a day! If it’s contributing to your issues, you can also understand just how damaging it may be to consume them so regularly. This alone, will not likely cure anything, but it may give you a huge step in the direction of feeling BETTER. Most people with autoimmune diseases are willing to entertain the idea that something can make them feel better, and you can only gain other health benefits in addition if you cut out all those junk foods often containing wheat. Check out my blog recipes for more ideas, but there are so many options out there! Don’t get overwhelmed. Just start.