Gluten’s Part in Leaky Gut and the Autoimmune Cascade (Part IV)

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.

Intestinal Permeability and Autoimmune Disease (Part II)

I have written several articles about our bodies being hotels for bacteria, and when the bacteria levels are balanced and the microorganisms are happy, we are healthy.  These bacteria make up so much of our immune system, its hard for me to fathom why we haven’t placed more focus on their role in studying disease.  It’s gaining traction, and therefore most people have heard the buzz phrase “leaky gut” thrown around somewhere.  In this article, we are going to discuss what it actually is, and how it has to do with autoimmunity.

Let’s start with the basics.  From your mouth to your anus, you have one long tube with stops along the way.  The mucosal barrier that keeps food in the tube, and not in your tissue, it technically ON THE OUTSIDE!  I know it sounds crazy, but that tube running down the middle of your body is an exterior surface. It’s comprised of a single layer of cells; that’s it!  Pretty amazing if you think about how food goes in one and end and comes out the other.  After food goes in your mouth, it has stops along the way and one of them is in the small intestines.  The small intestines is where most of your nutrients are absorbed into the body. The way nutrients get into the body through the section of tubing we call the small intestine is by specific breakdown that occurs via acid, enzymes, bile salts, and bacteria.  Proteins are broken down into their lego parts, amino acids.  Fats are broken down into fatty acids, and carbs are broken down into simple sugars. Once food is broken down into its simplest form, it’s ready for transport into the body.

In order to get into the body, digested nutrients have to cross that single layer of cells called enterocytes.  On the other side of the wall lives blood vessels, lymph vessels, and immune cells of the gut.  The amino acids, simple sugars, minerals, and water soluble vitamins (like B vitamins) are transported via blood and the fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins (like A, D, E, and K) are transported through the lymph. A leaky gut occurs when there is damage to that single layer of cells and things that shouldn’t be able to cross over, do.  This damage can occur by sections of cells themselves being damaged, or the bonds between them being broken. When this happens, now we have things like pathogens, incompletely digested proteins, bacteria, and toxic substances entering the territory where immune cells live.  The immune cells immediately recognize them as foreign and plan an attack.  However, if any of them get through that line of defense, now we have them floating in the bloodstream. The body frantically tries to clean it all up, and this produces a fairly global inflammatory state.

I think it’s worth mentioning that those undigested proteins stimulate a part of the immune system that produce IgE antibodies.  Food allergies that cause difficulty breathing, swelling, ER visits…those are due to this IgE response.  This is a TRUE allergy.  However, when antibodies such as IgGs are produced, this is what we call a food sensitivity. The reason we call it a sensitivity is because the immune response produces symptoms of allergies for example, fatigue, mucus drainage, inflamed sinuses, and possibly even things like eczema.  This is what doctors are testing for when they do a blood panel for food allergies!  If you have ever had a food allergy/sensitivity test and it came back with a list of crazy amounts of foods like chicken, spinach, strawberries, etc., you are most likely NOT allergic to those foods.  This is nothing more than a IgG production because food proteins got into spaces they don’t belong.  Once you heal the gut and keep those foods from crossing the gut lining, your body will QUIT producing antibodies against them.  I see this all the time when I work with food allergies.  You can absolutely resume eating most of those foods without issue as long as appropriate care has taken place.  I got off track….back to the antibodies. Of those antibodies being produced, some can be autoantibodies.  When cytokines (chemical messengers) are released, it stimulates both the innate and the adaptive immune system.  This pokes the bear of the adaptive immune system that can result in an autoimmune disease.  If you remember from the previous article, this is where amino acid sequencing can get confused for our own tissues.

I hope I didn’t lose anyone with crazy words, but I think this connection between how the food we eat gets to places it shouldn’t, and the immune response that results is an important one to know!! Why? Because autoimmune diseases live in about 50 million DIAGNOSED people and cancer is only 12 million.  Heck, heart disease is 25 million!  Needless to say, this costs our country more than just $100 billion dollars in direct care costs, it is costing us our quality of life!  Anytime I have a patient that is able to go about their day without worrying about the symptoms of an autoimmune disease, I do a happy dance.  It gives them their life back!  This is priceless.  In the upcoming articles, I will talk about which foods can create the perfect storm, and other lifestyle factors that damage that single layer of cells that keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out.  These are things you CAN CONTROL!  I’m getting pumped up…can you tell…welcome to what it feels like to be in the audience when I give a talk.  I just can’t help myself….

You are Not Eating for 1;You are Eating for 1.5 trillion!

As most of you are aware, I was in Austin this past weekend to listen to doctors, researchers, and holistic practitioners shed light on their areas of expertise.  This year’s conference focused on the microbiome.  What is the microbiome?  Well, in short, it is all the organisms that live within us and result in our health, or lack there of.  I often say that we are nothing more than walking houses for the bacteria that have taken up residence.  I’ve been saying this since I learned that we have 10 times the amount of bacteria in our body then we do cells!  That means that we are not eating for 1 (or 2 for you preggers out there), we are eating for about 1.5 trillion!  That’s right.  Every time you put something in your mouth or environment, you are either helping beneficial bacteria to survive and thrive or you are opening the door for opportunistic bacteria to wreak havoc.   Based on the abundance of their existence, 99% of the DNA material being expressed is not even yours.  Take a moment and let that sink in.  You are nothing more than a hotel.  How clean your hallways are, how good your vibes are, how efficiently your operation runs is all dependent on your staff: the bacteria.

In cell physiology, I teach students about organelles.  Organelles are all the things living within the cell membrane that help accomplish cellular tasks.  Organelles are things like lysosomes, rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum, vesicles, and mitochondria.  If I just lost you, hang on for a sec.  Mitochondria are considered the powerhouse of the cell because of their ability to produce ATP, aka the cell’s energy.  What a great member of a cell’s staff, right?!  Well, you may be shocked to know that thanks to a woman scientist by the name of Lynn Margulis, we now know that mitochondria actually used to exist as its own free-floating bacteria.  Yup.  They existed on their own and decided to take up shop inside of us instead! ( Side note: the longer I study science, the more women pop up as huge contributors to our understanding of things.  I hope my teachings inspire more young women to ask questions, seek answers, and make more major contributions to the world.  It will be my most important legacy.)

If we know that bacteria existed on Earth prior to humans, and we serve as their home, and our health is a reflection of their health, what we can do to make sure they are healthy?  Asking this question will only allow us to open doors that will create a better quality of life and a better health status for us as humans.  Metaphorically speaking, making sure our bacteria are happy will majorly improve our hotel vibes.  Just sayin’.  There is NOT a single disease or disorder that doesn’t have some impact from bacterial function.  We all think of digestive disorders when we think about gut bacteria, but we should also start recognizing things like autism, diabetes, anxiety, MS, diabetes, obesity, and depression are also directly related.  Stool tests can be a great tool to see what bacteria you’ve got going on and how they are doing.  1g of poop contains 100 million terabytes of information, and if you know computers, you know that’s a crazy amount of information for such a small quantity of poop.  You clean up baby diapers with more than 10x’s that amount of poop; let’s be honest!

The take home message here is that you are only as healthy as the bacteria living within you.  You create an environment for that bacteria based on your diet, exposure to toxins, medications taken, and lifestyle choices.  This environment that YOU created is either helping you or hindering you.  Working with a doctor that recognizes this significance may be the key to unlocking underlying issues that may be keeping you unhealthy.  If you have frequent infections, take antibiotics or heartburn medications, or suffer from an autoimmune disease, diabetes, or psychological issues, I encourage you to read, become informed, and makes changes to create a healthy internal environment.