I have long been advising my clients to adopt a gluten free diet and it is an integral part of my Community Cleanse program. With the recent media attention on the “gluten free fad” I thought I would write a blog based on science.
Recent studies on the gastrointestinal tract have shown that it has far more important functions than simply digesting and absorbing nutrients. Its role in regulating the permeability of molecules between the human body and its environment, actually controlsyour immune system1.
The small intestine is protected by a barrier that keeps toxins and nasty bacteria/parasites out of body. Billions of cells stick closely together to form this protective barrier. Dr. Fasano has discovered that the permeability of this barrier is regulated by a protein called zonulin. Zonulin is unique to humans and instrumental in the development of autoimmune diseases such as diabetes & celiac disease.
Researchers have found that a high concentration of zonulin leads to a “leaky gut”, something that I treat every day in clinic. Getting purified zonulin from humans, they tested it on intestinal tissue of animals and found that zonulin caused increased permeability of the intestinal protective barrier. Insulin made it through the gut wall when it was given orally – and it shouldn’t!
Another study found increased levels of zonulin in 70% of patients with type 1 diabetes which suggests that alterations in gut permeability may be a precursor to the onset of type 1 diabetes2,3. High levels of zonulin and zonulin antibodieswere also found in people with celiac disease. The BIG news, is that after they followed a gluten-free diet, antibody levels went back to normal3.
Scientists theorized that gluten promotes the release of zonulin which, in turn, creates bigger spaces in the gut wall. This allows larger molecules including gluten and other substances through the lining of the gut wall
5. When the immune system detects the presence of gluten in the bloodstream, the immune system responds by attacking the normal cells of the gut wall4.
More recently, studies have revealed that zonulin and gut intestinal permeability is also associated with obesity and obesity-induced insulin resistance6. Obese patients were found to have a link between intestinal permeability markers and metabolic syndrome risk factors,
, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity-induced inflammation3.
My take home advice from this research? Avoid gluten at all costs to ensure your gut lining is strong as inflammation will cause not only systemic inflammation but also leaky gut. Leaky gut means you wont be absorbing your dietary nutrition effectively.
For more information have a listen of this interview with Dr Fasano by Chris Kresser.