In my last blog I bored you to tears with a basic overview of gluten, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Well, I promise to make this post full of excitement, mystery and suspense. Well, not really but I’ll try to make it shorter. Maybe.
If you remember (how could you forget?) I described the gut landscape and how gliadin, a component of gluten interacts with tissue Transglutaminase (tTg). This creates what’s called an immunocomplex which activates the immune system and the attack begins. This immune attack on your bodies own tissue can wear down the fibers, or “shag carpet” in the small intestine which is what leads to Celiac Disease.
So now, let’s talk about what else this damage can cause and how it leads to problems elsewhere in the body. I spoke about the enterocytes, or the thin layer of cells that line the gut. This lining is supposed to allow only tiny nutrients through into the blood stream. If you look at the image above, you see a small space, or a seam between each cell. This seam is called the Tight Junctions (TJ)(or zonula occludens for you fellow geeks out there) and is one way those nutrients pass through. However, these Tight Junctions can loosen up when exposed to gliadin or when introduced to enough inflammation and, in the case of someone who’s sensitive to gluten, both. This allows things to escape the confines of the gut... things that were never meant to be in the bloodstream like bacteria, antigens and pathogens and in this case, the gliadin protein. Now you’ve got two thirds of the formula for autoimmune disease as described by one of the leading gluten researchers, Dr. Alessio Fasano. According to Dr. Fasano, in order to have an autoimmune disease you need three ingredients:
Environmental trigger. In this case gluten.
Genetic predisposition. In other words, a genetic weak link.
Now remember, that ubiquitous enzyme tTg can be found nearly everywhere including liver tissue, thyroid tissue, pancreatic tissue, muscle, joint, connective, skin tissue and more. So, the question is, what is your genetic weak link? Let’s say it’s joint tissue and you have Rheumatoid Arthritis or it’s your thyroid and you have Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's Disease. What’s often happening here is the gliadin protein is reacting with the tTg found in that tissue, creating the immunocomplex and the immune system leaps into action to neutralize it. In the process it inappropriately attacks the thyroid tissue or joint tissue or whatever tissue happens to correspond with your personal genetic weak link.
“Since TJ dysfunction allows the interaction between genes and environment, therapeutic strategies aimed at reestablishing the intestinal barrier function could offer alternative innovative, unexplored approaches for the treatment of CD and other autoimmune diseases in which intestinal barrier dysfunction has been demonstrated or hypothesized.” - Dr. Alessio Fasano, et al.
The treatment of course begins with the removal of all gluten products. Other reactive foods also need to be identified and removed. However, this still may not be enough to see a complete improvement in symptoms. We need to facilitate healing once the trigger or triggers are removed. I’ll discuss this more in the next and final installment in this series. I’ll also tell you the three most common mistakes people make when going on a Gluten-Free Diet.
Joe Rignola is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist and founder of Wellness Punks, Mobile Health and Nutrition Coaching. He helps people achieve their highest level of health by teaching them not just what foods to eat, but why we should eat them. He also focuses on the many lifestyle factors that effect our health and well being. Clients have experienced improvements in weight, cholesterol levels, pain and inflammation, blood sugar, autoimmune problems and more. For more information please go to www.wellnesspunks.com or call 888-955-0002.