Do you have autoimmune disease? If so, I can say that gluten may be what sparked the start of your disease, and continuing to eat it is simply adding fuel to the fire.
Gluten, a protein naturally found in certain grains, is now found nearly everywhere in our modern world. It’s in flour-based foods such as pasta and bread, but it is also used as a filler in medications and supplements, it’s the glue that holds meat substitutes together, it’s in body products such as shampoo and toothpaste, and, thanks to cross-contamination, it’s even in grains that are marked gluten-free.
Modern-day gluten is not the same gluten that came from grains when our grandparents were eating them. Today there are new hybrid strains of wheat that contain entirely new forms of gluten not found in any of the original plants, and this is what makes our muffins and bagels bigger and fluffier. Scientists were also able to re-formulate gluten which allows it to be dissolved into liquids and other products that didn’t previously contain gluten, like lunch meat and shampoo. These two factors mean that we are not only eating a different kind of gluten than our ancestors ate, we are eating and being exposed to much more of it.
This causes problems with both your gut health and your immune system, creating a perfect storm for the development and progression of inflammatory and autoimmune disease
1. Gluten Causes Leaky Gut
When you eat gluten, whether via a piece of bread, the filler in your lunch meats, or one of many hidden sources, it travels through your stomach and arrives in your small intestine, where we know that it triggers the release of zonulin. Zonulin is a chemical that signals the tight junctions of your intestinal wall to open up, creating intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut.
You can think of your gut lining kind of like a drawbridge. Teeny tiny boats (micronutrients in food) that are meant to travel back and forth are able to go under the bridge without a problem. But, when gluten releases zonulin, it causes the drawbridge to go up, allowing bigger boats (large proteins like gluten) to cross over that aren’t meant to travel through. In the case of your gut, it’s microbes, toxins, proteins, and partially digested food particles that are passing under the drawbridge and escaping into your bloodstream.
Since all of the toxins, microbes, and food particles such as gluten now flooding your bloodstream aren’t supposed to be there, your immune system marks them as dangerous invaders and creates inflammation to get rid of them.
2. Gluten Causes Inflammation
If you have an autoimmune disease, then that means that somewhere along the way, your immune system went haywire and began attacking your body’s own tissues. This change from healthy to autoimmune isn’t instantaneous, it happens over years.
Inflammation is your immune system’s natural response to anything it perceives as dangerous, whether that’s a cut, a virus, or the gluten that you ate in a piece of birthday cake that slipped through your leaky gut. It’s estimated that one percent of the population has Celiac disease and one in 30 people have a gluten sensitivity–and eating gluten causes inflammation every time they eat it. What’s more, an estimated 99 percent of people with gluten sensitivity are undiagnosed, so they are fanning the flames of their inflammation without even knowing it.
The only way to give your immune system the break it needs to regain its precision so that it can stop mistakenly attacking you, is to remove gluten entirely.
3. Gluten Looks Like Your own Tissues
Beyond creating a leaky gut, gluten poses a serious risk for those of us with autoimmunity because of a phenomenon called molecular mimicry, which is a dangerous case of mistaken identity.
Every time your body is exposed to an invader (in this case gluten), your immune system memorizes its structure so that it can develop the perfect defense to that pathogen and recognize it in the future. Unfortunately, the immune system’s recognition system isn’t perfect; as long as a molecule’s structure is similar enough, the immune system registers it as an invader and attacks. Gluten, which is a particularly large protein, happens to be structurally similar to a number of your body’s tissues, particularly your thyroid. Remember, if you have an autoimmune disease, you have a leaky gut and when your ‘drawbridge is open’ large proteins like gluten get into your bloodstream where your immune system detects and attacks them.
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 looks so similar some of those immune cells end up attacking the thyroid by mistake.
How to Heal the Damage Caused by Gluten
If you have an autoimmune disease or are anywhere on the autoimmune spectrum, the single best thing you can do for your health is to ditch the gluten 100% as soon as possible. If you don’t, the gluten will keep your tight junctions open and your gut leaky, your body may mistake your own tissues for gluten by way of molecular memory, and your body will remain in a chronic state of inflammation.