Before we discuss whether leaky gut syndrome can be caused by gluten, let’s first define some important terms.
Gluten. The word gluten comes from the word glue. It’s basically made up of two storage proteins namely glutenin and gliadin. It’s found in wheat, barley, rye and other related grains. Gluten is responsible for giving dough its shape, ability to rise and chewy texture. It’s also found in a variety of other substances like dermatological products and cosmetics.
Gluten sensitivity. Another allergy? Hmmm…both yes and no my friend. Yes, because your immune system reacts to the presence of gluten in your gastrointestinal system. No, because, unlike other allergies that are mediated through IgE (Immunoglobulin E), gluten sensitivity is mediated through the other immunoglobulins (IgA, IgG and IgM). A recent UK research article found that the self-reported incidence of gluten sensitivity is 13% among the general population. Thirteen percent are females; the rest are males. Gluten sensitivity is also known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. It’s not synonymous with leaky gut syndrome and coeliac disease, which are themselves distinct clinical entities.
Coeliac disease. Of the three disease entities defined here (leaky gut syndrome, gluten sensitivity and coeliac disease), the best studied is coeliac disease. It’s a serious autoimmune disorder in those who are genetically predisposed (because of their genes; they’re susceptible to developing it). If people with coeliac disease ingest gluten, their small intestines will be damaged. The lining of their gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed and non-functional, resulting in long term health consequences.
Leaky gut syndrome and gluten: How gluten affects the lining of your gastrointestinal tract (intestinal barrier)
Now we proceed to the main topic of this article, leaky gut syndrome and its number one cause, gluten. Leaky gut syndrome is a recently accepted medical condition that features increased intestinal permeability. Under normal circumstances, the lining of your gastrointestinal tract (also termed intestinal barrier) is permeable to just a few selected molecules.
If you have leaky gut syndrome, the permeability of your gut wall is altered. Your leaky gut can allow access (leak) of microbes, toxins, undigested food particles and other substances into your bloodstream.
Gluten has been shown to make your intestinal cells release zonulin (a nasty protein). This nasty protein targets the connection binding your intestinal cells together. This results in increased passage or permeability of harmful substances into your system. Your immune system reacts and inflammation ensues producing the signs and symptoms of leaky gut syndrome.
What happened to the old wheat?
The wheat that you encounter or consume now isn’t the same wheat your grandpa, and grandma knew before. After decades, the wheat has now become hybrid. Wheat has been given substances to survive periods of drought, grow faster and be more resistant to pests. As a result, new proteins have appeared in its basic structure. These proteins are something that our bodies aren’t used to. They lead to increased incidence of inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
Also, the wheat now undergoes regular deamination. This allows the wheat to be water soluble so it can easily be mixed with other substances. Deamination was demonstrated to evoke a powerful immune response in some people. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, we consume more wheat now than ever before.
Less known and hidden sources of gluten
Here are less known and hidden sources of gluten. It’s not only wheat you can blame for gluten. There are other culprits to avoid that also contain gluten. Here are some of them:
Food items where gluten can be hiding
Names for different types of wheat: Atta, einkorn, emmer, farina, dinkel, triticale (a hybrid of rye and wheat), Farro (also known as spelt), durum, bulgur
Lager, ale, beer
Soup, soup bases/stock/broth
Cereal, bread, pasta, biscuits, crackers, some chocolates, liquorice
Processed foods such sausages, deli meats, hot dogs
Non-food items can also be a potential source of gluten. It follows that you should be reading the labels of the products you buy carefully.
Note: Be careful if the label on the product says wheat-free. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gluten-free.
The wheat we know now contains harmful substances which includes gluten. Our bodies aren’t used to them yet. As a consequence, our bodies react through our immune system, and inflammation follows. Remember, gluten isn’t only found in the food you eat. Before you decide to go on a gluten-free diet, consult your healthcare practitioner. Gluten can cause leaky gut syndrome. Lucky for us, there are things we can do to prevent leaky gut from developing. To read more about the signs and symptoms of leaky gut syndrome click here.