Is gluten-free a new fad, or a scientist based understanding of the dangers of gluten? Whatever the case may be, to brand a product ‘gluten-free’ appears to entail health promotion, and easy access for those who suffer from celiac and cannot digest gluten.
But the average individual is not celiac. In fact, only 1 in 133 individuals in the US suffer from this condition. You then might start thinking: ‘if I am not celiac, then surely I should have no problem tolerating gluten’. And this is where the discussion begins.
Gluten and Zonulin
Alessio Fasano and his team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine discovered a protein called zonulin in gluten containing products. One of the effects of this protein was its ability to regulate the ‘permeability of the gut’. Gluten cannot be completely broken down into its component amino acids by human digestive systems, and one of the byproducts of gluten digestion is a protein called Zonulin.
Zonulin has a similar effect to the Vibrio cholerae bacterial toxin; both are powerful instigators of ‘intestinal permeability’. Intestinal permeability is a loosening of the tight junctions, or the barriers separating digestive content from the bloodstream. When serum Zonulin levels are high, or when you have sufficiently stuffed your face with enough high gluten products, the functioning of the small intestine is compromised acutely; causing systemic inflammation throughout the body as a result.
High serum Zonulin levels are implicated with a host of issues, including the promotion of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and even depression. The progression of autoimmune conditions and development of celiac disease have been associated with immune responses to high zonulin levels
Moderating Gluten Consumption
Seed oil and grain consumption has come to dominate the modern diet. Bread containing products, cereals, and other flour based products populate shelves; and to our detriment we consume these processed foods en masse. Not only do these products typically provide negligible nutritional value (micronutrient, fibre and proteins to name a few areas in which flour based products are typically deficient), but these products are also potent stimulators of Zonulin secretion; that which compromises gut and immune health.
Not Celiac But Gluten Free
So chances are you are not celiac; but by now you should know that being gluten-free is more than a fad. Excess gluten consumption; typically from flour and grain based processed foods, dramatically increases serum Zonulin. Serum Zonulin, similar to bacterial toxins, greatly compromises innate immunity (by damaging the gut epithelial barrier) and creates systemic inflammation.
So ditch the muffins; skip the croissant; and moderate the cookies….or look for gluten free alternatives if you can.
1 Fasano, A. (2020). All disease begins in the (leaky) gut: Role of zonulin-mediated gut permeability in the pathogenesis of some chronic inflammatory
Diseases. F1000Research, 9, 69. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.20510.1