Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Celiac is an autoimmune disease. It’s the only one thus far that can be definitively “turned off” with an environmental change – namely eliminating gluten from the diet.
The root cause beneath gluten’s autoimmune trigger begins with a predisposed individual who eats gluten with the resulting damage being a leaky gut. The leaky gut then allows partially digested gliadin access to the blood stream where the immune system reacts and “self” is damaged, hence the correct label of autoimmune disease.
New research out of the University of Maryland states that the increased intestinal permeability doesn’t only result in celiac disease, but that type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease all have leaky guts as a factor in common.
This is very exciting and certainly corroborates the clinical findings we see here at our clinic. We observe other autoimmune diseases improving once a patient gets on a gluten-free diet and starts to heal up their intestine.
Is gluten the underlying cause of all these autoimmune diseases and upon its removal healing occurs and the immune system stops being activated? Or is the leaky gut the underlying common factor and the causative agent of that loss of integrity is gluten for some but something else for others?
I don’t have an answer for you but researchers are working diligently on this issue. Speaking of research, while I love to stay up to date on the latest results, I must confess that an impatient streak would make me a terrible researcher. A study I just read about zonulin, the protein responsible for increased permeability in not only the intestine but other organs as well, revealed that it took 5 years between hypothesizing the presence of zonulin and its confirmed discovery! If you're interested these studies can be found in "The Journal Of Immunology" 2006, 176 and "Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2005 Vol 2 No 9. Let’s all give a moment of thanks to these wonderfully patient men and women who dedicate their lives to the endeavor of scientific research.
Back to being a clinician, what this data does support is something we strive to do with our patients and that is to repair the integrity of the small intestine via whatever means possible.
Typically this involves:
1. removing allergens/sensitive foods
2. diagnosing and eradicating pathogenic organisms
3. recolonizing the good bacteria in the gut
4. healing the lining through the use of nutrients.
So whether it’s gluten, dairy, a pathogenic organism and/or an imbalance of good flora, the key to reversing an autoimmune tendency seems to lie in fully restoring function to that 23 feet of pipe we call a small intestine.
I’ll keep you posted as this story continues to unfold, but what you can do right now is investigate the four points I’ve delineated above and eat “real” food. Trust me, your small intestine doesn’t like chemicals and overprocessed junk food.
Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”