Autoimmune disease is an odd phenomenon. The body’s immune system is designed to attack foreign invaders such as bacteria and cancer cells. But in autoimmune disease the immune system ‘decides’ to attack the body itself.
What types of diseases fall under the autoimmune umbrella? Type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune thyroid and liver disease, Sjogren’s, M.S., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, psoriasis, celiac disease, DH (the skin condition associated with celiac disease), fibromyalgia and many more, totaling about 100 diseases in all.
Their frequency, once thought to be uncommon, has risen to a degree that autoimmune diseases, taken as a whole, are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Their incidence has doubled every 15 years for the past 75 years, with no signs of slowing down.
The genetic component associated with autoimmune disease does not explain its increased frequency, so experts are looking to the environment as a source of the sudden rise. One area that has shown promise is the health of the small intestine. As the gateway to the body, a healthy small intestine should prevent any inhospitable substances or organisms from entering the bloodstream.
Early work by Dr Fasano on type I diabetic rats and small intestine integrity, revealed that a full 2/3 of rats inbred to develop type I diabetes did not do so when their small intestines were optimized in function.
Subsequently more research has supported this premise and the ill health of the small intestine is acknowledged to be a likely culprit in the development of at least some autoimmune diseases.
When does gluten enter the picture? Gluten, in intolerant individuals, is known to create the irritation to the lining of the small intestine that in turn creates easy passageway for toxins and organisms to gain access to the bloodstream. This phenomenon is known as a leaky gut. Also, a gluten intolerance is known to weaken the ‘good’ organisms of the gut, the probiotics, that are responsible for keeping bad genes turned off. They provide this function quite well when they themselves are robust and healthy, but once their numbers and strength become compromised, so too does their ability to keep bad genes from expressing disease. The result? The gene flips ‘on’ and the body develops the disease.
Is gluten intolerance or celiac disease the cause of EVERY autoimmune disease? Not likely. But it does seem to be a contributing factor in some. Other autoimmune diseases have an infectious component, but when you think of why the immune system didn't or couldn't handle the initial infection, you are brought back to WHY it was weakened. That reason could lie in a history of medications, a poor diet, toxic overload or a food intolerance. These are the issues we address when trying to normalize an overburdened immune system and the reason we feel that we see the success rate that we do.
A study just released several days ago from Current Allergy and Asthma Reports reviewed the association between celiac and other autoimmune diseases as well as the impact of a gluten-free diet. The diseases most closely associated with celiac are autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune liver disease, type I diabetes, DH, Sjogren's and psoriasis.
Correlation between a gluten-free diet and autoimmune disease was cited in a study of celiac patients who also suffered from either type I diabetes or autoimmune thyroid disease. After 2 years on a gluten-free diet all antibodies for the diseases abated. Antibodies, you may remember, measure autoimmune activity and in this study they were no longer found to be active once these patients eliminated gluten from their diet!
Another study of over 900 celiac patients found that those compliant on their gluten-free diet had much lower incidence of autoimmune disease than their non-compliant counterparts.
Finally, a study evaluating autoimmune liver disease in celiacs saw complete reversal of the liver disease in both adults and children who followed a gluten-free diet.
So, there definitely seems to be some correlation between eliminating gluten in those with gluten intolerance and reversal of specific autoimmune diseases.
Does everyone who is diagnosed with those autoimmune diseases receive advice to be checked for gluten intolerance? I would bet the answer is no, but it should be a resounding ‘yes’.
Please spread the word. It’s been fairly well established that the increased incidence of autoimmune disease does have an environmental component. And at least for some, that component is diet-related, specifically gluten. It certainly does no harm to check if gluten is a contributing factor, and as you can see in the research findings above, it could provide a great deal of help.
If you know of someone suffering with autoimmune disease or you yourself suffer or have family members that do, consider calling us for a free health analysis. (call 408-733-0400) We are here to help!
Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally. You don’t need to live locally to receive assistance.
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-Author of “The Gluten Effect”
Gluten Doctor of the Year 2013
J. Denham, I. Hill, Celiac Disease and Autoimmunity: Review and Controversies, Current Allergy and Asthma Reports , 17 May 2013
Cosnes J et al. Incidence of autoimmune diseases in celiac disease: protective effect of the gluten-free diet. Clinical Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2008;6(7):753–8.
Ventura A et al. Gluten-dependent diabetes-related and thyroid-related autoantibodies in patients with celiac disease. Journal of Pediatrics. 2000;137(2):263–5.