The Effects of Gluten on the Gut and What It Can Do to Your Body

In a previous post, I wrote about what gluten is, where it can be found, who should avoid it, and a list of some common symptoms of gluten consumption. 

In this one, I’m answering questions about what gluten actually does in our body, the effects of gluten on the gut, and how to go about testing to see if it’s harming you.

All disease begins in the gut.

Hippocrates

The effects of gluten: hasn’t gluten been around forever?

Trick question here… The answer is “yes” and “no”.  Yes, technically gluten has been around for thousands of years.  It is a protein found in a plant, after all. 

But here’s the problem: the farming industry has changed the compound of the wheat, along with other grains, we consume today. 

Because of our fast-paced, need-it-now world we’re living in, wheat today has been hybridized and deamidated before it reaches our shelves (as noted in this article). 

Basically, this means that the chemical structure of these plants have been changed making them a completely difference substance than what was consumed by our ancestors.  AKA, not real food.

What happens when we eat gluten?

I’m sure you know this by now, but whenever we eat something, our body produces enzymes to break down the particles.  As food continues down your digestive track, our gut’s immune system checks to make sure there are no threats. 

For many people, when gluten is consumed, the body sees it as a threat and produces antibodies to fight it off.

Gluten also causes the body to produce a compound that weakens and eventually breaks down the lining of our gut (used for absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream) leading to leaky gut. 

Leaky gut is a term used for when those tiny holes in our gut’s lining creep open and allow food particles, toxins, as well as antibodies to enter the bloodstream.  This, in turn, causes all sorts of digestive distress including IBS, bloating, nutrient deficiency, and can even lead to other food allergies.

With celiac, the antibodies that are produced attack not only the gluten compounds, but also the enzymes that break down the gluten in the first place.  Once these antibodies leak through the gut wall, they are then free to attack other organs such as the skin or thyroid. 

This is why so many people with celiac often find themselves having more than one autoimmune system — because their body is literally attacking itself from the inside out.

All these problems arise for many many people on a regular basis simply due to the consumption of gluten due to the effect of gluten on the gut…

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Can gluten make me sick?

Fact: 70% of our immune system is in the gut.  Our bodies are very intelligent.  They were created to ward off any irritant (such as gluten) that we consume.  Whenever a threat like gluten enters our bodies, it produces inflammation (in the form of antibodies) as a way to protect the body from harm. 

This is a completely normal part of how our bodies work.  The same thing happens when, for example, we get a cut or sprain an ankle.  Our body inflames to protect and heal us (aren’t our bodies so smart?!)

The problem, though, is that most people consume gluten on a daily basis which doesn’t allow our guts to keep up with the demands placed upon it.  We end up with this systemic inflammation and, not surprisingly, something has to give. 

Our body cannot control the internal inflammation as well as save us from all toxins, viruses, parasites, fungi and the like.  Our immune system is, therefore, weakened in exchange and can cause us to get sick.

Do I need to stay away from gluten?

As I stated in a previous post about gluten, it depends.  It depends on how your body reacts to gluten and its various compounds.  The only way to truly know if gluten is a problem for you, is to do an elimination diet. 

For 30 days, you consume zero, nada, zilch amount of gluten.  After your 30 days are up, you reintroduce it back into your diet. 

For best results, reintroduce gluten on one day, then for the next 3 days (don’t have any more gluten during this time) jot down how you feel.  This includes gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cravings, energy levels, PMS symptoms, fatigue, brain fog, mood. 

Everything.  If nothing changes, then you probably don’t need to worry about gluten too much (though, it’s still best to stay away from processed, unreal foods…). 

But if you notice that you start feeling sluggish, or you were moodier that day or felt like you had a brick in your stomach after your meal… Well, you may want to reevaluate and really see if it’s worth the discomfort for you and the health of your body.

Gut health and the immune system

Again, 70-80% of the entire immune system resides in the gut.  This is the reason so many health issues stem from problems with poor gut health and the digestive system, autoimmunity included.

When there is a digestive issue such as low HCL, leaky gut, or chronic ingestion of allergenic food, the barriers of the immune system begin to weaken. 

These immune barriers are also weakened from blood sugar imbalances, chronic gut infections, toxicity, and adrenal stress, though the biggest culprit is the continued consumption of foods that the body is sensitive to (in most cases, gluten is one of these foods). 

When these barriers are weak, the immune defense cannot keep up with the demands of the overwhelming population of foreign invaders and eventually become overactive. 

This overactive immune response leads the body into mistaking parts of the body itself for the pathogens it was out to kill. 

Thus, the body begins to attack and kill its own cells.  And because the body is smart and has memory cells, it remembers these so-called “pathogens” very well and continually fights off the body’s own cells.

The development of autoimmune disease

An individual has developed an autoimmune disease when the memory fighter cells begin to attack the cells of the body in addition to the pathogens it was initially sent out to kill. 

Unfortunately, this is getting more and more common because of the SAD (standard American diet) most people consume today.  It is said that 20% of Americans have developed an autoimmune disease and that 1 of 4 women with thyroid issues may actually have Hashimoto’s disease!  That’s crazy…!

It’s sad to think that one can develop an autoimmune disease due to a single food that they were consuming regularly that their body was intolerant to, and they more than likely didn’t even realize that this food was problematic for them. 

Now, because of the body’s adaptive memory cells, they will long have to live with the consequences.  At the same time, though, it’s just amazing to think about how smart the body is.  After all, it is only trying to protect us.  It’s not the body’s fault we tend to treat it so poorly.

Can you prevent autoimmune disease?

As you can see, an impaired digestive system, poor gut health, and a poor diet over a period of time can create the perfect environment for the development of an autoimmune condition. 

Eating a wide variety of real, whole foods and correcting any digestive imbalances will help prevent the formation of these autoimmune conditions allowing the body to easily separate pathogens and its own bodily cells.  Rebuild your immune system and make your gut healthy and strong!

Additional resources if you need more convincing:

Chris Kresser has a free ebook all about gut health.  Download it for free HERE.

Mark Sisson writes how there are multiple studies that support removing gluten from the diet has corrected many diseases.

Dr. Amy Myers wrote a great article called How Gluten Wreaks Havoc on Our Gut.

Dr. Axe also has a great article filled with easy-to-understand graphics on 4 Steps to Heal Leaky Gut.

Final note on the effects of gluten on the gut

Ridding your diet of gluten is just one more step you can take to give your body the support it needs to function smoothly and properly as it was made to do. 

Saying “no” to gluten will allow your body to absorb more nutrients, ease the cravings, cease discomfort, and increase your energy. Don’t you want your body to treat you well and keep you healthy?  I know I sure do…!

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