Gluten free and zonulin

Have you heard of this chemical?

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It seems more and more people are being diganosed with Coeliac (or Celiac, if you’re from the US) disease, gluten intolerance and auto-immune conditions. Have you ever wondered why? Well, I have and I think  you might find this interesting.

Some statistics:

  • According to Coeliac Australia “the disease affects on average approximately 1 in 70 Australians. However, around 80% of this number remain undiagnosed. This means the vast majority of Australians who have coeliac disease don’t yet know it.”
  • Autoimmune disease (the body’s inappropriate response to its own cells), of which Coeliac is one, is thought to affect 1 in 20 Australians.
  • Even people without Coeliac can be sensitive to gluten.

Enter Zonulin

When you eat gluten, whether via a sandwich or some other sneaky source, it travels down to the small intestine and signals the release of a chemical called zonulin.

Zonulin is a protein that signals the tight junctions of your intestinal wall to open up, creating intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut (we’ll open up this gate a bit more next month).

From a medical evolutionary standpoint, there are times where a leaky gut might have come in handy, like coming into contact with infectious agents such as Cholera. A leaky gut in this instance would stimulate an immune response and memory antibody production which would help fight the infection.

Zonulin can create gaps along the digestive tract, allowing proteins to leak into our blood stream. When this occurs we develop things like inflammation, antibody production and in some cases, auto-immune disease develops such as Coeliac, thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Other suspected stimulators of zonulin:

  • Splenda (artificial sweeteners)
  • Heavy metals
  • Stress (is there nothing she can’t do???).

If we eat gluten only a couple of times a week, our bodies have the chance to tighten up those junctions and maintain intestinal healthy, but if we continually expose ourselves (to gluten people) our tight junctions may remain open.

When we have gluten leaking into the interior (I think of myself as a tube – from mouth to bum) it sets off an immune system response and puts us into a state of low-grade inflammation (I’m really rethinking that lunch time bagel treat!)

If you have Coeliac or any other autoimmune condition, I highly recommend checking out Amy Myers work.


Yours in good health,

Marnie Downer