I have been thinking recently about switching the way I think clinically about gluten sensitivity and food intolerance based on some research and work I have been doing. Also, quite a few of us are suffering restricted diets with many foods off the menu as a result, I think, of the gluten gut damage making it very leaky.
Negative to Positive
Instead of thinking ‘What can’t we eat?, What do we have to give up?’, I have been exploring what can we do to stop the current food reactions and prevent us from building new ones. I was alerted to this by the fact that a few people (including me) have become intolerant to new foods they are now eating more of as a result of following a gluten free lifestyle. This cannot continue, obviously, but what the heck can we do about it? I normally advise rotating foods, but what a pain in the proverbial that is!
I set to thinking.
After much chin scratching, I focused on the fact that we know gluten upregulates zonulin production (see my previous posts) and that zonulin is ostensibly in charge of what gets through the gut wall and what doesn’t. The theory I have been working to thus far is to get rid of the gluten, stop the excess production of zonulin and give lots of leaky gut support to repair. I have also been worrying about the fact that the gut wall is only one barrier in the body and, if the gut barrier can become leaky, doesn’t that explain why we get skin, lung, brain, nerve, eye etc problems with gluten too; those are all barrier sites? There must be a link.
Then, providence struck. I saw a notice for a seminar on ‘barrier integrity’ in London and attended it last week. First, I was somewhat chuffed that I was right on the money with my suppositions and treatment goals. Second, I realised that I was going to have to increase the treatment levels if we were going to really repair the gut and other barrier walls for those of us who suffer from severe gluten intolerance, multiple food issues and symptoms related to barrier issues. Third, I realised the potential of this for all food intolerance sufferers – massive.
Food Intolerance – The Process
Diagram: Vodjani 2009.
Let’s back up a tiny bit and think about what happens when someone has a food intolerance. Along comes a munchy food – yum yum – and you eat it. It goes into the gut, where it should be broken down, nutrients absorbed and waste excreted. Job done.
Except that in susceptible people and for myriad reasons, part of the food gets through the first barrier of bowel flora, which should be thick enough to stop it and isn’t in many people. If it can then attach itself to the barrier wall, the mucosal immune system starts shouting a warning. If there is too much zonulin, it is much more likely to get into the bloodstream as zonulin affects what are termed the ‘tight junctions’ which hold the wall together.
Once in the bloodstream, you have what is termed systemic immunity. The innate immune system kicks in immediately, having been warned earlier, and tries to recognise the foreign invader, stick a label on it and find a way to destroy it. If it can’t, the adaptive immune system turns on. This is where the body will develop a specific antibody to the invader and make a memory cell so it can recognise and destroy it every time it sees it. This process starts about 4-7 days after ingestion of the food, and the antibodies are like IgE, IgG, IgA, IgM, for example – the ones we look for in food intolerance testing.
The problem is that if someone continues to eat the intolerance food, the adaptive immune system is on call all the time and this is really draining for the body. No wonder we all feel tired and are susceptible to infections as the body is distracted all the time. If a person continues to do the stuff that encourages a leaky gut and more zonulin production specifically, as in gluten ingestion, then the problem is not only going to continue but that’s what causes the so-called ‘allergic march’ where we become sensitive to more and more things.
The link with autoimmunity comes too because the adaptive immune system can become confused and can see cells, tissues, other foods that have a similar-looking protein structure to the foreign protein it is supposed to be keeping an eye out for (the memory cell) and, bang, antibodies are made to those foods and body bits too.
Obviously, it is all much more complex than that and I have left out lots of processes, but that should give you the essence of what goes on.
What To Do About It
So, what does it all mean for treatment purposes? If we are to have any chance of stopping the foods getting through, and thus the reactions to current and future foods, we have to be pretty on the ball at getting that barrier function repaired. We have to stop doing the stuff that causes a leaky gut and increase the amount of work we do to repair it. If you are on the TGF protocol and diet already, you are doing much of what needs to be done but I will be tweaking some things in the near future.
I am working on a so-called ‘clean diet and lifestyle’ to eliminate all the barrier damagers and a barrier repair protocol. Then, I will be using it as a first port of call for anyone with sensitivities I come across – and that’s a lot! Some hope, at last. Yay! Wish me luck. Back with it shortly.