I recently had the great honor to lecture in California along side Dr. Alessio Fasano. Dr. Fasano is a practicing gastroenterologist and research scientist at Harvard whose interest is in gluten-related disorders like gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy and celiac disease. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Bloomberg News and many other high profile media resources.
My lecture focused on the role of inflammation in brain related disorders and how gluten serves to initiate and perpetuate this process. Dr. Fasano focused on the specifics of the biochemistry related to gluten’s detrimental effects and he discussed how gluten in the diet increases the permeability of the bowel wall (leaky gut). And it is this permeability that allows a variety of normally excluded products access to the bloodstream. So things like bacteria, proteins, and viruses that normally would have been prevented from entering the bloodstream gain access when the gut becomes leaky as a consequence of gluten exposure.
Bacteria, foreign proteins and viruses gaining access to the bloodstream sets the stage for the body to mount a powerful immune response as these entities are considered threatening. This immune response supercharges inflammation, the cornerstone of everything bad you don’t want to get including coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. Further, as Dr. Fasano revealed in his landmark publication on this subject, this may well be a pivotal mechanism in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and type 1 diabetes.
The take home message is that we’ve got to do everything we can to maintain gut health and the integrity of the gut wall. Things like gluten, antibiotics, chlorinated water, lack of probiotics, and even some of the very medications you may be taking under the direction of your physician all represent threats to the integrity of the gut wall and thus predispose to inflammation. We’ve got to learn to respect this delicate but highly influential part of our immune system.