Gluten's Impact on Your Brain, Nervous System & Yes, Your Gut

Gluten's Impact on Your Brain, Nervous System & Yes, Your Gut

Should I go Gluten Free?

Gluten impacts more than your gut.

by Terri Tennant, Tennant Products CEO

Going gluten free has been rather popular lately, a fad it seems. Many people have heard that gluten can cause trouble with one’s gut, that going gluten free helps with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s, or perhaps they just heard that going gluten free can be good for your health in general but don’t really know why. Nope, it’s not related to keto.

Fad or not, going gluten free is far more valuable to you than just for your gut health. Gluten can damage your brain, nervous system and more; and your doctors don’t know this.

It's estimated that 35-50% of us are gluten sensitive, 

and most of us don't realize it. 

In this article I'll explain why gluten is different today, how it impacts your gut, your brain, nervous system, skin, how it can trigger autoimmunity and cause problems for many of us in ways that you probably didn't know. I'll also share how to find out if you are gluten-sensitive and how to mitigate gluten exposure. 

Going gluten free has improved my life tremendously. Before giving up gluten, I suffered frequent migraines, chronic fatigue, autoimmune issues, joint pain, brain fog and memory issues. I hope this info helps you live a better life or helps you better understand the challenges for someone that is gluten sensitive. Thanks for reading. 

What is gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, spelt and rye. The average American consumes gluten every day and often at every meal. Gluten is found not only in breads, pastas, cereals, and baked goods. It is also found in oats, salad dressings, condiments, candy, alcohol, deli meats, spices and even cosmetics.

The gluten today is different than what your parents or grandparents ate. Gluten has been hybridized and deamidated over the years making it inflammatory to humans. Hybridization combines different strains of wheat to make a new protein which can alter a protein sequence up to 5% from the original. This new protein can trigger immune reactions, especially in the brain and nervous system (We’ll talk about this in a minute). Deamidation uses acids or enzymes to make gluten more water soluble so that it is easier to use and mixes easier with other foods, but this also has been shown to create a severe immune response in people.

It's estimated that one third to half of us are gluten sensitive and don’t even know it. Gluten sensitive people have trouble digesting, trouble with energy or brain function, and don’t realize that this could be related to gluten.

FYI, burping, bloating, and flatulence are signs that your digestion is challenged by something you ate.

I used to think this was normal, but a healthy digestive scenario doesn’t have these problems.

Gluten sensitivity symptoms to look into:

  • Consuming grains makes you tired and makes it difficult to focus
  • Consuming grains makes you bloated
  • You feel better when you avoid breads and grains
  • You have reactions to bread products

Celiac and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)

Celiac disease is a severe reaction to gluten that causes autoimmune destruction of the intestinal tract for a small percentage of the population. About 1% of the population has celiac disease, although it’s estimated that only 1 in 8 of those with celiac disease are aware they have it due to incomplete testing procedures. Certain gene types called HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 are associated with increased risk of celiac disease; and antibodies, such a gliadin and transglutaminase, are also associated with celiac.

Symptoms can include more than just what we think celiac triggers, like diarrhea. Symptoms can also include:

  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Acid reflux
  • Burning sensation and burping
  • And even nerve tingling.

It was thought that the damaged celiac disease caused was due to gluten in the intestinal tract, but recent research is indicating that the damage is beyond the gut and impacting people beyond those with celiac.

Damage beyond the gut

Studies are finding people are experiencing reactions to gluten in the brain, thyroid, joints, skin, or other tissue. We are now learning that

Gluten sensitivity destroys the brain and nervous system tissue more than any other tissue in the body.

The destruction in the brain and nervous system is even more than the damage in the intestinal tract, and many doctors are not yet aware of this.

NCGS, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, is a newly described condition in which people have celiac-like reaction to gluten but don’t test positive to the celiac antibodies (I’ll explain proper testing later). Symptoms of NCGS that follow eating gluten and disappear after gluten withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Altered bowel habits
  • Bloating
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Headache
  • Mood disorders
  • Rashes or eczema

Gluten cross-reactivity can assault the nervous system, brain, and thyroid.

Cross-reactivity is when the immune system mistakes one protein for another. The immune system produces gluten antibodies when it identifies gluten as a bad actor, but those antibodies may attack more than the gluten. They may create an autoimmune attack against nervous system tissue, the brain or your thyroid because the tissue is similar enough to gluten.

How does gluten impact the thyroid?

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that impacts the thyroid and is one of the leading causes of hypothyroidism. Eating a gluten free diet has been found helpful for those with Hashimoto’s. Gluten is similar enough to thyroid tissue that the immune reaction to gluten also attacks and damages the thyroid. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease are immune responses to gluten that numerous studies link to Hashimoto’s.

How does gluten cause problems for your brain?

Dr. Datis Kharrazian  explains in his book Why isn’t my brain working?  that cross-reactivity has been found to cause to autoimmunity with synapsin, a family of proteins located on neurons that regulate neurotransmitter release; the brain cerebellum, which can cause issues with balance, vertigo, or motor control; and an enzyme found in the brain called glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), which may cause symptoms related to anxiety.

Gluten can cause a leaky blood-brain barrier.

A thin lining protects the brain from pathogens and allows just the right things into the brain, like precursors to neurotransmitters. Gluten can break down the blood-brain barrier and increase inflammation and autoimmune reactions in the brain and nervous system. Inflammation in the brain is linked to migraines, neurological disorders, memory loss and brain fog.

How does gluten affect your nervous system?

Gluten triggers nervous system transglutaminase autoimmunity. Transglutaminases (TG) are enzymes that help bind proteins together and are also involved in digestion of wheat.

  • TG2 is found in the intestinal tract. Elevated TG2 antibodies indicate atrophy of the villi (the tiny finger-like projections in the small intestine that absorb food) and destroy the intestinal lining causing damage and inflammation, and poor nutrient absorption.
  • TG3 is found in the skin. Damage to TG3 can lead to skin outbreaks like dermatitis herpetiformis, which is itchy red blisters found on the body most frequently on the knees, elbows, and back.
  • TG6 is found throughout the central nervous system. Damage to TG6 can cause damage to brain and nervous tissue.

How does gluten affect your gut?

Your intestinal lining is critical for protecting your body from harm and allowing the precious nutrients your body needs to fuel itself, but gluten creates a challenge for how your lining functions by impacting a substance called zonulin.

Zonulin helps regulate the opening and closing of the spaces or "junctures" between cells in the lining of the digestive tract. Zonulin is triggered by harmful bacteria, and offers important protection to the body. If you accidentally eat a food contaminated with salmonella, you rely on zonulin to help trigger diarrhea and flush out the bugs.

Gluten, or more specifically two of its components, gliadin and glutenin, promotes the release of zonulin, which increases gut permeability. Increased zonulin weakens the tight junctures within the gut lining. We could say then that gluten itself weakens the intestinal tract, increasing permeability. This increased permeability is “leaky gut.”

Gluten causes leaky gut and inflammation throughout the body. 

Izabella Wentz, PharmD. FASCP; and Marta Nowosadzka, MD, explain in their book Root Cause that “When gluten proteins cause damage to the intestinal wall, gaps can form, creating a leaky gut that allows food particles to enter into the bloodstream. Once in the gut, these particles are recognized as foreign substances by the immune systems and the body launches an immune attack every time those foods are eaten.” This immune attack impacts the gut causing discomfort and damage as well as inflammatory issues throughout the body causing issues mentioned above and may include aches, pains, and flu-like symptoms.

How to test for gluten-sensitivity

As mentioned earlier, gluten is made up of glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is the protein portion of gluten and is broken down into alpha, omega, and gamma fractions. Most labs only test for alpha gliadin which is an incomplete picture for gluten sensitivity. It is recommended that you do a complete gluten antibody screen to accurately assess gluten sensitivity. Cyrex Labs (cyrexlabs.com) has a complete panel called the Wheat/Gluten Proteome Sensitivity and Autoimmunity Panel. It tests for the following:

  • Alpha gliadin
  • Omega gliadin
  • Gamma gliadin
  • Diamindated gliadin
  • Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA)
  • Gluteomorphin
  • Prodynorphin
  • Transglutaminase -2 (TG2)
  • Transglutaminase-3 (TG3)
  • Transglutaminase-6 (TG6)

Cyrex Labs also offers a panel that checks for foods that most commonly cross-react with gluten. This is called the Gluten-Associated Cross-Reactive Foods and Foods Sensitivity – Array 4. This is something to consider doing if you think you may have issues with cross-reactivity to gluten.

So what now?

Consider your health. Do you get tired after a big pasta meal, have achy joints or brain fog, indigestion or bloating, perhaps skin rashes?

If you think that you may have a sensitivity to gluten, get tested or try a gluten elimination diet and see if your health improves.

It should be noted that it can take up to six months for gluten to be purged from your system and that consuming even a little gluten can cause significant damage, sometimes irreversible.

If going gluten free, you will have some level of exposure from time to time - remember gluten found in all sorts of foods, supplements, and even in cosmetics. In today’s environment, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate gluten completely. There are a few things you can do to help mitigate reaction to exposure. Two of which are supplementing.

    • DPP-IV is a digestive enzyme that helps digest gliadin and helps regulate the immune response to it. Research is showing that supplementing with DPP-IV enzyme is therapeutic for gluten sensitive people. DPP-IV is one of the enzymes in Dr. Tennant’s® Digestive Enzymes Formula.
    • Flavonoids (colorful plant compounds such as lycopene, apigenin, quercetin, and luteolin) can help dampen inflammation from gluten exposure as well. Check out Dr. Tennant’s® Microbiome Support for quercetin. You can also find flavonoids in coffee, tea, wine, berries, green leafy veggies, apples, onions and cherries.  

Remember this supplementation is not to be used as an excuse to eat gluten for gluten sensitive people. Supplementing with DPP-IV or flavonoids can simply dampen the consequences of minor exposures.

In closing

Don't get me wrong. I still love baked goods. And not everyone needs to be gluten-free. But given what we're learning about how gluten can be so disruptive to our health, I ask that when considering a health challenge remember that the health issues could be related to something as simple as a cookie that you put in your mouth.  

 


Featured Products in This Article:

Dr. Tennant’s® Microbiome Support

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Dr. Tennant’s® Digestive Enzyme Formula 
 
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Additional Resources

Cyrex Labs https://www.cyrexlabs.com