Is Leaky Gut Triggering Your Autoimmune Flare-Ups?

When the body develops an autoimmune response, your own immune system sees you as the enemy. Your immune system tags specific tissue for destruction. This can mean bone, joint, brain, or glandular tissue.

The root cause of autoimmune disease is a mystery.

A flare-up is an explosion of autoimmune symptoms.

This is when your immune system is actively waging war. Inflammatory chemicals “turn on.” The tissue under attack becomes inflamed and eventually dies.

Research now tells us that leaky gut may be an essential first step of autoimmune disease. (1)(2)(3) This means that you may even be able to stop the progression of an autoimmune disease, once you:

  • Remove autoimmune triggers.
  • Heal a wounded gut.

Celiac Disease and Gluten

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that results in an inflammatory response to gluten. Healing the gut lining is one way to stop the progression of an autoimmune disease and offer relief from painful flare-ups.

Celiac disease is one type of autoimmune disease. When it comes to celiac disease, the body has an unchecked response to gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It is what gives bread a bouncy and chewy texture. Those with celiac disease have an unregulated immune response to gluten. This response can be devastating.

In the small intestine, partially digested gluten proteins come into contact with the immune system. The autoimmune response to gluten triggers destruction of the gut.

Other organs are also affected. And unfortunately, each person with celiac disease has a unique set of symptoms. For example, celiac disease can show up as gut distress. But it also often occurs with joint pain, skin rashes, anemia, and other autoimmune diseases. This can make celiac disease difficult to diagnose—especially in its early stages. (4)

In order to avoid symptoms of celiac disease and seal the gut wall, celiac disease patients go on a 100% gluten-free diet. This goes beyond removing gluten-containing grains. Many foods contain hidden gluten or are contaminated with gluten. Additives and medications are sometimes made with gluten. (5)

Autoimmune Triggers

The root cause of autoimmune disease is a mystery. For example, some researchers claim that infection causes autoimmunity. (6) Still others have shown that leaky gut plays a pivotal role in the development of autoimmune disease.

What everyone agrees on: Autoimmunity is marked by an imbalance in the immune system.

What throws the immune system out of balance?

  • Mental, emotional, or physical stress
  • Exposure to chemical toxins
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Gut infection
  • Foods that irritate the lining of the digestive tract

Environmental triggers “turn on” inflammation. They can make the gut leaky. And—if you have an autoimmune disease—environmental triggers can ignite a flare-up of symptoms anywhere in the body.

Inflammation is an immune response. When we activate inflammatory chemicals, we are shifting the balance of the immune system. Sometimes this shift causes the immune system to target your own tissue—as in the case of autoimmune disease.

One of the most pervasive triggers of leaky gut and inflammation is gluten.

Gluten Makes the Gut Leaky

The gut wall is complex. It is made up of several layers that all participate in your health. The tissue lining the gut wall works with enzymes, communities of beneficial bacteria, and the immune system. This teamwork protects you from outside microbes and environmental poisons.

Unfortunately, some common foods—like wheat, barley, and rye that contain gluten—are inflammatory. Gluten destroys the attachment between cells lining the gut. This attachment is called a “tight junction.” Gluten gets into a tight junction and rips it apart.

With celiac disease, we see that gluten triggers the immune system to destroy the body’s own tissue. This is because gluten proteins immediately trigger the breakdown and destruction of the gastrointestinal wall.

Research has found that gluten can destroy the bond between cells lining the intestinal wall—the “tight junction.” (7)(8) This bond is like glue that holds intestinal cells closely together. It prevents large food particles, poisons, and outside bacteria from leaking into the bloodstream.

Gluten destroys that tight bond. Gluten makes the gut leaky.

But how do you know if you will develop an autoimmune reaction that is triggered by gluten—like celiac disease?

Genetics play a role. And because tight junctions are open in the early stages of celiac disease, we know that leaky gut also increases your risk. (9)(10) How early you were weaned as a baby also matters. Recent research shows that celiac disease is more likely to occur if you are exposed to gluten as an infant, within your first year. (11)

Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease

As it turns out, other common autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis are associated with leaky gut and broken tight junctions. (12)(13)(14)

Your inner ecosystem also determines the health of tight junctions and your risk of developing an autoimmune disease. (15)

According to research published in Science, exposure to a wide range of bacteria early in life (for example, if you lived on a farm) creates a healthy inner ecosystem. It also may protect you against autoimmune disease. (16)

Other research has found that a wounded and poorly populated inner ecosystem is associated with type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease). In this case, children with type 1 diabetes were missing strong communities of bifidobacteria. (17)

The hygiene hypothesis tells us that the dramatic increase in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders over the past 50 years is the result of antibiotic use, urban living, processed foods, and harsh sanitizers. All of these factors influence and limit your inner ecosystem.

A healthy inner ecosystem is like insurance.

Alcohol and NSAIDs, Candida overgrowth, stress hormones, and common prescription drugs like antibiotics and steroids may make the gut leaky and increase your risk of developing an autoimmune disease. Remember, genetics and environmental triggers (like gluten) are both necessary for an autoimmune disease to develop.

Turning Off the Inflammatory Response

An important first step in balancing your inner ecosystem is cutting out gluten, sugar, and casein and practicing the other principles of the Body Ecology Diet.

Next, nourish your inner ecosystem with fermented foods and probiotic beverages. Cleanse toxins and maintain a healthy gut lining with the Digestive Care Multi.

The Body Ecology Lifestyle empowers you to take control of your health.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

When your body has an autoimmune response, your immune system views you as the enemy and targets healthy tissue for destruction. Leaky gut may be the first indicator of an autoimmune disease, making it critical to remove autoimmune triggers and heal a wounded gut.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that responds to gluten as a trigger. Autoimmunity is caused by an imbalanced immune system that may be aggravated by stress, toxins, Candida overgrowth, gut infection, or irritating foods.

Even worse, a trigger like gluten can make the gut leaky by destroying the bond between cells lining the intestinal wall. Leaky gut may further increase the risk of other autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

A healthy inner ecosystem is essential to protect against leaky gut and autoimmune disease:

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  3. Fasano A (2001) Intestinal zonulin: open sesame! Gut 49:159–162.
  4. Barton, S. H., & Murray, J. A. (2008). Celiac disease and autoimmunity in the gut and elsewhere. Gastroenterology Clinics of North America, 37(2), 411-428.
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