The Zonulin Molecule Might Explain Why You’re Gluten Sensitive

The Zonulin Molecule Might Explain Why You’re Gluten Sensitive

A lot of you are under the mistaken impression that a gluten-free diet is just another food fad, something akin to John Harvey Kellogg’s assertion in the mid-1870s that a two-gallon water enema — followed up by a serving of yogurt ingested orally and elsewhere — could prevent disease. Well, thanks to a team of researchers focusing their efforts on the link between the molecule zonulin and inflammation, all of that’s about to change!

But before we go there, it’s important to point out that an estimated six percent of the population has been found to be sensitive to gluten, with between one and two percent of that number suffering from Celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine).

Some doctors claim there are as many as 300 possible symptoms for celiac disease, and the fact that different patients experience different symptoms makes Celiac disease difficult to diagnose. According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of celiac disease can vary greatly. And while diarrhea and weight loss are classic signs, only 30 percent of those diagnosed with Celiac disease suffer diarrhea, while half exhibit weight loss. Twenty percent suffer constipation and 10 percent are obese.

Other signs and symptoms include anemia as a result of iron deficiency, loss of bone density, skin rash, headaches and fatigue joint pain, acid reflux and heartburn.

The good news in all this is that researchers in Italy are discovering hints that people who express sensitivity to gluten might possess high levels of zonulin — a molecule linked to inflammation — hiding out in the bloodstream. Coincidentally, those molecules have been found to be high in people diagnosed with Celiac disease and among those who say they are sensitive to gluten.

According to a National Public Radio (NPR) article published earlier this week, zonulin is activated by bad bacteria, triggering a bout of diarrhea and thus, efficiently eliminating the bacteria. The article claims gluten is a strong trigger for zonulin, which can be triggered by even a small amount of gluten.

Here’s how the NPR article describes the process:

“A team of researchers at the University of Bologna measured blood levels of zonulin in four groups of individuals: those with celiac disease, those with irritable bowel syndrome marked by diarrhea, those with self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity and healthy volunteers. Both celiacs and those sensitive to gluten turned up with remarkably high levels of zonulin in their blood. Those with IBS had elevated levels but less than half of celiacs or gluten sensitive individuals. Healthy volunteers had negligible blood levels of zonulin.

Research leader Giovanni Barbara said, “I was very surprised — but not only by the zonulin levels. In our study, gluten-sensitive individuals who responded to a gluten-free diet had a genetic predisposition to celiac disease. They had no evidence of celiac, but they did have the vulnerable genes that put a person at risk of celiac.”

Alessio Fasano of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in Barbara’s study, says the discovery of zonulin shows the molecule, “is extremely is extremely important in a lot of illness, from Type 1 diabetes to other autoimmune diseases. Many illnesses link back to loss of barrier function in the gut.

Fasano concluded, “It would be really great if we had a safe medication that could keep this molecule at bay and offer help for Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and perhaps other conditions.”

So there you have it. The next time someone suggests you’re just being trendy by choosing to live a gluten-free lifestyle, tell them about zonulin and its link to inflammation. And if we can answer any questions for you or help you with an inflammation-related issue, give us as a call here at Restoration Healthcare at (949) 535-2322.