Who is not familiar with gluten, the protein in wheat that causes severe digestive complaints? In fact, gluten triggers severe reactions for the three million Americans with celiac disease. That’s just the beginning. It’s estimated that up to eighteen million have gluten sensitivity, and perhaps half the population in the United States have some form of sensitivity to wheat. There is no drug or natural medicine that cures celiac disease. The only effective treatment is a 100% gluten-free diet.
The science is clear. Wheat, gluten, and gliadin – the particular protein found in wheat gluten that is believed to trigger symptoms – cause inflammation. But, researchers recently concluded that the epidemic of wheat sensitivity i s more complicated than gluten or gliadin allergy.
What if the explosion of “gluten sensitivity” wasn’t due to wheat allergy at all? What if the IBS and gluten sensitivity epidemic wasn’t completely due to overeating refined foods and lots of sugar? What if the wheat belly and gluten brain explanation were an oversimplification or incorrect?
Zonulin Regulates Intestinal Permeability
When you eat wheat, your body creates a protein-driven response by releasing zonulin, a substance that regulates trafficking of large molecules in your gut. Zonulin modulates the gaps in your intestinal lining making the gut more or less permeable. If the gaps are too wide, you may develop “leaky gut syndrome.” In this condition, large molecules cross through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream setting off inflammation and autoimmune responses.
Once in your blood stream, gliadin crosses the blood brain barrier. When in your head, gliadin causes changes in appetite and gives you brain fog. Gliadin also triggers the inflammation and severe neuronal changes associated with ADHD and bipolar disorder.
No doubt. Gliadin is a powerful trigger for celiac disease. But bacteria and viruses are also linked to the gut symptoms once exclusively associated with gluten sensitivity.
Common Virus Triggers Gut Inflammation
In a group effort, scientists from the University of Chicago, Stanford, and other institutions found that viruses in the gut make dietary sensitivities worse. At least two common gut-infecting reoviruses can provoke immune responses similar to the bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea associated with gluten sensitivity.
The new viral hypothesis published in Science Magazine proposes that innocuous reoviruses set off a chain reaction of immune responses. Researchers found that celiac disease patients have high levels of antibodies against reoviruses, suggesting an initial viral infection set off gut changes that resulted in gliadin sensitivity.
Classical celiac disease is more likely in those carrying the HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genes. Your chance of having celiac disease goes up dramatically if you also test positive for Tissue Transglutaminase IgA (tTG-IgA). Your symptoms are worse when you eat wheat. But, infection by T1L reovirus derails gluten tolerance. It’s becoming more evident that a cluster of causes and effects, including diet and viral infection, result in inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndr ome, and celiac disease.
For decades, inflammatory gut disease and irritable bowel syndrome got blamed on stress and dietary sensitivities. Though stressors and allergy play roles in these disorders, new science reminds us that the gut is far more complicated than once thought. Over simplification, including by ma ny doctors, of gut symptoms requires a new paradigm of how gut microbiota, immunity, diet, and viruses play roles in keeping us well. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a clinical test for reovirus antibodies. But by changing the conversation around celiac disease, together we can push health and wellness care standards to catch up with the evidence.