More and more people are realizing that gluten is not the best thing for them, and adopting a gluten-free diet. Subclinical gluten intolerance is a huge deal – it’s very prevalent, and often undiagnosed. One does not have to be full blown celiac to be intolerant to gluten, and testing may or may not show up gluten intolerance.
I think part of the problem is the genetic modification of grains – as grains get further and further from how they exist in nature, it’s naturally harder and harder for us to digest and metabolize them. It’s not just digestive issues that come from gluten intolerance – it can cause neurological issues, profound fatigue, emotional imbalance, hormone issues – and many other symptoms that don’t seem to be related to the digestive system.
One of the things most people don’t know about it that gluten can cause “leaky brain”. Yes, leaky brain. Most people are familiar with the concept of leaky gut. This occurs when the gap junctions between the cells of the small intestine open up, allowing larger particles than normal to escape into the blood stream. This can cause an immune reaction as the larger particles are viewed as intruders. Leaky gut can be caused by a number of different factors, including gluten intolerance and other food sensitivities, intestinal parasites, bacterial imbalance and Candida overgrowth.
Now there is increasing evidence of the phenomenon of leaky brain. The premise is much the same – the gap junctions between the cells of the blood-brain barrier open up, allowing the passage of undesirable substances into the brain. Greater permeability of the blood-brain barrier increases the passage of pro-inflammatory cytokines, heavy metals, environmental toxins and other harmful substances into the brain. This then leads to neurological and cognitive dysfunction – a laundry list of issues that looks staggering similar to the issues experienced by those with chronic issues such as ADHD, autistic-spectrum disorders, depression/ anxiety and so on.
How does gluten contribute to leaky brain? Gluten stimulates zonulin. Zonulin is a substance that regulates the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and the gut. So eating gluten can stimulate zonulin, making both the gut and the brain lining more permeable. Once the blood-brain barrier is more permeable it is more susceptible to any toxic insult on the body. General inflammation in the body will also impact the brain – inflammatory chemicals called cytokines and chemokines can cross more readily into the brain where they can impact focus, concentration, emotional states, learning, memory, and every other neurological function.
This is yet another reason for eating a gluten-free diet. It relates to everyone, children and adults alike, but I would say is especially relevant for any kids with neurological issues, autistic-spectrum disorders, ADHD – any kind of learning or developmental disorders. I have seen profound changes in the cognitive and behavioral status of children after going on a gluten-free diet. It’s amazing to think that a food can impact the brain so profoundly, but there is no doubt that this is the case. So if you or your kiddos struggle with any neurological issues, it is worth eating gluten free – I’m certain you’ll see the benefit!
Here’s some further reading if you are interested in learning more: