Leaky gut is a condition that involves changes in the integrity of digestive tract, compromising its function and immune protection. It has a variety of different causes, but it is clear that eating gluten can contribute to leaky gut via increasing the production of a substance called zonulin.
Ordinarily, the intestinal wall serves as a protective barrier for the immune system, acting as a gatekeeper between the GI tract and the blood stream. In leaky gut, junctions in between cells within the intestinal wall become further apart. When this occurs, the barrier between the gut and the blood stream becomes “leaky”, allowing larger substances to cross the membrane, which usually would be prevented.
In this scenario, undigested food, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, are able to escape from the intestine into the bloodstream via these leaky junctions.
Zonulin is a protein modulator of intestinal tight junctions. Gluten directly stimulates zonulin, leading to an increase in space between gap junctions, more passage of foreign substances into the blood stream, and inevitably a cascade of immune responses.
This can lead to a myriad of symptoms. Many of these can be nondescript, including headaches, malaise, sinus issues, brain fog, joint pain, and muscle pain.
Zonulin also influences the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, meaning that eating gluten can lead to more brain inflammation too.
Other triggers of leaky gut include parasites, casein intolerance, other inflammatory foods, and candidiasis/ yeast imbalances. Really, anything that causes inflammation in the gut can predispose one to leaky gut. Avoiding gluten is one way to minimize inflammation, prevent the zonulin trigger, and maintain a healthy digestive system.