CONNECT THE DOTS…Gluten → leaky gut → autoimmune disease → Alzheimer’s



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On last week’s show, Dr. Tom O’Bryan shared ideas based on his book, You Can Fix Your Brain, on how to have a better long-term memory and a sharper mind. He started with the source of perhaps the biggest threats—gluten, leaky gut and autoimmune disease. I took a bunch of notes and thought they might be useful to our newsletter readers.

  • Over the last 10 years, autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Alzheimer’s, psoriasis, alopecia, MS, celiac disease, lupus, etc.) have increased by 4%-9% annually which is scary and unheard of.
  • There are over 100 conditions labeled “autoimmune”. Doctors and medical textbooks say that there is “no known cause” and “no known cure.” However, Dr. O’Bryan says that is nonsense because we do know the cause and cure for most of them. In his previous book, The Autoimmune Fix, he referred to 300 studies demonstrating that.
  • As is often suggested with autoimmune disease, the immune system has NOT gone haywire. Rather it is doing its job to protect you from something. As just one example the plasticizer, BPA, which is used in plastic water bottles, in the lining of cans and even in cash register receipts. We absorb it. In some people, it can bind to thyroid tissue. Then the immune system targets (makes antibodies to) that new protein combination (called a “neoepitope”). Because the body needs to constantly refresh our tissues, we always have antibodies to thyroid so it can break down the old ones. But lab tests should be in a normal range of 0 to 36—42. When the count is higher, that means your immune system is making too many antibodies in and therefore is destroying thyroid cells faster than the body can replace them. Then come thyroid symptoms. The same thing happens with other toxins and other tissues around the body.
  • The most common substance that binds to thyroid and causes this type of reaction is gluten found in some grains such as wheat. Celiac disease is a very common autoimmune disease that is caused by gluten. But, many people with Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease, find that a gluten free diet brings those thyroid antibody test numbers back into line. Dr. O’Bryan said that a recent study by Schoenfeld and colleagues, confirms that about 2 dozen autoimmune diseases (including Hashimoto’s thyroid) improve on a gluten free diet. Quote from that study: “Gluten affects the microbiome [good gut bacteria] and increases intestinal permeability [leaky gut]. It [gluten] boosts oxidative stress and affects epigenetic behavior [how genes work]. It is also immunogenic, cytotoxic [toxic to cells], and proinflammatory. Gluten intake increases apoptosis [cell death] and decreases cell viability and differentiation [lack of cell differentiation keeps stem cells from being able to repair tissue].”
  • Why does this happen? If, for example, bad bacteria go into the small intestine, “sentries” [Toll-like receptors or TLR’s] evaluate them and send a message to gut cells to make zonulin. Zonulin loosens the connections between cells lining the intestinal tract. That is meant to be beneficial becuse bigger spaces between cells in the intestinal lining allow more water to come in and flush out the troublesome substances or organisms […oops, at the extreme, that becomes diarrhea].
  • Not part of the plan, these gaps [leaky gut] also allow microorganisms, toxic substances and partially digested food molecules to get into blood circulation and activate an unhelpful immune response to foods you’ve eaten. So, you may end up with a sensitivity to corn, soy, tomatoes, or other foods. Note that several years ago, mainstream medicine mocked the whole idea of “leaky gut”. Finally, they decided at least look at it if we would call it the fancier term, “intestinal permeability”. Today the concept is taught at Harvard Medical School.
  • The leaked food molecule can appear similar to the protein in a cell. Confused immune cells can destroy otherwise healthy cells in the eye tissue, nerve tissue, skin, etc.
  • The TLR’s also send a signal for the gut to make more of a substance (NF-κB) which generates inflammation as a natural response to a threat. When there is an overproduction of this signaling compound, chronic inflammation becomes a problem.
  • Since the TLR’s sense gluten as a threat, Dr. O’Bryan says we are all going to have a problem when we eat it…at the least inflammation and leaky gut. It happens even if we feel fine in the short term…and may become an autoimmune disease down the line.
  • The brain is protected by a critical blood/brain barrier (BBB). He says that people with leaky gut also have a leaky BBB. The brain has extremely powerful immune cells and so just like in the gut, junk leaking into the brain can cause all kinds of trouble. All brain dysfunctions (even depression) are related to inflammation from that leaking. Breathing toxins also set off those immune cells. Those brain super immune cells destroy healthy brain cells. Alzheimer’s builds this way for many years before becoming symptomatic. For lots of helpful tips, read his You Can Fix Your Brain.

If you have an autoimmune condition, you should be tested to see if you have a related gluten problem. (Perhaps it would be good if we all checked.) Dr. O’Bryan said that the most accurate test is the Wheat Zoomer. Whether you have an autoimmune disease that you’d like to kick or you just want to see if you feel better, there is nothing wrong with trying a gluten free diet. Surprisingly we have no nutritional need for gluten or the grains that contain it. Dr. O’Bryan and I agree that you should read labels carefully because gluten-free junk food is still junk food.


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