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What is an autoimmune disease and how can it possibly relate to gluten?

In the June article, we covered gluten sensitivity, why it is so difficult to test for this sensitivity as well as the various reasons that people can become sensitive over time. If you missed the June newsletter, you can access it here.

This month, we want to continue the discussion and focus on the genetic component of gluten sensitivity and its relationship to autoimmune disease. This connection is very important and can affect virtually anyone because autoimmune diseases develop overtime and can happen at any age.

 

What is an autoimmune disease and how can it possibly relate to gluten?

Autoimmune diseases arise from an in appropriate immune response against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the immune system mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen and attacks its own cells. This attack can happen against any of the organs, tissues or cells. There are known autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) which attacks the central nervous system, Hashimotos which attacks the thyroid, Lupus which attacks connective tissues and rheumatoid arthritis which attacks the joints, just to name a few.

What is important to understand though is that while modern medicine has identified various autoimmune diseases which have names, the body has the ability to attack virtually any of its own tissues, cells and compounds if there is immune confusion and thus autoimmune disease are not really just limited to the ones that we are aware of but can really be anything.

The Conventional Approach

The conventional approach to autoimmune disease “treatment” is immune suppressants which are also called steroid medications. They work by suppressing your immune system to stop the improper attack, but while this may sound promising, it comes with many negative effects. First off, when your immune system is suppressed you cannot properly fight true infections such as bacteria or viruses that you may be exposed to. Steroids also disturb the functions of your metabolism, blood sugar, digestion and adrenals glands and can cause very serious problems.

While conventional medicine feels there is no cure for autoimmune disease and offers immune suppression as the only option, if you look at the whole body from the inside out, there are actually various ways to naturally help balance the immune system.

A Different Point Of View

A very important fact that is often missed is that no matter what kind of autoimmune disease may be present, the issue is the immune system, not the tissue that is being attacked. So if someone has MS, its not the fault of the nervous system, but rather the immune system for getting confused and attacking the wrong tissue. Therefore, the more integrative approach to addressing it is focusing on teaching the immune system what is good and what is bad, instead of the actual tissue that is being attacked.

While there are various reasons for why the immune system gets confused, we are finding that one big reason lies behind gluten.

Let us show you an example of how this can play out. Let’s say that someone may not feel well from gluten, so they decide to do some tests. Their biopsy comes back negative, all the antibody tests are negative and even the inflammatory test comes out fine. In such cases, doctors would usually tell the patient that eating gluten is fine, but is it really? If we test for the gluten genes and find that 2 are positive, it means that this person is actually not genetically designed to process gluten. If the person eats gluten anyway, the immune system has to work extra hard as it is constantly bombarded by something it doesn’t like and becomes “corrupted” overtime. The actual autoimmune problem is usually not sudden and often takes many years to fully develop due to the constant immune system pressure. This phenomenon is sometimes called silent celiac disease and there are people walking around with silent celiac for years and then later in life and what seems like “all of a sudden” get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

Yet while it seems as it just came out of nowhere, you can now see here how the process has been in the works for many years. Another interesting and important fact to know here is that if a patient is diagnosed with a particular autoimmune disease, they can actually go on to develop as many as 8 other autoimmune diseases in their lifetime (due to the fact that the immune system can start attacking different tissues overtime).

One of the main ways that we can stop the process is to avoid gluten especially if you have the gluten gene. Genetic testing is really the only true way to know if gluten is an issue and in many cases can be used as a preventative because if you stop eating gluten before any serious problems occur, the body will not react to it and there will be a lower likelihood of other problems down the road.

 

Corn gluten can also cause a reaction in patients with celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity  

Gluten is not just one protein. Traditionally we measure for antibodies against gliadin, which is a gluten found in wheat, barley, rye and oats, however there are as many as a thousands of other glutens found in all other grains. There has been 400 new glutens discovered in the last year and out of the 400 discovered 40 of them, some of which are found in corn are potentially more toxic to celiacs than even gliadin.

Since 1978 there have been a number of studies investigating whether or not corn gluten is a problem for patients with gluten sensitivity. Below is an excerpt from a recent study on corn products

“Maize is used as an alternative to wheat to elaborate foodstuffs for celiac patients in a gluten-free diet. However, some maize prolamins (zeins) contain amino acid sequences that resemble the wheat gluten immune-dominant peptides… analysis indicated that other zeins contain similar sequences, or sequences that may bind even better to the HLA-DQ2/DQ8 molecules compared to the already identified ones. Results concur to indicate that relative abundance of these zeins,…may be of paramount clinical relevance, and the use of maize in the formulation and preparation of gluten-free foods must be reevaluated…”

At this point there is ample evidence to consider corn gluten as a major contributor to gluten related illnesses.  The average celiac patient feels better cutting out wheat, but the truth of the matter is simple – feeling better does not always mean healthy, especially with the autoimmune connections related to gluten that we discussed earlier. Furthermore, we are seeing patients feel better on a traditional gluten free diet for a period of time, however in some, their progress may level out or even reverse until corn is removed.

Whether you have celiac disease or just a gluten sensitivity and are noticing that the positive changes you saw from removing gluten have been reversing, please consider corn gluten as a potential issue and try taking it out. There is a good change it can help!

You cannot control what genes you are born with, but you can identify them and change your diet and lifestyle to accommodate them. By looking at the whole person and their genetics to help find their potential food sensitivities can help us get to the root and heal from the inside out.

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