Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. There are over 80 types of autoimmune diseases, and their causes are not fully understood. However, recent research has shown that there may be a link between wheat, gluten, and autoimmune diseases. To learn more about my approach specifically around autoimmune disease read my blog post Nutritional Therapy for Autoimmune Disease. To understand the link between gluten/wheat and autoimmune disease, read on!
Wheat and gluten are found in many common foods, such as:
Sauces and condiments
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects approximately 1% of the population, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine.
However, recent research has shown that even people without celiac disease may experience adverse effects from consuming gluten.
One of the ways gluten can contribute to autoimmune diseases is through their effects on the gut. The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These microorganisms play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the gut and the entire body. When the gut is out of balance, it can lead to a condition known as leaky gut, where the intestinal barrier becomes permeable, allowing toxins and undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream.
Studies have shown that gluten can increase intestinal permeability in both people with celiac disease and those without. This increased permeability allows larger molecules to enter the bloodstream, which can trigger an immune response. This immune response can lead to inflammation, which is a common feature of autoimmune diseases.
In addition to its effects on the gut, gluten can also contribute to autoimmune diseases through its effects on the immune system. Studies have shown that gluten can activate certain immune cells, leading to the production of cytokines, which are molecules that promote inflammation. This inflammation can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.
While gluten is often the focus of discussions about wheat and autoimmune diseases, other components of wheat may also play a role. For example, wheat contains a protein called amylase trypsin inhibitor (ATI), which has been shown to trigger an immune response in some people. ATI has been implicated in several autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
It's important to note that not everyone who consumes wheat and gluten will develop autoimmune diseases. However, for people who are genetically predisposed to autoimmune diseases, consuming wheat and gluten may contribute to the development or worsening of these conditions.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I often recommend that patients with autoimmune diseases eliminate wheat and gluten from their diets. This can be challenging, as wheat and gluten are found in many common foods. However, there are many gluten-free alternatives available, and a well-planned gluten-free diet can be highly nutritious and delicious!
There is a growing body of research linking wheat, gluten, and autoimmune diseases. While more research is needed to fully understand this link, it's clear that for some people, eliminating wheat and gluten from their diets may be an important step in managing autoimmune diseases.
Hi I'm Molly, I'm a UK-based Nutritional Therapist (DipION, mBANT, CNHC) and Self-Compassion Coach (MSc) serving my community in Harpenden and online. Here in my little online home, you'll discover the benefits of nutritional therapy and complementary therapies for autoimmune disease and chronic illness.
Want to understand more about nutrition for autoimmune diseases? Download my free recipe book and discover 12 Nutritionist-Certified Recipes to Help Alleviate the Symptoms of Autoimmunity & Chronic Illness.
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Vojdani A. Wheat-Related Disorders Reviewed: Making a Grain of Sense. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2019;57(2):165-214.
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