Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center recently published results of a groundbreaking study: the study provides biological evidence of increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) in people who are sensitive to wheat and gluten.[i]
The study included 80 subjects with non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS) and 40 subjects with confirmed celiac disease. Blood tests in those with NCWS showed elevated markers of systemic inflammation (inflammation throughout the body) as well as elevated markers of leaky gut. This is the first study to show—without a doubt— that gluten sensitivity, leaky gut, and systemic inflammation are inextricably related.
People who have NCWS experience an adverse reaction to wheat and gluten but do not have the genetic markers or intestinal damage observed in true celiac disease. The symptoms of NCWS are often similar to the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.[ii] Symptoms can also be unrelated to digestion—things such as joint pain, muscle pain, skin rashes, or even depression.
When people develop NCWS, the reason is not always clear. It may be because the hybridization of wheat over the last 500 years has increased the gluten content: modern wheat is very different than ancient varieties.[iii] It may be because the herbicides used on wheat—particularly glyphosate—creates irritation in the digestive system.[iv] Or it may be that people are just eating too much wheat and not enough other nutritionally dense foods.[v]
Currently, there are no established biomarkers for NCWS. The best way to identify NCWS is to eliminate wheat and gluten from the diet, watch to see if symptoms improve, reintroduce wheat and gluten into the diet, and watch to see if symptoms return. This is called elimination and challenge. The exciting news is this: the current study suggests that someday we may be able to identify patients with NCWS by using biomarkers in the blood!
What We Can Do About It
For more than 30 years, I have been recommending that my patients with IBS, digestive problems, chronic pain, and other conditions try a gluten-free diet. In addition to the gluten-free diet, I recommend a natural protocol to heal the leaky gut. The current
study confirms what I have been seeing and doing in my practice for
decades. When we eliminate the irritant (gluten) and replenish nutrients to heal the gut, we calm down the body’s immune reaction, quell inflammation, and patients simply feel better.
Leaky Gut Protocol
[i] Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, et al. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut. 2016
[ii] Makharia A, Catassi C, Makharia GK. The Overlap between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: A Clinical Dilemma. Nutrients. 2015;7(12):10417-10426.
[iii] Leonard MM, Vasagar B. US perspective on gluten-related diseases. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2014;725-37.
[iv] Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2013;6(4):159-184.
[v] de Punder K, Pruimboom L. The dietary intake of wheat and other cereal grains and their role in inflammation. Nutrients. 2013;5(3):771-787.