So what is leaky gut syndrome? Good question — I'm glad you asked. The simple-and-not-perfectly-correct-but-close-enough answer is that leaky gut syndrome is a condition whereby stuff is leaking from your gut into your bloodstream — stuff that shouldn't be there, like toxins (and large molecules like gluten!).
So how does it happen? When people eat wheat, their bodies produce extra amounts of a protein called zonulin.
The lining of the small intestine is basically a wall of cells that most materials can't pass through on their own. When important vitamins and minerals are present, zonulin tells the passageways in the intestinal wall to open so those nutrients can pass into the bloodstream. The blood then carries the nutrients to other parts of the body, where they can be used to nourish the body.
But when people eat wheat — not just people with celiac disease, but all people — their zonulin levels rise too high, and the passageways open too much and let things into the bloodstream that shouldn't be there. This increased permeability of the lining of the small intestine, known as leaky gut syndrome, can cause a variety of problems health-wise.
For people with celiac disease, leaky-gut syndrome starts the cascade of events that lead to health problems. Gluten is a large molecule that really shouldn't be able to get into the bloodstream, but it does because zonulin levels are too high, and the body allows it in. After it's in the bloodstream, the body sees the gluten molecule as an invader — a toxin — so it launches an attack, and in doing so, it damages the area around the gluten molecule, which includes the lining of the small intestine. The villi, which are short hair-like structures that are designed to increase the surface area of the small intestine so it can absorb more nutrients, are damaged in the attack. That's why people with celiac disease who continue to eat gluten often have serious nutritional deficiencies.
For a lot more details on how gluten affects a person who can't tolerate gluten, grab a copy of my book Living Gluten-Free For Dummies (Wiley).
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What Is The Gluten Free Diet And What You Need To Know Before You Try It. You may have heard the term gluten free, and you may even have a general idea as to what it means to eat a gluten free diet. Most people believe this type of diet is a curse for those who simply cannot tolerate the protein known as gluten, as they will never be able to eat any food that contains wheat, rye, barley, malts, or triticale.