Digestion Part 8: Gluten Pathways


I’ve mentioned how gluten, and leaky gut in general, is related to various diseases. Today I’ll describe the pathways through which it can work.


Gluten Sensitivity

Our bodies create antibodies to target harmful diseases/particles that have entered our bodies. Antibodies are created to target one disease each. So, for example, the measles antibodies will only attack measles. If measles particles are detected the more measles antibodies will be produced. Once the threat from measles is cleared, production of measles antibodies ceases. However the body will forever be able to produce those antibodies when needed in future.

Creating antibodies is the reason we vaccinate. The first time you travel to an exotic country for the first time you need vaccination months in advance, but you’ll only need a booster shot when you return. It takes months to build the ability to produce these antibodies, but only a few days to resume production.

The presence of gluten antibodies is a metric for gluten-sensitivity: the more antibodies you have, the more sensitive you are.


Mental Disease

In one third of people who are gluten-sensitive the immune system will react to molecules called “gluteomorphins”. These molecules bind to the opiate receptor sites in the brain (much like morphine). For these individuals, the more gluten they eat, the more their opiate receptors are stimulated. They feel great! So they eat more and more, increasing the risk of obesity.

Eventually, however, the receptor down regulates. They’re eating the same amount of gluten, but they don’t get the same good feelings. They need to eat more gluten or accept that they’re not going to feel as good in future.

This offers an explanation for the anecdotal relationships between gluten and schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, depression and anxiety. Depression is also very common among Celiacs.

It shouldn’t surprise you that this often leads to weight gain.


Diabetes (and Multiple Sclerosis)

As mentioned above, the immune system creates antibodies to molecules that it regards as foreign or dangerous. Sometimes these dangerous molecules look a lot like normal healthy ones. Gluten is a protein, and it can easily be confused with, for example, a protein in the pancreas’ beta cells. If the antibodies attach themselves to these pancreatic cells an autoimmune response will be initiated.

If this continues it may damage the pancreas to the point where it can no longer produce insulin effectively and the individual develops type 1 diabetes. (If the targeted protein happens to be in the myelin sheath of your brain, you could develop multiple sclerosis.)


This post is not exhaustive. These problems are just a sample of the diseases with which gluten is associated. Others include osteoporosis, anaemia, malnourishment, IBS, weight gain etc. The purpose is to give some more detail on the process, instead of just listing associated diseases as I have previously. If you want to know exactly how these diseases are related to gluten consumption, all you need to do is google!