Gluten and Immune System Function
If you are just getting started on your gluten free journey, it’s important to remember, that years of damage from gluten on your immune system is often what delays recovery. Remember that your immune system needs time and the right nutrition to function optimally. Gluten can cause inflammation in any tissue in the body. For this reason many people have been put on multiple medications to suppress the symptoms of gluten induced damage. Removing gluten from the diet can remove the damaging trigger, but the body still has to repair the inflammation, and rebuild a healthy functioning immune system. Simply put, this takes time. Watch the video below to learn more about gluten and immune system function.
What are the strategies for rebuilding your immune system?
Even if you are diligently following a gluten free diet, you may still find you are still struggling with immune problems and symptomatic resolution. Remember, 70-80% of your immune system lies in your gut. Gluten damages the gut over time, and it takes time to heal this damage. After removing gluten from your diet, the body needs some critical nutrients and minerals to help rebuild the immune system and repair damaged tissue. Below I have mapped out some nutritional strategies for you to implement to help in supporting this process.
The first and most important mineral I recommend supplementing with is zinc. Zinc is the second most common deficiency I see in people with gluten sensitivity, and research shows that a large percent of those diagnosed with gluten sensitivity have low zinc levels. Zinc is very critical in regulating the immune system, and repairing damaged tissue. Zinc up-regulates the immune system and helps to regulate blood sugar and antioxidant capacity. Zinc is necessary for immune cell maturation. Zinc is needed in order to make new collagen, new cartilage, and new tissues. It is an essential mineral that every body needs to support the repair of muscle and joint tissue.
Zinc is found in red meat, oysters and some other seafood, as well as nuts and seeds. You can also take zinc supplements. I recommend supplementing with 50 to 100 milligrams of zinc per day. If you’re taking supplemental zinc, make sure you’re purchasing a brand that is certified gluten-free and doesn’t contain any grain based fillers or flavoring agents.
Quercetin and Vitamin C
Quercetin does an amazing job at modulating inflammation. Vitamin C and Quercetin work synergistically to alleviate pain and inflammation, and help the body to recover from prolonged gluten damage. Quercetin is more difficult to get from food in high doses, therefore I do recommend supplementing. If you combine that with vitamin C it’s going to go a long way in supporting a healthy inflammatory response, while also supporting your immune system’s process of rebuilding and repairing. Gluten and immune system
L-Glutamine regulates and helps to fuel the gut. Enterocytes and immune cells in the gut require L-glutamine to generate energy. L-Glutamine aids in the production of Secretory IgA (SIgA) an important antibody that protects the GI tract from pathogens, food allergens, and toxins. Studies show that people with diagnosed celiac disease commonly have L-glutamine deficiency.
Consuming too much L-glutamine can cause diarrhea. For some people it can trigger severe gut pain and migraines. If you’re taking L-glutamine and having these issues, this very well may be the problem. Glutamine in high doses can also convert to glutamate. L-glutamine can be helpful, but be careful and don’t overdo it with high doses.
Hundreds of research studies demonstrate multiple nutrient deficiency in those with gluten sensitivity. Think of vitamins and minerals as the building blocks that are necessary to run the day to day growth, regulation, and healing of your body’s tissues. Deficiencies can create metabolic blocks in the healing and repair process.
If you want to ensure your body is getting those ‘backbone’ nutrients to heal and repair, a high quality, high potency multi vitamin and mineral formula should be on your priority supplement list. It is important to make sure the formula is completely grain free (including hidden grains). Multi-vitamins are great cost effective way for those of you who are not getting tested for deficiencies, yet still want to ensure you are getting adequate nutrients to help rebuild the immune system. I recommend Ultra Nutrients or Multi Nutrients for this.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
I estimate 95% of the patients I see have an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Omega-3 fatty acids help to control the inflammation, help to stabilize your cell membranes, which helps to reduce an over aggressive or over reactive immune system. If you are coming off a high grain diet, grains are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, and very low in omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance promotes excessive inflammation. Re-balancing the omega-6 to omega 3 ratio becomes necessary. Avoiding grains will help to decrease the omega-6’s. However, we also need to increase omega-3 consumption.
Omega-3’s are found in fatty fish, grass-fed beef, and grass-fed lamb. Some people take chia and flax seed as a source, however, the ALA needs to be concerted to omega-3, and if you are deficient in vitamins, your body won’t make that conversion. Unless you are eating seafood regularly, you probably are not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. I eat a healthy diet, and my omega-3’s still tested low! Therefore, I recommend taking an Omega-3 supplement. For more information on gluten and immune system function, click here <<
Many of you may be wondering about vitamin D and iron, and why they aren’t are this list…It’s because we stopped at 5 😉
Eliminate Drugs That Interfere With the Immune System
Another important consideration are the drugs that affect our immunity. After years of gluten induced damage, many of us are on multiple medications. However, some of these drugs impact the immune system, and delay healing.
Allergy medications like Benadryl and Singulair can suppress part of your immune system, to reduce your symptoms of allergy. However, suppressing the immune system over long periods of time can increase your risk of infections and other immune related diseases.
A nice substitute for allergy medicines that can help support a normal immune response is vitamin C mixed with quercetin. When you combine these with bromelain, you get a very synergistic formulation that helps to stabilize immune cells, the membrane around your immune cells, particularly a cell type called a mast cell. Stabilizing mast cells, or supporting the membrane around the mast cells with vitamin C, quercetin and bromelain is a very effective strategy in lieu of taking over the counter allergy medications.
Another medication that can really crash your immune system is steroids. May people take steroids for pain and inflammation, often associated with autoimmune conditions. These drugs taken over long periods of time for chronic conditions can cause calcium and magnesium and zinc deficiencies. Steroids can also suppress the immune system over time. This can lead to water retention, muscle loss and weight gain, thus slowing down the metabolism and weakening the immune system. I recommend developing a strategy with your Doctor to wean off of steroids.
The last class of medications I recommend being cautious of are antacids. Antacids change the microbiome in the stomach and allows for an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines, which can be damaging to the liver. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as a result of antacid medications is a very real problem. Therefore there is a strong correlation between acid reflux and liver problems.
The biggest causes of acid reflux for most people are either food allergies or low stomach acid. Although acid reflux would refer to too much acid, it’s oftentimes misdiagnosed, meaning that the problem is not too much acid, but rather not enough acid is being produced. Not having enough acid when you eat your food, irritates the stomach and mimics the same types of symptoms as acid reflux. Another possible cause of acid reflux symptoms is a bacterial infection known as H.pylori overgrowth. It’s best to find the root cause of the reflux, vs taking a medication that can affect the microbiome and the liver.
In conclusion, certain medications affect the immune system, and can interfere with long term healing. These medications mask symptoms and can give a false sense of security. It’s important to have conversations with your doctor about the side effects, and long term effects these medications have on your health. What can you do to wean yourself off of these, and address the root cause of your symptoms?
Demand more from your Doctor, and if they won’t give it to you, it’s probably time to find somebody who is willing to listen…and don’t forget to talk to your doctor about possible sources of gluten in your medication as well.
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