4. Double Trouble: Wheat Germ Agglutinin
Another one for the non-Celiac crowd: wheat germ agglutinin is an inflammatory, immune-disrupting protein found in wheat and despite the similar name it isn’t the same thing as gluten. Wheat germ agglutinin can provoke an inflammatory response in gut cells and disturb the natural immune barrier in the gut, making the gut more permeable to things that don’t belong in your blood.
Again, this is totally separate from the problem of gluten. Obviously, gluten and WGA usually come as a package deal, because they’re both found in wheat, but you can have trouble with WGA even if you had no reaction to a gluten elimination challenge.
5. Increased Vulnerability to Gut Autoimmunity
Items #1-4 on this list discussed how wheat makes the gut more permeable, so all kinds of stuff can get into the bloodstream even though it shouldn’t be there. Included in that stuff is…gluten! Specifically, gliadin, which is a component of gluten. Once it’s inside your bloodstream, gliadin runs into your immune system, and that’s where the problems really start, in the form of molecular mimicry.
Molecular mimicry works like this: some foreign thing gets into the bloodstream. The immune system forms antibodies against it. So far, so good: that’s how the immune system is supposed to work. But if that foreign thing looks enough like your own body’s tissue, then the antibodies formed to fight it might start attacking your own body as well.
Molecular mimicry may be the reason why people with celiac disease mount an attack on their own gut cells: to your immune system, gliadin looks a lot like the cells lining the gut. But it’s not just celiac disease! Gluten-related inflammation may also be a factor in the development of Crohn’s Disease, another autoimmune gut disease. In this study of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis), a gluten-free diet helped a majority of people who tried it.
And gut cells aren’t the only cells affected by gluten-related autoimmunity…