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Zonulin and Leaky Gut

What is Zonulin?

Zonulin is a protein that modulates the permeability of tight junctions between cells of the wall of the digestive tract, according to Wikipedia.    It was discovered in 2000 by Alessio Fasano and his team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.” His research was extensive. 

In conclusion to one of his research papers Dr Fasano writes:  “The classical paradigm of inflammatory pathogenesis involving specific genetic makeup and exposure to environmental triggers has been challenged recently by the addition of a third element, the loss of intestinal barrier function…. Since zonulin-dependent TJ dysfunction allows such interactions, new therapeutic strategies aimed at reestablishing the intestinal barrier function by down regulating the zonulin pathway offer innovative and not-yet-explored approaches for the management of these debilitating chronic diseases.”

Top Causes of Zonulin Increase and Onset of Leaky Gut:

  • Overgrowth of harmful organisms, like bacteria or yeast in the intestine
  • SIBO = small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • Fungal dysbiosis or candida overgrowth
  • Parasite infections
  • Gliadin in the diet i.e. gluten containing foods

What is Gliadin

Gliadin is a protein in wheat, that like gluten, is a trigger for people with celiac disease.

In 2006 there was a study that was published in the Scandiavian Journal of Gastroenterology  that showed how gliadin can affect zonulin…..saying  ‘based on our results, we concluded that gliadin activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules.

What’s so remarkable is that it even happened in people without the celiac gene

The researchers therefore concluded that gluten may affect intestinal permeability in everyone, each to a different extent.

Taking that a step further, it points to the fact that all people with autoimmune disease or leaky gut could potentially benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Jill Carnahan, MD tells us about the amazing discovery that revolutionized our ability to understand the gut and permeability and how this impacts a wide range of health conditions from cancer to autoimmune disease to inflammation and food sensitivities.

She says that Zonulin is the “Doorway” To Leaky Gut.

She explains how Zonulin opens up the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining.

This is what normally occurs, in order for nutrient and other molecules to get in and out of the intestine.

However, when leaky gut is present, the spaces between the cells open up too much. This lets large protein molecules get into the bloodstream.

When this happens an immunologic reaction may occur. The body reacts to these proteins when they appear. It may also lead to leakage of intestinal contents. This way bacteria may seep into the immune system resulting in inflammation and an added burden to liver function because it’s hard to filter it out.

She refers to the original research in this field conducted by Dr. Fasano and how he discovered that the two most powerful triggers to open the zonulin door are gluten and gut bacteria in the small intestine.

Gliadin contained in gluten, causes zonulin levels to increase both in those people who have celiac disease and those who do not.

When the level of zonulin gets higher, the seal between the intestinal cells lessens. When the spaces between cells are opened, it lets all kinds of things pass through. This is what is referred to as “leaky gut”.

Because of this, it may happen that large food molecules enter the immune system. The immune system regards these large food molecules as foreign invaders and this results in an immune response leading to food sensitivities.

More damage occurs in the intestinal cells and the gut becomes more inflamed and more  ‘leaky’.

The microvilli that line the intestines and absorb nutrients become damaged as well and this causes other nutrient deficiencies.

She notes that elevated Zonulin levels and leaky gut are also associated with the following conditions:

  1. Crohn’s disease
  2. Type 1 Diabetes
  3. Multiple Sclerosis
  4. Asthma
  5. Glioma
  6. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

You can test for Zonulin by adding it on to Genova Lab’s GI Effects Comprehensive Profile.

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