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Podcast Episode: How Gluten Impacts Your Autoimmune Disease with Dr. Tom O'Bryan

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Podcast Episode: How Gluten Impacts Your Autoimmune Disease with Dr. Tom O'Bryan

Autoimmune diseases are complex conditions where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its healthy tissues and organs. While the exact causes are not fully understood, research increasingly points to the critical role of inflammation, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), and gluten sensitivity in their development and progression. 

Dr. Tom O'Bryan, an internationally recognized expert on gluten and autoimmune diseases, has been educating healthcare professionals and the public about this link. With a wealth of knowledge, he breaks down the mechanisms by which gluten contributes to autoimmune conditions.


The Leaky Gut Connection

According to Dr. O'Bryan, "All disease begins in the gut." He explains that 70-75% of the immune system is in the gut because that's where we encounter most environmental triggers through our food and drink.

The gut has a semi-permeable barrier that allows nutrients to pass through while blocking larger substances. However, when this barrier is compromised (leaky gut), partially digested food particles can enter the bloodstream, triggering an immune response. Dr. O’Bryan likens the intestinal barrier to a cheesecloth, which helps illustrate the concept:

"When you've got dysbiosis in the gut, inflammation in the gut, you tear the cheesecloth," says Dr. O'Bryan. "When you tear the cheesecloth, now bigger clumps get through the tears in the cheesecloth, the leaky gut."

The Role of Gluten

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, is a primary culprit in causing leaky gut and inflammation. Dr. O'Bryan cites a 2017 review from The Journal of the American Medical Association stating, "Previous studies have identified that gluten activates toll-like receptor four and leaky gut and increased inflammation. This occurs in all humans who consume gluten."

In other words, when gluten enters the body, it activates specific immune receptors that recognize it as a threat, triggering inflammation and increasing intestinal permeability.

The Molecular Mimicry Mechanism 

Once gluten particles enter the bloodstream through a leaky gut, the immune system may recognize them as foreign invaders and produce antibodies to attack them. However, due to molecular mimicry, these antibodies can mistake the body's tissues for a foreign substance, leading to autoimmune attacks.

"Some of the protein structures of what looks like a bug or looks like that chicken, whatever it is, it's the same protein structure that makes up a part of your thyroid," explains Dr. O'Bryan. "And so the immune system attacking that filet of [in my example], beef will go after your thyroid, and it damages the thyroid cells."

This mechanism has been implicated in various autoimmune diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.

The Widespread Impact

While many people associate gluten sensitivity or intolerance with gastrointestinal symptoms, Dr. O'Bryan emphasizes that the impact of gluten extends far beyond the gut. "The ratio is eight to one. Only one person gets gut problems with a problem with wheat. The other seven get brain problems, skin problems, hair problems," he says.

Indeed, research has linked gluten consumption to a wide range of autoimmune conditions and neurological issues, including:

  • Thyroid disorders: Gluten can trigger the production of antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, leading to conditions like Hashimoto's thyroiditis or Graves' disease.
  • Brain inflammation: Studies have shown that gluten can contribute to brain inflammation and neurodegeneration, potentially increasing the risk of conditions like Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
  • Skin disorders: Gluten has been implicated in various skin conditions, such as dermatitis herpetiformis (an autoimmune skin condition often associated with celiac disease) and psoriasis.
  • Joint problems: The immune response triggered by gluten can lead to inflammation and damage to the joints, increasing the risk of autoimmune arthritis conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

The Path to Healing

Dr. O'Bryan stresses identifying and eliminating environmental triggers like gluten to reduce inflammation and allow healing. However, going gluten-free alone is often insufficient. 

"I never put them just gluten-free. It's always gluten-free, dairy-free, added sugar-free," he says, noting other inflammatory foods.

He also recommends reducing exposure to environmental toxins like plastics and introducing air-purifying plants.

The Power of Testing

Dr. O'Bryan strongly advises testing to determine if gluten sensitivity contributes to one's autoimmune condition using advanced tests. By identifying triggers through testing, individuals can eliminate them and potentially reverse or better manage their autoimmune conditions.

See our comparison of the Top Gluten Sensitivity Labs Tests at Rupa

The Importance of Quality of Life

Dr. O'Bryan's goal is to help people thrive and maintain a high quality of life into their 80s and 90s, which is unlikely if they continue exposing themselves to gluten and inflammation.

He stresses that even a weekly "cheat day" with gluten can exacerbate autoimmune issues for weeks, dramatically increasing inflammation and decreasing quality of life.

The Path Forward

While the information may seem daunting, Dr. O'Bryan offers a practical solution: dedicating just one hour per week to learning and implementing healthy changes like switching to glass food storage, exploring organic products, and adding air-purifying plants.

"It's the consistency that will make the difference," he says, advocating for gradual but consistent lifestyle improvements.

The Power of Community

In his docuseries, "Betrayal: The Autoimmune Disease Solution," Dr. O'Bryan shares inspirational stories of individuals reversing their autoimmune conditions by following his principles, such as a 42-year-old woman from London who could walk again after being wheelchair-bound.

Witnessing these transformations reinforces that autoimmune diseases can be effectively managed and potentially reversed through a comprehensive, root-cause approach addressing inflammation and environmental triggers like gluten.


A Call to Action

In the face of the autoimmune disease epidemic, Dr. O'Bryan calls for individuals to take an active role in their health by understanding the gluten-gut-autoimmunity connection and making informed choices.

By embracing a gluten-free, anti-inflammatory lifestyle, leveraging testing, and consistently implementing practical strategies, individuals can reduce inflammation, identify and eliminate triggers, and pave the way for a future filled with vitality, longevity, and exceptional quality of life.

As Dr. O'Bryan passionately states, "You can reverse major depressive disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia. Just Google Schizophrenia and Gluten. Here come the studies from the psychiatry journals. The psychiatrists are startled that these people are functioning really well, and it's somewhere around 24% to 30% of schizophrenics have a problem with wheat."

By heeding Dr. Tom O'Bryan's wisdom and guidance, individuals can embark on a transformative journey toward healing, empowerment, and a future where autoimmune diseases no longer dictate their lives' trajectory.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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