Autism, Leaky Gut and Gluten Sensitivity

Dr. Fasano Talks About Leaky Gut & Gluten Sensitivity
(Source: Gluten Free Society; Dr. Fasano Discusses Leaky Gut w/ Dr. Osborne)

Taken from our August 2012 Newsletter

As many of you are aware, members of my family are touched by Autism, Gluten Sensitivity, Celiac Disease and Autoimmune Diseases. I find that this is the case with many of our customers. Every day I hear stories from customers about the many years it has taken to get a diagnosis, or a proper diagnosis, only to find relief of their symptoms on a  Gluten-Free and/or other allergen free diets.  You really need to know this information if you or someone you love is touched by any of the above including Celiac or just have another autoimmune disease like Diabetes, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or even if you just have bacteria in the gut!

Multiple research studies have linked gluten to the condition known as intestinal permeability, AKA: Leaky Gut Syndrome.  Dr. Alessio Fasano is the head of the MassGeneral Hospital for Children’s Celiac Research Center and is responsible for discovering the gluten/leaky gut connection.

Many assume that Celiac Disease (CD) and Gluten Sensitivity (GS) are the same thing and they are not.  Gluten impacts the villi of the small intestine and has been shown to affect the body in many ways…(there are over 300 signs and symptoms of CD) and these differences account for the massive failure of doctors to diagnose gluten sensitivity. Many people with GS exhibit the same symptoms without having tested positive for CD and they respond to a Gluten Free Diet.

Below are the environmental triggers to intestinal permeability (Leaky Gut). Normally, I would just post a link, but I would like you to look at this and be able to understand it.  This information has been taken directly from the article named above. If your doctor will not test you or your child, print this out and take it to him or her or find a doctor who knows what they are doing.

Factors Affecting Mucosal Immune System Resulting in Intestinal Barrier Dysfunction, Autoimmunity and Nervous System Abnormalities:


  Dietary Proteins & Peptides     Antibodies   Drugs & Xenobiotics     Physical Stress

Infections        Cytokines        Neurotransmitters       Enzymes

 (Gluten Contributes to all of the above mechanisms)

Breakdown of Mucosa, IgA and Tight Junction Proteins

Permeability Increase

 Intestinal Barrier Dysfunction

Food Allergy and Intolerance

Immune System Abnormalities


Influence on the Blood-Brain Barrier and Neuroautoimmunity

How Does Gluten Play a Role in All of These Factors?

  1. Gluten – Gluten directly impacts the intestinal lining through zonulin production. Zonulin is a protein that directly causes leaky gut.
  2. Antibodies – Gluten contributes to the formation antibodies. Antibodies can cause the secretion of inflammatory chemicals leading to tissue damage. Additionally, through a process called molecular mimicry, antibodies can cross react with the tissues of the body causing autoimmune disease. Lab tests measuring these antibodies are typically not associated with gluten because most doctors are not trained adequately to identify the connection.
  3. Medications – Many medications commonly contain gluten leading to a direct effect. However, many chronic health conditions caused by gluten sensitivity are misdiagnosed leading to medicine prescriptions that are not only unnecessary, but can be detrimental to the gastrointestinal tract. Anti-acid medications are a common example. These medications predispose to infection and lead to abnormal bacteria presence in the gut. Over utilization of antibiotics to treat viral infection is another example.
  4. Stress – Although not a physical stressor, gluten is a chemical stressor on the body. Chemical stress comes in many forms. One of them is vitamin and mineral deficiency. Loss of key nutrients causes a fundamental breakdown in the body’s ability to modulate the healing and repair process.
  5. Bacteria – Gluten ingestion causes detrimental changes in intestinal flora (AKA gut dysbiosis) predisposing to infection. This is one of the reasons why so many yogurt companies are adding beneficial bacteria to their products. Gut dysbiosis is an epidemic in the U.S.
  6. Cytokines – Gluten induces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemicals that damage cells).
  7. Neurotransmitters – Gluten causes neurochemical changes in the production of neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow the nervous system to communicate). Examples include: serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, epinephrine, and histamine. Gluten is also a neurotoxin that has been shown to damage nerve tissue. This is the reason so many with neurological disease (autism, ADD, bipolar, schizophrenia, neuropathy, epilepsy, etc.) do well on a gluten free diet.
  8. Digestive chemicals – Gluten can damage the intestine, the pancreas, the liver, and the gall bladder. All of these organs play a pivotal role in the body’s ability to produce digestive chemicals and enzymes. When this mechanism is compromised, digestive processes start to break down and become ineffective.

Sum it all up –

“Leaky gut contributes to autoimmune disease. The only known cause for any autoimmune disease is gluten sensitivity. We are blind fools to ignore this connection because it does not fit the status quo of the allopathic medical paradigm.” If you have autoimmune disease and have not investigated gluten sensitivity as a contributing factor, you should get tested.

Dr. Fasano: Studying Autism,  Leaky Gut & Gluten Sensitivity
According to Dr Fasano in an interview with Allergic Living, Spring 2012 issue: “An Autism Answer?“, his preliminary observations were that a gluten-free diet may help about 20 percent of the children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, which is really a catch all term used for mysterious developmental conditions that range in severity and are characterized by varying degrees of social deficits and repetitive behaviors.

Fasano is a lead scientist in two studies that are exploring the links between general gastrointestinal dysfunction and ASD. Investigators from the Celiac Disease Center , the University of California at Davis and the California Institute of Technology are now studying the biological makeup of the guts of children with ASD and try to confirm the suspected biomarkers of gluten sensitivity in these kids and if successful, they will put the kids with those biomarkers on a gluten free diet and observe to see what happens to their symptoms.

For years, autism was only considered a neurological condition, but then Dr.. Stanley Feingold of UCLA began studying the role of bacteria and the gut. Dr Fasano and his colleagues are moving that research forward, studying “leaky gut” , which explains at least a significant part of the disordered spectrum. He is exploring the links between a genetic predisposition for ASD and environmental triggers like nutrients and “leaky gut syndrome”, which he knows occurs in celiac disease and also in gluten sensitivity.

“Fasano believes that inflamed cells in the gut make it through the bloodstream to the brain, causing ASD in the group of children with genetic predisposition.” At least half of the kids on the spectrum are thought to have some kind of gastric issue. Fasano is testing this theory as many parents have claimed success after placing their children with ASD on a strict gluten and casein free diet. (My nephew has had success with complete remission of his ASD Symptoms (PDD-NOS) by following a GFCF Diet and the results were astonishing for all to witness, his teachers could not believe he was the same child.)

Fasano suspects that “no matter what the cause, leaky gut syndrome inevitably leads to diverse health problems because all sorts of bad things get through to the rest of the body.” The first challenge is to identify a specific combination of “bad bacteria” that causes the leaky gut, which in turn leads to inflammation and finally to ASD.  “The Gut is not like Las Vegas. What happens in the gut does not stay in the gut”. Just like in Celiac Disease, some of these immune cells will migrate to other areas of the body, including the brain.” The few autopsy reports he has seen of children with ASD indicate that they had inflammation in their Brains and he wants to know how it happened and how we can prevent it.

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