Autoimmunity is the process describing an immune response waged against our own organs. The complex collection of mechanisms consisting of T and B lymphocytes, antibodies, and others, meant to provide protection against viruses, bacteria, and other body invaders, is misdirected against proteins of the body’s organs, such as liver, pancreas, thyroid, or brain. Autoimmune conditions now affect 8% of the American population–it is increasingly looking like diseases of autoimmunity are out of control.

Dr Alessio Fasano was recently awarded the Linus Pauling Award, the highest award from the Institute for Functional Medicine, for his pioneering work on deciphering the role of the gliadin protein of wheat in triggering disruption of the normal intestinal barriers, a process that appears to underlie an astounding proportion of autoimmune conditions.

Dr. Fasano’s research has demonstrated that, in the presence of gliadin, foreign substances are permitted entry into the bloodstream, substances that ordinarily should have remained confined within the intestinal tract. Increased intestinal permeability is signaled by increased blood levels of the protein, zonulin. Increased zonulin levels have been found in type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. Interestingly, while zonulin levels are the highest in people with celiac disease, zonulin levels are increased in the majority of people without celiac disease. This may explain why, although people with celiac disease are at high risk for various autoimmune diseases, people without celiac disease can also develop autoimmunity (determined, in part, by haptoglobin 2 genotype).

The list of autoimmune conditions that have been associated with wheat, thereby gliadin, consumption is formidable:

Alopecia areata
Ankylosing spondylitis
Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)
Autoimmune angioedema
Autoimmune aplastic anemia
Autoimmune dysautonomia
Autoimmune hepatitis
Autoimmune immunodeficiency
Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED)
Autoimmune myocarditis
Autoimmune oophoritis
Autoimmune pancreatitis
Autoimmune retinopathy
Autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura (ATP)
Autoimmune thyroid disease
Autoimmune urticaria
Axonal & neuronal neuropathies
Cafe au lait
Celiac disease
Cerebellar ataxia
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
Crohn’s disease
Demyelinating neuropathies
Dermatitis herpetiformis
Eosinophilic esophagitis
Eosinophilic fasciitis
Erythema nodosum
Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis)
Gluten encephalopathy
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Hemolytic anemia
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
IgA nephropathy
Interstitial cystitis
Juvenile arthritis
Lupus (SLE)
Meniere’s disease
Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD)
Multiple sclerosis
Optic neuritis
Paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration
Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)
Peripheral neuropathy
Pernicious anemia
Polyarteritis nodosa
Polymyalgia rheumatica
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Primary sclerosing cholangitis
Psoriatic arthritis
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
Pyoderma gangrenosum
Raynauds phenomenon
Reactive Arthritis
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
Relapsing polychondritis
Restless legs syndrome
Retroperitoneal fibrosis
Rheumatoid arthritis
Sjogren’s syndrome
Sperm & testicular autoimmunity
Transverse myelitis
Type 1 diabetes
Ulcerative colitis

Yes, “healthy whole grain” consumption is accompanied by risk for an astounding variety of autoimmune diseases, some just a nuisance (such as vitiligo or cafe au lait), some disfiguring or debilitating (such as psoriasis or cerebellar ataxia), some rapidly fatal (gluten encephalopathy, transverse myelitis, type 1 diabetes without insulin).

You think any of this is factored in when we are advised to consume plenty of “healthy whole grains”?