The easy-to-understand version
- They absorb nutrients.
- They act as a barrier and a protection by keeping things that don’t belong in your bloodstream out.
When you eat gluten your immune system goes into high alert. You can imagine all these red lights flashing going on and off: “Intruder! Intruder! Intruder!” upon seeing gluten and it seems out the signal to attack the gluten. So now your immune system is in full on mode and it’s now searching for these gluten proteins to attack. Imagine it’s like Star Wars, where you’ve got all these Storm troopers looking for gluten and they are just randomly shooting everywhere. Sometimes the bullets are hitting the gluten. But most of the time they’re missing and they actually hitting the intestinal walls and shooting down the little hairs. Now, every time you eat gluten, this is what’s happening inside of your body. These little hairs are basically getting damaged, not by the actual gluten, but by your own body attacking itself. So the gluten is what triggers the body to attack itself. But the body is attacking the hairs on your intestinal walls and overtime with this repetition of the autoimmune system kicking in the hairs on your intestinal walls are eventually badly damaged.
When these little hairs are non-existent in various parts of your intestinal wall it starts to create gaps in the wall. Imagine you go to a club and and there are bouncers outside that protect the people inside the club and to keep the riffraff out. But what happens if bouncers are not there? Well then anything can pass from outside the intestinal walls through that hole and into the bloodstream, things that don’t belong in the bloodstream, like food particles, pathogens, toxins and undigested food particles. This is where the damage happens and over time important systems and functions can start to malfunction. This creates leaky gut which means it is now permeable and things can easily transfer through the barrier. If your gut is compromised, you can sit with hormonal imbalances, brain, fog, depression, and so many other things.
The complicated version
Prolamin’s are a class of simple proteins found in grains like wheat, rye and barley. The prolamin in wheat is gluten. These prolamin’s contain a high proline amino acid content. The protein in gluten is called gliadin. These food proteins are broken down into smaller amino acids by digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas so that they can be transported across the gut epithelium. The prolamin in gluten known as gliadin is not able to be broken down significantly by the digestive enzymes and fragments of them manage to pass through the gut barrier. This transient occurrence is known as intestinal permeability or leaky gut.
In order for gliadin fragments to pass through the gut barrier, it binds receptors onto the surface of intestinal cells which leads to release of a molecule called zonulin.
Zonulin is released out of the intestinal cell surface which leads to the tight junctions between intestinal cells widening. In someone with Celiac Disease this release is exaggerated and is sustained.