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Zonulin and Why You Need to Know About This Protein

In the early nineties, the buzz word for anyone seeking out alternative views on chronic illness was candidiasis. Candidiasis is an overgrowth of Candida, a yeast that is normally present in our environment but is opportunistic and can overgrow when normal bacteria are missing or reduced.

Candida was blamed for everyone presenting with chronic inflammation, chronic fatigue and food intolerance.

It is true that antibiotic use can lead to an overgrowth of Candida, and it is true that antibiotics are over prescribed. But, often patients would not improve on treatments to reduce Candida and they were subjected to months of medications and highly restricted diets.

Along comes Alessio Fasano MD, a pediatrician involved in intestinal barrier research. Dr. Fasano has identified a protein termed Zonulin which is responsible for regulating the “tight junctions” of the intestines and other tight barriers in the body such as the blood brain barrier.

From a medical evolutionary standpoint, there are times where a leaky gut might come in handy, like when we come into contact with infectious agents such as Cholera. A leaky gut in this instance would stimulate an immune response and memory antibody production which would help fight the infection. This is a theory but help explain why the body would create a protein like this in the first place.

Zonulin created gaps where our bowels leak and once proteins leak into our blood stream, lots of things happen like inflammation, antibody production and in some cases, auto-immune disease develops such as Celiac, MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and the like.

It is interesting to note that Splenda is suspected as a stimulator of zonulin along with heavy metals, stress, and most likely other triggers not yet discovered. Gluten is one of the many proteins that seems to be involved in inflammation and autoimmune problems when leaked out of the gut.

One of the tests I perform for my patients in my Chicago area office is the food inflammatory response test. It is based on the inflammatory response of cultured white blood cells to different food antigens and is a true test of not antibody production but inflammatory response.

If patients have many foods they are inflamed by, they have a leaky gut and are at risk for autoimmune disease. The patient is then put on a protocol of supplements to repair the bowel and to down-regulate the zonulin. It is also recommended that they avoid the foods they are negatively responding to for a few months. Gluten and often dairy are on the list when it is a situation of leaky gut syndrome. And if gluten is involved, often lifelong avoidance is the best choice due to the risk of autoimmune diseases.

Heavy metal testing is often implicated in this situation and chelation therapy might be warranted to help rid the body of heavy metals.

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