The research is clear linking the Standard American Diet to most prevalent diseases of today through many different mechanisms. Today I want to talk about one of those mechanisms - food additives. A recent article from June 2015 in the journal Autoimmunity Reviews looked at how food additives lead to intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) and this leads to Autoimmune Diseases.
Autoimmune diseases are among the fastest growing diseases in our country and others. They have shown a steady rate of increase over the past 3 decades, especially in Western cultures, and it’s now estimated that 25-50 million Americans suffer, making it more prevalent than cancer or heart disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates annual direct healthcare costs for Autoimmune Diseases to be in the range of $100 billion. In comparison, cancer costs are $57 billion and heart and stroke costs are $200 billion. Multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases (mainly Crohn's disease), systemic lupus erythematosus, primary biliary cirrhosis, autoimmune thyroiditis, hepatitis and rheumatic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis), and celiac disease are several examples. Over 100 different diagnoses have been considered autoimmune in their mechanism.1
Autoimmunity occurs when the body’s own defense system - the Immune System - has trouble differentiating good things from bad things, or telling “self” from “non-self”. The immune system is designed to attack invaders, which are “non-self” (bacteria, viruses, toxins). It shouldn’t attack your body’s own tissues. When the immune response is altered or abnormal, it will begin to attack “self” tissues. For example, if the immune system mounts an attack against thyroid tissue, this is called autoimmune thyroiditis, often diagnosed as Hashimoto’s Disease.
Your body’s first line of defense against invaders (before the immune system mounts an attack) is keeping those bad things out of your body, such as chemicals, toxins, additives - what are called xenobiotics - or foreign substances. There are four main ways xenobiotics can enter the body - injecting them directly into the bloodstream (vaccines), breathing them in through the lungs (air pollution), absorbing them through the skin (personal care products), or probably the most destructive - entering through the digestive tract. The reason this can be the most destructive method of toxification is because most of us eat every day, we have to eat to survive, and if you are eating any version of an American (Western) Diet you are constantly exposing yourself to a plethora of inflammatory proteins, chemicals, and toxins that are continually making your body sicker and sicker.
Your digestive tract (or gut) consists of not just your stomach or intestines, but the whole food pathway from the mouth to the anus. Each section of the “gut” has a different specific function (the mouth for initial food breakdown via saliva, the stomach for enzyme degradation, small intestine for nutrient absorption, large intestine for water and B12 absorption, etc).
The job of the gut is to let the good stuff in (vitamins, nutrients) and keep the bad stuff out (xenobiotics and waste).
Your gut is lined by a single layer of cells called the gut epithelium. It’s this thin layer of cells that lets the good stuff pass through and keeps the bad stuff out! When this layer becomes damaged, bad stuff gets into the bloodstream and the immune system will then recognize this and mount an immune attack. I always use the analogy of a screened-in porch. The job of a screen is to let the good stuff in (fresh air and cool breeze) while keeping the bad stuff out (mosquitos, bugs). A screen is a very simple yet very effective single layer of protection against these things, just like your gut lining. But what happens if somebody is poking holes in your screen? The good stuff still gets in, but so does the bad stuff. This is what is called a Leaky Gut, and it’s at the root of many disease processes today, including autoimmune diseases. Many factors influence the integrity of your screen, or gut lining (diet, stress, alcohol, antibiotic use, oral contraceptives, etc) but I want to share with you specifically these 7 food additives that this particular study proved cause leaky gut and will absolutely contribute to autoimmune disease.
- Sugar. I always put sugar as number one on my lists of foods to avoid, and it’s no coincidence that this study did the same. Sugar fuels inflammation, it feeds cancer, it feeds candida and bad bacteria in the gut, and according to this study, it pokes holes in your gut lining.
- Salt*. “Cereals and baked goods are the single largest contributor to sodium intake in the US and UK...The salt content in processed foods can be 100x higher than homemade meals.” Added salt not only increases intestinal permeability, but increases inflammation often associated with autoimmune diseases. *This is ADDED salt into PROCESSED foods, it’s not the same as dietary sea salt at home!
- Emulsifiers and Surfactants. “....widely used in the bakery, confectionary, dairy, fat and oil, sauces, butter and margarine, ice cream, cream liqueurs, meat, coffee, gum, beverages, chocolate and convenient food industries...numerous synthetic surfactant food additives have been shown to increase the intestinal permeability through paracellular and/or transcellular mechanisms.” These are seen on the label as things like lecithins (soy lecithin is in everything) or polysorbates (polysorbate-80 is also an ingredient in several vaccines).
- Organic Solvents. “The organic solvent chemicals are genuinely dangerous. Most of them have warning information on the labels as poisons. Examples of organic solvents used in industry are: benzene, xylene, toluene, turpentine, acetone, methyl/ethyl acetates, hexane, ethanol and several detergents…..Some nutrients like glutamine and polyphenols protect TJ barrier integrity (gut lining), in contrast, several organic solvents used in the food and beverage industries, like alcohol and its metabolites impair the TJ barriers.” Alcohol is one of the biggest culprits for poking holes in a leaky gut, not just alcohol that you choose to consume, but added alcohols and other solvents! I have personally tested high for xylene exposure in the past, this is one of the sources.
- Gluten. Gluten has a lot of research showing what it does to the gut lining and its implications in Celiac disease. Gluten’s main antigen called Gliadin has been shown to inhibit cell growth, cause cytotoxicity (cell toxicity), alter cellular metabolism, and destroy the gut lining.
- Microbial transglutaminase (mTG). “Multiple applications of mTG in the food industry exist: improvement of meat texture, appearance, hardness and preservability, increased fish product hardness, improved quality and texture of milk and dairy products, decreased calories, improved texture and elasticity of sweet foods, protein film stability and appearance and improve texture and volume in the bakery industry.” These are fake meat glues and texturizers that make food look, feel, and taste a different way. Gross!
- Nanoparticles. This is the newest and fastest-growing technology in food additives, and we still don’t know a lot about future health implications, but we do know that it causes intestinal permeability. But that never stopped us before!
Some of these additives we may be more familiar with (sugar, salt, gluten) while others we may have never heard of. This is just one paper also, this isn’t an all-inclusive list. (*Another major player in poking holes in the gut lining is Glyphosate, or Roundup. Glyphosate has been shown to not only poke holes in the gut leading to leaky gut, Celiac disease, and autoimmunity but also decrease your body’s own detoxification methods, leading to increased toxic burden.)3
The point that I hope you take-away from this article isn’t to go looking on your food labels for “Sugar-Free” or “Gluten-Free” or to check your ingredients list for soy lecithin (it’s in there!) or nanoparticles. The point is TO EAT REAL FOOD. The food additive business is a multi-billion dollar industry, it’s not planning on slowing down anytime soon. You can choose not to buy processed foods! You are responsible for your health. You decide what you put in your mouth and your children’s mouths and bodies! When you eat real food you can avoid and eliminate these and many many other chemicals, toxins, additives, dyes, preservatives, sweeteners, texturizers, etc and stop causing sickness and disease to be treated with more medicine. Don’t eat food that looks like real food. Like Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness always says:
JERF. JUST EAT REAL FOOD.
- Lerner, A. Matthias, T. Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity Reviews Vol 14, Iss 6. June 2015. Pages 479-489
- Samsel, A. Seneff, S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdisciplinary Toxicology. 2013 Dec; 6(4); 159-184