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Unveiling the Link Between Gluten and Interstitial Cystitis: What You Need to Know

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

Why Gluten Maybe a Major Culprit in interstitial cystitis

It seems that the gluten-free bandwagon has become another potential trend to join, but if we dig deeper, we can find out the answer to the question: Is there any validity to all of the gluten-free noise that we keep hearing about? Like most people, the topic of gluten being associated with health problems has raised many questions, and I wanted answers. Leaving gluten behind is a big deal, and it requires serious discipline. After all, it’s found in just about everything, and for good reason: it makes our food taste better. If you have ventured out and tried a gluten-free cupcake, you know it doesn't taste the same.

A few years ago, I embarked on a journey to demystify the gluten-free trend. In my quest, I procured a selection of books, notably "Wheat Belly" and "The Autoimmune Solution." These reads and others effectively persuaded me to consciously eliminate gluten from my diet. The compelling arguments presented by Dr. William Davis and Dr. Amy Myers highlighted the connection between gluten and conditions such as autoimmunity, inflammation, obesity, and digestive troubles. This pivotal moment marked the intersection of common sense and informed choice, leading me to confidently banish gluten from my eating habits. This decision, a cornerstone of my well-being, was not taken lightly.

Gluten 101 – Not Your Grandma’s Gluten

Gluten is a protein that is in most grains as well as many of the hybrid wheat strains. Today’s hybrid wheat makes up 99% of the wheat in the world. Many try to point out that people have been consuming gluten for thousands of years, but today's gluten is not the same as that of your grandparent’s era. There have been deliberate alterations in creating gluten hybrids, specifically the gluten protein composite that enhances products in order to make them doughy. Scientists developed new strains of hybrid wheat so that pastries are fluffier and the wheat is hardier; none of these strains are found in the original plants.

Another alteration imposed on gluten involves the process of deamination. Through scientific modification, gluten strains have been adjusted to enhance their solubility, leading to their presence in a wide range of products, extending from shampoo to nuts. This transformation signifies that we are now ingesting a distinctly altered form of gluten and encountering it through an expanded array of avenues compared to the past.

Health Problems, Zonulin, and More

If you haven’t read up on gluten, here’s the headline that should catch your attention. Gluten has been linked with over 55 diseases! The latest modified gluten proteins have been associated with both problems in the gut (leaky gut) and the immune system. This means that gluten can be a root cause for the progression of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. It took me a while to grasp this as I truly struggled with the idea that it was attributed to my interstitial cystitis. Here is the kicker: even if you haven’t experienced negative symptoms from eating gluten or been diagnosed with an inflammatory or autoimmune disease, consumption and exposure to gluten could open the doors to health conditions in the future.

Gluten's negative influence on gut health holds significant implications for overall well-being, especially considering the strong link between gut health and bladder health. The harm caused by gluten can disrupt the delicate balance of the gut's microbial environment and harm the integrity of the intestinal lining. This disruption can trigger inflammation, weaken the immune response, and even lead to increased intestinal permeability, often referred to as "leaky gut." These factors don't just contribute to digestive problems; they also extend their impact to affect bladder health. This intricate relationship between gut and bladder health highlights the importance of recognizing how dietary choices, such as avoiding gluten, can positively enhance both systems and foster comprehensive well-being.

For individuals grappling with autoimmune conditions or interstitial cystitis (IC), here are three compelling reasons why gluten demands your attention:


Most people aren’t familiar with Zonulin, and yet it’s an important protein that is synthesized in liver and intestinal cells that assist in regulating intestinal permeability. Gluten, through food or external exposure, travels through the stomach where it settles in the small intestines and triggers the release of Zonulin, which in turn sends a signal to the intestinal wall to open. Intestinal permeability at this scale is known as “leaky gut.” Additionally, when the junctions of the gut are loosened, they can become weak and allow water to flow back into the gut, putting the individual at hydration risk. Our bodies have natural gut junction tightening cells that allow a balanced regulation. Increased gluten intake introduces higher levels of Zonulin, breaking down the tight junctions and undermining gut health.

Zonulin and Health Disorders

Elevated levels of Zonulin have been associated with a number of disease states, including, but not limited to: celiac disease, juvenile nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and type 1 diabetes. There is also evidence that Zonulin accumulation is associated with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), asthma, and multiple sclerosis.

Let’s back up for a moment and discuss why leaky gut is a big deal and at the core of autoimmunity, including some of those with interstitial cystitis. Scientists have been telling us that 60-80% of our immune system is located in our gut, and an impressive 90% of the neurotransmitters that govern our moods are also intricately linked to the gut. This knowledge holds immense significance because it underscores the integral connection between gut health and our overall well-being, particularly for those dealing with interstitial cystitis. With a substantial portion of our immune system and crucial mood-regulating chemicals residing in the gut, the state of our digestive system directly influences our health. Recognizing the profound impact of gut health emphasizes the importance of nurturing a balanced digestive system to support not only physical health but also emotional and immune wellness.

Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is an imbalance in the digestive system, and while there may be symptoms such as bloating, gas, stomach pain, or diarrhea, this can also be the base for a number of chronic health problems. Both leaky gut and gut imbalances, in general, have been linked to such conditions as hormonal imbalances, autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis. Other disorders associated with gut imbalance include chronic fatigue, diabetes, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, eczema, and rosacea.

The lining of your gut acts as a drawbridge gateway to allow the micronutrients in your food to travel back and forth in a balanced manner that does not disrupt the bridge. When Zonulin is released by gluten, it destroys this bridge, letting large proteins such as gluten through when they aren’t meant to. It also enables toxins, proteins, microbes, and even partially digested food particles to enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body, and an immune response (inflammation) as your body begins to fight off these foreign invaders. The study of autoimmune disease has included a leaky gut as one of the preconditions for developing the disorder. If you have been diagnosed and leaky gut goes untreated, it opens the potential for gut infections, toxicity, and the development of additional autoimmune conditions.

Signs that you have leaky gut syndrome include: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), gastric ulcers, thyroid disorders, chronic fatigue, chronic inflammation (such as IC), allergies, respiratory infections, arthritis, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), digestive issues (acid reflux, bloating, bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea), hormone imbalance, mood issues, candida overgrowth, nutrient deficiencies, frequent colds or infections, food intolerance or sensitivity, brain fog, Osteoporosis, muscle or joint pain, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and low metabolism.

The immune response triggered by these invaders can be so taxing on the immune system that it eventually becomes stressed and can no longer efficiently handle the chronic onslaught of additional pathogens and invaders. A stressed immune system can eventually go rogue and attack healthy tissue, resulting in full-blown autoimmune disease. The removal of gluten helps to stop elevated levels of Zonulin, which may be one of the root causes of a number of problems. It’s important to note that recent research has shown that consuming gluten can elevate the gluten antibodies for as long as three months. This means that consuming even a tiny amount of gluten every four months could keep your body in a year-round state of inflammation.

Remember, there is no such thing as “mostly” gluten-free. You are either gluten-free, or you are not. Eating less gluten than before simply isn’t enough to tackle IC head-on. You have to remove it entirely from your diet. Your immune system needs to rest, and it can only do this if your body is no longer under attack and living in a state of chronic inflammation.

Gluten and IC: Follow the sensory trail

Interstitial Cystitis damage involves several variables, most notably in the mucous layer. This damage changes the urothelium's permeability, a highly specialized lining in the lower urinary tract. Damage here allows an influx of proteins and activation of mast cells. Unfortunately, when mast cells begin secreting their content, the sensory nerves are affected (enhancing pain response), which activates more mast cells. Certain foods (such as gluten, conventional dairy, refined sugars, and more), drugs, toxins, and stress activate mast cells in the bladder and other body parts. When mast cells become overactive, they can cause chronic inflammation or allergic reactions, causing damage to the mucous membranes and tissue. Unfortunately, as one begins to spiral, additional submucosal nerves may be activated, and patients with IC often experience hyperalgesia, an enhanced pain response.

The connection between gut and bladder health becomes clearer as scientists explore how these two body systems interact. They're linked through something called the gut-bladder axis. An imbalance in the gut can have repercussions on bladder health (as mentioned above). The gut and bladder communicate through their nervous systems, and inflammation in the gut can extend its effects to the bladder. This emphasizes the significance of maintaining good gut health for overall well-being and bladder health, as it can contribute to preventing potential bladder problems.

Healing Gluten-Caused Damage

Embarking on the autoimmune spectrum journey, the first pivotal stride is bidding adieu to gluten. Without ditching gluten, the healing process remains elusive. If we consume gluten or other inflammation-triggering foods, our body contends with the aftermath, setting the stage for a ceaseless loop of chronic inflammation. The subsequent essential move is nurturing gut health back to its prime. These two actions reign supreme as transformative shifts in proactively managing and reversing interstitial cystitis and other related health woes. To delve deeper into mending your gut, crafting an ideal diet, selecting vital supplements for equilibrium restoration, and tackling IC, "How I Got My Life Back," my book, stands as a compass guiding you through the journey.


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