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Your Immune System on Grains

immune system, grains, wheat

Your immune system is a network of specialized cells, proteins, tissues and organs that work together to protect you against infectious organisms and foreign substances.

Some of your immune cells are designed to recognize external threats. These cells don’t destroy invaders. They are like sentries on guard to sound the alert. Other cells respond to the call, engulfing, neutralizing and destroying pathogens that would otherwise make you sick.

Your immune system is so advanced it can “remember” pathogens you may have encountered decades ago… plus the exact defense to mount against each specific threat.

But the key to a healthy and effective immune system is the ability to recognize “self” from “non-self.” When your immune system can no longer differentiate between foreign invader… and your body’s own tissues (such as your colon, thyroid or brain) this is known as an autoimmune disorder.[1]  

And it can be incredibly debilitating…

Instead of attacking and destroying foreign invaders, specialized cells called T and B lymphocytes wage war on your own tissues and organs.[2] This can lead to chronic pain and inflammation, brain fog and difficulty concentrating, insomnia, fatigue, numbness, tingling, and a plethora of digestive symptoms.

According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune disorders affect over 23 million people in the United States. And perhaps worst of all, is that many doctors and health organizations don’t understand the cause or the cure and leave their patients suffering and struggling for answers.

The good news is that, in many cases, autoimmune disease can be reversed. The cause (and the cure) often begins with the food on our plate. And one of the biggest offenders is a food that many people eat every single day…

immune system

Grains: A Key Trigger for Autoimmune Disease

For most people, autoimmunity doesn’t develop because of a genetic predisposition. It happens when our diet and lifestyle choices unmask the expression of those genes. In essence, our genes are the loaded gun… but our “lifestyle” is what pulls the trigger.

Poor sleep, stress, the health of our microbiome, the exercise we do (or don’t do), our exposure to chemicals, and the foods we eat can all play a role. And research shows that one of the biggest dietary factors for developing autoimmune illness is the consumption of grains.

Dr. Alessio Fasano of the University of Maryland discovered that a protein called zonulin in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract is a target for another protein that is found in gluten-containing grains (called gliadin).[3]

As zonulin is activated by exposure to gliadin, it begins prying apart the tight junctions between cells in the lining of the gut. This allows harmful substances and undigested food particles that would normally not be able to penetrate the intestinal wall to pass through into the bloodstream.

And you don’t have to have a genetic susceptibility for this to occur! It happens in those with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity… as well as those without it.[4]

Gluten is a master at damaging the integrity of the gut lining, contributing to the condition known as “leaky gut”. But gluten-free grains like oats and corn can exert the same effect, thanks to a compound called prolamin![5][6]

In fact, prolamin is associated with a wide range of autoimmune and inflammatory symptoms, including Type-1 diabetes, skin rashes, joint and muscle inflammation and pancreatitis.[7][8]

Go Grain Free for a Healthy Immune System & Disease-Free Life

Keeping your immune system healthy (or repairing a damaged one) begins with adopting an ancestral lifestyle. This means:

Bone Broth, immune system, Natural Sleep Remedy

  • Freeing yourself from the immune-hampering foods and exposures our bodies are not primed to handle including grains, legumes, pasteurized dairy and the common chemicals found in personal care products (such as triclosan).
  • Optimizing vitamin D levels with natural sunlight or a high quality vitamin D3 supplement (cholecalciferol)
  • Optimizing omega-3 fatty acids with wild, low contaminant seafood
  • Improving natural circadian rhythms by “powering down” in the evening and getting sunlight exposure in your eyes in the morning hours
  • Engaging in functional movement including long walks, short sprints and lifting
  • Enjoying Mother Nature’s immune-boosting superfoods including bone broth, bone marrow and organs, wild seafood, pasture-raised meats and raw, grass-fed dairy (if tolerated) along with organic vegetables, antioxidant-rich berries, herbs, and spices. And if you’re currently suffering with autoimmune disease, consider the autoimmune protocol (AIP diet) or the low-lectin diet which further eliminate potentially offending and inflammatory foods.
  • Opting for grain-free versions of your favorite comfort foods made with coconut flour, almond flour and small amounts of starches like cassava or arrowroot to satisfy safely when the craving strikes.

Have you experienced immune issues or autoimmune disease? If so, what has helped you the most?

Kelley HerringED NOTE: Kelley Herring is the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, makers of grain-free, gluten-free, low-glycemic baking mixes for cakes, cookies, breads, pizza and much more.

Kelley’s academic background is in biology and chemistry and for the last 15+ years, she has focused on the study of nutritional biochemistry…and the proven powers of compounds in foods to heal the body.



[1] Understanding Autoimmune Diseases. NIH.

[2] Davis, William, MD. Wheat Belly Total Health. Rodale. 2014

[3] Wang W, Uzzau S, Goldblum SE, Fasano A. Human zonulin, a potential modulator of intestinal tight junctions. J Cell Sci. 2000 Dec;113 Pt 24:4435-40.

[4] D Bernardo, J A Garrote, L Fernández‐Salazar, S Riestra, and E ArranzIs gliadin really safe for non‐coeliac individuals? Production of interleukin 15 in biopsy culture from non‐coeliac individuals challenged with gliadin peptides. Gut. 2007 Jun; 56(6): 889–890.

[5] Sandhu JS, Fraser DR.Effect of dietary cereals on intestinal permeability in experimental enteropathy in rats.Gut. 1983 Sep;24(9):825-30.

[6] Boyd GM1, Bigwood C2, Paul SP3.When gluten free is harmful.Br J Nurs. 2017 Aug 10;26(15):844. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2017.26.15.844.

[7] Lo Iacono O, Petta S, Venezia G, Di Marco V, Tarantino G, Barbaria F, Mineo C, De Lisi S, Almasio PL, Craxì A. Anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies in patients with abnormal liver tests: is it always coeliac disease? Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Nov;100(11):2472-7.

[8] Alistair J. K. Williams, BSC1, Alastair J. Norcross, BSC1, Robert J. Lock, MPHIL2, David J. Unsworth, PHD, FRCP2,

Edwin A. M. Gale, FRCP1 and Polly J. Bingley, MD, FRCP1. The High Prevalence of Autoantibodies to Tissue Transglutaminase in First-Degree Relatives of Patients With Type 1 Diabetes Is Not Associated With Islet Autoimmunity. Diabetes Care 2001 Mar; 24(3): 504-509.