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Zonulin, Gluten, Glyphosate and Tight Junctions

by Jane K. Dolan, RN

These terms may sound more like characters and weapons from a comic book than describing critical elements to our health and well-being.  In this context, these superheroes, and super villains, come to life in their interaction and function.

In a perfectly healthy person, our body is meticulously protected by the amazing tight junctions (or TJs). These superheroes perform the role of a hyper-vigilant gatekeeper by closely linking cells to form a nearly impermeable membrane, allowing only what is desirable into the cell. While TJs are found in many places in the body, the focus here is on the TJs that create a protective layer in the gut.

In any good versus evil theme, there must be an opposing force, and in this case it comes by the name of zonulin. The discovery of zonulin was made in 2000 at the University of Maryland  School of Medicine. Zonulin is a protein that has a kryptonite-like effect on TJs by moderating permeability, which can make those formidable tight junctions, well, not so tight.

Our villain here has more character depth than most, because it’s not all bad. Zonulin is made in the body for the times we need the tight junctions to be opened up. Usually triggered by bad bacteria, zonulin is produced to flush the bacteria out of the gut. However, it transforms into our menacing antihero when it falls in with the wrong crowd, namely gluten. Refined gluten, it turns out, also acts like a bacteria, by stimulating the production of zonulin. This in turn opens up paracellular pathways and disarms our protective TJs.

A second toxin comes in the form of glyphosate which came into the consumer market in the 1980’s through the product Roundup®.  Genetically modified plants are spliced with a gene that resists glyphosate, so the glyphosate only kills the undesirable weeds in fields. This leaves the desired crop unscathed, but covered in glyphosate.  Alarmingly, this chemical is ten times more potent than gluten at the zonulin pathway, adding to the breakdown of the tight junction.

So what special tools can we give our tight junctions to stand up to the assault of gluten and glyphosate?

  • Buy non-genetically modified foods that are not sprayed with glyphosate (certified organic labeled foods meet this criteria)
  • Avoid pre-packaged foods as these are mostly comprised of wheat, corn, and soy which are commonly genetically modified
  • Eat different varieties of foods as they come with more diverse bacteria that help maintain tight junctions
  • Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary
  • Have your mercury amalgam fillings safely removed by a biological dentist as mercury can disrupt normal gut flora
  • Avoid chlorinated and fluoridated water
  • Avoid vaccines with mercury and aluminum
  • Do not microwave food
  • Use Restore to heal tight junction injury

Understanding that our GI tract functions as a major immunological organ that requires diverse quantities of microbiota helps us navigate our choices in the way our foods are produced, what we consume, and how we work with the incredible design of our body.  Ultimately, we have to go with our gut as a basis of health and disease prevention.


Brown, Kirsty, Daniella DeCoffe, Erin Molcan, and Deanna L. Gibson. “Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease.” Nutrients. MDPI, Aug. 2012. Web. June 2017.

Fasano, Alessio. “Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2012, Accessed June 2017.

Fasano, A (Jan 2011). “Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer”. Physiol Rev. 91 (1): 151–75. PMID 21248165. doi:10.1152/physrev.00003.2008

Dr Zac Bush – Gut/Brain Injury: How, why, and what you can do about it, YouTube. N.p., 10 June 2015. Web. June 2017


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