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The Evidence-Based Guide to Leaky Gut [Symptoms, Causes & Treatments]

Leaky gut

Table of Contents

Your gut, or gastrointestinal tract, plays a crucial role in your immune system. In fact, around 70% of the immune system resides there. 

Leaky gut, a term used to describe increased intestinal permeability, is a condition that has been primarily addressed in functional medicine. Recent research links leaky gut to the severity of various diseases, including COVID-19 and autoimmune conditions.

Is leaky gut real? Leaky gut is real, but the medical community has not reached a consensus on whether it is a cause, a symptom, or a disease. As a result, there is currently no official diagnosis for leaky gut.

What is leaky gut?

Leaky gut is a condition in which the intestinal lining becomes more porous, allowing toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to escape from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. 

The gastrointestinal tract has a semi-permeable lining, designed to allow some particles, but not others, to move from the GI tract to the bloodstream. Digestion occurs in the large and small intestines, and in a leaky gut, the linings essentially “spring a leak.” 

The intestinal barrier consists of a single layer of cells with tight junctions (TJs) in between them. These tight junctions regulate what material stays in the lumen and what passes through. 

When the tight junction spaces widen, substances can pass through unregulated, and the barrier function deteriorates.

In layman’s terms, “leaky gut” describes the inflamed lining of a dysfunctional digestive tract that can’t retain and/or distribute microscopic nutrients and organisms the way it should.


Leaky gut has both acute and long-term symptoms because transporting unexpected materials throughout the body triggers an immune response. 

Symptoms of leaky gut vary from person to person and can resemble other digestive system medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or colitis. This makes leaky gut challenging for gastroenterology healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat.

Short-term symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches

Long-term symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and other mental health concerns
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Eczema
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Food sensitivities
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Joint pain
  • Autoimmune conditions

How can you tell if you have leaky gut? You can identify leaky gut syndrome if you’re experiencing the symptoms listed above and have intestinal permeability. However, this condition is not yet recognized as a medical diagnosis, so there are no definitive tests to measure permeability.

The best approach is to work with your healthcare provider to rule out illnesses with similar symptoms, like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and IBS.

What is the difference between leaky gut and an infection? A leaky gut results from a damaged gut lining, an autoimmune disease, or overuse of antibiotics. An infection is caused by a microorganism invading the body. Both trigger an immune response, and a leaky gut can lead to an infection.

Causes & Who Is At Risk

Leaky gut can develop in anyone at any time, although having another GI illness or being genetically predisposed to gastroenterological ailments makes you more susceptible.

What is the main cause of leaky gut? The primary cause of leaky gut is an imbalance due to a poor diet. Consuming highly processed foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can damage the intestinal lining, increasing the risk of permeability.

When tight junctions in the gut barrier become more open, the intestinal wall is more likely to be damaged. The following factors can contribute to leaky gut syndrome:

  • Autoimmune disorders: These can be both the cause or the effect of leaky gut syndrome due to the body’s immune response.
  • Chronic stress and depression: These can lead to increased inflammation, resulting in increased gut permeability.
  • Excess sugar consumption: In addition to the risk of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease linked to sugar consumption, it also disrupts the gut microbiota.
  • Chronic inflammation: The root cause of many illnesses and responsible for changes in gut flora.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Chronic use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen has been found to increase intestinal damage.
  • Antibiotics and/or proton pump inhibitors: Like NSAIDs, these medications can be hard on the intestinal tract.
  • Poor digestive health: Continued stress on the digestive system is both a cause and effect of leaky gut.
  • Dysbiosis: An imbalance of bacteria in the GI tract is a likely culprit.


The treatment of leaky gut depends on the underlying cause. A handful of options exist to treat and help prevent leaky gut. The same treatments also combat unbalanced microflora (overgrowth or undergrowth.

Dietary Changes

Diet plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy balance of microbiota in the digestive tract. To reduce inflammation, adopt a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods, and avoid processed foods and sugars. Consider incorporating these foods into your diet:

For a healthy gut, eating well is essential. In addition to avoiding sugars and processed foods, the CDC also recommends limiting alcohol consumption.

Supplements & Herbal Remedies

Prebiotics and probiotics are popular choices for restoring gut microbiome balance. Other supplements can also be beneficial. 

Consider incorporating these dietary supplements for gut health into your diet:

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle factors can significantly impact your gut, just as diet choices do. If you are battling a leaky gut, review your daily routine.

First, always remember to drink plenty of water. Proper hydration assists in countless body functions and helps flush out toxins.

Exercise is essential for optimal health. However, stressing the body with too much vigorous exercise can actually increase gut permeability. Balancing exercise intensity is crucial.

Stress management is also vital. Reducing the amount of stressors in your life will help your gut. This means cutting time spent on social media, planning your schedule better, and taking moments to breathe.

Evaluating your sleep schedule is another critical aspect. Establish a consistent wind-down routine to signal your body it’s time for rest. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Lastly, remember to have fun. Your mind and body are connected, and socializing can be a major mood booster.

Conditions Associated with Leaky Gut

Health conditions associated with leaky gut are primarily autoimmune diseases:

  • Celiac disease: an intolerance to gluten with symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and bloating. This condition can increase gut permeability.
  • Crohn’s disease: a type of IBD that causes GI tract inflammation and can lead to abnormal intestinal permeability.
  • Type 1 diabetes: a condition where the body attacks insulin-carrying cells, causing a buildup of sugar in the blood. Increased intestinal permeability could be a causal factor in type 1 diabetes.
  • Food allergies: an immune response to an allergen found in food. People with food allergies may already have gut impairment.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): an inflammatory disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints, causing pain and swelling. RA may be an indicator of the onset and severity of leaky gut.

Myths About Leaky Gut

Myth #1: There’s Hardly any Research on Leaky Gut

​​While the term “leaky gut” may not be frequently found in scholarly and scientific searches, gut permeability is a more common term that does appear in scientific literature. Research on leaky gut is abundant and expands more each year.

Myth #2: Zonulin Reveals Leaky Gut

In 2000, zonulin, a protein, was identified as a biomarker for intestinal permeability and autoimmune diseases. Zonulin is activated by bacteria or gliadin (a component of gluten), which increases tight junction gaps and causes gut permeability. 

However, a 2021 review found that the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test does not measure zonulin or gut permeability as accurately as previously believed. 

While zonulin isn’t the ultimate indicator of leaky gut, it’s still a useful biomarker to understand.

Myth #3: Resolving Leaky Gut Syndrome will Heal Ailments Associated with It

Leaky gut has been linked to health problems, particularly autoimmune diseases. However, restoring the gut barrier will not cure these illnesses. There are no known cures for autoimmune diseases. 

Although symptoms are treatable and leaky gut has treatments, they do not address the root cause of the problem.

Do you feel controlled by your gut problems?

Leaky gut syndrome is a complex condition. As the gut lies at the core of our physical well-being, this issue can greatly influence a person’s quality of life. 

Sano Health Club strives to comprehend the causes, symptoms, and treatments of this condition to aid you in better management and prevention.

If you suspect you have leaky gut syndrome, we’re here to help. Schedule a free intro call with a care team member today!


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