From various digestive disorders and psoriasis to rheumatoid arthritis and even ADHD, a leaky gut has been linked to a number of chronic diseases.
In fact, recent research has suggested that a leaky gut may be a contributing factor in a number of chronic diseases such as joint pain, autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, digestive disorders, and even mental health disorders.
In this guide, we’ll explore the different diseases that have been associated with leaky gut. This will help you better understand how they may be affecting your body. Find out if a leaky gut might be playing a role in your health struggles.
We’ll also provide tips for addressing leaky gut and maintaining a healthy gut environment.
What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is a condition that occurs when the lining of the intestinal wall becomes more permeable than it should be.
Normally, the lining of the intestine acts as a barrier that prevents harmful substances from entering the bloodstream. However, when the lining becomes permeable, toxins, undigested food particles, and bacteria can pass through and enter the bloodstream.
This can trigger an immune response and cause inflammation throughout the body, which has been linked to a range of health conditions.
Now, let’s take a closer look at various chronic diseases and autoimmune disorders linked to leaky gut syndrome.
I. Skin Conditions Associated with Leaky Gut
The health of your skin and your digestive system are more closely related than you might think.
Improving your gut health through dietary changes and other interventions has proven helpful in managing several skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes red, itchy, and inflamed patches of skin. While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, research has suggested that leaky gut syndrome may be a contributing factor.
Those with eczema tend to have significantly higher levels of intestinal permeability compared to people without eczema (1).
When foreign substances enter your bloodstream due to gut leakage, they can trigger an immune response and cause inflammation throughout your body, including in the skin. This can lead to the development of eczema or make your existing eczema symptoms worse.
Dietary changes, such as avoiding gluten and dairy were found to improve eczema symptoms.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes scaly, red patches of skin. Like eczema, the exact cause of psoriasis is unknown. A leaky gut is associated with psoriasis as its symptoms significantly diminish when gut health improves.
People with psoriasis may experience gastrointestinal symptoms and changes in their gut microbiota, which in turn, may increase the production of (TMAO trimethylamine N-oxide) (2).
TMAO is produced by certain types of gut bacteria. High levels of TMAO in your blood are associated with an increased risk of inflammation, as well as, cardiovascular disease. TMAO is also linked to certain chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and psoriasis.
Research suggests that probiotics may be helpful in reducing the severity of psoriasis.
Acne is a common skin condition that causes pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads.
While acne is typically associated with hormonal changes, research has also suggested a link between acne and leaky gut syndrome.
Ina 2019, researchers compared the intestinal permeability of those with and without acne (2). You guessed it! Those with acne had higher levels of gut damage and intestinal permeability.
Dietary changes, such as avoiding sugar and processed foods, can help improve acne symptoms.
Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that causes redness, bumps, and inflammation on the face. Gut health and rosacea may be linked.
The gut microflora tends to be unbalanced in those with a leaky gut. In people with acne-like rosacea, their immune system tends to overreact to a specific bacterium known as bacillus oleronius (3).
So healing your gut and balancing your gut microbiome may help reduce symptoms of rosacea.
II. Digestive Disorders Linked to Leaky Gut
A leaky gut has been associated with several digestive disorders, including celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
By understanding the connection between these conditions and leaky gut, we can develop effective treatment strategies and improve the quality of life for those affected.
1. Celiac disease
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
Gluten is a set of proteins that is present in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin.
Consuming gluten or more specifically, gliadin, is what triggers this disease in people with this particular food sensitivity. Symptoms of celiac disease and gluten intolerance include iron deficiency anemia, loss of bone density, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, acid reflux, heartburn, etc.
Gliadin has been found to increase zonulin concentration in people suffering from Celiac disease (4), (5). This, in turn, increases their intestinal permeability (6). If such a person goes on a gluten-free diet, their zonulin levels decrease significantly (7).
Read more about ‘zonulin’ in The Real Science Behind Leaky Gut Syndrome: Separating Fact from Fiction
In health problems like celiac disease, simply restoring the barrier function is not effective enough to treat the condition (8). Prescribed medications and a dietitian-approved meal plan should be followed as part of the treatment plan.
2. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). It is characterized by a group of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
The exact cause of IBS is not known. Studies have found that individuals with IBS are more likely to have a leaky gut (9). Factors such as stress, certain foods, and hormonal changes can trigger symptoms.
3. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Increased intestinal permeability is a major factor in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Unlike Crohn’s disease which may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers only in a limited area of the gastrointestinal tract. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and weight loss.
If you are able to spot early symptoms of a leaky gut and change your diet and lifestyle to heal your gut, then you will be able to avoid developing more such inflammatory digestive diseases.
Certain dietary changes, such as a low FODMAP diet, can improve IBD symptoms.
4. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
A major cause of gut dysbiosis (disruptive changes in gut microflora) is the chronic inflammation caused by increased intestinal permeability. SIBO is a type of dysbiosis where there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.
This can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, leading to problems with nutrient absorption and deficiencies.
Certain dietary changes, such as avoiding fermentable carbohydrates, may improve SIBO symptoms.
III. Joint Pain and Autoimmune Diseases
Recent studies have suggested a link between leaky gut and various autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, as well as chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia.
While more research is needed to fully understand this connection, it’s clear that taking care of your gut health is an important part of managing joint pain and autoimmune diseases.
1. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints, leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling.
According to studies, people with RA had higher levels of intestinal permeability than healthy controls (13).
Compared to healthy controls, patients with RA had higher levels of specific gut bacteria such as Prevotella copri (14). When these gut bacteria were transplanted into mice, the mice developed symptoms similar to RA. This makes it evident that the gut microbiome plays a role in the development and progression of RA.
Treating leaky gut with a combination of probiotics and prebiotics helps to improve RA symptoms, including joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
Lupus, also known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). It is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, and the nervous system.
One study found that patients with lupus had higher levels of zonulin, a protein that regulates intestinal permeability, compared to healthy controls (15). Another study found that mice with lupus had increased intestinal permeability and more severe disease symptoms than control mice (16).
Reducing intestinal permeability through dietary changes and probiotics may help to improve symptoms in people with lupus.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles and joints. It is a complex disorder with no known cure, and the cause is not fully understood.
Fibromyalgia patients have higher levels of intestinal permeability which could be due to an underlying immune dysfunction in fibromyalgia patients (17).
Researchers have noted that fibromyalgia patients with leaky gut had significantly higher levels of pain and fatigue compared to those without leaky gut (18).
Multispecies probiotics, a type of probiotic therapy, were found to be effective in improving leaky gut and reducing fibromyalgia symptoms.
A low FODMAP diet may also help to improve symptoms in people with fibromyalgia.
4. Type-1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Without adequate insulin in the body, the cells are unable to absorb the glucose needed for producing energy. This leads to high blood sugar levels in the body.
Frequent urination, increased thirst or hunger, weight loss, blurry vision, feeling tired, and poor healing are some of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes
A gluten-free diet may help to improve gut health in people with Type-1 diabetes.
IV. Respiratory Diseases Linked to Leaky Gut
Respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and bronchitis, affect millions of people worldwide. Let’s explore how these are linked to leaky gut.
Asthma is a chronic disease with inflammation of the air passages. This causes temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs, leading to asthmatic symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Elevated zonulin levels and increased intestinal permeability is found in approximately 40% of asthmatics. (22). This may be one of the reasons behind their heightened sensitivity to allergens and other environmental triggers
Reducing intestinal permeability through dietary changes and probiotics may help to improve asthma symptoms. Swimming in warmer water, exercising in more humid air, walking, yoga, and light cycling is also helpful in alleviating symptoms.
2. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
COPD is a chronic respiratory condition characterized by obstructed airflow to the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and other symptoms.
One study found that people with COPD had increased levels of lipopolysaccharides, a type of bacterial toxin, in their blood, suggesting that intestinal bacteria may be able to enter the bloodstream and contribute to the development of COPD (23).
Reducing intestinal permeability through dietary changes may help to reduce inflammation and improve lung function in people with COPD.
3. Allergic rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is a common respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by symptoms such as sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and throat.
Allergic rhinitis occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or animal dander. Zonulin levels are higher in those with such allergies, indicating the presence of leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability (24), (25).
A low histamine diet may help to reduce symptoms in people with allergic rhinitis.
Sinusitis, also known as a sinus infection, is a common condition that causes inflammation and swelling of the sinuses, which are the air-filled spaces located behind the forehead, nose, cheekbones, and eyes.
The condition can be caused by a variety of factors, including infections, allergies, and autoimmune disorders.
A study published in the International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology found that patients with chronic sinusitis had higher levels of zonulin which suggests that intestinal permeability may be a contributing factor to the development of chronic sinusitis.
Patients with chronic rhinosinusitis, a type of sinusitis, had a higher prevalence of intestinal dysbiosis (26). This means the dysbiosis may be contributing to the development of chronic rhinosinusitis by disrupting the immune system and increasing inflammation.
Reducing intestinal permeability through dietary changes may help to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms in people with sinusitis.
V. Mental Health Disorders Associated with Leaky Gut
Research suggests that there is a connection between gut health and mental health. A growing body of evidence suggests that a “leaky gut” could contribute to the development of certain mental health disorders.
The gut-brain axis connects your gut to your brain.
1. Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are two mental health conditions that have been linked to a leaky gut.
A leaky gut can lead to the release of inflammatory molecules into the bloodstream, which can trigger an immune response and cause inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain.
This inflammation can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In addition to depression and anxiety, there is some evidence to suggest that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may also be associated with a leaky gut.
As mentioned before, inflammation caused by a leaky gut can spread across your system all the way to the brain. This can lead to cognitive and behavioral symptoms, including those associated with ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or ADHD, it may be worth considering making changes to your diet and lifestyle that support a healthy gut, such as eating a diet rich in fiber and fermented foods, reducing stress, and getting regular exercise.
We’ve covered a variety of conditions that have been associated with leaky gut, including skin conditions, digestive disorders, joint pain and autoimmune diseases, respiratory diseases, and mental health disorders.
While the exact mechanisms of how a leaky gut contributes to these conditions are not fully understood, it is clear that maintaining a healthy gut is important for overall well-being.
Addressing a leaky gut involves changing your diet and lifestyle that support a healthy gut environment.
This includes eating a diet that is rich in fiber, fermented foods, and other gut-friendly foods, reducing stress, getting regular exercise, and avoiding things that can damage the gut lining, such as certain medications and processed foods.
By taking steps to support a healthy gut, you can help protect yourself against these conditions and promote overall health and well-being.