Leaky Gut Syndrome why it’s on the rise

gut health

Hippocrates famously said that ‘All disease begins in the gut’, which is becoming more evident due to the advances in microbiome research. Your gut hosts a range of microorganisms from bacteria, virus and fungi that impact your health.

Leaky gut syndrome is a term that has been gaining more attention and awareness recently. Although it is less widely recognised in the medical community, it is a simpler way of explaining increased intestinal permeability and there is some scientific evidence to back it up.

Studies show that there’s an epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases (CID) in developed countries attributed by reduced exposure to microorganisms. It is further implicated by genetic predisposition, environmental triggers and composition of gut microbiome (Fasano et al., 2020).

The intestinal lining inside covers an extensive area of about 300 sq.ft. The epithelial cells in the lining play a crucial role in absorption of nutrients and protect from microbial infections. Your intestines are permeable to allow the passage of nutrients and water, and this is regulated by tight junctions. Additionally, the tight junctions also help to prevent the passage of harmful substances into systemic circulation.

However, in people with leaky gut it is proposed that due to increased permeability, bacteria and toxins are able to pass through these gaps, therefore cause inflammation, trigger an immune response and result in a plethora of health issues.

What can cause a leaky gut?

  1. A diet rich in sugar and saturated fats
  2. Excessive use of alcohol
  3. Increased stress
  4. Prolonged usage of Non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAID)
  5. Certain nutrient deficiencies like Zinc, Vitamin A and D.
  6. Overgrowth of yeast
  7. Dysbiosis of gut: When there’s an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut, it goes into dysbiosis.
  8. Zonulin: It is a protein which has been used as a bio marker of gut permeability to understand the role of leaky gut in the development of chronic inflammatory diseases. The triggers of zonulin secretion are exposure to bacterial overgrowth and gluten (wheat protein) and it’s secretion is followed by an increased gut permeability (Fasano et al., 2020).

Why is leaky gut syndrome on the rise?

Our gastro intestinal tract comprising of oesophagus, stomach and intestines is a host to trillions of micro-organisms and interestingly the number outweighs the number of human cells. Several studies report that diet is a primary factor in deciding the composition of our gut microbiota.

The rapid shift from eating wholesome foods to highly processed foods in the last two centuries haven’t facilitated the required adaptation of the microbiota inhabiting human intestines.

Processed and ultra processed foods, that contain additives, sugar and very little dietary fibre can disturb the balance of your gut microbiota favouring the growth of bad bacteria. This further causes inflammation and other negative health effects.

According to NOVA classification, ultra processed food is defined as industrial formulations made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods (e.g., oils, fats, sugar, starch, and proteins), derived from food constituents (e.g., hydrogenated fats and modified starch), or synthesized in laboratories from food substrates or other organic sources (e.g., flavor enhancers, colors and several food additives used to make the product hyper-palatable).

A study conducted in Netherlands found that people who ate more processed and animal based fatty foods had higher levels of harmful bacteria than who are less.

Signs that you might have a leaky gut:

  1. Bloating, diarrhoea, constipation or gas.
  2. Food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies.
  3. Seasonal allergies.
  4. Hormonal imbalance
  5. Weakened immune system
  6. Chronic fatigue
  7. Candida overgrowth
  8. Acne, eczema, rosacea.
  9. Digestive issues like Crohn’s disease or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).


Leaky gut is also associated with development of autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and also linked with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), crohn’s disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and chronic liver disease. There is insufficient evidence at present to know whether leaky gut is a cause or a symptom of these diseases, and therefore there is a need for further research to gain an in-depth understanding.

Furthermore the interaction between foods, gut microbiota and leaky gut have not been completely understood and it warrants studies to find confirmatory gold standard tests to prove increased intestinal permeability as well.

If you want to improve your gut health, feed the microbiota the food they prefer eating, particularly prebiotic and fiber rich foods like a variety of vegetables, whole grains and fruits. You can also eat probiotic foods which are basically fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha and kefir. In addition to that there are foods made from fermented dough or batter like sourdough bread, foods from Indian cuisine such as idli, dosa and dhokla.

 If you think you have a leaky gut, always consult with your healthcare provider and make the necessary changes.

Article from Thrive Magazine Autumn 2021 – written by Meenu Preethi Balaji, Meenu holds a M.H.Sc in Food Science and Nutrition, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.She has 6 years of experience working as a Nutritionist. Her area of specialisation is Child and Sports Nutrition and she is also interested in the functional aspects of nutrition, applications of nutrigenomics and the importance of gut health.

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