What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Feb 8, 2024 | Written by Scott Sherr, MD | Reviewed by Marion Hall

Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, has gained significant attention in recent years, with many people turning to alternative medicine for help. The condition is characterized by a weakened intestinal lining, allowing toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response that can lead to inflammation and a whole range of health problems.

What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Many factors can contribute to the development of leaky gut syndrome, including poor diet, chronic stress, medications, dysbiosis, and chronic diseases.

  • Poor Diet
    A diet high in sugar, processed foods, and alcohol can damage the gut lining, making it more permeable. Studies have shown that a high-fat diet can also increase the production of a molecule called zonulin, which can lead to intestinal permeability in some cases.
  • Chronic Stress
    Stress can increase inflammation and damage the gut lining. Research has shown that stress can alter the balance of bacteria in the gut, leading to dysbiosis, which can further damage the gut lining.
  • Medications
    Certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, and steroids, can damage the gut lining. NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can increase intestinal permeability, while antibiotics can alter the balance of bacteria in the gut. Steroids, used to treat inflammatory conditions, can also increase intestinal permeability.
  • Dysbiosis
    An imbalance of bacteria in the gut can lead to inflammation and damage the gut lining. Studies have shown that dysbiosis is associated with a range of health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Chronic Diseases
    Certain chronic diseases, such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis, can damage the gut lining. These conditions are characterized by inflammation in the gut, which can lead to intestinal permeability.

Signs and Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome

The signs and symptoms of leaky gut syndrome can vary, but some common ones include:

  • Digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of vitamins and minerals
  • Fatigue and brain fog
  • Skin issues, such as acne and eczema
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis

Diagnosis and Treatment of Leaky Gut Syndrome

Diagnosing leaky gut syndrome can be challenging, as there is no specific test for it. However, some tests can help identify underlying conditions that may be contributing to leaky gut syndrome, such as food allergies, gut dysbiosis, and autoimmune disorders. 

Treatment for leaky gut syndrome typically involves addressing the underlying causes, such as improving the diet, reducing stress, and treating any underlying conditions. Some supplements, such as probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, post biotics, and glutamine, may also help heal the gut lining.

The Science Behind Leaky Gut Syndrome

The science behind leaky gut syndrome is still emerging, but there are several theories about how it works.

  • The Role of Tight Junctions
    The intestinal lining is made up of a single layer of cells, which are held together by tight junctions. These tight junctions act as gates, allowing nutrients to pass through while keeping toxins and microbes out. However, when the tight junctions become damaged, they can become more permeable, allowing toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream.

    Research has shown that a protein called zonulin plays a key role in regulating tight junctions. When zonulin is activated, the tight junctions become looser, leading to increased intestinal permeability.

  • The Role of the Microbiome
    The microbiome, the collection of bacteria that live in the gut, also plays an important role in leaky gut syndrome. Dysbiosis, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, can lead to inflammation and damage the gut lining.

    Research has shown that certain bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, can increase intestinal permeability by producing a toxin called lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS can trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining.

  • The Role of Inflammation
    Inflammation is a key factor in the development of leaky gut syndrome. When the gut becomes inflamed, the tight junctions can become damaged, leading to increased intestinal permeability.

    Research has shown that inflammation can be triggered by a variety of factors, including poor diet, chronic stress, and chronic diseases. Inflammation can also lead to dysbiosis, further contributing to the development of leaky gut syndrome.


Leaky gut syndrome is a complex condition that can have a range of causes and symptoms. The science behind it is still emerging, but research has shown that a weakened intestinal lining, dysbiosis, and inflammation all play a role in its development.

If you suspect you may have leaky gut syndrome, it's important to work with a healthcare provider to identify and address any underlying causes. Improving the diet, reducing stress, and treating any underlying conditions can all help heal the gut lining and reduce intestinal permeability.

If you are a practitioner and want to learn more about the gut microbiome and immune system and integrate it into your practice, go to homehope.org to read the gut immune system blog article here or check out the Gut-Immune System (Microbiota) Module where you can learn how to detect and correct imbalances in five different categories: Maldigestion, Inflammation, Metabolic Imbalance, Dysbiosis, and Infection.


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Dr. Scott Sherr

Dr. Scott Sherr is a Board-Certified Internal Medicine Physician Certified to Practice Health Optimization Medicine (HOMe), a specialist in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), and COO of Troscriptions (a Smarter Not Harder company). His clinical telepractice includes HOMe as its foundation alongside an integrative approach to HBOT that includes cutting edge and dynamic HBOT protocols, comprehensive testing (using the HOMe framework), targeted supplementation, personal practices, synergistic technologies (new, ancient, psychedelic), and more.

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