Is Leaky Gut Syndrome Real?

Amy Barczy

| 4 min read

Amy Barczy is a former brand journalist who authored content at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Prior to her time at Blue Cross from 2019-2024, she was a statewide news reporter for MLive.com. She has a decade of storytelling experience in local news media markets including Lansing, Grand Rapids, Holland, Ann Arbor and Port Huron.

Treatments and fixes for “leaky gut syndrome” have been circulating in the online health and wellness community; but it’s unlikely that you’ll hear about this from your doctor.
Leaky gut syndrome is not currently recognized as a medical diagnosis; rather, it’s considered a hypothetical condition.
It’s based on the concept of intestinal permeability. Everyone has intestines that are semi-permeable; meaning that the lining of the intestines absorbs water and nutrients from the food and releases them into the bloodstream in the body. The mucous lining of the intestines plays an important role in the immune system, as it prevents bacteria and other germs from entering the rest of the body.
Several autoimmune diseases cause chronic inflammation, which erodes the intestinal barrier and increases the intestinal permeability. These include celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. 

What is “leaky gut syndrome”?

What makes “leaky gut syndrome” a theory that’s not scientifically recognized is how it positions the role of a leaky gut in relation to the cause of chronic disease.
The medical community views a “leaky gut” as a symptom of disease.
The theory of “leaky gut syndrome” views the increased permeability of the intestines as the cause of disease, allowing toxins into the blood stream that then trigger an inflammatory response.
This unproven theory has gained traction as it soothes unanswered questions about certain gastrointestinal conditions, yet there is no scientific evidence to back it up.
People with gastrointestinal symptoms like food sensitivity, bloating, indigestion and abdominal pain often think they have a leaky gut. However, these symptoms could be attributed to many different causes – some of which may be damaging the lining of the intestine, thereby causing it to leak.
If you’re experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms, talk with your primary care provider about your health concerns. They can offer expert advice and recommend next steps based on medical evidence to help you uncover the true cause of your symptoms.

What affects intestinal permeability?

The mucus lining of the intestine is designed to constantly repair itself. It can be permanently damaged, however, through chronic misuse of drugs and alcohol, radiation therapy or chronic disease.
Leaky gut syndrome theorizes that a poor diet and stress can wear down the lining of the intestine over time – until it becomes weak enough that it has increased permeability to allow toxins into the body. While there is no scientific evidence supporting this theory, lifestyle factors do affect the body in multiple ways.

Ways to improve gut health

Gut health is an increasingly trending topic online and in social media. It’s important to seek out credible sources of information, and to work with your primary care provider to discuss any questions you may have about your gastrointestinal symptoms –especially if you are managing a chronic condition. Generally, here are some tips to improve your gut health:
  • Drink more water: It’s recommended that men consume 15.5 cups of fluids a day and women consume 11.5 cups of fluids a day. This benefits the gut by circulating nutrients throughout the body, moving out waste and supporting the function of vital organs.
  • Rest: Ensuring six to eight hours of sleep a night can promote a healthier gut. The body’s natural response to exhaustion is a less efficient immune and digestive system.
  • Get active: Exercise and weight management endorse better circulation, healthier digestion, reduce intestinal inflammation, and help sustain healthy bacteria in the gut. Thirty minutes of exercise per day is recommended. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutrient-dense foods promote a healthier gut. It’s critical to eat regularly and control portions. Limit fats and sugars while increasing fiber.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: This can improve gut health by lowering the risk of intestinal damage while also avoiding an imbalance of bacteria that can lead to more serious digestive disorders over time.

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