Can a leaky gut put you at risk of autoimmune diseases?

What is the link between a leaky gut and autoimmune diseases? An immunology specialist explains the connection.
manage thyroid
Leaky gut syndrome may lead to autoimmune diseases. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Himanshi Chaudhary Updated: 17 Oct 2023, 18:46 pm IST
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A leaky gut can put you at risk of multiple health problems, including autoimmune diseases, as per studies. Over the years there has been a rise in the incidence and prevalence of autoimmune diseases, which can be organ-specific (for example, autoimmune thyroiditis) or generalized (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Come, let us find out the link between leaky gut and autoimmune diseases.

Rise of autoimmune disease

The most accepted theory for why these disorders happen is that some environmental factors trigger an autoimmune reaction in a person who is genetically susceptible to developing an autoimmune disease. Some of these genetic factors have been studied in detail. Genetics is an evolving field, but there is enough evidence to suggest that a person’s chances of developing AD increases in presence of a family history of autoimmune diseases. The environmental factors that have been studied in association with susceptibility to AD include female hormones, sunlight exposure, smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, and lack of physical activity.

Recently, a lot of active research has been going on to link the occurrence of some diseases to your gut health. An imbalance in the intestinal permeability and change in the residential gut microbial flora has been associated with diseases such allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and even certain neurological disorders like autism.

leaky gut
An unhealthy gut can lead to many issues. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases

The theory of gut dysbiosis or leaky gut syndrome has recently been established in the pathogenesis of some autoimmune diseases. Scientists have proved that mice with an altered intestinal permeability and a change in the gut microflora can develop autoimmune diseases ranging from Type 1 Diabetes mellitus to SLE.

The lining of the normal intestine contains cells and chemicals that prevent pathogens and antigens from crossing the lining and spilling over into the blood. The leaky gut syndrome refers to a condition wherein some substances within the intestine find a way to cross the intestinal lining and reach the circulation. Once in the bloodstream, these microorganisms can get into tissues and organs. These foreign antigens have the potential of altering the immune system such that it starts damaging your own body.

Check this: Is your gut leaky? Take this quiz to find out

immune system
Your immune system is important. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

These foreign antigens can be proteins like gluten, bacteria, or viruses. They translocate to tissues and contribute to the development of AD. Some factors that have been shown to increase the leakiness of the gut include:

1. Stress
2. Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise
3. Vitamin D deficiency
4. Consuming a low-fiber diet
5. Diet high in saturated fat
6. Uncontrolled Diabetes
7. Alcohol consumption
8. Chronic intestinal infections such as Helicobacter pylori
9. Toxins like medications, heavy metals, pesticides

How to treat a leaky gut?

Considering that leaky gut and bacterial translocations contribute to inflammation, reversing leaky gut appears to be an attractive therapeutic option in cases of autoimmune disease. There has been some discussion of the role of probiotics and healthy gut bacteria in reversing this dysbiosis, but we need stronger scientific evidence to prove their role.

Manage leaky gut with lifestyle changes
Manage leaky gut with lifestyle changes. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Lifestyle changes like reducing daily stress to allow healing of the inflamed gut, avoiding smoking, adequate sleep, and daily exercise are bound to improve overall well-being and help the body recover from the immune dysregulation in the gut. It is important to control hypertension and maintain good glycemic control.

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There is enough evidence that a balanced diet with an adequate amount of fiber and micronutrients is important to maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining. Another important aspect is preserving the gut microflora by avoiding the incessant use of antimicrobials and consumption of food-borne toxins.


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