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Leaky gut syndrome can lead to the onset of an autoimmune disease. When your body comes under a sustained attack by toxins, the immune system becomes hypervigilent, says Victor Sierpina, MD, a family medicine practitioner at the University of Texas Medical Branch and author of The Healthy Gut Workbook: “In short, the immune system becomes overdriven.”

This is especially problematic if you have a genetic predisposition toward autoimmunity and have a leaky gut. Together, those two elements can trigger an autoimmune disease.

Until recently, scientists knew autoimmune disorders ran in families and were “turned on” by environmental toxins and lifestyle triggers, like stress, but they didn’t know how the two were connected. Alessio Fasano, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston, identified leaky gut as the finger that pulled the trigger on an autoimmune disease.

Your intestines are home to a great deal of your digestive system, nervous system, and immune system. Here’s how to heal your gut lining and avoid leaky gut syndrome. See “How to Heal a Leaky Gut” for more.

Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite

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