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Episode 63: Leaky Gut Decoded

Episode 63: Leaky Gut Decoded

Leaky gut. Intestinal permeability. You may have heard these terms (maybe even from your own practitioner!) but perhaps you don’t really understand what they’re talking about. 

This mini-episode with nutritional therapy practitioner Andrea Wien gives a down-to-earth overview on what leaky gut is, how you get it, why it matters, and how to heal from it. If you’ve ever dealt with allergies, autoimmune disease, digestive distress, or literally any other symptom, leaky gut may be to blame. 

A visual of the tight junctions of your intestines: 

A visual of the tight junctions of your intestines

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Andrea Wien: Welcome to the Microbiome Report. I am Andrea Wien and today we are doing another mini episode. This one is all about leaky gut. So also called intestinal permeability. This is something that we talk about in the show a lot, you might've heard from maybe your doctor, your functional medicine doctor or your friend, it's out there in the zeitgeist. And I just want to take some time today to go through exactly what we're talking about when we talk about leaky gut, what causes it, why it matters and just shed some light on this topic overall. So to start, we can think about leaky gut in thinking about what a healthy gut looks like first. So when we look at the lining of the intestine, which is really only the epithelial cells are one wall thick, they're very, very thin and I'll put a picture up on our show notes page so you can go ahead and take a look at a visual of what this looks like.

But essentially you could think of it like soldiers standing very compactly shoulder to shoulder together, so nothing can get through. Now, when we start to get leaky gut, those soldiers move a little bit farther apart, things can start to sneak through, small children can run past them, dogs, things can get through where those junctions are supposed to be really solid and tight. And when that happens in the gut and in our gut lining things like food particles that are undigested and much larger than they should be to be processed by the body end up getting into the bloodstream. We have bacteria and fungi that are supposed to remain in the digestive tract getting into the bloodstream. So all of these substances, whether they're harmful or not, our food is not inherently dangerous to us.

These bacteria and fungi might actually be good for us, but because they're getting to a place where they shouldn't be, it's causing an immune system reaction. And that's really what we're talking about when we're talking about leaky gut. This opening up of the tight junctions of the gut. Now what causes it? This is something that is very difficult to pinpoint because there's so many different things than can cause it, the first one is dysbiosis in the gut. So this is having too much bacteria of the wrong kind, having too much fungi or yeast, candida is often brought up, but really any type of imbalance in the microbiome can cause this. Medications, these are things like antibiotics, but also things like aspirin, right? Things that we don't even think about, or maybe a prescription that our doctor put us on is causing this.

Stress, and I'm not talking about stress like you accidentally got in an accident and you have a high amount of stress, but more chronic stress, things that you're feeling worked up about a lot, maybe stress at your job or stress with your kids. Things that have become chronic can lead to intestinal permeability. Food intolerance, this is one of the biggest ones that we see. So if you're eating something repeatedly that your body is reacting to, you can give yourself leaky gut. Toxins are another big one. So these are environmental things like pesticides, herbicides, things that we're spraying on our crops, chemicals that you're using in your personal care products even your tap water, if you have tap water that's contaminated, which I would really urge you to do a test on your local tap water and see what's in there, you might be shocked.

But I always recommend that my clients use a water filter and something a little bit heavier hitting than a Brita. So something like a Berkey filter on their countertop, or if they're able to do a whole house filter, looking into some of those ones, Radiant Life makes a great whole house water filter. So these are all things that can cause leaky gut. And like I said, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly which one might be going on. And it also might be a combination of all of these things or a few of these things that you're dealing with. So when we start to look at the conditions it causes, this is another reason that it's so difficult to pinpoint what's going on because it can literally run the gamut. Everything from digestive symptoms, diarrhea, gas, IBS, you can have worse allergies, seasonal allergies are a big sign of leaky gut.

Hormonal imbalances, PCOS, PMS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. We see all autoimmune diseases falling under this. And I just want to make a quick point. Celiac disease, for example, is an autoimmune disease that when people take out gluten, they still don't heal. And we wonder, hm, we took out this offending thing in gluten, but the person's still not getting better. And what we find is oftentimes, in these cases, those people still have leaky gut that needs to be addressed and simply removing the gluten isn't enough to fix it. So that's just something to keep in mind if you are struggling with something and you're still having flare ups and maybe you've removed one thing, maybe you have some leaky gut going on. We also see mental issues. So depression, anxiety, ADHD, ADD, skin conditions, acne, eczema, rosacea. The list really goes on and on. We have weakened immune system, arthritis, joint pain, all of these things can be tied to leaky gut.

Another piece of this is if you have leaky gut, you also have something that researchers are now starting to call leaky brain. And that is because your brain has a blood brain barrier that acts in a similar way to the gut lining, where it's supposed to keep things that might be harmful for the brain out in the bloodstream and not letting it cross over. But now we know if we have leaky gut, we also have leaky brain. So those tight junctions of the brain are also letting things through that they shouldn't. And in a case like Alzheimer's, we start to see a buildup of aluminum, for example, in the brain. That's something that shouldn't be able to really cross the blood/brain barrier, but because we have these underlying conditions, those things are starting to get through. Now sometimes I'll have clients ask me, "Can't we just test for this? Is there something that we could do in a blood test or in a stool test that will tell me definitively if I have leaky gut?"

And while there are tests available, they're really not as accurate as just addressing the gut first and really, any practitioner that understands the role of the gut and health will start with the gut and assume that you have leaky gut, because it's always a good idea to do some gut support before you try to address any other underlying hormonal issues or other things that might be going on. So while there are tests that might be able to point you in the direction of leaky gut, really it's where you should start anyway. You should just assume if you're having these issues that your gut needs to be addressed and need some work and start there. Now, the good news is that we can heal from this. And like I mentioned in the case of celiac, removing whatever the offending thing might be is the first step.

So you could supplement your way through this, but it would not be as effective and it will not really heal the leaky gut unless we're removing whatever that trigger is. So if it is stress, for example, making sure that we're adding in some stress relieving activities, meditation, yoga, deep breathing for chemicals and toxic chemical overload, switching to clean beauty products, making sure we're not using harmful chemicals in our home. Obviously, walking outside, we don't have a lot of control over what we're breathing in, but in our home, can we get a water filter? Can we get an air filter? And then of course, our diet. So making sure we're understanding what our body's reacting to either working with a nutritionist or with a doctor who can help you pinpoint some of those food sensitivities, doing an elimination diet is a good way to do it on your own. If you feel like you're capable of sticking to that on your own.

And then of course, eating good foods in place of the things that we should be avoiding. So the things we should be avoiding are really alcohol, artificial sweeteners, sugar, gluten, dairy, those refined oils that we talked about on the episode with fats. If you haven't listened to that, go ahead and go back and listen to that. So the canola oils, grape seed oils of the world, carbonated beverages is one that people don't really realize. They think, "Oh, I'm not drinking soda, I'm drinking LaCroix," or something like that, but that can be really irritating when we're trying to heal. Packaged foods. So really going back to more of what we always talk about on the show, a whole foods diet, where you're eating your meats, your grass fed meats, nuts and seeds, vegetables, all of these things that are going to be really supportive of overall health are going to be really helpful when we're trying to heal leaky gut.

Now there are some supplements that can be really helpful as well. So when we think about what the tight junctions need to stay intact, L-glutamine is the biggest one. And that's really going to act as fuel for these cells. So L-glutamine is something that we always want to be supplementing with when we're trying to heal leaky gut and in quite a high dosage. So typically you're looking at around seven grams a day. Biotics makes a really nice powder that you can just stir into water. They also make, I think, a product called GI Resolve is what it's called and that can be really helpful as well. It has a couple other things that have been shown to be really helpful in resolving leaky gut. Some zinc carnosine is in there, some licorice root. Those are two that we know can be really helpful.

Marshmallow root, slippery elm, those are two herbs that we know can be really useful. So when you think about slippery, mucilaginous stuff that's really soothing to the intestine and the small intestine and gives it a little bit of that barrier as it's trying to heal. Probiotics can also be helpful when we're trying to heal some leaky gut and then chia seeds. Again, that mucilaginous, gooeyness that you get from some of that. So making a tea with a marshmallow root, a slippery elm, and a licorice root would be really nice, but again, the L-glutamine and the zinc carnosine are really helpful. So that's it for today's episode on leaky gut, intestinal permeability. If anyone has any up questions, again, these episodes are meant to be short and sweet, but if you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to reach out to me.

I'm @Dreeats on Instagram, or you can shoot us an email at And again, BIOHM is B-I-O-H-M. I will link to all this in the show notes as well at Thanks for listening. We'll catch you next time. The Microbiome Report is powered by BIOHM Health. BIOHM Health is a leader in gut health products and gut testing. Their recently released Reds Powder is a nice addition to any diet. Packed with prebiotics, probiotics and antioxidants from red fruits, it tastes just like fruit punch. Give it a try at with the code POD15 for 15% off.


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