Posted on

What is Leaky Gut — And What Can You Do About It?

Stomach pain from IBS

Did you know that your biggest exposure to the outside world everyday is through your mouth? That’s why 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, lying in wait to protect you from anything that seems foreign (or “antigenic”) to the body. “Antigens” include bugs, like bacteria, parasites, or viruses. And believe it or not, they are  also in the food you eat – and the toxins and microbes that ride along with the food..

Your gut, which is essentially a tube starting at your esophagus and ending at your rectum,  has barrier walls separating the inside of your body and immune system from the outside world.  When you break down and digest your food into tiny particles, the intestinal lining serves to very selectively choose what can enter your body through a variety of mechanisms, including opening and closing gates called tight junctions.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

An intestinal barrier with damaged tight junctions, that isn’t succeeding in keeping those antigens out, leads to a condition known as Leaky Gut or Increased Intestinal Permeability.  The lining of the tube is damaged, and because of that, more and larger food molecules and gut bacteria are able to pass through to the other side (your bloodstream).  This leads to immune system activation as the body is overloaded with antigens, and this in turn can lead to inflammation and a variety of system-wide conditions.

Common Causes of Leaky Gut

Causes of leaky gut vary, but the most important might be dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, also known as the gut microbiome. Dysbiosis shows up in a number of ways, for a number of reasons. It can be an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast, or parasites, or simply a dearth of good bacteria, or any sort of bacteria growing in the wrong place in the gut.

Dysbiosis is caused by poor dietary choices, frequent antibiotic use, use of common over-the-counter medications (like antacids or painkillers), and can even be caused by stress, and chronic constipation.  A healthy microbiome helps you by interacting with the immune system in beneficial ways, and also by turning the food you eat into compounds that heal the tight junctions between your cells, protecting the integrity of the gut lining. Balanced gut microbiota leads to a strong barrier!

Leaky gut and the Connection to Chronic Disease

Studies have increasingly found that a leaky gut is associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease (like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Rheumatoid Arthritis), allergies, and food sensitivities.  But why is it that leaky gut is associated with inflammatory diseases like arthritis? When the contents of your digestive tract, which includes gut bacteria and larger molecules of food and toxins, “leak” into your body, your immune system is activated, creating inflammatory chemicals that travel throughout your body and cause system-wide inflammation, especially in the joints. And this happens nonstop until your gut microbiome and the lining are repaired.

Leaky Gut and Nutritional Deficiencies

Leaky gut can also contribute to malabsorption of vitamins and minerals.  Ongoing inflammation can cause damage to the carrier proteins in the lining of the gut that are supposed to work to bring the good stuff into the body. The most common are iron, B12, magnesium and zinc deficiencies. These lead to all sorts of symptoms like fatigue, hair loss, rashes and muscle pains.

How to Heal Leaky Gut

The good news is that you can rebuild your microbiome and repair your gut, it just takes a little effort and sometimes some detective work. Here are five areas that deserve your attention:

  •      Food Choices: Food has the most influence on the diversity of the microbiome – and that is why we always recommend starting by changing your diet. Increasing your intake of foods high in fiber, mostly fruits and vegetables, is the simplest change we can make. These tend to increase that good bacteria that plays such a role in keeping the gut lining healthy and working. Removing foods that feed the bad bacteria is also important – so quitting – or at least decreasing the amounts of sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and bad fats will support rebalancing the microbiome.
  •      Food Sensitivities: Recognizing the foods you are sensitive to and removing those from your diet is an important way to help heal the gut lining. If the gut is constantly barraged by a particular food that is stressing the immune system, local inflammation at the gut barrier will create imbalance and lead to leaky-ness. A simple elimination diet is often the best way to determine food sensitivities. Food allergy testing can also guide us in helping you to figure out what to eat and what not to eat.
  •      Stressors: We all know that stress affects our gut. Think about it, when you don’t feel relaxed, you just don’t digest as well. Many people manifest emotional distress in their digestive tract, suffering from an uneasy stomach, loose stools or sometimes chronic constipation, bloating, cramping and food intolerance. Making sure that stress is dealt with, by looking into your habits and working to improve potential sources of stress – like lack of sleep, lack of exercise, or mood imbalance is essential. Your digestion benefits from 8+ hours of sleep nightly, a good exercise regimen that keeps you moving daily and a meditation or mindfulness practice that helps ground your mind.
  •      Toxins: Decreasing your  total body toxin exposure should be a crucial part of your gut healing strategy.  Eating well-sourced, non-gmo, organic foods as much as possible and avoiding common environmental exposures that further tax the system and damage the intestinal lining, helps decrease permeability and inflammation.
  •      Dysbiosis: Sometimes the imbalanced gut is really off.  So much so that improving diet won’t fix it completely.  In these cases, we usually use testing (stool, breath, urine) to help determine the best method of gut healing – or cleansing – with herbal preparations, medications, and probiotics.

Treatment options for leaky gut:

  •      Glutamine, an amino acid, has been shown to reverse intestinal mucosal damage from various insults.
  •      Marshmallow root and DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated licorice) extract are agents that stimulate protective mucus secretion in the gut.
  •      Probiotics are an essential part of healing the gut lining – a broad spectrum probiotic that contains lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species is recommended.  Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast, is also an important supplement to restore gut health.
  •      Fish Oil – to reduce intestinal (and systemic) inflammation.
  •      Vitamin D – at doses of 2000-5000 IU daily (get blood levels checked intermittently) supports the mucosal immune system in the gut lining.

What to do if you suspect you have Leaky Gut:

If you live in our neighborhood, make an appointment!  In my  practice at Blum Center for Health, I take a multi-pronged, holistic approach, a combination of medical and lifestyle considerations, to address, diagnose, and treat your condition.  We take your health seriously and get to the root of the problem rather than simply throwing medication at it.  For more information, please call 914-652-7800.

Don’t live nearby?  A great place to start is with our 10-Day or 30-Day HealMyGut program — it’s a total gut reset with a nutritional plan, recipes, just-right supplements, daily email support, and a private online community. Our 30-Day program includes the added bonus of a weekly chat with our Functional Nutritionist to answer all your questions. Find out which program is ideal for you: Take the Assessment

Meet Darcy McConnell, M.D.:  Dr. McConnell brings her broad expertise in prevention, mind-body medicine, and women’s health to Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, NY. She is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine, with postgraduate training from the Institute for Functional Medicine. Darcy lives with her husband and three sons and enjoys the outdoors, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.

Posted on

Your Microbiome: Caring For What’s Inside You


There are literally trillions of bacteria in our digestive tracts.  They make up what is called the microflora, because under a microscope they look like little (micro) flowers (flora).  We refer to it collectively as our microbiome and they play an unbelievable role in synthesizing vitamins, producing natural antibiotics and degrading and eliminating toxins.  There are more of them in our bodies than human cells.

Think about it, we are walking around harboring and supporting this microbiome, an entire ecosystem within us.

Recent science has taught us that the microbiome also dictates aspects of who we are – our personalities, what diseases we will get, our mood, the size of our girth. Most of us are oblivious to it, we pay no attention to it at all except for to take a probiotic, until it hurts.

Internally we are 98.6 degrees, very moist and we have a tube that runs through us that is 30 feet long that has an opening on each end (the mouth and the anus).   This internal environment is the perfect breeding ground for microbes – both good and bad.

Outside, external, influences often upset the balance.  How we control the external influences determines the delicate balance of good and bad players.  It is up to us – we must care for them, it is critical to good health and requires more than a probiotic.

Factors That Affect the Microbiome:

Stress, the food we eat, genetics, how much time we spend outdoors, if the windows of our homes are open or closed, our exposure to animals, toxin and chemical exposure, antibiotic use throughout our lives, how we were born — C-section or vaginally — whether we were breast-fed, how often we bathe – all affect our microbiome.

For most of us, our guts are a mess.  We have created a microbiome that looks very different from what nature intended for each of us.  So how do we get back to the farm?

Increase These Foods to Support your Microbiome :

  • Eat a rainbow of colorful vegetables and some fruit every day. They will provide fermentable fibers that feed our healthy flora.
  • Include coconut products like coconut oil, milk, yogurt and kefir. Coconut is filled with medium chain triglycerides which feed the cells lining our intestines, and has yeast-killing properties.
  • Include Ghee, which is clarified butter. Ghee is filled with butyrate, a critically-important fatty acid for the care and feeding of cells in our colon.
  • Eat organic, non-GMO These foods are low in pesticides and have not been genetically modified, which can alter your flora and damage you intestinal lining, causing leaky gut.
  • Include healthy anti-inflammatory oils like fish, flax, olive oil.
  • Choose grass-fed, pasture-raised, or free-range organic animals when possible. This will limit the hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides that we are expose our microbes to when eating animals raised in typical feed lots.  Also, the meat from grass fed animals have higher quality, anti-inflammatory fats than corn fed animals.

It is Equally Important to Remove These Foods:

  • Processed food high in sugar, white flour, baked goods, food dyes and preservatives. These foods and chemicals promote the growth of the wrong kind of bacteria in our gut.  Eating this way should be a permanent change.  This includes fruit juices, dried fruit, and all added sugar or artificial sweeteners except stevia.
  • Gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs and peanuts because these foods are the most common triggers for reflux, constipation and abdominal discomfort, as well as other non-gut related symptoms.
  • Foods high in histamines: Shellfish, processed or smoked meats and sausages, wine.  Many people are affected by histamine intolerance, caused by the body’s inability to break down histamine in the gut causing crazy allergy reactions. Reactions to histamines can look like allergic reactions, including nasal congestion as well as headaches, dizziness and digestive discomfort.
  • All alcohol


Live in our neighborhood? If you’d like to heal your, consider joining my HealMyGut 30-Day Program on Tuesday, April 17th at either 10am or 6pm Blum Center for Health. To learn more or enroll, Click Here.

Don’t live near Blum Center?  Try our online HealMyGut program that includes daily email support, a private Facebook group, and weekly live one-hour coaching calls.

About Mary: Mary Gocke, Director of Nutrition at Blum Center for Health, has been successfully using food and nutrition science to treat and heal people with chronic illnesses and acute conditions for over 25 years. When Mary’s not helping people feel better through nutrition, this mother of two grown children can be found practicing yoga, which she has taught for years, or in her kitchen cooking something colorful.

Posted on

Healing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Stomach pain from IBS

In my Functional Medicine practice, many people come to me with stories of terrible digestive distress, often labeled as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or “IBS. ”This diagnosis is often given to people with a wide range of functional digestive issues like GERD or reflux, heartburn, burping, bloating, feeling full, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation,  or incomplete bowel emptying. Conventional approaches to treatment usually begin with an acid blocking medication, called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), like Prilosec or Prevacid.  Many studies show these medications cause more harm than good and are not the ultimate answer.

Instead, we need to get to the root cause of these issues and this is where Functional Medicine really shines!

Here are the most common causes of digestive issues that need to be explored and treated to heal Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Once you address these, you can be cured once and for all:

  • Food sensitivities or allergies
  • Lack of appropriate digestive enzymes or stomach acid
  • Motility disorders
  • Inflammation of the gut lining
  • Imbalance of the microbial flora
  • Digestive disorders that don’t allow nutrients to be absorbed
  • Leaky gut causing systemic inflammation
  • Overgrowth of certain bacteria that are associated with systemic illness.

Using Functional Medicine To Treat IBS

  1.  Fix your food.
    This can be as simple as modifying your diet — adding gut-healthy foods and eliminating your personal food triggers are imperative to healing your gut and reducing symptoms. We always start with an elimination diet for 3 weeks, removing gluten, dairy, soy, corn and eggs, the most common triggers for IBS. Remember, this is an experiment and has 2 parts: after the 3 weeks are finished, carefully reintroduce each food, every 3 days, one at a time, and this is when you can really determine if the food is a trigger for you.
  2. Consider stool and breath testing to take a closer look at your gut microbes and digestion.
    If changing your diet doesn’t fix the problem, then we recommend further testing. We need to evaluate your gut microbes, which are the 100 trillion bacteria that live in your intestines. They need to be in balance….. after all, your microbiome is your inner garden and you want to be sure your garden is flourishing. We also need to make sure your digestion is working well.  We use functional testing to get more information, and the results help guide my treatment with herbs, supplements and probiotics to gently nudge the bacteria into a healthier state, support your digestion, and resolve your symptoms.Here are some suggestions to try on your own and get you started.
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Bitters or ginger
  • Probiotics
  • Magnesium citrate – when constipated.
  • Cleansing herbs like berberine – in cases of bacterial overgrowth.
  1. Remember, the single most important thing to do is to change your understanding of your gut.
    Let’s start to think of the gut as what it really is – a seemingly simple but actually incredibly complex tube, responsible for grabbing the necessary nutrients out of the food you eat, keeping you healthy by killing infectious disease, removing toxins from the body through the stool, supporting your immune system, and even moderating your mood by producing and affecting neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin and estrogens.  The gut is important!

In our practice at Blum Center for Health we take a multi-pronged, holistic approach, a combination of medical and lifestyle considerations, to address your gastrointestinal condition. We help you change your relationship to food, make necessary adjustments to exercise, sleeping and stress reduction, all things that influence motility and the health of your gut. Lifestyle changes works in unison with dietary and our medical solutions to provide lifelong relief.

Are you ready to calm your irritable bowel? A great place to start is with our 10-Day or 30-Day HealMyGut program — it’s a total gut reset with a nutritional plan, recipes, just-right supplements, daily email support, and a private online community. Our 30-Day program includes the added bonus of a weekly chat with our Functional Nutritionist to answer all your questions. Find out which program is ideal for you: Take the Assessment


Meet Darcy McConnell, M.D.:  Dr. McConnell brings her broad expertise in prevention, mind-body medicine, and women’s health to Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, NY. She is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine, with postgraduate training from the Institute for Functional Medicine. Darcy lives with her husband and three sons and enjoys the outdoors, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.

Posted on

3 Simple Steps To Great Gut Health

By Susan Blum, MD

If you have gas or bloating after you eat, or if you experience constipation and/or loose stools, or any type of intestinal discomfort, you have a problem with how your gut is functioning. While this is commonly labeled irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, the diagnosis doesn’t tell you why you’re having this problem.

Usually, the issue is something called dysbiosis, which means your gut flora isn’t healthy. You might have an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or parasites, or you might not have enough of the good stuff: those probiotics you find in yogurt and cultured foods.

But who cares about a little gas or bloating?

You should! Your gut flora needs to be fixed, because the symptoms you’re having could just be the tip of the iceberg. A whopping 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and if the flora are out of balance, you have an increased risk of something called Leaky Gut Syndrome, and this can lead to autoimmune disease.

Here are my tips to heal your gut, which will treat your symptoms and keep your immune system happy, too.

  1. For your digestive symptoms, find out whether or not you’ve got food sensitivities, which could be causing the problem. Check yourself for gluten and dairy by removing them both from your diet at the same time for three weeks, and then reintroduce each one at a time, four days apart and monitor how you feel.
  2. For your flora, eat cultured food every day, like coconut or almond milk yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut or kimchee, and consider taking a probiotic supplement.
  3. If the above doesn’t do the trick, consider a gut-cleansing program using herbs like berberine or oregano to remove the harmful microbes. Our new HealMyGut program will help you do just that!