053: Christa Orecchio on Leaky Gut & Autoimmunity

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 16 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Click here to read my affiliate policy.

Does Leaky Gut Cause Autoimmunity
Wellness Mama » Episode » 053: Christa Orecchio on Leaky Gut & Autoimmunity
The Wellness Mama podcast logo
The Wellness Mama Podcast
053: Christa Orecchio on Leaky Gut & Autoimmunity

We’re wrapping up the current podcast series covering all things gut health this week, and Christa Orecchio has put together a free educational video series to help you understand how pathogens and bad bugs can be responsible for so many health challenges. I hope you’ll check it out, because the info she explains is part of the “missing link” for so many struggling with health issues.

Understanding Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease

As Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut,” and this is becoming increasingly evident as we uncover the link between autoimmunity and leaky gut. In this episode, I’m joined once again by Christa Orecchio, founder of TheWholeJourney.com and the Gut Thrive in 5 program. She’s a TEDX speaker, author and TV show host who has helped thousands of people reclaim their health.

Does Leaky Gut Cause Autoimmunity?

Christa describes leaky gut as a brick wall that’s missing connective mortar. The mucosal lining in our intestinal tract is critical for protecting against harmful pathogens. Leaky gut means that there are small tears in the mucosal lining, causing food particles, bacteria and toxins to escape into our bloodstream.

She explains part of the process of how leaky gut leads to autoimmune disease:

  • The spleen and liver get overworked trying to purge the body of toxins
  • Because detoxing isn’t happening through the bowels, it happens through the skin which causes eczema and psoriasis
  • The body can’t deal with infections properly, which leads to a domino effect of our weak genetic links. Lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and fibromyalgia could result, among other disorders.

How to Help Heal the Gut Lining

It’s a popular belief that simply taking probiotics will heal the lining of the gut. But as Christa points out, “You can’t plant flowers in a junkyard.” There has to be a weeding of pathogens before a reseeding of good bacteria can be effective. This relies on a supportive diet, specialized supplements to weed out improper amounts of bad bacteria, and a careful reseeding process with specialized probiotics and enzymes to reactive the gut.

Once that process takes place, Christa recommends taking several strains of probiotics in very specific amounts:

  • Lactobacillus: the “marines,” taking the first assault on bad bacteria in the gut.
  • Bifidobacterium: the “engineers” that build infrastructure to heal and seal the leaky gut.
  • Bacillus: the “special forces unit,” able to withstand the harsh environment of stomach acid and can be your front line defense for pathogens.

Christa also recommends these specific (temporary) dietary changes for those struggling with leaky gut:

  1. Eliminate gluten from your diet
  2. Eliminate dairy from your diet
  3. Eliminate sugar from your diet
  4. Have raw food in moderation (only 20% of your diet)
  5. Start consuming bone broth
  6. Consume healing teas

Autoimmunity: Long-Term healing

After the process of purging pathogens and reseeding the gut, Christa explains how to sustain gut health and protect against autoimmune disease for long-term health. Christa says the first important step is to optimize hydrochloric acid.

Hydrochloric acid provides the fence between you and other pathogens in the outside world so it can protect you. As the saying goes, “good fences make good neighbors!.” This may require supplementation in the short term but hopefully the body will be able to produce adequate amounts in the long term.

The next aspect of long-term healing is terraforming. This is when you add in non-starch pre-biotics, which feed that newly establishing gut flora. It’s going to create a new operating system within the gut that’s consistently attracting all the different strains of bacteria from the air, the water and the food. At this stage, people will notice their food sensitivities fading away!

Resources we Mention:

More From Wellness Mama

Don’t Forget Bone Broth

Until May 30th, you can get 5% off organic pre-made bone broth from The Brothery, both mine and Christa’s recommended bone broth resource, simply by going to WellnessMama.com/broth and using the code WellnessMama5.

[toggle title=”Read Transcript”]
Katie: Christa, welcome back. Thanks for being here again.

Christa: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Katie.

Katie: Awesome. What I love, we’ve covered so much in these last few episodes
that we’ve done together starting with pregnancy and fertility and
optimizing even before someone gets pregnant. Then understanding the
micro-biome and how that contributes both to pregnancy and also to gut
health and to so many conditions that often aren’t even connected. Then
we even deep-dove into gut infections. This episode is going to be one
that’s near and dear to my heart, which is the connection between gut
health and autoimmune disease.

Thankfully this is a connection that is starting to be a lot more wellunderstood,
but it’s only more recent that we’re really starting to
understand why this connection is so strong and how deep that connection
is and how many conditions can be effected by that, especially when it
comes to autoimmune disease.

You mentioned in the second episode we did together that you really like
Hippocrates and how he said that “All disease begins in the gut,” which I
love that too. When it comes to autoimmune disease, gut health is a huge
factor, especially with leaky gut. Can you talk about what is leaky gut
specifically and how does that effect autoimmune conditions?

Christa: I’m happy to. It’s such an important topic. I always love to use the analogy
that if you think of the lining of your small intestine like a brick wall and
the mortar is missing from that brick wall, in short, that’s what leaky gut is.
Starting in our mouth going all the way down our tract to the end of the
pipe, we have a mucosal lining and that is really important.
We need to have enough. A thick, healthy, vibrant mucosal lining because
that is where a lot of our immune system lies. For example, when you’re
sick and you have to blow your nose, your body is wrapping up pathogens
and mucus and transporting them out of the body. What happens when we
don’t have enough of that mucosal lining, then the body loses the ability to
protect us.

It can’t wrap up pathogens. It can’t transport them out of the body. When
we’re talking about the gut, a lot of people talk about the gut as the second
skin. We want to keep things tightly inside that intestinal tract and then
excrete waste so it never goes into any other parts of our body. Now when
we consume our food, we have food in the small intestine, we also have
bacteria, we also have toxins, and that’s why we eat enough fiber to be
able to bind those toxins to get them out of the system. This is where we
do our nutrient absorption.

What happens with leaky gut is that mucosal lining that is nice and thick
and it’s there to protect you, starts to get tiny little tears and now what’s
happening is we have food particles and bacteria, and toxins escaping the
wrong way. Whenever that happens. Whenever it gets out of the gut, it gets
into the bloodstream and it goes directly to the brain first and foremost,
but it’s also going to put a huge burden on the rest of the body. Now when
everybody is place and they’re doing their job, we don’t have autoimmune
disease, but now the chips are down, the intestinal tract can no longer do
the job that it’s supposed to do.

Now the spleen has to work overtime. Spleen really helps to clear
inappropriate matter out of the bloodstream. When you have leaky gut,
now it’s job just went from 40 hours a week to 80 hours a week. Now the
liver has to refilter toxins. The liver has to metabolize all the toxins of life.
We don’t want to put an extra burden on it, but when it gets that extra
burden, it’s doing double time just to keep up with the burden it’s dealing

It can’t contribute to lasting health. This is the problem when it starts to put
this burden on the body. The immune system gets confused. The system
gets overloaded. It gets backed up and this is the early part of
autoimmunity. If we’re not detoxing through the bowels, then we’ll be
detoxing through the skin. This is where we start to get skin rashes that
won’t go away. It’s showing with eczema and psoriasis that there’s
something going on and that it begins in the gut.

It’s showing where the Hashimoto’s disease is connected. There’s a lot of
studies connecting it to protozoa. There’s a lot of studies connecting it to H.
pylori infections. If the body doesn’t have the ability to deal with these
infections effectively, there’s going to be a domino effect to whatever
might be our genetic weakest link. Whatever we have propensity for, and it
will manifest in certain people as fibromyalgia. In others as lupus. In others
as Hashimoto’s disease. The list goes on.

This whole autoimmune epidemic that we’re dealing with right now, I
believe can be largely taken care of and reversed or at least first base to
healing begins in the gut. By going in and healing, and sealing the gut.
Reseeding the gut with the right types and good bacteria and turning the
genetic directive over to the body to do the rest of it. I think that’s the
most holistic way to go about it.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I wish I could remember, it was a specialist that I talked
to one time that explained to me this really neat thing that blew my mind
at first which is that the gut is not actually internal. We think that it’s
inside our body so it’s an internal system, but really it’s like a tube and
food’s meant to pass through it in a very controlled environment and then
be excreted and we have all these awesome systems in place to take what
we need from food but to protect the body.

It’s not like particles of food are supposed to enter our bloodstream, but
that’s what happens with leaky gut. These particles are getting into our
body and when you think about that and how things that aren’t supposed to
be there are now interacting with our immune system and with our
endocrine system and with all these other systems that truly are internal to
the body.

It makes so much sense how it really disrupts that process and how other
systems, like I mentioned the endocrine system, and the hormone balance
and all that. That truly has internal that’s the body and our blood stream,
and our glands, whereas the digestive system is designed to keep those
things somewhat separate and to isolate them. I think that’s a really cool
analogy with the bricks and the mortar because it makes sense. Without
that mortar, not only is the wall not very strong, but you can see right
through it. That’s exactly what happens.

I love that analogy. You mentioned reseeding, which is a cool word, but also
a really cool idea for both healing the gut and fixing autoimmune disease.
You mentioned in the last episode that when you’re going through this
process with someone, you don’t even start that until after all the
pathogens are out. You don’t recommend probiotics until they’ve dealt with
that. Can you deep dive more into reseeding and what that actually means
and what that process looks like?

Christa: Absolutely. That’s the thing. A lot of people think, “Oh, take some probiotics
and it’ll be fine,” but how do you know which strains are in there? How do
you know what they’re feeding on and what’s happening and so it’s very
systematic to where I always say, “You can’t plant flowers in a junkyard.” We
have to do the weeding and then we get ready to do the reseeding and we
talked about the genetic perspective of this whole gut thrive and five and
the five steps to gut healing strategy.

When we talked about interrupting the way pathogens communicate and
how we work genetically there and determine, “What are somebody’s herbs
that work best for them genetically?” Well, we also work on the genetic
component when we get to step three, which is the reseeding, but the
strategy shifts and I have a clinical guest who I love and have learned a ton
from over the years is that thirty years of micro-biome experience Jack,
and he always says, “If you build it, they will come.”

This is really where genetics come into play because we have anywhere
from a hundred and fifty all the way up to two thousand strains of bacteria
that are native and unique to our genetic makeup based upon where we’re
originally from. Whether that be Asia, or Europe, or Africa. Science an
natural health can never recreate all of these strains of bacteria. What we
want to do is we want to now build on the existing good bacteria now that
the wires aren’t so crossed because we’ve done the weeding. Now we know
who’s left and we know who’s strong, and then we add new ones in the right
amount and we start to nourish and feed those new ones.

It’s almost like using a starter log and then give the direction over to the
body to start to make all those extra hundreds of strains of probiotics that
you could never buy in a health food store or even eat and then your body
starts to make those. That’s where the genetics comes in because that way
you and I Katie could eat the same meal and we’re going to make totally
different bacteria from that meal.

It’s the same thing where your body will start to learn how to attract those
strains of bacteria unique to your genetic makeup based upon the water
that you’re drinking. The air that you’re breathing and the environment that
you’re in. It’s just so fascinating when you give this directive over. The other
thing is people think, “Oh, now that I’m not taking the anti-pathogenics
anymore, if I stop my pathogen purge, what if I have more bad guys to get
out?” Well of course we do, but we’re turning over and the strategy is

We’re letting the good bacteria take over and make its own decisions as to
what it should do with the rest of the pathogenic activity within the body,
which is really cool. When you add in these right strains and you do this
very holistic to someone’s genetic makeup, then they can convert the
neutral bacteria that’s taking up space. They can put a positive influence on
them and make them become from neutral to good. It’s like raising a child
and then it’s off in the world doing really good things.

We went from … probiotics at this point based upon once people come in
to our program and they fill out assessment and we know which plan they
fall into, we can direct their probiotics. The three probiotics that
everybody should know about and be taking when they take probiotics
there’s three different families. That’s lactobacillus, bacillus, and
bifidobacterium. I would like to … Can I go a little bit into each one of
those? Is that okay?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. That would be awesome.

Christa: Okay. Jack always says it’s like open warfare in the micro-biome. In a lot of
cases, he’s right and so we use five to six different strains of the
lactobascillus and what these guys are is they’re transient bacteria. Going
with that military analogy, they’re like the Marines. The lactobacts are the
Marines. They’re responsible for the first assault. They’re going to be your
soldiers with their boots on the ground and this is where they’re going to
identify the rest of the bad guys that don’t’ belong because remember, we
need to leave some to challenge the immune system and they’re going to
escort them out of the body.

This is why you would eat your fermented foods when you do start to do
through food, this is why they’re transient. They don’t stay and that’s why
you have to eat fermented foods consistently to keep your good gut health
going. The coolest thing too about these lactobacts is they’re smart enough
to identify as these soldiers that are leaving the body, I look at it like a
prisoner of war that’s been turned and becomes an informant to the other
side and these lactobacts can say, “Okay, this guy can be turned, and it can
show it to the immune system and say, “Hey, look at the genetic code. It
shares its genetic code and the immune system an say, “Okay, now I’m
getting reeducated. I can remember this for next time and I know it doesn’t
belong.” To me that’s the coolest thing in the world.

That’s lactobacts and then we have the bifidobacterium and their job is
pillars of the community where if we’re going with the military analogy,
their job is like the Army corps of engineers. They’re responsible to colonize
and stay. They’re going to do the infrastructure. They’re going to come in
and we need the bifidobacterium to heal and seal the leaky gut. Think of
them as the actually mortar and they’re putting the mortar on the walls.
You need to have between two and four strains of the bifidobacts to really
start to heal and seal leaky gut in a lasting way. Then we have to safeguard
you for the future.

That’s where bacillus comes in. They’re like the Navy SEAL or the Army
Rangers where it’s almost like another species. They are built to withstand
volatile conditions, harsh environments. They do not seek to be
comfortable ever. That’s what makes bacillus the special forces arm of your
good bacteria peacekeeping units.

They can live with or without it. They can withstand the harsh environment
of stomach acid and they can be your front line defense for pathogens.
Food-bourne pathogens or anything like that to come back in. That’s really
the three of those in different strains really make up I call it the good
bacteria peacekeeping unit.

Katie: That’s probably the best analogy I’ve ever heard for it. Explaining the three
different types and how they act in the body. That’s really cool. If someone
is struggling with leaky gut, I would definitely encourage them if they even
suspect it to at least check out your gut thrive program because it is I think
one of the best resources I’ve ever seen for a leaky gut.

If they’re also just starting out and maybe they are saving up for a debt
right program where they can’t do it because of their state in life at this
point. What are some of the best foods and supplements and just lifestyle
things that someone can do to support the gut and help reverse leaky gut
right now. What would some steps they could start taking.

Christa: The number one thing that anyone can do is to eliminate gluten from their
diet because we know that gluten forces the release of something called
zonulin, which opens up those tight junctions or basically is going to make
the gut leakier and more susceptible to that. I would say, “Start to swap out
your diet. Eliminate gluten and cross-reactive foods so you would eliminate
dairy. Try to go both gluten and dairy free and sugar free and add in foods
that work.” We have a turmeric ginger lemonade.

It’s on our website, thewholejourney.com, and that’s a key part
of slashing information where we’re having people do a turmeric ginger
drink daily to slash inflammation, and to support the liver and get the liver
producing more of its own antioxidants so that it can start to recover from
all that extra material in the bloodstream. Then add in your foods.

Bone broth, I’m always going to be a huge fan of that. Bone broth is a
magical leaky gut healer as is collagen, the nopal cactus if you can find it in
your area in health food stores it’s proliferate in the southwest, but that’s
going to be something that’s really helpful for healing and sealing leaky gut
as is marshmallow root and slippery elm. Glutamine can go in and help with
tight junctions and then the probiotics that I just mentioned, after you do a
little bit of cleansing. Use food as your medicine. Really work in the herbs
and the spices. They’re such nature’s medicine.

Katie: Yeah, it’s awesome that we have those. That nature provides them and they
can make such a big difference. I think it today’s world, it’s easy to want to
turn to either pharmaceuticals or just pills all the time and nature makes so
many fresh foods that are just amazing for that as well. We talked about
diet quite a bit in the last few episodes, but what about specifically for
leaky gut and autoimmunity? Are there any special dietary concerns during
this process?

Christa: Well yeah. I’d say definitely the things that I’ve mentioned there for the
dietary concerns or the things to get out and the things to add in. When
you’re talking about leaky gut and autoimmune, you probably also want to
temporarily eliminate nightshade vegetables. I’m sure a lot of you who are
listeners have heard of the autoimmune protocol. We tweak it a little bit
for the autoimmune and paleo protocol where we have to add more
starches so we can support thyroid and the adrenals as we go.
I always say temporarily avoid tomatoes, and potatoes, eggplant, and
peppers while your system is healing just to not confuse any of the wires.
When you’ve had leaky gut, raw food is not your friend, so don’t eat more
than 20% raw and you’re going to want warming cooked foods. Healing
broths. Healing teas. Things like that. Our cumin, coriander, and fennel tea
that I mentioned in our second podcast that we did was going to be really

Katie: Yeah, that actually sounds really good and nourishing and tasty just for
myself. We talked about diet and supplements. When it comes to
autoimmune disease, is there more that someone needs to do long-term
besides just heal leaky gut to promote a long-term solution to

Christa: Yeah. You have to optimize hydrochloric acid. That’s just such an important
part and so what happens is if you listen to the first podcast, you see that
we want to give the parietal cells in the stomach a break and the parietal
cells are the cells in the stomach that secrete hydrochloric acid and also
something called intrinsic factor which helps us absorb and use our Vitamin

Hydrochloric acid, there’s a saying, “Good fences make good neighbors,” and
that’s where hydrochloric acid comes in. It provides the fence between you
and other pathogens in the outside world so it can protect you. This is the
step. This is point in the program where people’s brain fog starts to go away
and you’re safeguarding yourself for the future.

That’s really important to walk in your healing process and then something
called terraforming is going to be important because it’s almost like if you
were to relate this to a sick person or someone who’s broken both of their
legs. If you relate leaky gut and they go through it and they’re healing the
lining of their gut. I’m assuming they’re healing their legs and they’re on
crutches, and then you get to that step where you don’t need the crutches
anymore, but you have to walk before you can run.

This is where terraforming comes in for four months when we’re going
through the Gut Thrive process and after the gut thrive program, this is
when we add in non-starch prebiotics, which feed that newly establishing
gut flora. It’s going to feed it and fermented foods and this is where you
continue that process for three or four months of creating this new
operating system within the gut that’s consistently attracting all of these
different strains of bacteria from the air, and the water, and the food.
This is the point where you’re going to retest for food sensitivities and a lot
of them may be gone as you start manufacturing a lot of your own vitamins
and getting the most bang for your buck is this long-term healing process
that happens over time. You out into the garden, right? You plant the seeds,
it’s going to take a little while to produce those beautiful flowers.

Katie: Yeah, I love that. As an encouragement to anybody with food sensitivities
because I had had those in the past as well, and I still do avoid gluten and
dairy that’s not raw, but originally when I first had my food sensitivity tests
since I had a reaction to all kinds of things. Across the board. Even duck
eggs. Some of the eggs some people are okay with, they all showed up for

After about a year and a half of this process and just focusing on my gut
specifically and working with Doctor Christensen for my thyroid because
he’s a mutual friend of ours, I was able to test without a reaction to eggs on
the sensitivities tests which is amazing and also just very freeing because
eggs are such a great source of protein and I think it created a breakfast
there for a while until I got that sorted out.

I still have to encourage it with anyone with food sensitivities is that the
body is so smart. Like you just said, just because you have that doesn’t
mean it’s set in stone forever. I love that you call it terraforming too. That
makes so much sense. You’re turning it into a hospitable environment for
the good bacteria. It’s just fascinating, all this research that’s coming up
about that.

Christa: Totally. I’m glad with what you’re saying to how you got rid of your egg
sensitivity. I just don’t think we give the human body nearly the credit that
it deserves. Its ability to heal and its power to heal is we are hard wired as
human beings to adapt and survive and we are meant to live and eat a full
and varied diet.

When you can do this healing process, that’s when you can really start to
expand your diet. Especially those who have been sick for a long time who
are painted into a corner with all these food sensitivities. Of things that
they can’t eat. Their whole diet world starts to open up.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I can agree with that firsthand. Christa, you are such a
wealth of knowledge. I love all four of these episodes that we’ve done
together and I want to make sure that I have all of the links and the
shoutouts to different blogs posts that I know you’ve written a lot of these
topics as well as to gut thrive and to your resources because they’ve been
helpful to my husband and I think that they’re amazing.

They’re going to be really awesome for a lot of people. I really want to tell
you, I appreciate your time so much. I know that you’re a very busy person
and I appreciate you taking the time to come and share this information
with all of us.

Christa: I love being here, Katie. I love talking with you always. Thank you so much
for having me.

Katie: Thanks so much, Christa.

Thanks for Listening

Was this podcast episode helpful? If so, please share it with family and friends via email or using the social media buttons at the bottom of this post.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes so you don’t miss any future episodes, and please leave an honest rating and review of the podcast on iTunes. Rankings and reviews really matter in the rankings of my podcast and I greatly appreciate every review and read each one.

Read Transcript

Thanks to Our Sponsors

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


7 responses to “053: Christa Orecchio on Leaky Gut & Autoimmunity”

  1. Geeta Avatar

    I have suffered from MS since the last 24 years. Since aprox the last 15 years I’ve struggled with bowel issuees which are now so chronic out of deserayion I’m about to have an ileostomy. I hope it will help?
    I realise this is not the place for medical advice but I’m hoping someone might have some insights which could help?

    1. Andrea Avatar

      I have digestive issues as well. Taking probiotic and supplements such as lglutamine and omega 3 have helped me.also don’t eat red meat just eat chicken and fish.I also in the morning make smoothies with kefir (probiotic yogurt) with raspberries and bannana. Hope it helps you!

  2. Mara Avatar

    Similar advice that is given by the GAPS diet book. Making your own bone broth is super easy and very inexpensive.

  3. Mikki Avatar

    I see you reviewed JJ Virgin’s book. When I started to read this I thought of her and kind of assumed you were just spinning another version of her because when I gave up the 7 foods as she suggested my body had a massive transformation. No more gassy bloat every afternoon was the main change. Now reading further your leaky gut podcasts are interesting and I plan on watching them all. Thank you.

      1. Tina Avatar

        Can I just ask how can I help myself with leaky gut am unwilling to take bone broth as I do not eat meat in any form also limited dairy as it effects my gallstones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *