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Pomegranate Elderberry Gummies!

Pomegranate Elderberry Gummies

These gummies are a great way to boost the immune system in a variety of ways. The elderberry is a powerful immune booster and anti-viral. Both the elderberry and pomegranate are loaded with antioxidants which helps support a healthy immune system. This gelatin-based gummy also provides the digestive tract with the beneficial amino acids that promote a healthy gi tract. I often sprinkle our WellBelly probiotics and WellDaily multivitamin after the gummy blend has cooled a bit for an even bigger boost. These gummies are tart and some might like adding a little raw honey to the slightly cooled blend as well.


16 ounces pomegranate juice

8 Tbsp of gelatin (I prefer the cleaner grass-fed brands like Great Lakes and Vital Proteins)

4 tsp of elderberry syrup

¼-1/2 cup of raw honey (optional)

4-5 scoops of WellDaily multivitamin (optional)

4-5 scoops of WellBelly probiotics (optional)

Heat pomegranate juice until slightly warmer than lukewarm. Warm enough to dissolve the gelatin but not hot enough to break the bonds- warm to the touch but not too hot is the best way I can describe. Play with it, it’s easy to find the right temperature.

Mix in gelatin slowly, a small amount at a time until it completely dissolves. Add optional ingredients to finish.

Pour into greased mold or small casserole dish, chill for 30-60 minutes and ENJOY!

Can be stored in the fridge for a week or frozen for 3-4 months although the texture is much softer after being frozen.

What are your favorite gummy recipes?

– Dr. Catherine Clinton ND

Exercise Helps a Healthy Microbiome!

We all know that exercise is great for our health, strengthening both the muscles and the heart. Now new research sheds light on another reason why exercise is so beneficial. The benefit of exercise goes beyond just our muscles and cardiovascular system. Exercise also has dramatic impacts of the gut microbiome which, in turn, has a dramatic impact on overall health.

Exercise Impacts the Microbiome

It is amazing to see the myriad of ways of our bodies and our gut and our lifestyle interconnect. Recent research found that the gut microbiome of people who exercise have a much more diverse and dense population of gut bacteria which is ideal compared to their sedentary counterparts. (1) Research from earlier this year explored the impact of exercise with a variety of diets on the gut microbiome. Both lean and obese exercisers displayed a decreased COX-2, an enzyme that promotes inflammation, as well as increased gut integrity. (2) Exercise plays a powerful role in the health of the gut and its microbiome.

Exercise is Best Early

Exercise at an early age also has a profound impact on the gut microbiome. Researchers found that exercise in early life can alter the gut microbiome for the better, supporting healthier brain and metabolic activity. (3) They weren’t able to pinpoint a certain age but the research showed that the microbiome was more plastic when young and exercise has the most long term beneficial impact on the microbiome during this time. This study seems to show the younger the better when it comes to exercise benefitting the gut microbiome over a lifetime.

Let’s look at what exercise is doing to the gut microbiome. 

Bile acids- One of the factors by which exercise causes changes in gut microbiota is the modification of bile acids. Bile acids help break down fats so the body can absorb the necessary lipids from our diets. They also act as anti-microbial agents inhibiting the growth of some bacteria while favoring the growth of others. Several studies have found an inverse relation between the amount of fecal bile acids and physical activity, with the more exercise you get, the less bile acids you have. (4) Rats whose diets were supplemented with bile acid had a change in the microbiota in both diversity and composition. The diet high in bile acids resulted in an increase of the Firmicutes phylum of bacteria that is associated with obesity and decrease of the Bacteroidetes phylum associated with lean metabolic function. (5) This beneficial modification of the bile acids by exercise has a powerful impact on our microbiome for the better.

Short-chain fatty acids- In animal models, it has been observed that exercise increases fecal butyrate levels as well as increasing butyrate-producing bacteria groups (6). More recent research has also found an increase in short chain fatty acids from exercise. (7) Researchers found that moderate exercise increased short chain fatty acids in the gut as much as fiber intake did. This increase in short chain fatty acids fuels the microbiome and shifts the ratio of harmful/beneficial fiber in a positive direction. 

Ig-A-mediated mucosal immunity- IgA is a mucousal immunoglobulin that helps fend off pathogens as well keep the gut inflammation in check. An increase of immunoglobulin A (IgA) production and a reduced number of B and CD4 + T cells have been observed in the gut of animals that performed long-term moderate exercise compared to sedentary mice. (8) The increased levels of intestinal IgA caused by exercise may augment the resistance of exercised mice to intestinal pathogen infections, as well as the resistance to colonization by commensal microbiota, ultimately influencing the composition of the microbiota (9). This increased IgA from exercise positively impacts the gut microbiome. 

Gut transit time- Moderate exercise reduces intestinal transit time which can impact the microbiome. (10) We know that there are microbiota differences between constipated individuals and those that had regular bowel movements. Normalizing transit time is just another way that exercise can impact the gut microbiome for the better.

Exercise is has powerful actions throughout the body and as we’ve seen, powerful actions on the gut microbiome. Exercise positively influences the diversity and density of the gut microbiome as well as increasing the integrity of the gut and decreasing gut inflammation. Exercise early in life even has the power to influence the make-up of the gut microbiota, influencing health throughout a lifetime. So get those little ones exercising early and often and do yourself a favor and exercise with them!

– Dr. Catherine Clinton



(3) early life

(4) Physical activity as a determinant of fecal bile acid levels. Wertheim BC, Martínez ME, Ashbeck EL, Roe DJ, Jacobs ET, Alberts DS, Thompson PA Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 May; 18(5):1591-8.

(5) Bile acid is a host factor that regulates the composition of the cecal microbiota in rats. Islam KB, Fukiya S, Hagio M, Fujii N, Ishizuka S, Ooka T, Ogura Y, Hayashi T, Yokota A Gastroenterology. 2011 Nov; 141(5):1773-81.

(6) Voluntary running exercise alters microbiota composition and increases n-butyrate concentration in the rat cecum. Matsumoto M, Inoue R, Tsukahara T, Ushida K, Chiji H, Matsubara N, Hara H Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2008 Feb; 72(2):572-6.


(8) Effect of moderate exercise on IgA levels and lymphocyte count in mouse intestine. Viloria M, Lara-Padilla E, Campos-Rodríguez R, Jarillo-Luna A, Reyna-Garfias H, López-Sánchez P, Rivera-Aguilar V, Salas-Casas A, Berral de la Rosa FJ, García-Latorre E Immunol Invest. 2011; 40(6):640-56.

(9) The bilateral responsiveness between intestinal microbes and IgA. Macpherson AJ, Köller Y, McCoy KD Trends Immunol. 2015 Aug; 36(8):460-70.

(10) Effect of moderate exercise on bowel habit. Oettlé GJ Gut. 1991 Aug; 32(8):941-4.

All You Need to Know About Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is something we are hearing more and more about. The term leaky gut refers to a condition also known as intestinal permeability which can lead to immune dysregulation and inflammation. Leaky gut is associated with several diseases and symptoms such as allergies, autoimmunity, fatigue, migraines and muscle pain. Leaky gut is not just something that adults deal with, it is a condition that deeply impacts babies and children. Let’s explore what leaky gut is, where it comes from and what to do about it.

What is leaky gut?

Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is when the tight junctions that keep the gastrointestinal tract intact become looser than usual. These tight junctions hold the cells of the gut lining together and under ideal conditions they are tight and intact. The lining of the gut is a semi-permeable lining that allows for the transfer of nutrients across the gut lining. The tight junctions serve to keep those epithelial cells together and helps form a barrier. The barrier that the tight junctions create prevents the passage of molecules and ions through the plasma between cells so materials are required to enter the cells by diffusion or active transport in order to pass through the tissue. This is an important function of tight junctions as the barrier allows for transport of nutrients into the cell but not into the tissue and bloodstream at large. When there is intestinal inflammation present that inflammation causes the tight junctions to open ever so slightly, allowing microscopic particles of food to pass into the bloodstream of the person. This creates a situation where the body can mount an inappropriate immune response to these microscopic particles of food like allergy or autoimmunity. For example, with a leaky gut when you eat green beans microscopic pieces of the green beans can get into the bloodstream. Then the body goes into overdrive, attacking the green beans as an invader because it doesn’t recognize the whole, undigested particles of green beans. This leads to the immune dysregulation that is associated with leaky gut. Intestinal permeability in itself creates inflammation that in turn incites more intestinal permeability, a vicious cycle. 

How do you get leaky gut? 

Many things can cause the inflammation in the gut that creates intestinal permeability. Chronic inflammation from a poor diet, overconsumption of alcohol, infections, stress, chronic constipation, food allergens, aspirin, NSAIDs like ibuprofen, antibiotics, and chemotherapy can all create the intestinal irritation that sets the stage for leaky gut. 

How do you heal leaky gut?

Avoidance of food allergens, antibiotics, NSAIDs and alcohol is important in the healing of leaky gut. Making sure to get plenty of fiber and probiotics from fermented foods or supplements helps to repopulate the gut microbiome which is essential for healing intestinal permeability. L-glutamine is a helpful amino acid for healing the permeability in the gut. Butyrate, a short chain fatty acid found in coconut oil/milk, fuels the cells that line the gut and can also be helpful. Healing herbs such as marshmallow and slippery elm are soothing to the inflamed lining of the gut and are a great addition to a treatment for intestinal permeability. Addressing any digestive issues and intestinal infections is also critical for healing leaky gut.

Gut health is the foundation of overall health. Leaky gut is such an individual condition with each person’s microbiome reacting differently to the varied triggers and treatments, that healing times can vary. This can make leaky gut hard to treat, but with a little persistence leaky gut is something that can be healed in children and parents alike. Talk with your healthcare provider if you suspect you are suffering from leaky gut.

– Dr. Catherine Clinton

New Guidelines to Introducing Peanuts to Infants

In 2017 the National Health Institute changed their recommendations on peanut introduction in infants. Swayed by recent research that shows early introduction of peanut into the diet dramatically reduces peanut allergy, the NHI are now recommending:

  • All babies should try other solid foods before peanut-containing ones, to be sure they’re developmentally ready.
  • High-risk babies (defined as having severe eczema and/or egg allergy) should have peanut-containing foods introduced as early as 4 to 6 months after a check-up to tell if they should have the first taste in the doctor’s office, or if it’s safe to try at home with a parent watching for any reactions.
  • Moderate-risk babies have milder eczema. They should start peanut-based foods around 6 months, at home.
  • Most babies are low-risk and parents can introduce peanut-based foods along with other solids, usually around 6 months.
  • Building tolerance requires making peanut-based foods part of the regular diet, about three times a week.

The New Research

Research from 2008 observed lower levels of peanut allergies within the Jewish population in Israel where early peanut introduction is the norm compared to the Jewish population in Britain where delayed peanut introduction is common. (1) 
These same researchers later enrolled 640 infants who were between 4 and 11 months old and at high risk of developing a peanut allergy (severe eczema and/or egg allergy). One group was given a peanut containing snack three times a week until age five while the other group stayed peanut free for the entire study. Five years later, the research team gave each child an oral peanut challenge. They found 17 percent of children on the peanut-free diet had developed a peanut allergy, compared to only about 3 percent of the peanut eaters. Among participants who started the study with a slight peanut sensitivity (as measured by a skin test), 35 percent of the peanut avoidance group developed a full-blown allergy, compared with just 10 percent of the peanut eaters. The study found that adding peanut-based foods to an infant’s diet reduced the risk of peanut allergy between 70 and 80 percent. (2) Additionally, no deaths during the study and no significant differences in serious adverse events between the peanut avoidance and peanut consumption group were reported.

Are Other Food Allergens Safe?

The NHI has not announced any changes to other food allergens but the research on inducing other potential allergens looks much like the research on peanut introduction. Numerous studies have shown that introducing solids before 3-4 months can increase the risk of eczema, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, childhood wheezing and increased body weight in childhood. (4,5,6,7,8) These and other studies have led many to adopt a, “the later the better,” approach to food introduction- particularly potential allergens. However, new research shows that delaying the introduction of certain foods (including peanuts) can actually raise the risk of allergy to that food. One study found that children first exposed to wheat between 4 and 6 months versus after 6 months had a 4-fold decreased risk of wheat allergy. (9) Another found that children who first had cooked egg at 4-6 months had the lowest incidence of egg allergy, whereas those starting egg at 10-12 months had a 6-fold increased risk of egg allergy. (10)

An interesting study from April of 2016 showed the delay of solids increased the risk of the most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. [11] Researchers suggested that the increased risk of cancer was a result of not exposing the immune system to food and leaving the immune system uneducated.

Your Body and Food Allergies

At around 6 months the gastrointestinal tract changes from a semi-permeable membrane to a lining with more integrity and less permeability. Babies are born with digestive tracts that are slightly permeable to microscopic particles of food that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and promote an allergic reaction or inflammation. This is similar to leaky gut or intestinal permeability that we see in older children and adults, but the intestinal permeability in infants serves a purpose. The microscopic openings in the gut allow immunoglobulins and other immune stimulating molecules from breast milk to enter into baby’s circulation. As the infant gut matures it becomes less permeable and secretes more mucin, both of which help ensure a healthy digestive lining. It also seems that introducing foods in this time when the lining is permeable but on its way to maturity reduces the risk of allergies.

When microscopic food particles are absorbed through the permeable intestine of an infant, the infant’s immune system responds. Our body’s immune system has many different responses to keep us healthy. There are the Th1 responses that fight infections and cancer. It is the Th2 responses that mount allergic responses or help to fight parasites. Then there are the Th3 responses that help the body recognize and tolerate antigens. Whether they be airborne or ingested allergens, our body’s Th3 responses help dampen allergic reactions and promote an environment necessary for tolerance. Tolerance is an important piece of health because it helps decrease inappropriate allergic reactions as well as autoimmune reactions. It is exactly what we want when introducing foods to baby.
When we look at the Th3 tolerance branch of the immune system, oral tolerance is something we should look at. Tolerance is the principle behind injection immunotherapy or allergy shots. Similarly, oral tolerance is the idea that introducing small amounts of the potentially allergenic food can help train the body to not react to the food. Some studies have shown the potential for oral tolerance in the prevention and/or treatment of food allergies. [12,13,14,15,16] Tolerance is essential for baby’s transition to solids and potential food allergens.

Breastmilk For the Win

One of the major protective factors of immune tolerance is the presence of breast milk. Breast milk has so many immune boosting and stimulating components in it that are important for baby’s digestive, neurological and immune development and health. When combined with food introduction, breast milk seems to help increase the tolerance of food antigens or potential allergens as recent research highlights. 1140 infants in the UK were followed to see if the timing of food introduction in infants was connected with food allergies. Again, the study found that food introduced before 16 weeks increased the risk of allergy whereas introduction of solids after week 17 decreased risk of developing an allergic disease. [17] The study also highlighted the importance of the presence of breast milk when food is introduced because it helps promote the tolerance immune response that we want during food introduction. Recent research also shows us that introducing gluten while breastfeeding reduces the risk of celiac disease by 52%. [18] It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and turn the exploration of solids into mini meal sessions as breastfeeding fades into the sunset. But it turns out that breastmilk is too important for overall health to let fade away. For the first year baby should, if possible, be breastfed as the main source of nutrition. This helps promote immune tolerance, trains the immune system and promotes digestive tract health.

The Take Home

The new guidelines about introducing peanuts from NHI highlight a distinct departure from the old advice of delaying potential food allergen introduction. This new research echoes other studies illustrating the importance of exposing baby to germs to let the immune system properly develop. The immature immune systems of infants need the education that new foods bring. Food informs, guides and educates our immune system, our digestive system and our DNA. It is important to have a balance. Our babies are born into this world and need to be introduced and fully enveloped by this world. They need contact with dirt and animals and food. Introducing foods to our babies should be gradual with plenty of rotation. Introducing a food and then having it become a daily fixture of babies diet is not the best method. They need to be exposed to a variety of foods and spices regularly. The research is clear that breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for infants and should be part of introducing solids. Food introduction needn’t be about nourishment. A little bit of food as a gentle introduction to the world will help prime their immune system and is a great way to bond with baby as well.

(1) Du Toit G, Katz Y, et al. Early Consumption of peanuts in infancy is associated with low prevalence of peanut allergy. J. Allergy Clin. Immunol 2008:122:984-991.
(2) Du Toit G, Roberts G, Sayre PH, Bahnson HT, Radulovic S, Santos AF, Brough HA, Phippard D, Basting M, Feeney M, Turcanu V, Sever ML, Gomez Lorenzo M, Plaut M, Lack G; the LEAP Study Team. Randomized Trial of Peanut Consumption in Infants at Risk for Peanut Allergy. N Engl J Med. 2015 Feb 23.
(3) Hong X, Hao K, Ladd-Acosta C et al. Genome-wide association study identifies peanut allergy-specific loci and evidence of epigenetic mediation in U.S. children. Nature Communications 2015 Feb 24;6:6304.
(4) Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J. & Shannon, F. T. Early Solid Feeding and Recurrent Childhood Eczema: A 10-Year Longitudinal Study. Pediatrics 86, 541–546 (1990).
(5) Norris, J. M. et al. Risk of celiac disease autoimmunity and timing of gluten introduction in the diet of infants at increased risk of disease. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 293, 2343–2351 (2005).
(6) Norris, J. M. et al. Timing of initial cereal exposure in infancy and risk of islet autoimmunity. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 290, 1713–1720 (2003).
(7) Wilson, A. C. et al. Relation of infant diet to childhood health: seven year follow up of cohort of children in Dundee infant feeding study. BMJ 316, 21–25 (1998).
(8) Cohen, R. J., Brown, K. H., Dewey, K. G., Canahuati, J. & Landa Rivera, L. Effects of age of introduction of complementary foods on infant breast milk intake, total energy intake, and growth: a randomised intervention study in Honduras. The Lancet 344, 288–293 (1994).
(9) Poole, J. A. et al. Timing of Initial Exposure to Cereal Grains and the Risk of Wheat Allergy. Pediatrics 117, 2175–2182 (2006).
(10) Wells, J. C. et al. Randomized controlled trial of 4 compared with 6 mo of exclusive breastfeeding in Iceland: differences in breast-milk intake by stable-isotope probe. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 96, 73–79 (2012).
(11) Jeremy M. Schraw, Michael Scheurer, Michele R. Forman, Age at introduction to solids is associated with the odds ratio of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia. AARC Annual Meeting 2015.
(12) Petalas, K; Durham SR (2013). “Allergen immunotherapy for allergic rhinitis”. Rhinology 51 (2): 99–110.
(13) 2- A.D. Buchanan, T.D. Green, S.M. Jones, A.M. Scurlock, L. Christie, K.A. Althage, P.H. Steele, L. Pons, R.M. Helm, L.A. Lee, A.W. Burks Egg oral immunotherapy in nonanaphylactic children with egg allergy J. Allergy Clin. Immunol., 119 (2007), pp. 199–205
(14) 3- P. Meglio, E. Bartone, M. Plantamura, E. Arabito, P.G. Giampietro A protocol for oral desensitization in children with IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy Allergy, 59 (2004), pp. 980–987
(15) 4- Fernandez-Rivas M, Garrido FS, Nadal JA, et al. Randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of sublingual immunotherapy with a Pru p 3 quantified peach extract. Allergy. 2009;64(6):876–883
(16) 5- Dupont C, Kalach N, Soulaines P, Legoue-Morillon S, Piloquet H, Benhamou PH. Cow’s milk epicutaneous immunotherapy in children: a pilot trial of safety, acceptability, and impact on allergic reactivity. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010;125(5):1165–1167
(18) 7- Akobeng AK, Ramanan AV, Buchan I, Heller RF. Effect of breast feeding on risk of coeliac disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Arch Dis Child. 2006;91(1):39–43

Sparkling Ginger Gummies

We love homemade gummies at our house for a fun way to get an extra protein boost as well as some gut healing from the gelatin. These Sparkling Ginger Gummies are hands down the best gummies I’ve made at home. We often use fruit juice or kombucha and fruit purees but it can take a lot of fruit to mask the flavor of the gelatin. Ginger bug soda (fermented ginger and sugar to create a feremented soda) or a quality, store bought ginger ale can really cut the taste of gelatin while providing the wonderful health properties of ginger to this already healthy snack. Ginger is high in gingerol which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has long been known to help with digestion. I often add minced crystallized ginger and probiotics to the mix for even more digestive support. These are the perfect gummies after a weekend of indulging or holiday fun. My patients and my family all love these gut healing gummies!

Sparkling Ginger Gummies:

12 ounces of fermented ginger bug soda or quality, high ginger content ginger ale

3 Tbsp of grass fed gelatin

1 Tbsp minced crystallized ginger (optional)

3 grams or 30 billion CFUs of probiotic powder (optional)

1-2 Tbsp collagen (optional)

Heat ginger soda until slightly warmer than lukewarm. Warm enough to dissolve the gelatin but not hot enough to break the bonds- warm to the touch but not too hot is the best way I can describe. Play with it, it’s easy to find the right temperature.

Mix in gelatin slowly, a small amount at a time until it completely dissolves. Add optional ingredients to finish.

Pour into greased mold or small casserole dish, chill for 30-60 minutes and ENJOY!

Can be stored in the fridge for a week or frozen for 3-4 months although the texture is much softer after being frozen.

What are your favorite gummy recipes?

– Dr. Catherine Clinton

Viruses Can Keep Us Healthy and Here’s How to Get Yours Working for You!

Did you know that not all viruses are harmful? In fact, many are necessary for our health! We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the importance of a healthy microbiome. I’ve lectured and written many times about the impact that the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome has on our health. Research has shown the positive influences of good bacteria in the gut on the cardiovascular, immune, neurological, gastrointestinal, and metabolic systems as well as the development in utero and early life. Much of the talk about the microbiome focuses on the bacteria that line the digestive tract but today we’re going to explore a fascinating subset of the microbiome- the virome. The study of viruses and how they impact our health is vital for understanding our own viromes. Let’s delve deeper!

What is the Virome?

Viruses are actually the most abundant biological entity on earth. The number of viruses is staggering and there is much we still don’t know about the virome. While we are still exploring the role of the virome in health, there are some valuable tools that we can take away today to improve our health and the health of our children. When we talk about viruses, we are talking about a few different things. First, there are what we commonly think of as viruses, the RNA and DNA classified viruses that infect our cells and cause the viral symptoms we are familiar with. With common symptoms of a runny nose or cough from an upper respiratory virus or the digestive upset from a stomach virus, these viruses are familiar to all of us. Then there are the more obscure viruses like the viral elements that are embedded in our own DNA and the bacteriophages that infect the bacteria in our microbiome. (1) Recent research into the virome illustrates why these different classes of viruses are important to our overall health. 

How Viruses Make Us Healthy

We are starting to realize the importance that bacteriophages play in our immune systems. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and kill the bacteria in our individual microbiomes. They do not infect us, but do a wonderful job fighting the bacterial infections that plague us. Each bacteriophage is specific to a certain bacteria, making them a precise antibiotic agent without any of the myriad of side effects that modern day antibiotics cause. (2) Bacteriophage therapy is common in Eastern Europe and is just starting to be used with success in the US. I’ve seen success with some patients using bacteriophages to balance the microbiome in IBD or inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or colitis. Research has consistently shown that bacteriophages play a role in the regulation of the gut microbiome and IBD is characterized as having deranged gut microbiomes. (3) This is an exciting new approach to balancing the microbiome in a time when antibiotic resistance and inflammatory bowel disease continue to rise.

Bacteriophages are not the only virus to help balance the gut microbiome and positively influence our health. In one 2014 study mice were infected with a certain strain of the norovirus after completing a course of antibiotics. (4) Amazingly, the norovirus helped to rebalance the gut microbiome, both the viral and bacterial components of the biome. This balancing influence has never been observed with viruses and it is an exciting discovery. This has been replicated in other studies that show the same balancing of the microbiome by adding a virus to the gut of mice. (5) Recent research has also shown that viruses present in saliva can target harmful bacteria, acting as a line of defense in the immune system. (6) The research is absolutely showing that viruses can have a positive impact on our health.

So How Can We Keep Our Virome Healthy?
Diversity in exposure to microbes is really the key to a healthy virome. Diversity in diet is a cornerstone of maintaining a beneficial virome. (7) We want to eat a large variety of food to get the fiber and phytonutrients needed to maintain the balance of the virome. If you look at traditional diets and look at a food category like tubers, for example, you see these diets included as many as 120 different kinds of tubers. This type of variety is important and while the tuber section at the farm stand or grocery store might not have 120 varieties, we can always find a variety of whole foods to introduce in our diet. Diversity in our environment is also important for exposing yourself to a diversity of microbes that keeps the microbiome well. We need to be getting outside daily as nature is the ultimate source of microbes for a healthy virome. Even opening the windows in your house and getting houseplants in every room can help support a balanced virome.

Dr. Lim from Washington University School of Medicine has done some interesting research with infant twins showing that the development of the infant virome parallels the development of the bacterial microbiome in the gut. (8) This research coupled with the recent studies showing that early introduction of allergenic food and exposure to microbes lowers asthma and allergies can all be seen as another argument for diversity in exposure, especially in early life.

Avoiding things that derange a healthy virome is also an important step in maintaining health. Medications like antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors used to treat excess stomach acid in GERD (PPIs) negatively impact the balance of the virome. Avoiding processed foods and overly sanitized environments is also very important for maintaining wellness. (9) Avoiding these things that disrupt the gut ecology will positively impact the balance of microbes in the digestive tract. We still have a lot to learn about the virome and the microbiome in general, but recent research promises exciting new avenues in medicine and real tools we can use today to improve our health.

– Dr. Catherine Clinton


Alternatives to Antibiotics

First thing, let me say that the advent of antibiotics is one of the biggest miracles of modern medicine. They are an invaluable tool to combat bacterial infections. But… while antibiotics have their spot in our toolbox, we are experiencing an epidemic of antibiotic resistant bugs and chronic diseases associated with their use/overuse. Diet, lifestyle, supplements, and herbs are also valuable tools for fending off bacterial infections without the risks that antibiotics can pose. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether alternatives to antibiotics are right you and your family.

Why We Should Exercise Caution When Deciding To Use Antibiotics

Antibiotics have been heavily overused. Often, patients with infections which are viral (antibiotics are only effective against bacteria) or would resolve on their own are given antibiotics as a matter of course. One Harvard study published in 2013 determined that 60% of sore throat patients and 73% of acute bronchitis patients were prescribed antibiotics. This even though the textbook answer is that only about 10% of sore throat cases are bacterial and acute bronchitis almost never is. (1) This happens for a number of reasons but it’s usually a combination of the patient’s expectations/demands and a “better safe than sorry” attitude from the doctor. This unnecessary and inappropriate prescription of antibiotics has given rise to the worrisome, drug-resistant superbugs that occasionally make the news. Each year as many as 2 million people in the US become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria resulting in at least 23,000 deaths and the numbers are rising worldwide. A recent UN meeting about global health in 2016 called for prioritization of this worldwide epidemic of antibiotic resistance. The CDC started a Get Smart campaign to raise awareness about unnecessary and inappropriate antibiotic prescriptions. (2)

Antibiotics also negatively impact the gut microbiome and have been associated with many chronic diseases. The gut microbiome is crucial for immune regulation, digestive health, metabolic maintenance, cardiovascular and neurological health. Many studies have found a connection between antibiotic use in early life and chronic disease in later life. A study out of the University of Minnesota in 2015 found that antibiotic use in infancy increases the risk for certain diseases later in life. (2) The study highlights how the use of antibiotics may eradicate key gut bacteria that help immune cells in the prevention of allergies and how antibiotic-induced changes in the gut microbiota resulted in increased levels of short-chain fatty acids that affect metabolism, increasing obesity risk. This was also a key finding in a recent study out of the University of British Columbia in 2014 where researchers found that different antibiotics killed different strains of gut flora which in turn, resulted in different diseases because of the lost strain. (3) These studies show the importance of a robust and diverse microbiome. Remove or decrease just one strain and the body suffers. Interesting research from the University of Helsinki in 2016 looked at 142 Finnish children, aged 2 to 7 years. Researchers investigated how many courses of antibiotics the children had received in their lifetime and how the use of antibiotics impacted their intestinal microbiota. They found that the more rounds of antibiotics, particularly the class of antibiotics called macrolides such as azithromycin or clarithromycin, a child has in the first two years of life the greater the risk for asthma, obesity and metabolic diseases. (4)

What Are The Other Options?

Keeping the immune system balanced to prevent or prepare for a bacterial infection is the first step to avoiding antibiotics. Plenty of exercise and movement balanced with enough rest and down time are vital for keeping the immune system healthy. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables that includes a rainbow of colors ensures that you are getting the phytonutrients and antioxidants necessary for a strong immune system. Protein is an essential building block for the production of immune cells so getting enough in your diet is crucial. Research has shown that adequate vitamin D3, zinc and probiotics in the diet or through supplements is also a great way to keep immunity up. (5,6,7) Our first line of defense against bacterial infections are the mucous membranes in our nose and mouth/airway and keeping them moist is important so they can effectively defend against germs. Hydration is key to maintaining moisture in those tissues so drinking enough water is essential. It’s also important to incorporate time in nature and stress management tools. Both have been shown to dramatically regulate the immune system. Even with the best intentions and practices we’re bound to get a bacterial infection sometime and then what? Below are six alternatives to antibiotics that are safe for both adults and children:

Propolis– Propolis is a substance that honey bees make with a resin exudate gathered from tree buds or other plant sources. Research has demonstrated its powerful antibiotic properties. (8,9,10,11) Propolis is rich in flavonoids which makes it a powerful antimicrobial agent. Propolis is great for fighting bacteria, viruses, fungi and helping wounds heal. 

Echinacea- Echinacea is a North American cone flower that has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Echinacea has long been used to fight infections and held a special place in medicine until the advent of modern day antibiotics. Research has confirmed the important antibiotic nature of Echinacea. (12,13)

Garlic- Garlic is a wonderful antibiotic that fends off the harmful bacteria while leaving the beneficial bacteria unharmed. Metabolites are released when the cell wall of garlic is broken that act as a defense against bacteria and viruses. (14, 15)

Elderberry- Elderberry has powerful antimicrobial properties making it a great choice for both bacterial and viral infections. (16) The berries also contain vitamins A and C, and the flavonoids quercetin, anthocyanin and rutin, all of which boost immune function. Elderberry comes in a great tasting liquid syrup form making it an easy option for kids. We put a teaspoon or so in seltzer water and the kids think elderberry sodas are a perfect treat! 

Ginger- Ginger is another plant that has been shown effective against several multidrug resistant bacteria. It comes in a variety of forms from fresh, dried tea, syrups, tinctures and even fermented sodas from ginger bugs which makes it an easy option to find something that works for you. (17)

Usnea- Usnea is a lichen that grows from tree branches in wet climates. The common name for Usnea is Old Man’s Beard because its light green strands resemble a beard. It is hard to pull the immune properties of out of Usnea with tea or capsules so an alcohol extract works best. A recent study from 2016 showed that Usnea was effective for treating several strains of multidrug resistant bacteria. (18)

I love using these natural medicines to treat bacterial as well as viral infections. Nature offers an abundance of medicines without the side effects of prescription antibiotics. While antibiotics may be necessary in certain cases, it is good to have these alternatives to antibiotics on hand. If you suspect you or your child is suffering from a bacterial infection make sure to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner to see if any alternative treatments might be right for you. 

– Dr. Catherine Clinton

1. Michael L. Barnett. Antibiotic Prescribing to Adults With Sore Throat in the United States, 1997-2010. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2013; DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.11673 


3. Pajau Vangay, Tonya Ward, Jeffrey S. Gerber, Dan Knights. Antibiotics, Pediatric Dysbiosis, and Disease. Cell Host & Microbe, 2015

4. Shannon L. Russell, Matthew J. Gold, Lisa A. Reynolds, Benjamin P. Willing, Pedro Dimitriu, Lisa Thorson, Stephen A. Redpath, Georgia Perona-Wright, Marie-Renée Blanchet, William W. Mohn, B. Brett Finlay, Kelly M. McNagny. Perinatal antibiotic-induced shifts in gut microbiota have differential effects on inflammatory lung diseases. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2014

5. Katri Korpela, Anne Salonen, Lauri J. Virta, Riina A. Kekkonen, Kristoffer Forslund, Peer Bork, Willem M. de Vos. Intestinal microbiome is related to lifetime antibiotic use in Finnish pre-school children. Nature Communications, 2016

6. Anna-Carin Norlin, Susanne Hansen, Emilie Wahren-Borgström, Carl Granert, Linda Björkhem-Bergman, and Peter Bergman Vitamin D3 Supplementation and Antibiotic Consumption – Results from a Prospective, Observational Study at an Immune-Deficiency Unit in Sweden. PLoS One. 2016; 11(9): e0163451.

7. John K Crane, Jackie E Broome, Ryan M Reddinger, and Benjamin B Werth. Zinc protects against shiga-toxigenic Escherichia coli by acting on host tissues as well as on bacteria. BMC Microbiol. 2014; 14: 145.

8. Gregor Reid, BSc (Hons) PhD MBA. Probiotics to Prevent the Need For, and Augment the Use Of, Antibiotics Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 2006 Sep-Oct; 17(5): 291–295.

9. Al-Waili N, Al-Ghamdi A, Ansari MJ, Al-Attal Y, Salom K. Synergistic effects of honey and propolis toward drug multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Candida albicans isolates in single and polymicrobial cultures. Int J Med Sci. 2012;9(9):793-800. doi: 10.7150/ijms.4722. 

10. Cushnie TP, Lamb AJ. Antimicrobial activity of flavonoids. Int J Antimicrob Agents.Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2005 Nov;26(5):343-56.

11. Qiao Z, Chen R. Isolation and identification of antibiotic constituents of propolis from Henan. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1991 Aug;16(8):481-2, 512.

12. Grange, J. M. and Davey, R. W. “Antibacterial properties of propolis (bee glue).” J R.Soc Med 1990;83:159-160.

13. Sharma SM, Anderson M, Schoop SR, Hudson JB. Bactericidal and anti-inflammatory properties of a standardized Echinacea extract (Echinaforce): dual actions against respiratory bacteria. Phytomedicine. 2010 Jul;17(8-9):563-8.

14. Sullivan AM1, Laba JG, Moore JA, Lee TD. Echinacea-induced macrophage activation. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2008;30(3):553-74. 

15. Saha SK, Saha S, Hossain MA, Paul SK. In vitro assessment of antibacterial effect of garlic (allium sativum) extracts on pseudomonas aeruginosa. Mymensingh Med J. 2015 Apr;24(2):222-32.

16. Saha S, Saha SK, Hossain MA, Paul SK, Gomes RR, Imtiaz M, Islam MM, Nahar H, Begum SA, Mirza TT. Anti-Bacterial effect of Aqueous Garlic Extract (AGE) determined by Disc Diffusion Method against Escherichia coli. Mymensingh Med J. 2016 Jan;25(1):23-6.

17. Salehzadeh A, Asadpour L, Naeemi AS, Houshmand E. Antimicrobial activity of methanolic extracts of Sambucus ebulus and Urtica dioica against clinical isolates of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2014 Aug 23;11(5):38-40. 

18. Revati S, Bipin C, Chitra PB, Minakshi B. In vitro antibacterial activity of seven Indian spices against high level gentamicin resistant strains of enterococci. Arch Med Sci. 2015 Aug 12;11(4):863-8. 

19. Tozatti MG, Ferreira DS, Flauzino LG, Moraes Tda S, Martins CH, Groppo M, Andrade e Silva ML, Januário AH, Pauletti PM, Cunhaa WR. Activity of the Lichen Usnea steineri and its Major Metabolites against Gram-positive, Multidrug-resistant Bacteria. Nat Prod Commun. 2016 Apr;11(4):493-6.

The One Must-Do Activity for Your Child

As parents in today’s world we are inundated with possibilities for our children. Music lessons, sports, chess club, swimming lessons and the list goes on and on. Extracurricular activities have become a major part of parenting and childhood. I just watched a woman on a popular morning news show talk about tips for picking the right activities for children. I was not surprised that she completely left off the most important activity for children- not even a mention. With our current race to get our children involved in the most promising activities, we have forgotten the one activity that can enrich, teach and heal our children; nature.

A recent two year study out of England showed the dismal relationship our children have with nature. Researchers found that more than 10 percent of children haven’t spent time in any natural setting for at least one year. A natural setting was described as a park, forest, beach, or other natural environment. (1) Nature has so much to offer our children and we need to prioritize it.

Nature Is Filled With Health Promoting Microbes

First of all, being immersed in nature allows children to come into contact with a variety of microbes that benefit their health and development. Our gut microbiome has a dramatic impact on our overall health. Making sure our children have a diverse and healthy population of gut bacteria will go far in supporting the health and development of our little ones. One of the best ways to do this is to allow your child to be introduced to the trillion+ microbes that reside in the soil. Microbes found in nature have been shown to act as natural anti-depressants and even powerful antibiotics. (2,3) Even opening the windows and getting fresh air inside can help expose little ones to more diverse gut bacteria. (4) Their developing immune systems need this introduction to nurture a robust and diverse population of gut bacteria.

Is Nature Good For The Brain?

In Japan and Sweden forest schools are becoming more popular. Forest schools are outside based schools where children spend a significant time outside, rain or shine. This time outside has been shown to improve children’s mental and physical health including their concentration, cognitive and executive function. (5) Forest baths are also becoming more popular with people of all ages. Initial research out of Tokyo found that forest baths, time in nature ranging from a day to 2-3 days, can increase NK cells which boosts the body’s immune system responsible for fighting infections and cancer. (5) Recent research has shown that forest bathing can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, sympathetic nerve activity as well as lower anxiety and depression. (6)

Time in nature has been shown to improve healing and outcomes in hospitals, improve cognitive/executive function in children playing in natural settings, and to decrease pain and anxiety in adults as well as lower cortisol and inflammatory levels in the body. (7,8) Microbes in the dirt have been found to activate neurons in the brain to produce serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. (9) It has even been shown to increase feelings of empathy and love. People shown nature images had the areas of the brain that are responsible for empathy and love light up. (10)

Our Connection With Nature

It is clear that there is a much deeper connection here at play than just the gut microbiome. We need to honor that connection and make sure our children are out in nature daily. It doesn’t have to be hard. Having the kids play outside daily, going deeper into nature as a family once a weekend, even bringing more plants into our home all have a big impact on our health and the health of our children. If there is one truly must-do activity for your children have it be time spent in nature.

– Dr. Catherine Clinton


(2) Matthews DM, Jenks SM. Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice. Behav Processes. 2013 Jun;96:27-35.

(3) Losee L. Ling, Tanja Schneider, Aaron J. Peoples, Amy L. Spoering, Ina Engels, Brian P. Conlon, Anna Mueller, Till F. Schäberle, Dallas E. Hughes, Slava Epstein, Michael Jones, Linos Lazarides, Victoria A. Steadman, Douglas R. Cohen, Cintia R. Felix, K. Ashley Fetterman, William P. Millett, Anthony G. Nitti, Ashley M. Zullo, Chao Chen, Kim Lewis. A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance. Nature 517,455–459,22 January 2015





(8) Park, S., & Mattson, R. (2009). Ornamental indoor plants in hospital rooms enhanced health outcomes of patients recovering from surgery. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 15(9), 975-980.

(9) Lowry CA, et al., Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: Potential role in regulation of emotional behavior, Neuroscience (2007), doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2007.01.067

(10) Weinstein, N. (2009). Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1315.

Let The Kids Eat Dirt!

We’ve grown up trying to get the dirt off our clothes, our counters and off of everything we can think of. In an effort to fight the germs we’ve learned to fear we may have been doing more harm than good. With an epidemic of allergies, autism, asthma and autoimmune conditions shaping the lives of our children, it is time we rethink our relationship to dirt and the healthy microbes it offers.

Exposure to dirt allows little ones to come into contact with trillions of different microbes that help shape the developing immune system. Children need this introduction to educate their growing immune systems. Growing up in an ultraclean environment deprives the child of this essential immune education because they lack this critical introduction. Researchers exploring the hygiene theory have found that the trillions of microbes that enter the body actually help develop a healthy immune system. We’ve seen that children that grow up on farms have fewer allergies than the urban, city dwelling children. (1) This decrease in allergies is associated with a more diverse population of gut bacteria. Both sets of children, whether growing up in the city or on a farm, had the same amount of gut bacteria but the children raised on a farm had a much more diverse population of gut microbiota. (1) The diversity in gut bacteria is key to a healthy microbiome and dirt provides exactly that.

We need to let our children play in the dirt. We need to let them play in the dirt and not be immediately ushered to the nearest sink. They should be allowed to walk barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt and encouraged to garden. Let your kids eat dirt. Really. There’s no need and plenty of reasons to leave that organic dirt on fruits or vegetables. Especially with food pulled from your garden with your hands, there is no reason to wash that dirt off. Dirt has actually harbored some of the world’s most powerful antibiotics, including a new antibiotic found in 2015. (2) Good, organic, microbe rich dirt should have a place in children’s lives.

We’ve got to loosen up with our definition of clean. We’ve been told over and over again that cleanliness is the absence of germs and dirt. But germs and dirt are all around us everywhere at all times. The need to sterilize our counters and sanitize our pacifiers have real impacts on our health for the worse. Recent research demonstrated this very thing when researchers found that parents who cleaned their baby’s pacifier by sucking on it rather than washing it had lower rates of allergies in the child due to the immune stimulation from the germs in the parents’ saliva. (3) Harsh chemical cleaners that remove the potentially harmful germs as well as the beneficial germs and leave a ton of chemicals behind are not what we need. We need to be ok with a little more dirt in our lives.

The microbes in soil offer more than just immune education, they also provide key components necessary for mental health. Microbes in soil have been found to activate neurons in the brain to produce serotonin. (4) Serotonin is one of our feel good neurotransmitters and it is the target of SSRIs medications that are common for anxiety and depression like Zoloft, Paxil or Prozac. Not only does this activation increase our serotonin and mood but research shows it also helps increase the learning experience. (5) There is some deeper connection with dirt at work here and that’s exactly why we need our children playing in it.

Now there are some germs we should be wary of. Be sure to wash your hands after handling raw meats, before preparing food and after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. I’d also recommend washing hands during cold and flu season before eating or after social outings like playing at the park or going to the mall. But there’s no need to overdo it, simply use good old fashioned soap and water. Avoid anti-bacterial soaps because they contain toxins like triclosan and work to deplete the bacterial diversity we so desperately need to support health.

It can be hard to undo a lifetime of learning that we must fight germs to stay healthy. Accepting the idea that those same bacteria are responsible for many aspects of our health is important. I cringe a bit on the inside when I see my little one stick a dog toy in her mouth or my son eats something with dirty hands. But it is a just a passing cringe and it is quickly replaced with appreciation for my kids’ explorations and hopes that it shapes their immune system for the better. Get your little ones and go outside today!

– Dr. Catherine Clinton




Are You Packing Lunches That Cause Leaky Gut

It is that time of year again! Time to start planning those back to school lunches. As the year wears on, it is an easy option to reach for those prepared lunch box foods. But this can cause leaky gut in your little one!

school lunch

Our Microbiome Says Skip the Processed Foods

Prepared, processed foods offer such convenience but most processed foods offer little in the way of nutrition compared to the abundance of sugar, unhealthy fats, chemicals and additives they contain. Processed food have been linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, cancer, heart disease and autism/neurological behavioral changes. New research is highlighting how our gut bacteria don’t like processed food either.

The gut microbiome relies on the fiber in our diet to ferment into butyrate for fuel. A recent study showed that a two week change in diet has a notable impact on the gut microbiome. Researchers compared African-Americans eating a standard American diet to South Africans eating a traditional diet. The traditional diet was much higher in fiber while the Western diet was higher in industrial fats, refined carbohydrates, and animal proteins like those found in processed foods.

Researchers gave the Africans a Western diet for two weeks, and the African-Americans a traditional African diet for two weeks. The gut microbiome changed dramatically in this short time. The healthy gut microbes that make butyrate increased 2.5 fold in the Americans on the African diet, whereas butyrate levels dropped by 50% when the Africans switched to the Western diet. Researchers also found greatly increased markers of intestinal inflammation after the two week Western diet while the inflammatory markers in the American guts dropped after two weeks on a traditional diet. (1) Our microbiome is intimately tied to the food we eat and processed food is not only empty nutrition but it actually changes the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

The Additives in Processed Foods Can Cause Leaky Gut

A diet high in processed foods exposes the gut bacteria to an array of chemicals, additives, fillers, binders, emulsifiers and more that irritate the gut lining. This irritation can lead to leaky gut or intestinal permeability. Tight junctions hold the bases of the cells that line the gut together making the lining impermeable so that food cannot enter the bloodstream. They do a great job when they are functioning properly but they can also lose integrity and become permeable when exposed to inflammatory conditions. The inflammatory cytokines that are released in response to irritation promote the loss of integrity of the tight junctions and promote the intestinal permeability in leaky gut. Research has shown how the chemical emulsifiers in processed food changes the diversity of the gut microbiome for the worse. Emulsifiers in food have been shown to promote bacterial translocation across epithelial cells. Now they have been shown to increase the inflammatory state of the gut. (2)

Researchers fed mice two very commonly used emulsifiers, polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulsose, comparable to amounts found in processed foods. They found that mice that consumed the emulsifier had changes pro-inflammatory changes in the gut microbiota. The pro-inflammatory microbiota had an enhanced capacity to infiltrate the dense mucus layer that lines the intestine, which is normally harbors few bacteria. (2) The mucin layer houses the gut microbiome and acts as a barrier to the lining of the gut. Disturbances in the mucin layer affects the balance of beneficial bacteria and makes it easier for the gut to get inflamed and leaky.

What Should We Put in Our Children’s Lunches?

Pre-prepared, processed foods have already been associated with several chronic diseases and, combined with this new research highlighting the impact processed food has on the gut microbiome and gastrointestinal tract, it becomes clear that we need to make an effort to limit processed foods for our children. A varied diet packed full of whole foods or processed foods with minimal ingredients is the best foundation for a healthy gut microbiome. Some easy ways to get those whole foods into lunches include hummus or nut butters with veggies and crackers, sandwiches of all kinds and bento lunches like the ones we’ll be featuring for the next few weeks on this blog. I can often recruit help from my little ones to gather the ingredients, do the cutting and assemble the lunches. They really enjoy it and it helps foster a healthy relationship to food and food prep. My three year old and almost seven year old often eat more of their packed lunches when they help make them too. With a little planning, packing healthy lunches that help nourish the body and the microbiome are a simple step to help create a solid foundation of health. Comment below with your favorite lunches to pack!

– Dr. Catherine Clinton

 (1) O’Keefe, S. J. D. et al. Fat, fiber and cancer risk in African Americans and rural Africans. Nat. Commun. 6:6342 doi: 10.1038/ncomms7342 (2015).