WellFuture Blog

New Guidelines for Introducing Peanuts to Infants

This past month 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
(17) http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2013/11/20-introducing-solid-foods-could-prevent-child-allergies.page
(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

A Family Detox!

This time of year people are looking to get healthy. There’s lots of talk about detoxes or cleanses and the talks range from nonsense to important steps you can take to address environmental pollutants. Industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides are major contributors to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and neurocognitive diseases in children and adults. (1) Some detox programs use strong metal chelators that pull toxins out of tissues while others restrict calories with juicing or fasting, making certain detoxes inappropriate for the part of society that are most vulnerable to toxins- children. A study from 2005 showed over 200 industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. (2) Industrial toxins are everywhere and something we should all be addressing in a healthy lifestyle. Here are some easy steps to help detox that the whole family can do:

Do a Cleanse

An important piece of any cleanse is getting rid of toxins in the body. Common food additives and packaging contain chemicals. These chemicals have been linked to everything from hormone disruption to cancer to behavioral issues in children. (3) Whether a short term cleanse or a daily meal selection, your choices in food can have a dramatic effect on the toxic burden of your family.

  • Eating fresh food and avoiding packaged, processed food is an easy way to reduce the toxin burden of the whole family. A recent study showed that avoiding food packaged in plastic and canned food for as little as three days can dramatically reduce the levels of BPA and DEHP (chemicals associated with hormone disruption and cancer) in the body. Participants avoided packaged foods in their diets for three days and saw a reduction in these chemicals by over 50%. (4)
  • We know that an organic diet decreases exposure to chemicals and pesticides. A diet based in organic fruits, vegetables and grains helps avoid these toxins. Organic dairy and wild fish are also important choices when trying to reduce your family’s toxic burden. The Environmental Working Group analyzes Department of Agriculture data about pesticide residue and ranks foods based on how much or little pesticide residue they have. The group estimates that people can reduce their exposure by 80% if they switch to organic when buying these 12 foods: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines (imported), grapes (imported), sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries (domestic), lettuce, kale/collard greens. (5)

Detox Your House

Several things can be done around the house to lessen the toxic load in your home and personal care products.

  • There are low emission options for carpets, bedding, paints and furniture that can reduce your family’s exposure to chemicals. 
  • Choosing cosmetics and personal hygiene products that are free of mineral oil, paraffin, propylene glycol, parabens and phalates limit your family’s contact with these toxins. There are many natural, organic cosmetic and personal hygiene lines for the whole family.
  • Adding certain plants to your household can help filter toxins out of the air making house plants a beautiful way to detox your house. (6)

Green Your Clean

Tackling toxins by minimizing dust and avoiding harsh chemical cleansers are important tools in detoxing your family.

  • To green your clean, start by choosing green products or making your own. Many cleaning products on the market today contain harsh chemical cleansers but there are many green cleaning products available as well. Making your own cleaners can be as simple as utilizing the power of vinegar, baking soda and water. 
  • Cleaning out your air ducts, changing your furnace filters regularly with high quality pleated filters and not wearing shoes inside can decrease the amount of dust in the house. The toxins we want to avoid are actually in the dust. (7) Using a hepa filter for vacuuming can also reduce the amount of dust and therefore limit toxin exposure in your family. 

Sweaty Is Good

Whether you want to rid the body of heavy metals or manmade chemicals, sweating is an easy and natural way to make sure you are getting rid of those toxins. While some detoxification programs call for saunas and profuse sweating that would not be suitable for the entire family, gentle sweating is a safe and easy way to boost the body’s detoxification processes.


  • There is a ton of research showing that simply sweating can be one of the most powerful ways to detox. Drink plenty of water to replace any fluid lost while sweating. (7, 8, 9)
  • Regular exercise helps rid the body of toxins as well so some exercise and a little sweat is a great way to detox. (10)

Whether it is a three day cleanse with fresh food or choosing green cleaning products the next time you buy supplies, these simple tips can help lower your family’s chemical burden today!

- Dr. Catherine Clinton

(1) Environmental Determinants of Chronic Disease and Medical Approaches: Recognition, Avoidance, Supportive Therapy, and Detoxification. Margaret E. Sears and Stephen J. Genuis J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 356798.
(3) Bisphenol A and human health: a review of the literature. Rochester JR. Reprod Toxicol. 2013 Dec
(4) Plastics and Food Sources: Dietary Intervention to Reduce BPA and DEHP. Kellyn S. Betts. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jul 1; 119(7): a306.
(5) http://www.ewg.org/
(6) Planting Healthier Indoor Air. Luz Claudio. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Oct; 119(10): a426–a427.
(7) Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review. Margaret E. Sears, Kathleen J. Kerr, Riina I. Bray. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 184745
(8) Human Elimination of Phthalate Compounds: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study. Stephen J. Genuis, Sanjay Beesoon, Rebecca A. Lobo, Detlef Birkholz. Scientific World Journal. 2012; 2012: 615068.
(9) Human Excretion of Bisphenol A: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study. Stephen J. Genuis, Sanjay Beesoon, Detlef Birkholz, Rebecca A. Lobo. J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 185731.
(10) Effect of physical exertion on the biological monitoring of exposure to various solvents following exposure by inhalation in human volunteers: II. n-Hexane. Tardif R, Nadeau V, Truchon G, Brochu M. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 2007;4(7):502–508.

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.

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
2. http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/
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.

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


1. http://www.dldjournalonline.com/article/S1590-8658(15)00414-4/fulltext
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3916379/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4616208/
4. http://jvi.asm.org/content/89/4/1951.full
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4578625/
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3329113/
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21880779
8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4710368/
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4550281/

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