James Maskell’s guest on this episode is Dr. Elisa Song, a holistic pediatrician whose mission is to educate clinicians and parents alike about environmental toxicity in children and how to help children thrive by improving their health. She has written books, organized conferences and is passionate about addressing environmental toxicity.

In this episode, she discusses several sources of toxins in children and the importance of toning the vagus nerve as a strategy to improve children’s well-being. Dr. Song’s upcoming book, Healthy Kids, Happy Kids: An Integrated Pediatrician’s Guide to Whole Child Resilience, provides practical guidance to help promote health and resilience in children, including advice about how to read food labels and avoid harmful additives.

Check out this empowering conversation to learn more about:

  • Food additives that contribute to leaky gut and chronic illnesses.
  • The importance of parasympathetic exercises for children with chronic symptoms or illnesses.
  • How environmental toxins are contributing to chronic illness.

  • Dr. Song’s book, Healthy Kids, Happy Kids: An Integrated Pediatrician’s Guide to Whole Child Resilience, available on May 14, 2024.

Toxicity in Children: Protecting Future Generations | Episode 332

Dr. Elisa Song: We know that emulsifiers can directly trigger zonulin release, can directly trigger leaky gut, which as we know for kids in adults, underlies virtually every single chronic health concern can also directly trigger gut dysbiosis. And in some countries, I think it was in Japan, where they tracked the alarming rise in the use of emulsifiers in foods and found that that directly correlated with the rise in the rates of autoimmunity in their populations, and it makes sense. And of course, correlation isn’t causation, but we know the emulsifiers, the harm that they have on our tight junctions.

And we find these emulsifiers in, for instance, the FDA, in liquid ready to feed infant formula allows emulsifiers at a level that’s higher than what we know is harmful to human health. And so, we can’t just trust that, I mean, if the FDA approves it that it’s going to be good for us.

James Maskell: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast, the place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs and health technology, as well as practical tools to help you transform your practice and the health of your community.

This podcast is brought to you by the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center, who provide a range of options to help you deliver successful, effective functional and integrative medicine. To find out more and to get started, go to goevomed.com/lmrc. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc.

Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This week, we are talking to Elisa Song. She is a integrative pediatrician out of California. She’s an amazing educator. She’s written books. She is putting together conferences on the future of pediatrics, and she’ll also be speaking at an upcoming event, the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute conference that’s happening on the 19 and 20 of April in Chicago.

And so, we’re going to be talking about toxicity, toxicity in kids, sources of toxicity, what to do about it, and just catching up on some of the amazing work that she’s been doing to lead the charge to broaden pediatric functional and integrated medicine education that is so sorely needed. It was a powerful 40 minutes. Enjoy.

So, a warm welcome to the podcast, actually, I think for the first time. Dr. Elisa Song, so glad to have you here. Really excited to welcome you.

Dr. Elisa Song: Oh, I’m honored to be here. So, nice to see you, and I’m looking forward to seeing you actually in person too.

James Maskell: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that as well. Yeah, I guess before we start, I just want to share something. I know that the pandemic feels a long time ago, but as someone who was dealing with kids at that time, and trying to make good decisions, and trying to think through what a healthy way to deal with kids, both the homeschooling piece, and also the preventative measures and those kinds of things, I haven’t had a chance to say this to you before so I want to say thank you for the way that you showed up during that. I think it meant a lot to a lot of people. And I think that, I’m hoping, and I assume that it gathered you a much larger community because I think you were a voice of reason in a topic that was potentially filled with landmines. And I think you did an admirable job of communicating the science, and also some practical wisdom for parents and kids.

Dr. Elisa Song: Yeah, thank you, James. I mean, it really does seem like a lifetime ago, right? But I mean, wow, what a lesson in navigating the disparate worlds of science and politics, and just trying to help parents navigate through the fear. I mean, that was really… I mean, ‘cause you and I were both parents in that time. We could have let ourselves just sink into this fear and go one extreme or the other, and there’s such a nuance that lies in between. So, thank you, I appreciate that.

James Maskell: Well, the results that I took from it is I moved to the country, got involved with an alternative schooling project, and three years into that, feel like it was the right choice all the way around.

Dr. Elisa Song: Love that.

James Maskell: Prepared for whatever comes next as well. So, what I want to talk today a little bit is really get into the conversation around toxins and children. This is something that I’ve been really passionate about for a long time. In fact, people ask me, where did this passion come from for this medicine? You’re not a doctor. And part of it was because early in my career, I met practitioners who were bringing kids back from the brink. I still think that is the most powerful work that people can do because you can switch a child from lifelong dependency on the medical system, lifelong dependency on other people to being independent, and a lot of it was about toxicity. And, at that time, 2005, 2006, certainly not something that was really well understood, possibly still today something that’s still not possibly well understood. But do you want to just lay out the case or the lay of the land with regard to toxicity in children and the chronic health effects?

Dr. Elisa Song: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think when we step back and really recognize that currently, and these numbers are a little bit on the older side at this point now, but a little under one in two kids. So, something like 48%, I think, just a little under one in two kids has been diagnosed with a chronic disease. Now, that doesn’t count all the kids who don’t necessarily have a diagnosis, but they’re not right, I mean, they’re not thriving. And we know through the pandemic, it did shine a light on the state of mental health emergency in our kids. We had that long before the pandemic, so I’m hoping that the light that was shined during the pandemic, it doesn’t dim because our kids are in crisis. One in three teenage girls, by the time they’re teenagers, will have seriously contemplated suicide. I mean, that is not okay. Not okay.

And it’s interesting that you say that when really you started on this journey back in 2005, 2006 on environmental toxins in kids. Well, that was the year that the New England Journal of Medicine published an article that in my mind was really the sentinel like, what are we doing to our children? What are we doing with this world of ours? And in that article, the authors note that this is the first time ever in history that our children are expected to have shorter life spans than us, their parents. The first time in history with all of our “medical advances” and all really due to lifestyle-related diseases. And guess what drives these lifestyle-related diseases? It’s toxins.

And through the pandemic too, one thing that as everyone is so fearful of infectious diseases and, in the early stages, rightfully so, but we were in such a different place even within, I mean, less than a year into it. And so, the World Health Organization noted that seven in 10 people worldwide—I mean this is around the world—seven in 10 people die of what are called NCDs. Now, I didn’t know what an NCD was before the pandemic. I mean, lots of us learned a lot of new lingo, but NCD stands for non-communicable diseases. Well, guess what those are? Those are not infectious diseases, they’re lifestyle-related diseases. So, our world, our population, I mean, we as a world are not living in an environment that is suited to us. And if we don’t wake up, I mean, we are going to pay the price, but our children, our grandchildren, generations to come, are really going to pay the price.

James Maskell: Yeah. What part of this do you think is more toxins in the environment than there was, and what part of it do you think is the transgenerational epigenetics where kids are coming in with a fuller bucket to use like functional medicine?

Dr. Elisa Song: Oh, I think it’s so intertwined, I think it’s all of it. And really when we think about the drivers of inflammation and the inflammatory response in children and adults for that matter, I mean, anything I say can apply to adults, but as a pediatrician, I’m so keenly aware of the disproportionate impact that environmental toxins and epigenetic, transgenerational effects have on the developing fetus, and the baby in that first critical 1,000 days of life, and we really can’t separate out the two. I mean, I always look at things from a microbiome-centric standpoint because for children, they’re developing gut microbiome in those first, I mean, in utero from maternal exposure to her microbiome, her vaginal microbiome or skin microbiome, depending on how babies are birthed, her breast gland microbiomes, and how that baby’s microbiome develops in that first few years of life, all of that impacts their epigenetic programming for metabolic health, mental health, immune health for their lifetime.

It sounds scary when I say that to parents, and I don’t say it in that way to parents because then they think, oh my gosh, the deal’s done. My kid’s seven. There’s nothing I can do. And that’s absolutely not the case. However, if we understand the importance of intervening in those early days and preconception and in utero, we can have such a bigger impact. And as we were talking offline before about the vagus nerve, one thing that’s fascinating as I was doing this research for my book is recognizing two things: that our heart rate variability, heart rate variability in children when they’ve measured it now is significantly lower than historic controls. And I would imagine that’s the same for adults too. We just have lower heart rate variability, and so, we have less vagus nerve resilience to all of these toxic stressors.

Same thing with our gut microbiomes. Our babies’ microbiomes, our children, our microbiomes have changed through the years. And one study compared the microbiomes of breastfed babies today to breastfed babies 100 years ago. And back then, breastfed babies had almost exclusively Bifidobacter species. Now, the breastfed babies today, their microbiomes look much closer to the formula fed babies of centuries ago, which is astonishing, and it’s the loss of Bifidobacter that we can see might be one of the key factors in really programming our kids to have poor metabolic health, poor mental health. Through the pandemic, there’s been research on how we as a society have really lost our Bifidobacter too. So, I wonder as we come out of this pandemic, what is our microbiome resilience going to be, especially for kids where the microbiome is so key in really imprinting their future immune health, metabolic health, and brain health.

James Maskell: Yeah. Well, I’m interested that you said that, and I just wanted to share from my perspective, having taken all this information in and listened to what you were saying, and learned along the way. I took every precaution with my first daughter to do healthy things, but at the same time, she was born in New York. We traveled around the whole time and did a strange childhood in that way, in that a lot of travel and moving around. When I had another daughter here in the pandemic, we moved to the country and live on basically a farm. And that, because I just think, it seems to me that the only way that you could recalibrate a healthy microbiome is to actually recalibrate the environment completely because we don’t know enough about what’s optimal to supplement. Would you agree with that?

Dr. Elisa Song: Oh yeah, absolutely. And not everyone is really in the amazing position that you’ve been in to be able to do that for the family, but really, the micro changes we can make in our kid’s environment, whether it’s a complete overhaul and we’re moving to the country, we’re having farm animals, we’re going to be away from as much of the environmental toxicity as we can, which sadly, there’s not really a place in the world where we can go probably that is toxin-free. But I think yes, we need to change that environment. And if we’re living in a suburban or an urban area, I mean even rural areas, that’s where the pesticide exposure is going to be rampant. But teaching parents and children, how do we lower, how can we be aware of the sources of toxicity so that, not that we live in fear, but that we understand how to lower that burden.

Because if you are toxic from, I mean, let’s take mold as an issue. If you are mycotoxic, sure, you can take all the glutathione and the binders that you want to, but unless you’re removed from that toxic environment, you’re not going to get the healing that you would like to have. And for our children where I think a lot of parents nowadays, we’ve lost the idea of what it really means to thrive because so many kids have a little eczema here and there, and oh, that’s just part of being a kid. Or they have explosive temper tantrums and behavioral concerns, and oh, they’re just being a toddler. And it’s like, well, it’s not so much. We’ve normalized so much of the sensory issues and the attention and focus and behavioral and immune issues that kids shouldn’t be congested 24/7, 8 months out of the year. That’s not thriving.

And so, we’ve just come to accept this as the “new normal,” and we really need to step back and say, “Well, what’s contributing to this?” And how do we redefine a new normal for our kids? Because I mean, so many parents growing up in this world, they don’t know what normal could be. I mean, I’m old enough where I remember, I mean, there was not a single kid growing up in my school that I know of who had an EpiPen, and there was one kiddo who had asthma and would take his little puffer before PE. But I mean, that was it, there were no kids who were having trouble being still in their bodies and really just so uncomfortable in their own skin. And that’s more the norm, sadly, today.

James Maskell: Yeah. Well, give us then sort of the 80/20 rule of leverage in the household. When you are talking to parents, what are the most common sources of toxins, and what are little things that every family can be doing to do the most with the least effort, financial investment?

Dr. Elisa Song: Yeah, I love how you frame that, right? The 80/20 rule. Now, I will step back and say, if your kids are suffering from let’s say, an autoimmune condition, or they have PANS, PANDAS, or you’re really working on something, some really persistent health concern for them, we probably want to move that closer to 90/10 or even higher. But for the most part, what I talk to parents and kids about, and it’s really important even from the time that your children are little, to teach them why we want to live in a certain way, why we want to think in a certain way, why we want to eat in a certain way, again, not to instill fear, but to empower them to know, “Hey, I can make these choices.”

If it’s a choice between two packages of, and I give this example to my, I mean, frequently, because we had to do this with my kids, whether it’s the Takis, artificial red dye, MSG laden, chili fire potato chips, right? The rolled corn tortilla chips versus Siete, which is a much cleaner brand, tastes just as good, but it doesn’t have anything artificial, no MSG. And so, we talk about: How do we read food labels?

I was talking with a friend, and she was asking me what I think would really move the needle on kids’ health. And I said, “There’s two things I think globally would really move the needle in the world.” Is number one, if kids and parents learned how to read food labels in a really microbiome savvy way, in a toxin savvy way, and number two, if we all learned how to regulate our nervous systems. Those two things, I think if we could do that, the ripple effects on our microbiomes and our immune system and then our HPA axis would change the world. I truly believe that because then all the other little things can fall into place.

So, then, what do we have to think about? Well, food is going to be one of the biggest sources, unfortunately, of toxins if we’re not aware. And when I talk to parents about what do we—and kids—what do we want to try to get in? But sometimes more importantly for kids, it’s thinking about, well, what are the things that we want to keep out? And how do we then help them make those swaps from the Takis to the Siete? Because it doesn’t do any good to tell a kid or a parent, “Well, avoid these ingredients.” And then they’re like, “Okay, but now what?” Right? So, we need to really help them learn.

So, the three things that I look at on food labels most closely, the first is go right down to the ingredient panel, and there are going to be FDA-approved food additives, especially food emulsifiers that are ubiquitous in these ultra processed foods. We know that emulsifiers can directly trigger zonulin release, can directly trigger leaky gut, which, as we know, for kids and adults underlies virtually every single chronic health concern, can also directly trigger gut dysbiosis. And in some countries, I think it was in Japan, where they tracked the alarming rise in the use of emulsifiers in foods and found that that directly correlated with the rise in the rates of autoimmunity in their populations, and it makes sense.

And of course, correlation isn’t causation, but we know the emulsifiers, the harm that they have on our tight junctions. And we find these emulsifiers in, for instance, the FDA, in liquid, ready-to-feed infant formula allows emulsifiers at a level that’s higher than what we know is harmful to human health. And so, we can’t just trust that, I mean, if the FDA approves it that it’s going to be good for us. But what I have parents and kids look at is it’s not going to say emulsifier on the label. It will say mono and diglycerides, which I think are some of the worst.

But you’ll find in ice cream, you’ll find in some protein bars, you’re like, “Oh, great, it’s a protein bar.” Well, it has these mono and diglycerides so that it doesn’t become a goopy mess when you open up the package CMC, carboxymethyl cellulose, carrageenan, polysorbate 80, xanthan gum. So, we want to be aware, okay, well, these things, they’re actually not serving us so choose a different package.

I mean, everyone listening to this podcast knows about glyphosate, and probably knows that glyphosate was originally patented as an antibiotic. And so, what that does on multiple levels, what’s really creepy about glyphosate is they found that glyphosate will preserve pathogenic bacteria like some Clostridial species while preferentially killing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter species. So, now we have this ultra dysbiosis from the glyphosate, and glyphosate also triggers zonulin release triggers, leaky gut.

And then we also have the double whammy where our produce requires bacteria and yeast in our soil to create nutrients to get absorbed by the root so that our food becomes really nutrient dense. Well, you spray the ground with glyphosate as an antimicrobial, it kills those bacteria in yeast so now we also have this significantly nutrient-depleted produce. So, anyhow, I think if we learned how to really manage those toxins in our food, we have, of course, our endocrine disruptors, ubiquitous. These PFASs that, I mean, they’re called forever chemicals because they last nearly forever.

The studies in children always lag behind studies in adults. But we know that PFAS, BPA, phthalates in pregnancy can really affect pregnancy outcomes. There was one study that from not too long ago that found that endocrine disruptors during pregnancy, they found women who had higher levels of urinary phthalates and BPA and compared baby’s gut microbiomes controlling for other measures, and baby’s gut microbiomes were significantly different in those first critical 1,000 days simply based on maternal and prenatal, so nursing and prenatal, in utero exposure to these endocrine disruptors, and endocrine disruptors can pave the way for children. I mean, we have some good pediatric studies showing that higher exposures will increase the risk for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, all sorts of neurodevelopmental problems, and, of course, reproductive problems because they are endocrine disruptors.

So, we have our environmental toxins that we want to be savvy about what we’re putting on our kids’ skin and the cleaning products that we’re using. And then, the thing that is free that we really don’t have to, it doesn’t cost any money, necessarily. I mean, sometimes we need to invest a little money into this, but psychological stress, learning how to manage our psychological stress, improve our psychological resilience, improve our heart rate variability and vagus nerve functioning, because psychological stress we know can also trigger zonulin release within one hour.

I mean, that’s astonishing. So, then when you have stressor after stressor after stressor after stressor, it’s no wonder why some kiddos and adults who are eating so clean and they’re living such “toxin-free” lives, well, they’re not looking at psychological stress as a toxin. It is as much of a toxin as anything else. So, whatever we can do, and there’s so many things that we can do that don’t cost any money, they cost your time, but that we can improve heart rate variability in our children.

James Maskell: Yeah, it’s very comprehensive, and I appreciate that. I would say, I guess from a clinical point of view, there’s clinicians listening who probably, some of them treat kids, some of them don’t. What are some things to think about if you’re going to be doing a functional medicine approach to working with kids and younger adults, what are some things that you think clinicians need to know in order to feel confident working with growing bodies, should we say?

Dr. Elisa Song: Yeah. I mean, I would encourage every practitioner at some point, whether you’re working with grandparents or parents, at some point you will, and you probably already have gotten the question, “Well, can you help my kid?” And a lot of practitioners are a little gun shy to treat children. One thing I will say is that children respond tend to respond beautifully. They do not have the years and years and years of emotional, environmental, physiologic toxic buildup. And so, it’s easier to “clear” them, and they’re just easier to move.

I mean, I do acupuncture in the practice, and I’ve seen that the younger you are, I mean literally sometimes for babies with constipation or reflux, one acupuncture session, and they are good to go. It’s just their bodies just move more easily. Now, that being said, that means they move more easily in the direction of healing, but they can also move much more quickly in the direction of poor health, because their immune systems and the nervous systems are more vulnerable to hits.

But I would say just go for it. One thing that, just like we all do in functional medicine, of course, you’re going to look at their gut microbiome knowing that in the first three years, their gut microbiome is different than an adult’s, right? Babies should have less diversity. We always think, oh, diversity in the microbiome is awesome. Well, not for babies. We actually want them to have a little less diversity. We want them to have more Bifidobacter species. The keystones are still the same. We want them to have F. prau and Akkermansia to really improve butyrate production. And so, there are some similarities, some differences.

We also need to know that for breastfed babies, lactoferrin is secreted in milk, in breast milk, in human milk. And so, for some, I mean, if you’re doing a stool analysis and you see, oh my gosh, lactoferrin is through the roof, they must have so much inflammation. Well, dig a little. Are they exclusively breastfed? That may be why. It may not be an inflammatory marker. So, there are certain pediatric-specific nuances in reading a comprehensive stool analysis for kids. But you always start there.

And then I always, always, if possible, will check for nutrient deficiencies because you can’t, if you’re not replete with all the nutrients to really restore health, it’s going to be an uphill battle. And the most common nutrient deficiencies, as I’m sure it is, I’m guessing, it’s the same in adults as well, but zinc, magnesium, and iron, and vitamin D, if I get the chance to measure those, I will do those through blood. And then you can consider an omega-3, omega-6 indexes aren’t as widely available, but optimizing their nutrient status, supplementing if needed, if they have nutritional deficiencies or insufficiencies, even if they’re just at a suboptimal, but low normal level, really, really addressing any gut dysbiosis that may be there.

And then, it’s the foundations. A kiddo comes to you, I had one family, really sweet family, but their kiddo was really dealing with a lot of emotional outbursts and significant attention-focused concerns and energy concerns. And somehow along the way, mom had been told by one physician that Coke was going to be good for her kid. And she believed that because she saw, “Oh, maybe the caffeine, he’s a little bit more focused after the caffeine.” So, she said to me, “I’ll take any vitamin. We’ll do any supplement you want, but we’re not going to give up the Coke.” At least a couple a day.

And I said, “You know what? I don’t want to waste your money or your time. We can certainly replenish your child’s nutrients and take some supplements to help with calming the nervous system and addressing their gut microbiome, but we’re not going to move the needle that far if we don’t get rid of some of the toxins, especially the Coke.” And so, it’s just seeing where families are at. And unfortunately, this family never came around to giving up the Coke, and so, I don’t know where this child is right now, but really, really impressing upon parents.

It’s just like people who garden, you would never think that you would grow the healthiest, most delicious juicy tomatoes if you just sat it in some soil and didn’t do anything, if you didn’t nourish that soil. It’s the same concept.

James Maskell: Yeah. Well, I’m glad you mentioned the vagus nerve there. It’s just a topic that I’m really diving into all day, every day, because it just seems that one, it’s a unifying topic where every practitioner in our space one way or another is toning the vagus nerve, calming the vagus nerve with their work.

But it seems like you mentioned there that this may be a crucial underestimated factor of detoxification in children, which is that they need to be in a parasympathetic state, and that is probably harder than ever given the technology environment, given those kind of areas. So, what are some of the strategies that you recommend to tone the vagus nerve in children that they enjoy that gets the most bang for their buck?

Dr. Elisa Song: I would say, because now, for adults, there are all these devices that are available, and I have a couple of devices that I use, and I’ve lent some auricular devices to kids, but it’s not so much about the external use of devices. I think for adults, yes, and for kids, oftentimes, we need those external passive mechanisms to calm a nervous system so that then you can access other tools that you can use on your own even when you don’t have that device.

The issue that I’ve had interestingly is I searched high and low for devices that I could use in kids because I thought, well, that’s “easy.” Having a child sit there and meditate, that’s going to be a little bit of a harder sell whereas if they can wear a device while they’re doing their homework and that can help to regulate their vagus nerve, optimize vagus nerve output, then great. But a lot of these devices, when I’ve called the companies, they will not say that it can be used in children, and it’s just covering themselves. I get that. But that means that we don’t have great protocols or great studies in children on specific different devices.

I do use, I mean, you see me around, you’ll often see me wearing my Apollo, which I wear now, which that one can be used in kids. And so, there are different tools. Now, I think one of the keys is if your child is in that alarm state, that sympathetic state, we need to find a way to quickly calm their nervous system so that we can use some other tools. And that can be tapping. It can be the Apollo. It can sometimes be literally just slashing some ice-cold water on their face. I mean, it’s literally that proverbial slap across the cheek. You’re like, okay, we just need to calm this brain down right now. And then, we use our tools that kids can practice and we need to, what I tell parents and kids, look, your autonomic nervous system gets plenty of exercise like running a triathlon every single day with their sympathetic nervous system, every day, right? So, much exercise.

Your sympathetic nervous system has so many muscles, it doesn’t really need to be worked out anymore. But your parasympathetic arm is really, it’s in a very weakened, atrophied state. We need to exercise that every single day. And so, I have kids choose, I mean, I lay down different exercises. One thing for the younger kids, we know the power of diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, and there’s different breathing exercises, but diaphragmatic breathing can improve heart rate variability. I always look to see: Are there studies that can show that it improves heart rate variability? And diaphragmatic breathing does.

And there’s a really cute video, a YouTube video, with Elmo and rapper Common and singer Colbie Caillat that talks about belly breathing. Super cute, I’ve showed it to my kids, third and fourth grade classes, and they sit there. I mean, I had this one group of eight to 10 year olds, and I taught this six-week Happy Belly, Healthy You class where they learn all about their microbiome, and they learn how calming their nervous system can help the tiny little microscopic friends in their bellies. And I had this room full of eight to 10 year olds on the ground, on their hands, on their belly, belly breathing. It was so quiet. And I remember a teacher coming in and she’s like, “What did you do to them?” And I’m like, “All I did was teach them how important, really nourishing and caring for their microbiome is for their brains,” and they sat there, and they felt great. So, that’s one thing.

What I love is gratitude. So, there’s a loving kindness meditation that through the pandemic, I had my kids, and a lot of kids just really extend to try to feel more connected to the world around them. And it’s four sentences. You just stop and think and really express gratitude to yourself, to your family, to your friends, to strangers halfway around the world, whomever you’d like, and you just let them know, may you feel happy, may you feel safe, may you feel healthy, may you live with ease. And that’s so simple. I mean, just to do that at bedtime because it just immediately engages your vagus nerve, immediately harnesses the power of gratitude and connectivity because we know how important community is. I mean, that’s one of, I think, the biggest harms of the pandemic, that loss of community.

And then, I do teach parents acupressure points and kids acupressure points because we know there are several auricular acupressure points and also body acupressure points, and, in the literature, can improve vagus nerve function. There are two essential oils in the literature that have also been shown to improve heart rate variability, and that’s lavender and sandalwood. So, one thing, there’s heart seven, which is it is on the inner wrist, on your pinky side and the wrist crease and just holding pressure on that point, put a drop of lavender, put a drop of sandalwood, and you just simulate heart seven or shenmen, the spirit gate. And that can really just help kids to slow down and stop and just get into a little bit more parasympathetic, so then, they can practice their breathing or practice their meditation tools.

James Maskell: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate everything that you’re sharing here. And I know that we’re going to see each other actually very soon at the PLMI conference in Chicago. Any highlights of what you’re going to be talking, now, obviously that’s a very sophisticated clinical audience, so you can go a bit deeper into that.

Dr. Elisa Song: Yeah. Well, we’re going to go a lot deeper into the impact of endocrine disruptors, all of these PFASs, environmental toxins specifically, and really focusing in on children’s metabolic health because we know, I mean, especially through the pandemic, the increase in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type two diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. I mean, those have really become more rampant problems in kids. And when I started training, I mean, kids didn’t really get type two diabetes. There was no such thing as NASH in children.

And so, diving into some of the environmental factors, the inputs, what we can do to mitigate those. I mean, I don’t like to call it “detox,” but really how do we help kids who we know are toxic from this burden of environmental chemicals to help clear those toxins in a safe and healthy way so that then they can reverse some of these trends, some of this imprinting, that’s already occurred.

James Maskell: Great. The book is live, so tell us a little bit about that, and do you think this is something that could be in the bookshelf of a practitioner that doesn’t treat kids to help patients with their children?

Dr. Elisa Song: Yeah, 1,000%. So, the book actually goes live May 14, so it’s going to go live after PLMI, but it’s called Healthy Kids, Happy Kids: An Integrated Pediatrician’s Guide to Whole Child Resilience. I’ve had lots of my practitioner friends, and practitioner bloggers, and podcasters read the book and they tell me this is the book that they would write if they’re going to write a kid’s book. And as a practitioner, I promise you, it will make your life so much easier because you don’t have to then discuss and explain and negotiate back and forth why you’re making some of these recommendations in diet and lifestyle.

And it’s written in a way that kids can read. I mean, my son, when he read the section on the impact of antibiotics on your gut microbiome and what questions to ask, and also not just on your microbiome, but on our worldwide public health with antibiotic resistance on the rise. I mean, he wrote that up and explained to his students in his class because they had a science presentation to do, so kids can easily understand, and that’s the beauty of it. I really want kids to understand the why of what maybe their parents or their doctors are telling them, so that they can then make it their own and decide how they want to live. Because as parents, while they’re young, we have a lot of control over what goes on their plate and on their skin, but we quickly lose that, right? So, we want to teach them young.

James Maskell: Yeah, that’s such a good point, and I think there’s so much to communicate, and you can’t do it in a one-on-one appointment. You need other tools, and I think the book is a great asset there. The last thing I just wanted to ask you about, I know last October, you did what looked like an awesome pediatric conference. I put on a pediatric conference in 2012 because I just was like, “This is so critical.” Then as I got into functional medicine and less into what I was doing before, I lost touch with that.

But when I saw the lineup that you put together, I thought that’s probably the lineup that I would’ve put together if I was thinking. I just respect so many of the people that you brought into that room. How did it go, and what do you think the future of pediatric functional medicine education looks like?

Dr. Elisa Song: I think the future of pediatric medicine is starting and needs to happen, which is why I was so grateful to have the opportunity to pull together some of my favorites and voices that I feel like need to be heard around the world. A4M, I’m so grateful, they’ve committed now to continue with pediatric education every year. So, we’ll have an annual fall conference, and it’s coming up in September, and I’m actually organizing the speaker list right now. I’m so excited about some of the topics that we’re going to bring. Interestingly, I mean, we are calling it, the past two conferences, the first one was on immune resilience, the second one was on brain resilience, but now we’re just calling it the future of pediatric medicine because there’s so many different interconnected topics.

I think that we need to get this information out to younger, newer, less seasoned pediatricians and family practice docs. I’m a bit jaded in my old age. I don’t know how soon this is going to get into medical education, but it’s starting. There’s so many medical students that call me and ask, “Hey, can I shadow? I’m just so interested in how you’re practicing.” I think that for pediatricians, I’m going to be 100,000% honest for pediatricians we are, as MDs and DOs practicing primary care pediatricians, or not even primary care, just as pediatricians. We’re in a much harder place from a medical board standpoint, as you can imagine on certain topics.

James Maskell: It’s the most conservative specialty for a reason, right?

Dr. Elisa Song: Yes. But I think A4M has been so open to us discussing and really bringing our clinical. I mean, that’s what we need. We need not just theory, but we need the clinical, the cases. This is what I see in my practice. This is how I approach it. But there’s no end, no limit to the amount of pediatric functional medicine, integrated medicine education that can happen just like there are so many adult functional medicine conferences. There’s A4M and IFM, and I just spoke at the Forum for Integrative Medicine.

I mean, there’s so many opportunities. There should be so many pediatric opportunities. It shouldn’t just be one. And I’m seeing more conferences here and there. I mean, there’s MAPS, and then now there’s Documenting Hope is starting up their conference. I hope there’s more and more. I mean, we need more perspectives. Just because I practiced in this particular way for 20 years doesn’t mean that my way is the only way we need to hear these voices and these innovations in pediatric functional medicine.

James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. Mission-critical, thank you so much for leading the charge in all the different ways that you are. And yeah, look forward to seeing you at PLMI and look forward to that lecture, and thank you so much for being part of the Evolution of Medicine podcast. I’ve been with Dr. Elisa Song. We’ll have all the details about her book and then the upcoming conversation we’re going to be having at PLMI. Thanks so much for tuning in, and we’ll see you next time.

Thanks for listening to the Evolution of Medicine podcast. Please share this with colleagues who need to hear it. Thanks so much to our sponsors, the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. This podcast is really possible because of them. Please visit goevomed.com/lmrc to find out more about their clinical tools, like the Group Visit Toolkit. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.


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