Catherine Clinton, MD On Psychoneuroimmunology, Gut Health, Mitochondrial Health And More

Content By: Ari Whitten & Dr. Catherine Clinton

In this episode, I am speaking with Catherine Clinton, ND, a licensed naturopathic physician who focuses on gut health, autoimmunity, and Psychoneuroimmunology.

We’re talking about how our thoughts affect biology, including our gut health and immunity.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. Clinton and I discuss:

  • What is psychoneuroimmunology and how does it relate to gut and mitochondrial health?
  • The one thing more important than supplements and food for healthy mitochondria
  • The critical role of the vagus nerve and heart rate variability in stress
  • The powerhouse of the immune system which is often missed
  • 5 things to avoid to optimize your immune system
  • The best foods for gut health and mitochondria

Listen or download on iTunes

Listen outside iTunes


Ari Whitten:  Hey there. Welcome back everyone to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. Right now, I have with me Dr. Catherine Clinton, who is a licensed naturopathic physician with a focus on gut health, autoimmunity, and Psychoneuroimmunology. 

When in medical school Catherine was diagnosed with and healed from an autoimmune disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. Leaving her with a special interest in autoimmune diseases and how the gut microbiome impacts immune and overall health.

With the birth of her own children, Catherine became really passionate about the prevention of these chronic diseases and conditions by addressing the psychoneuroimmune system and the gut health of children.

She has multiple peer-reviewed medical journal publications and she writes several other publications. So, welcome Dr. Clinton. Such a pleasure to have you, and I am super excited to get into this talk on Psychoneuroimmunology, and gut health, and mitochondrial health, and how those tie together to optimize our energy levels.  

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Well, thank you so much for having me. I am so excited to be here. This is my favorite topic.

Ari Whitten:  Beautiful.                       

Catherine Clinton, ND:  So, let’s get started. Yeah.


The big picture of psychoneuroimmunology

Ari Whitten:  Yeah.  So, I guess first, let’s just do a broad overview. Give me kind of the big picture of what Psychoneuroimmunology is, and how that relates to the mitochondria and the microbiome.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Absolutely. Well, they create kind of an intersection, so to speak. So, the mitochondrial health is influencing the gut health and gut microbiome, and vice versa. And all of them are being impacted by our Psychoneuroimmunology. 

Now that’s a word that’s going to win Scrabble, right? And what that means is basically how our thoughts affect biology. And at the forefront of that is our neurological function, and development, and our immune system. 

Ari Whitten:  Beautiful. So, let’s get into it. Tell me about how this works, and let’s get into some – once we talk about the science of how this all works, I would love to get into practical strategies of how to use this information to optimize energy levels. 

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Absolutely. Absolutely. So, first, I want to talk about, and I know that you’ve been doing that as well, so I’m going to do a really brief hit on mitochondrial health and function and what that means. And what our Psychoneuroimmunology means. And then, get into our gut microbiome and how they all intersect together to work together, or to decrease function and health together. And absolutely, we’ll get into the practical tips of what to avoid and what to do to boost the intersection of all three.  

Ari Whitten:  Beautiful. Let’s do it. Take it away.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  All right. So, we’re going to start with just a brief overview of our mitochondria. So, our mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells, right? They’re creating all of our energy through ATP. Now ATP is the currency that our cells use for energy. And remember that our cells make up our organs, make up our body systems make up us, right? So, they’re crucial for everything.

They’re associated with every kind of health-related illness we see. You know, George Wallace has done some amazing research out there with mitochondrial health. And he’s shown that any dip in the voltage of the mitochondria or the energy production can be associated with any kind of chronic disease. You know, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer. But it goes even further than that, right? It’s been associated with mood disorders, anxiety, depression, behavioral issues in kids, neurological development. So, mitochondria are really the foundation of our energy production, right?

Every single day we are making our body weight in ATP. I mean, they do not stop. So, they’re kind of our foundation for our energy production. And a lot of — when I graduated school 12 years ago, medical school, you know, a lot of the talk around mitochondria really focused on food. And that’s true, but we’ve gone beyond that to realize that there’s some really interesting things that our mitochondria do to harvest energy.

One of them being structuring the water around the cell and the mitochondria. And that is where we really get that big burst of energy, right? So, we’ll get into that a little bit later when we talk about practical tips.

But I just wanted to kind of highlight how our mitochondria aren’t just using our food to create that ATP. They’re also using our environment to create an ideal amount of energy. And it’s really neat, we’ll see in the practical tips, our mitochondria are really kind of pushing us to live in the world. But more about that later.

When we look at mitochondria and we get into the different pathways, we can see how important our stress and our mindset are with our mitochondria.  You know, when we look at the pathways for gluconeogenesis, for our fatty acid cycle, for our panagenic cycle and some of those anxiety modes that we’re in we can see how in-tune our mitochondria are with our psychoneuroimmunology, right?

So, previously we’ve thought, myself included as a practitioner, you know, looking at supplements like ribose D, and carnitine, and raurine, and CoQ10. All of these supplements are great for mitochondrial health, but when our mitochondria aren’t in the right context – meaning when we aren’t living a lifestyle that’s conducive to energy production, then they don’t stand a chance, right?

And I’ve seen this time and time again with my patients, with myself. When we’re doing targeted therapies to accelerate or enhance the energy production of the mitochondria if that person isn’t living the lifestyle that’s conducive to energy production the supplements don’t really do what we want them to do. We don’t see as much of an energy increase as we would if someone was in context throughout the world.

Now, we can – that will dive right into our psychoneuroimmunology. So, I just talked a little bit about how some of those food supplements aren’t going to really prime that ATP pump or the chain in the mitochondria unless we are in the right context. So, I’m going to talk about food. I’m going to talk about nature. And I’m going to talk about our Psychoneuroimmunology system. 

And that big lottery winning word really talks about how our vagus nerve and our thoughts really create a highway, so to speak, between our brain, between our mitochondria, between our gut microbiome, and thus, gut health and our gut lining overall.

So, our Psychoneuroimmunology is really kind of talking about the power that positive emotions have versus negative emotions, right?  And of course, when I start to talk about that I always like to say, as humans we’re really meant to vacillate between our emotions, right? And one of the amazing things that the field of Psychoneuroimmunology has really kind of brought forth in the research is centering around heart rate variability, right?

And so, when we talk about the heart rate that’s measuring our beats per minute, right? Heart rate variability on the other hand is looking at the ability of the heart to go from one situation to another, right? So, when we talk about our nervous system there are three things we really need to talk about.

We need to talk about the fight or flight system. Where, you know, you and I are talking right now, and we’re talking about one of my favorite topics, so I feel excited and relaxed. And I’m in my rest and digest mode where we want to be. Now, if a bear jumps in the room, I’m going to dump all of that adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, and really be in that hypervigilant fight or flight mode, right?

And that’s important. We’re supposed to do that. Get the blood to the extremities and run away from the bear. And oftentimes in our modern-day life, we’re not running away from the bear to the meadow and then getting that balance back. And that’s what heart rate variability is really talking about. It’s talking about being able to handle the stresses of everyday life and bounce back to a state of rest, and rejuvenation that we see in the parasympathetic mode.

Now, when we talk about the parasympathetic versus sympathetic fight or flight, we’re really talking about the vagus nerve, right? And it innervates the heart, and that innervation goes right up to the brain. It also innervates right into the gut microbiome. I mean, excuse me, the gut lining, right? Which is intimately tied with the gut microbiome. 

We used to think that these messages were metabolites, right? Break down metabolites from digestion. Metabolites and messages from the heart about heart rate. But now we’re really understanding that we do have that kind of messaging, right? It’s kind of like snail mail, right? So, you get those breakdown metabolites and they go through the circulation and get up to your brain. 

But what we now know from research is that the nerve innervates directly, directly into the heart, directly into enterocytes that line the gut microbiome. So, this connection is way more profound than we have realized previously. 

Now, what does that mean as far as psychoneuroimmune system and how our thoughts affect our biology? Well, the Heart Math Institute has been doing some amazing research for the last 25 years. And they have a whole slue of peer-reviewed great research out there talking about the connection between our conscious thoughts and our heart rate variability, right? 

So, when we have negative panic thought, right? That bear jumps in the room. Now, that’s appropriate, there’s a bear in the room. So, we want to run away from the bear. We want to have that burst of cortisol. But we don’t want to be stuck there. We want to get away from the bear, go to the meadow, chill out, have our berries, and go to that rest and digest phase. 

So, what heart rate variability is doing is making sure that we get there. That we can flip and flop. We can be in that stressful zone and then flip back. And what we’ve seen from the research is that our thoughts are so powerful in this connection, right? So, when we have that panic mode from the bear, it’s important. But when we keep that panic mode or those negative thoughts, what they do is they actually sever the connection to our frontal lobe.

Now, our frontal lobe is where we think rationally, we have compassion, we can take a second, take a deep breath, and make the right decision. That communication highway is routed elsewhere because we’re in our fight or flight. And that also impacts our gut microbiome.

So, when we see the effects of those kinds of emotions on our gut microbiome, we can kind of see how the vagus nerve kind of really governs it all. And there’s some really neat slides that show how our stress can really impact, not only our inflammatory cascade, right, but our actual lining of the gut, right?

So, those consistent negative thoughts affect our neurology, right? So, they’re severing that communication to the frontal lobe. So, we can’t be thinking rationally and calmly. They increase our inflammation and they’re doing a doozy on the gut lining, right? Those inflammatory cytokines that increase after stress. Actually go in and cause a loosening of the tight junctions of the gut microbiome. So, the tight junctions of the gut microbiome, the enterocytes that line the wall of the gut are held together by tight junctions. 

And these are really neat when we look at them under the microscope, they kind of look like zippers. And when we’re talking about leaky gut or intestinal permeability, we’re talking about not someone unzipping the zipper, right? We’re talking about it looks like, when you look at it under a microscope like someone’s pulling at the sides of the zipper and there’s microscopic little holes that occur. And so, microscopic amounts of whatever you’re eating can get into the bloodstream and further increase inflammation. 

And we know inflammation causes all kinds of problems with our mitochondria. It decreases our energy production. It decreases the amount of mitochondria in the gut. So, we’re starting to see how they all intersect together. 

And it’s so amazing, Ari, I just – it’s so fascinating to see how thoughts of stress and negativity can instantly increase our inflammation. But on the flip side, we really have the power to do just the opposite. So, like I was just talking about the Heart Math Institute and some of the research that has come out around heart rate variability and heart coherence. Where we in a state of calm, and what do I mean by this?

I’m not talking about being a mediation guru, not being stressed. We all encounter stress, right? But at that moment we have a pivotal decision to make. Do we hold onto those negative thoughts? How do we deal with that stress? And heart coherence is really the practice of taking five deeps breaths. We do four counts in, eight counts out, and we think of something that brings peace, calm, love. Maybe it’s your favorite place, vacation, maybe it’s a favorite childhood memory. For myself, personally –

The five breaths practice

Ari Whitten:  Catherine, can you guide us through this right now?

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Absolutely.

Ari Whitten:  Is that something maybe we can just take two minutes to practice this. Like one quick go through it?

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ari Whitten:  Okay.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  So, let’s first take a second to find something that brings us calm, brings us love, brings us joy. So, whether that’s a place, a memory, a loved one. For me, I envision my kids, you know how they give you a hug and they wrap their arms around your neck? And they wrap their legs around your waist, and they bury their head in just completely. So, that is what I envision. I envision just that big unconditional hug from one of my children.

So, we’ve all got that imagery, right? So, let’s close our eyes. And we’re going to take four deep seconds of inhale through our nose, and then we’re going to exhale through our mouths. So, let’s try that.

One, two, three, in, and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Let’s try that again. In one, two, three, four and out five, six, seven, eight. Let’s do it one more time. And I’ll breathe with you. One last time. 

So, just in four or five breaths, we can completely change our biology. Isn’t that amazing. We can change what our gut lining and our gut microbiome are doing. We can change how much energy our mitochondria are creating just by utilizing the power of our mind.

Ari Whitten:  Yeah. Amazing. I want to interject one thing here related to this. The flip side of it. I interviewed a researcher, you mentioned Doug Wallace earlier. I interviewed a researcher who’s done some work with him on a field called mitochondrial psychobiology. His name’s Dr. Martin Picard.

And they’ve done several experiments where they’ve basically put subjects under stress and shown that literally within a matter of a couple of minutes they can find detectable amounts of mitochondrial DNA that has leaked into the bloodstream from this episode of psychological stress that happened minutes before.

So, in other words, there’s a cascade of events happening at the cellular, at the mitochondrial level that’s causing damage. And that is leaking this mitochondrial DNA into the bloodstream where it should not be. Your mitochondria should be in your mitochondria inside your cells, not floating around your bloodstream. 

And it’s also been determined that those mitochondrial DNA, as well as purinergic molecules as Dr. Robert [inaudible] refers to them in the cell danger response. ATP, ADP those also leak into the bloodstream where they should not be. And these things basically serve as danger molecules. They communicate to other cells in the body that the body’s under stress, under attack, needs to shift out of energy mode more into defense mode.

So, it’s really the flip slide of what you just guided us through. And I just want basically point out to people that literally within a matter of seconds or a minute of a stressful event, or a practice like the one that Dr. Clinton just guided us through, you are changing your physiology in profound ways.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s really what the heart rate variability research shows as well, is that shift can be instantaneous and so profound.

I mean, you talked about the inflammatory cascade that happens in the body and in the mitochondria. And it is. It’s instantaneous. And we – our bodies are so in-tune with what’s happening, that oftentimes we don’t even realize what’s happening. You know, it’s a little bit after the fact that we realize that, “Oh, I’m stressed out,” and there’s this whole cascade going on. 

But it’s so incredibly empowering, I think, for myself, for my patients to know that there is a flip side to it. You know, you look at the research with chronic stress and trauma and the latest research shows that 60 percent of us are dealing with some kind of trauma. 

And they define trauma as a loss of a loved one, bullying, you know, loss of a house, financial loss, chronic stress in the workplace. I mean, I feel like 60 percent might be a little low. 

And then, when we look at what that’s doing to the mitochondria, and what’s that doing to inflammation we’re seeing at an event like that in childhood, or in early life can set you up with an inflammatory state that lasts a lifetime. You know, your risk for autoimmunity and chronic disease skyrocket because you’ve laid the foundation for this inflammation.

And what we’re really starting to see from the research is that our mitochondria really have a huge piece in our resilience to stress as well, right? So, that’s again, the flip side of that. Is that if we are on top of our game physically, if we are attending to our gut health, and we’re attending to our mitochondrial health, and attending to our thoughts, then we can really, really impact and be resilient against those stresses that we know are going to come, right?

And when I say, “Trauma,” I think so many of us think of capital “T” trauma, right? These big stories of death and loss. And trauma and chronic stress don’t have to take that face, it can really come in the small “t” trauma that we face kind of day-in and day-out in our modern life. And seeing how that sets up those cytokines, those inflammatory cascades in our body, where our body is like an orchestra. And everybody’s working together to play the same song, and then tuba starts playing a different song. And everybody’s like, “What are we doing? What song are we playing?” 

And that inflammatory cascade kind of chases its tail and increases. And I think it’s just really important to recognize that, you know, our stresses and our reactions to stress can really set the stage of what our overall inflammatory state is in the body. And we know that inflammation isn’t good for so many reasons, right, chronically. 

So, I think it’s really important for us to not only see how it is in the moment, how we can change our biology in the moment for the better or the worse. Same thing, it’s important to recognize as a lifestyle. This can really set us up for an inflammatory state to last years and years, decades, an entire lifetime. And that’s huge.

How to optimize your system for energy levels

Ari Whitten:  Absolutely. So, how does all of this information – you know, you’ve talked about this psychoneuroimmune element of this. You’ve talked about the microbiome. The gut aspect of it, the gut permeability aspect with the tight junctions and they are responding to stress. We’ve tied this into mitochondria. You’ve given this example of the coherence method, this practice that you just guided us through. Are there any other practical tips that we can leave people with, that you can leave people with on how to apply this information to optimize all of these different systems and how they work together better to increase energy levels?

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Absolutely. Absolutely. So, let’s get into the practical tips. But first I want to just not leave our superheroes of the immune system, those t-reg cells, the t-regulatory cells. And just to kind of lay the foundation for the practical tips, it’s important for us to realize that our immune system is governed by a few different branches.

We have the TH-1 branch that increases inflammation in the face of infections. And we have the TH-2 branch that increases inflammation in response to parasites, in response to allergies. We’ve got the TH-17, which is really doing the autoimmune reactions. And now our t-regulatory cells are the cells that go in and put the damper on those. You know, they say, “Okay. The

infection’s gone, let’s decrease this inflammation. Let’s stop all of this inflammatory talk, we’ve dealt with the infection or the allergic event,” or whatever it may be. “And now we to decrease that inflammation.” And the exciting thing about the t-reg cells is that we can see that they immediately boost from this mindfulness. 

Now, we talked about heart coherence, and I led you through an exercise. But it’s not the only one, right? There’s all kinds of neurofeedback, cognitivebehavioral therapies, emotional freedom tapping, tension-releasing exercise, somatic education. And to be honest, there’s a lot of good information and practical exercise on YouTube. There’s lots of great information like the exercise I led you throughout there. So, you can kind of pick and choose what techniques work for you.

But so, let’s get into these practical tips with those t-reg cells in mind. What we really want to do is we want to give our mitochondria, our gut microbiome, and our psychoneuroimmune system what it needs to be at its best. And we want to avoid what damages it, right?

So, a quick overview of what is going to damage our mitochondria. Our process foods with all of the additives. We know that decreases mitochondrial function. We know that a lot of pharmaceuticals out there, antibiotics, NSAIDs, and aspirins, our SSRIs, these medications are also damaging the ATP production in mitochondria. And decreasing the numbers of mitochondria in the cell.   

Ari Whitten:  I want to mention something real quick on that. There’s a website called, and they’ve published a document with a list of prescription and over the counter drugs that have known mitochondrial toxicity and that damage mitochondria. And it might be shocking for a lot of people listening to learn how many of the most common pharmaceuticals, prescription and over the counter pharmaceuticals are known to cause damage to mitochondria. 

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Absolutely. It is shocking, and I’m hoping that the awareness that you are bringing to it. All of the research that is coming out will help shift our thinking a little bit about how foundational our mitochondria are for health. Absolutely. 

So, that’s a great site to check out. We also know that industrial chemicals, pesticides, those also damage the mitochondria. As well as what we’ve been talking about with chronic stress, trauma, negative thoughts. So, those are some things that you want to avoid and be mindful of when you’re trying to create a life full of superhuman energy, right? You want to be mindful of these things that will kind of tick down the function of those mitochondria.

Now, our circadian rhythm is another thing that has a big impact on our mitochondrial function, right? So, those late nights in front of the computer, on our devices, on the phone those are really going to mess up our production of ATP. You know, waking up and seeing that sunlight in the morning is such a prime booster to increase, again, the number of mitochondria in the cell and the production of ATP. 

And it’s really interesting to see the connection between, you know, that a.m.

sun in the morning hitting our melanopsin in the eyes. And really going through, again, another biological cascade that leads us to more mitochondrial production of energy. Which is our goal, right?

So, when we’re talking about the t-reg cells and decreasing inflammation – now, the t-reg cells are really boosted with resistant starches. So, resistant starches are things we find in asparagus, onions, fennel, garlic. Again, that’s something you can Google, and look up the resistant starch content of what you want to eat. But they’re plant-based fiber foods. And those fibers are not digested by our body, so they reach the colon undigested. And the gut microbiome ferments them into short-chain fatty acids, right?

One of those fatty acids being butyrate. So, those resistant starches are fermented into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. When that happens that triggers an increase in those t-reg cells. 

Now, we talked a little bit about trauma and stress increasing our inflammation, it also decreases our t-reg cells, you know, inversely. We see that inflammation goes up with stress and we see our t-reg cell go down. You know, t-reg cell counts go down. So, this is a brilliant way to not only affect the mitochondrial health, the t-reg health which is helping with our immune system, and inflammation, and our mitochondrial health. And that butyrate, that is produced by our gut microbiome is directly feeding, directly feeding the mitochondria of the gut. Which is just amazing, right?

So, a meal of asparagus is going to get you a ton of resistant starches, and those resistant starches are going to feed your mitochondria. They’re going to help the enterocytes that line the gut. They’re going to increase the mucus layer that helps the gut microbiome, right? It kind of increases their real estate, so to speak. And it also makes us more resilient to the stresses of everyday life. And that’s just amazing, just that in and of itself.

Ari Whitten:  Yeah. Love it. Great stuff.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Yeah. And we can see the same thing when we’re looking at omega-3 fatty acids. So, something I always say when I’m talking about mitochondrial health is they’re really kind of pushing us, all of the research, and all of these tips – they’re really pushing us to live in the world that we evolved in, right? So, we evolved eating these resistant starches. And we evolved around waterways. Getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, right?

And so, those omega-3 fatty acids, when we look back at all of those pathways into the mitochondria, we see that direct pathway of the fatty acids and how important omega-3s are to fuel the mitochondrial production of energy. We also see omega-3s increasing the health and adherence of those tight junctions in the gut. And we also see omega-3 fatty acids increasing our resilience to stress. I can’t – it’s just so fascinating and so awe-inspiring. 

The other day I read a study of breast cancer survivors that had less recurrence, or less fear of the recurrence of breast cancer. Because they were on omega-3 fatty acids. And, you know, is it because we found the cure in omega-3s, no, not at all. It’s because we evolved around waterways and that’s what our body needs to be able to function at it’s best. So, that is a really powerful tool.

Resistant starches, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants are doing the same thing. They are helping our gut microbiome. They are helping our gut lining. They are increasing our ATP production and our mitochondria. And they are increasing, again, that psychoneuroimmune system, so that we have more resilience to the stresses of everyday life.

Ari Whitten:  Quick question. When you say antioxidants, what’s specifically are you referring to?

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Well, NAC is a big one. But I am specifically referring to the whole slew of them, you know. Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, there’s a whole bunch. And then, you know, the whole umbrella of phytochemicals. The flavonoids and all of those things really impact our resistance to stress, and our gut microbiome, and our gut health.

Ari Whitten:  Now, when you’re talking about like how they can modify the gut microbiome, are you saying like isolated Vitamin A, or Vitamin E, or Vitamin C, you know, just the pure forms of those vitamins taken as bills will modify our gut microbiome? Or are you saying more like in the natural food context that whole food is known to modify the gut microbiome?

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Yep. That second one.

Ari Whitten:  Okay.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  That second one, the whole food form. And again, all of the research I read with mitochondrial health really is just pointing us to how we should live in the world, right? We need that movement and contact with the world.

Katie Bowman is just wonderful with her research about how you need to move not in just, you know, your jazzercise, or your spin class, or whatever it is – you need to get out in the world. Climb over those boulders. Movement, we see has a powerful effect on our mitochondria and our gut microbiome, right? The research out there shows that moderate exercise increases the beneficial strains in our gut microbiome, and decreases the harmful ones, right? So, that ratio is really benefited by movement.

And the same thing with our mitochondria, right? Movement increases the production of ATP and it increases the amount of mitochondria that are in the cell. 

Now, the same thing that we talked about with mindfulness or meditation, that helps the gut microbiome. It helps, again, the gut lining through that inflammatory cascade. And it’s increasing our ATP production and the number of mitochondria in the cell. Just from mindfulness. The practice of meditation separate from what I was talking about with heart coherence and the Heart Math. So, that’s really exciting news as well.

And getting out in nature. Like we talked about in the beginning. Making sure our mitochondria are producing as much as energy as they can, requires us to live in the world. It requires us to do the things that we evolved as humans doing. Eating resistant starches, omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a rainbow, so to speak. That’s what I talk about with my patients a lot. Eating lots of different plant foods, and lots of different colors.

And the same thing goes with our lifestyle. We’re meant to be outside. We’re meant to be getting the full-spectrum light from the sun. Now, we know from the research that grounding on the Earth, right? So, that we’re making contact with the electromagnetic field of the Earth. Structures our water in a way outside of the cells so that more ATP can be produced in that mitochondria. So, getting out in nature. Touching the ground. Touching the trees. Climbing on those boulders. Hiking in the woods. All of that primes our mitochondria to make more energy. 

And it isn’t a bank, right? We talked about our mitochondria are making our body weight in ATP every single day. So, it’s not a bank. There’s no place to put the ATP for later. It’s a constant thing. And that’s what our mitochondria are telling us. And that’s what the research is telling us. Is that we constantly need to have contact with the outside world. We constantly need to be living in that circadian rhythm of the sun. We need to have that a.m. sunshine. We need to lower our lights, and our devices at night so that melatonin can go up and we get that sleep.

Ari Whitten:  I want to just interject. I love how much you’re emphasizing sunlight, circadian rhythms. I’ve written extensively and produced a lot of content around circadian rhythms, and all of the mechanisms of how that ties into mitochondrial health.

A lot of people don’t know that melatonin is probably the single most potent protector of the mitochondria. And that, even just standard room lighting in your home is suppressing our melatonin by over 50 percent every night. 


So, there’s a huge tie — in between the simple thing, that almost everyone’s doing, which is just being indoors in a home under artificial light, looking at a TV, or computer, or cellphone screen massively suppressing every single night this key hormone that’s involved in not just your sleep, but directly protecting your mitochondria.

I also, just a quick side note, love how much you’re emphasizing sunlight. It’s the topic of my next book. And in that book, I’m presenting a huge amount of research, and basically arguing that sunlight is as big of a factor in our health as nutrition, as exercise, as good sleep. And that it’s probably the single most underrated factor in good health that not, I think, way too few people talk about. So, I really appreciate you emphasizing that. 

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Well, I appreciate the work you’re doing. I’m so excited for this book. Absolutely. It is so underrated and so brushed under the rug. Oh, sun, yeah, blah. But it’s foundational. I mean, you talk about melatonin, going out and getting that a.m. sun primes that melatonin dump at night.

Ari Whitten:  Yep.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  And we think of that, you know, we think of that as being two separate things, you know. At night melatonin happens. Well, yeah, but your production and your dumping of melatonin happens with that a.m. sun. It’s critical. And all of those things that you mentioned can be boiled down to whether or not you’re getting that sun. So, absolutely. I’m so glad that you’re talking about that. We need everybody talking about that.

Ari Whitten:  Most definitely.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Yeah. And also, going outside, getting that sunshine, experiencing the weather, right? So, if it’s cold and if it’s winter, we’re still supposed to go outside, and we’re supposed to be cold, you know. 

Ari Whitten:  Yes.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  And I don’t mean it in a – I feel like with podcasts and being on social media that I need to say, I don’t mean frostbite and some weird thing. I mean feel cold in the winter. Feeling that cold will increase, again, that ATP production, the mitochondria, and the amount of mitochondria in the cells. 

And the same goes for saunas and being hot in the summer. I mean, it really, I think it’s fascinating how the mitochondrial research points at us needing to be humans to be healthy.

Ari Whitten:  Needing to align with nature and our sort of ancestral way of life.   

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Yes. Where we fit in in the context of this ecosystem, right? We are a part, just like our gut microbiome is an ecosystem, right? Same thing with, you just take that what we see on a microlevel, we see on a macrolevel. And everything we’re talking about here is really how our ecosystem works. 

We are centered around the sun. We live in an atmosphere. So, as humans, we should be getting sunshine. We should be getting out in the snow. I mean, that’s one of the main things when I talk about mitochondrial health and getting outside. And people say, “Oh, it’s wintertime.” It’s like, “Yep.” So, go outside and get a little cold and that will help your energy production. And that will help your mitochondrial health. Absolutely.

Ari Whitten:  Absolutely. Dr. Clinton, this has been awesome. I’m wondering if you could wrap up with sort of the top, I don’t know, three or four things that you want to leave people with? Key takeaways from your talk.

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Well, I think, the first key thing is recognizing how interconnected everything is. How our vagus nerve and our neurology and our thoughts really influence not only our gut health but the gut microbiome – the little critters that are living in us. And our mitochondrial health, it’s also interconnected. 

And because it’s so interconnected the second thing I hope people would take away is that it’s not just one shot take your CoQ10 or your D-Ribose supplement and you’re good. Because it’s so interconnected mitochondrial health is also interconnected. We need that sunshine. We need grounding and contact with the Earth. We need water. Clean water. We need to be out in the weather and feel whatever’s out there, right? If it’s winter we need to be feeling the cold. If it’s summer we need to be feeling the heat. And that’s really where true health comes is through those connections. And our connection with our greater world.

Ari Whitten:  Beautifully said. Dr. Clinton, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with all of our listeners. I want to ask you if somebody’s interested in connecting with you, working with you, following your work where’s the best place to get in contact with you?

Catherine Clinton, ND:  Well, I’m very active on social media, because I love that connection, immediate connection and conversation we can have. So, you can find me at Dr. Catherine Clinton on Instagram or Facebook. And my website is And that’s where I have my blog and talk about all of these things.

Ari Whitten:  Beautiful. Dr. Clinton, thank you so much, really such a pleasure to have you. This was very, very fun, very informative talk. I’m sure everybody listening loved it.

Show Notes

The big picture of psychoneuroimmunology (04:22)
The five breaths practice (19:00)
How to optimize your system for energy (28:09)

Recommended Podcasts

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

Scroll to Top