This week’s podcast features Sarah Morgan, MS, “The Gene Queen” and author of the new book: Buddies in my Belly: A Story About Probiotics.
In the podcast, James interviews Sarah about her fantastic new children’s book on the microbiome and her mission to make complex, medical topics easy to understand for children all ages.
Tune in today and discover:
- Highlights about the book and how it can help educate the next generation about their body’s greatest allies
- How the characters “Lactie,” “Bifie,” “Strepie” and “Ba-Silly” came alive in words and illustrations
- What they discovered in their focus groups to make the book ultra-relatable, believable and fun for kids of all ages
- How the principles and resources in this book can help your children and patients adopt healthy behaviors for life
- Sarah’s big vision for creating “The Sesame Street of Health,” starting with the “buddies” initiative
- And much more…
This book is one of our founders, James Maskell’s, favorites to read with his daughter, and it will be available in the Merch Store on the kNew Vision Tour this summer.
Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, parent-to-be, practitioner, teacher, child caregiver or health advocate, this book is a must-have for educating the next generation.
Learn more about the buddies in your belly by listening and subscribing to the Podcast today.
Resources mentioned in this podcast:
Announcer: 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 transform your practice and the health of your community. Now here’s your host, James Maskell.
James Maskell: Hello and welcome to the podcast. This week we feature Sarah Morgan. She is a practitioner from Colorado who’s created a book for kids called Buddies in my Belly. It was a really interesting half an hour.
Sarah is passionate about creating tools that connect science to people and really helping people to understand it. How her five year old inspired this process. The difference between calling things bugs, and calling things buddies, which is like a key moment for our understanding.
And then we also just talked about, what is the impact? What is the number of dollars spent on digestive disorders in America and how can we go as far upstream as possible. Super interesting half an hour, check it out, this is Sarah Morgan with Buddies in My Belly. Enjoy.
So a warm welcome to the Evo Med podcast, Sarah Morgan. Welcome Sarah.
Sarah Morgan: Thank you James.
James Maskell: Such a pleasure to have you on here and you know, we’ve had a number of guests over the last, what, four years on the podcast, but ultimately, this podcast is slightly different because I’ve actually had a intimate connection with the product probably for the last month here in my house.
Reading your story to my daughter and it’s just been a really interesting process and really valuable. So, maybe we could just start with our audience, describe sort of how we got here. Do you wanna share just a little bit about your story and how you ended up from just coming up with the idea, or where you were before that put you in the context of putting this together, up until now?
Sarah Morgan: Yeah. That sounds great. I’ve worked in the functional nutrition field for about the last 12 years and love the functional medicine movement and super passionate about what’s happening in our world today. One of the things that I really found that I’m really passionate about and I think I’m really good at, is connecting science to every day life in a way that everybody can understand.
Because, one of the things that I’ve seen is there’s such a gap between what we know in our scientific, kind of the geeky world, is what I like to call it, and then just the everyday person. We need more tools to really connect those worlds.
In my work, I really challenge myself to add a little level of creativity into what I was doing. And, I was really inspired, one, by my daughter who’s five right now, and also Albert Einstein, who said, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
I thought, wow, that is just … It’s so needed in our world. One of the biggest things that we talk about in functional medicine, functional nutrition is the microbiome, and our gut health and what we like to call the bugs, typically is our language we use to describe these probiotics that impact our overall health.
I kind of took my daughter, who at the time was about two and a half and I started thinking, “Okay, how do I explain this concept to her in a way that she could understand, or ever a 40 year old who’s never heard of this concept could really understand that, and apply it in their everyday life?”
Soon I was thinking, at first I was like, “Okay, well there are bugs, bugs in my belly.” And then I ran that by my daughter and she’s like, “But mommy, are they ants?” Kids are very literal about their understanding and then we stay things like stomach bug, right? We kind of have this connotation of the negative side of that.
It’s actually my husband who’s like, “What about buddies? Buddies in My Belly?” And I was like, that’s perfect. And that’s kind of how the initial concept came to be and then I really wanted to personalize it, so I took the characters, the buddies that are in the book, and made their names to reflect some of the bacteria that we know are really important, like lactobacillus is Lactie in the book. We have Bifido bacterium that’s Biffie, we have Bacillus, which is Bacilly in the book, and then we have Streppy, ’cause there are good forms of streptococcus too.
They’re our buddies. Their our biggest health allies. I wrote a book that really connects this concept in a way that families can interact and really my vision is that this is a language that we can all use. Whether we’re talking to our kids or we’re interacting as adults as practitioners, teachers, just allows us to kind of get the message out to the general population in such an awesome way.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I love it for that. One of the things that I have to fight with as a parent, is just the fact that the overarching message in school about bugs is negative too. It’s like, “Oh, I don’t want your germs.” That kind of conversation and ultimately, part of the reason why I think the functional forum took off and why functional medicine is sort of moving so quickly is because there’s been a complete re-imagination of what the microbes do and how we think of them.
If 99% of these guys are on our side, we do need to change the language. We do need to change the thinking about it, and that’s why I love this book so much, because ultimately it gives me a structure to be able to communicate some of the ideas that I think everyone needs to learn. Especially young kids need to know, is that these guys are your friends, and they are important to take care of and to understand.
I’ve really appreciated just making it Lacty, Biffie, Streppy, and Bacilly, to be able to describe those kind of concepts, but also just that the overall message that these guys are here to support you and this is an important part of your inner ecosystem and I think we are lacking tools to be able to communicate that.
Because, whenever I try to communicate that to my four year old, almost five year old daughter, in the past, it’s ended up sort of being in conflict with the way that they’re already seeing the world even though the school’s just trying to do the right thing. They’re just trying to keep people from getting snotty noses, but at the same time, how do we actually stop that in the medium term, we have to have this conversation.
Sarah Morgan: Yes. And what I like to say to summarize that is, let’s make bacteria great again.
James Maskell: Yeah.
Sarah Morgan: To add a little humor in there as well.
James Maskell: Oh, I like that. It’s really cool. Tell us a little bit about how you decided to make it simple, because, ultimately, there’s a lot of science. There’s a lot going on in there. How did you choose what parts would sort of make the grade as far as what was important, the kids needed to know and what parts were extraneous.
Because, I’ve seen things like this before, and one of the things I appreciated about it was just how easy it was to understand and also just the characters and those kind of things. What was the process that you went through and interrating on the concept?
Sarah Morgan: Yeah. That’s a great question. This has been about a two year project, and my creative director is just a fabulous mind. We started these initial conversations. His name is Henry Bow, and I said, “Henry, can you make bacteria cute? Because, we need to make them friendly.” That was kind of our first process of walking through that.
And then also, we designed the characters to actually resemble what the bacteria look like under the microscope. One of my big passions and kind of our vision for the company is, we wanna bring serious science, for serious health, in a way that’s seriously fun.
And so that was really kind of the driving force in terms of what inspired us with the illustrations and the artwork and then also what we included and then what we left out. And it’s like, “How do we actually illustrate this concept of a person?” Right? The little girl in the book is Ruby and these buddies that are in her belly and they’re doing so much for her and she can do so much for them.
When we look at the science, the biggest thing we could do to impact our buddies is what we eat. Our diet is number one and so there’s a big focus in the book of feeding the buddies and taking care of them and how when we eat, the buddies keep eating and kind of chew up everything and extract all the vitamins and nutrients and then as we know, they make certain compounds that benefit us.
Again, it was just packaging it in a way that helps a child, or again, an adult because I think I’ve been surprised in my clinical practice over the last 12 years that people really need simple and I think we assume they know a lot more than they do as a starting point.
Things like Lacty helps us digest our food and puts us in a good mood. We know our microbiome has a huge impact on brain, but how do we communicate that in a way that even a little kid can understand? Or there’s a scene in the book where Bacilly is, he gets in a super hero mood and bad germs don’t stand a chance against Bacilly’s super hero stance.
We have some humor in there too of Bacilly with salmonella and e-coli and Cdif, and Merca, and some other things that we do know are the bad germs as we identify them in the book. So there’s kind of this understanding of an interaction or even, “Hey, when you eat too much candy, and cookies, and ice cream, the buddies get sick and then they can’t take care of you.”
Even if you don’t get a tummy ache, we actually purposely left that out, because some kids, when we were doing our focus groups, they’re like, “But I like ice cream and the buddies love ice cream. And I like cookies.” And you don’t necessarily always feel the impact right away. There was just a lot of piecing together as we did focus groups of children, with parents, with healthcare professionals, teachers.
We got a lot of feedback from our first round that really helped us tweak things, and the biggest challenge was actually what we leave out to keep it simple.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. I wanna also just share my appreciation for just getting into the poop conversation. Because ultimately that’s another one. Think about how many adults are having to be retrained to look at their poop by functional medicine doctors across the country, or coaches, or nutritionists, or otherwise.
It’s such a good upstream information for us about what’s going on in the digestive tract and what that leads to the rest and it’s led to some really great conversations. My daughter is a freak-a-holic, so a number of the things that are like Biffy, I’m talking about poop are her favorites. I have to say, I don’t know what’s normal, because I only have one kid, but she’s just had like, unbelievably normal poops her whole life.
Just for her to be able to connect those two things has been really powerful because now that’s a healthy behavior that’s being reinforced and now she understands why it’s happening. I just see the ripple effects of having someone understanding that at such sort of a base level, I think is gonna set us up really well for the future.
Sarah Morgan: Yeah. Absolutely. And we are actually in the process right now of filming our first five episodes of Buddies in My Belly and we have one episode that’s kind of the intro with all the buddies, and then each of the other episodes feature each of the buddies. And Biffy’s episode, he actually has a poop chart. That’s one of our many resources we’re gonna make available to the public.
And he talks through what is a perfect poop in a simple way, and it’s so important. We spend 100 billion dollars a year on digestive problems in the United States. If we can target kiddos, even women in pregnancy really working on their buddies, that they give to their babies and then we’re impacting that whole childhood development of the buddies that are so important for all these non-communical disease.
As we get older, the ramifications, and the ripple effect are just really infinite.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. That’s been really powerful and what about the actual reading of the book when you get into focus groups, ’cause one of the things that I’ve noticed is that Callie likes it. When I read it to her, she gets to pick out her stories every night and we’ve had this book for like a month and it’s a popular amount. The length I think is good.
What was some of the processes that you went through to learn about what kids would like, and is there a certain age range that you think it’s best for?
Sarah Morgan: Yeah. Great question. We really actually were challenged to include more content from our first draft, because kids loved it so much, we had parents who were like, “They’re wanting me to read more.” They’re like, “Wait a minute, but isn’t there more about the buddies? We want more stories about the buddies and to learn more about them,” so we actually added more details and a couple of my physician friends actually suggested to me, “Hey Sarah, add a little bit more content for an older age range.”
I really say about three to eight years old is kind of our target market. But I have clients, James, in my practice that I always have books at my office, and they’ll look at it and read it. I have friends who are teachers and are like, “Sarah, I learned so much from this. It’s so simple and I can actually remember it.”
We did a little bit of tweaking to add just a rap it in a story a little bit more in terms of that process. Then also, my big passion is to create actionable next steps because I think, health change really happens when we do it as families and communities. It’s really hard to do it when you’re alone.
Like, your the only one in your family and the other thing I say is, some of us know a lot about functional medicine, and there are people that I’m standing on their shoulders that have come before me that have given so much incredible information about the microbiome to the world.
But maybe you’re that person that then struggles to communicate it to your spouse, or your patients, or your children. And so it’s such a great tool to bridge the gap. And we created resources so, one of the things at the end of the book is the food chart.
My goal is that kids tear that out, they put it on the fridge, and they focus on eating all the different colors, because more diversity, more fibers, we have a healthier microbiome. And all those fibers are food for the buddies.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. That is literally on my fridge right now. I say that with truth. It’s on the fridge and following it all.
I know you got some sort of good plans for the future, like obviously the Little Buddies come as part of the pets, I can’t say that we’ve kept that good look after them. The dog has got into that. He loves those.
I know you sent me … You said you got the show. I know there’s also some audio stuff. And then there’s obviously the products themselves. How do you see the whole ecosystem coming together?
Sarah Morgan: Yeah, so we have our book, we have the buddies as little plushes that I’ve had so many moms email me like, the buddies going in a kid’s backpack to school or they’re tucking the buddies in bed at night with them. Or they’re putting the buddies in their bike basket.
Or they’re biking around the neighborhood, which has been super fun to see that engagement. That’s really my desire, is that it’s a way that kids and families can engage with this concept all day long. I also formulated three probiotics. Buddies in My Belly Probiotics. So we have children’s powder. We have a chewable, and then we have an adult product called Buddies in My Belly Be Calm and it’s actually a probiotic for your moods.
So we’re targeting some of this stuff we understand about Gabo production with bifido bacterium, acetylcholine production with some of the lactobacillus species. Again, what I say, is supplements are supplemental to a healthy lifestyle, but I still wanted to give some tools that people can use, but I think are some of the biggest bang for your buck.
My vision overall, is to create a brand that’s the Sesame Street of health and Buddies is our first line, so we’ll be taking that to market. My next line, ’cause I always think ahead, James, is Poop Out Your Problems.
And that’s actually gonna be on the enterohepatic circulation, which is liver, gall bladder, intestinal tract, which is how we get rid of most of our waste. That was my creative director. I kind of give him crash courses and mitochondrial function, or the enterohepatic circulation, or the microbiome and then we kind of strategically talk about, how can we package this in a way that everybody can understand, and then also have fun with, because that’s something I think that’s missing a little bit from this world that I’m really passionate to bring to this space.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. Well look, I love it. And I can see that it’s gonna have that sort of impact. I imagine, that you’re looking, as you look towards the rest of the year, that Christmas looms on the horizon. Because I’ve definitely thought to myself, I think this would make a great gift.
Sort of like, grandparent gift to parents, or otherwise I think there are people out there who have gone through their own health journey and wanna sort of maximize the impact of that. And it could be useful. I could see maybe practitioners buying it to have in their libraries in the same way they might have a Whole 30 or some books that they have their patients execute on.
But this is sort of like another one of those. I just, I haven’t really seen anything that’s been put together in this way. Although, I think other people have had similar concepts, it’s obviously it’s executing something that is gonna do the job and spread and be enjoyed by the end user.
Sarah Morgan: Yes, absolutely. And we’re actually working on one of my goals is to get into schools and have it be integrated into the curriculum at that elementary level. ‘Cause if we can get kids talking about the buddies, they just love it. I’ve done a lot of school visits now. We do the book, we talk about the buddies, and we pass them around.
We dance to our Buddies in My Belly theme song. We make buddy smoothies, and kids just love it. They eat it up. So yes, practitioners, parents, gifts, even like birthday gifts. It’s such a fun thing to have around the house for health conscious families. And my goal is that we even go beyond that to the general population.
I used to work for Whole Foods Market and we’re, fingers crossed, in some initial conversations with them as well. I hope at some point we can get to the big bucks too.
James Maskell: Yeah. Absolutely. Super cool. We are … one of the things that we’re doing this summer is taking the show on the road and looking to connect with healthy people around the country and people who care about this kind of healthcare, so, I look forward to some of those kind of conversations.
How do you split your time between this project and I know you have a … you had anyway, a pretty full time practice. Is this starting to take up more and more of the time, or how’s the balance?
Sarah Morgan: That is a great question. I call myself the gene queen and do a lot with genetics. I still do a little bit with genetic consults, but I’ve actually just, as of May first, made a transition to make this really my focus going forward, ’cause I envision building out an entire brand.
James Maskell: Beautiful.
Sarah Morgan: Yeah.
James Maskell: Well, it’s really great to see, and obviously you’re not practicing accelerator, we’re working with all kinds of physician entrepreneurs and practitioner entrepreneurs and just seeing when people find something that’s they’re mission to do in the world and get passionate about it, then execute on it in an exciting way, I think is wonderful to see and potential impacts of educating a whole new generation about this thing ahead of time, the generation before.
One of the things that I always think about is my mom. My mom was the only … I was the the only kid in school, and this is in the 80s, she had to be consulted before I was to be given antibiotics. And so my mom with no medical training something about wholism and just sort of knew it in her gut strong enough that she felt compelled to do it 30 years ahead of the microbiome … the human microbiome project.
There’s a knowledge there now, where kids are being born into an age where this is now proven. 99% of plasma bugs are good for us and we need them for the digestion, immunity, metabolism, all the things that are covered here in the book, and so I think it’s like, yeah, super important.
Now that it’s like a proven thing with the science to show it up and not just like a gut feeling about wholism that we create the assets to create the education and let you go back to what you said at the beginning connect science to stories and things that are easily pardon the fun, but digestible.
Sarah Morgan: Absolutely. Yeah, we know we’re not healthy unless we have buddies as human beings. They are out biggest health allies and if we can get that message out, we can really shift the health of our world and the buddies live in the soil too, right?
It’s a concept for entire world that’s important.
James Maskell: Absolutely. Well good. Thanks so much for being on the podcast Sarah. If you’re listening at home, check out buddiesinmybelly.com. You can get the book and you can keep up to date with the exciting projects. We’re really excited about it here. My daughters very excited about it.
And ultimately I can see it being, it already is a family favorite and I think that’s good news for Buddies in My Belly brand and also for any other kid who comes into contact with this.
Yeah, thanks so much for being part of the podcast and wish you all success in the future with this project.
Sarah Morgan: Thanks James.
James Maskell: All right, so this has been the Evolution of Medicine podcast. I’ve been here with Sarah Morgan. She is a practitioner from Colorado who has created Buddies in My Belly. Check out the website, this has been the Evolution of Medicine podcast. I’m your host James Maskell, and we’ll see you next time.
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