How to Stay Focused On the Search for Inner Freedom

The terms “being present” and “living in the now” have become clichés on the spiritual path and in the nondual tradition that has become increasingly popular in recent years. We speak of the power of now, the timeless moment, and that “there is only now.”

In the positive thinking movement, we released sin as a stumbling block, then replaced it with the charge of negative thinking. Now our greatest put-down is the accusation of being distracted and therefore not present to what is.

I am being slightly facetious, but the essential point remains: The key to awakening is in the awareness of what is. This is true in all traditions.

An Idea That Crosses All Traditions

The Sufis say one clear moment is all it takes. The Zen tradition asks the challenging question, “What in this moment is missing?” Jesus continually spoke of the kingdom of wholeness and perfection as an ever-present reality.

Modern Hindu teachers like Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and Papaji invite us to simply be quiet and rest naturally in the I AM consciousness. “Sailor” Bob Adamson, an Australian student of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, asks us, “What’s wrong with right now—unless you think about it?”

Ah, yes. Thinking can get in the way. Thinking involves memories from the past and projected ideas about the future. As we learned from babyhood on, discursive reasoning formulates and then reinforces a linear view of reality based on an idea that a “self” is moving through time. This sense of self, often called ego, only conditionally exists—it is not our reality.

Yet so often we try to use it to find that reality. There is the sense that, if I can work hard enough, or let go long enough, I will find the timeless moment and be free. We can’t. It is as impossible to think ourselves into enlightenment as it is to find enough time to be present.

The Good News and the Bad News

If there is one bit of crucial understanding that we can take into our hearts, it is that intellectual knowledge, however subtle or profound, is incapable of awakening us to what is. There is no substitute for direct experience.

The good news is that the present is right here, right now. We are immersed in the ocean of infinite, timeless consciousness as fish are in water. The bad news is that the habit of linear thinking is hard to release. The long years that monks spend meditating in a Zen monastery searching for satori attest to that, as do the seekers testing the patience of the guru with the same old questions arising from a yearning to satisfy the discursive mind and its neediness.

Every day in every way it’s getting better and better, says the positive-thinking, spiritualized ego. How could that be, if every moment is perfect? replies the inner guru.

How to Not Give up on the Search for Inner Freedom

At this point, many of us fall away from the path. After initial enthusiasm, we complain that this stuff doesn’t work and become disenchanted. Hold on: Do we want radical freedom, or a more comfortable and self-satisfied imprisonment?

Assuming we want freedom, how can it be achieved? I offer five approaches that I invite you to look at:

1. You are already here. You are already free.

Contemplate the idea that gaining enlightenment in the future when we have perfected ourselves is simply an avoidance of the natural awakened presence always available in every moment.

2. Consider letting go of the story, whatever the story is.

Stories inform and engage us from childhood onward. However, we can become imprisoned in our story, our view of who we are and what has happened to us. Imagine what it would be like if you chose to release that story today. How would that feel?

3. Laugh, with compassion.

Being overly serious can be the enemy of joy. The more stressed we are the more serious and rigid we become. Laughter relaxes and softens us. Remember, though, we are not choosing to laugh at others’ expense but in response to a shared humanity.

4. Investigate buoyancy.

Buoys rest in the water but also flow with the waves. They stay buoyant so that their light may shine or their marker be visible. Can we do the same, making our presences felt in skillful and lighthearted ways?

5. Be quiet.

It is amazing what happens when we can simply be quiet. We see, hear, and experience more keenly, and a sense of peace fills our minds and calms our bodies.

Each of these approaches is like a mantra with an action component. We chant, we contemplate, then act. It is the practical application that prevents us from getting lost in thought.

Once we have experienced a moment of being present in this way, the affirmation that began this article is no longer just a nice, positive statement. Now it becomes a living reality.

I live in the now—there is no other place to live. When I do, divine understanding is active in me because I release the extraneous for the essential. Being present sets me free.

This post courtesy of Spirituality & Health.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash.

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Natural Ways to Not Feel Like Crap During Colds and Flu

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Once upon a time, or actually twice upon a time now, we’ve met up with several families for a week of vacation. With 20+ kids in one house for a week, what could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, lots of things, but one in particular:

All the kids getting sick. In a row. All week long.

It was super fun… or not so much.

Easy Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

The incident not-so-lovingly-known as “the great minor cold pandemic of family vacation” was not serious and passed pretty quickly, but we had a rough couple of days.

Thankfully, many of the moms were well-versed in natural remedies and collectively pulled out the herbs, spices, raw honey, garlic, essential oils, and supplements to get the kids through it pretty quickly.


Of course, it’s important to see a medical professional for any major or serious illness. Back then I didn’t have a doctor I could text, and in most cases would end up taking the kids in and paying a co-pay just to have a doctor tell me to give my kids water and soup!

Over time I learned and started turning to natural remedies. (And we do go to the doctor for anything major or serious or that lasts longer than a few days.)

For viral illnesses that conventional medicine can’t do much for anyway, I turn to these natural remedies. They won’t knock out all symptoms or provide the same pain relief of over-the-counter drugs, but they help ease the crappish feeling of a cold (super scientific term, eh?).

Kitchen Remedies to Ease Discomfort

Even if I don’t have access to my whole natural medicine cabinet, some simple grocery store remedies can make a big difference! These are my go-to kitchen remedies:

Lots of Water

I find that we all feel better when we stay well hydrated, but especially during illness. Doctors often recommend rest and hydration for minor illness and the advice is sound. At first sign of illness, we make sure to sip water all day to support the body’s natural healing process. This remedy is mostly free but super important.

Raw Garlic

One of nature’s most potent remedies is also one of the easiest to find in any grocery store. It has been extensively researched in over 5,000 studies for its natural ability to help the body recover. Raw garlic is available in many stores and relatively inexpensive. To take it, I mince it and drink with a small amount of water. For my kids, I’ll also mix with honey or maple syrup or add to food to tone down the taste.

Face Steam

I love this incredibly soothing remedy that is easily made with kitchen herbs. What I do:

  • Boil 1-2 cups of water in a large pot and remove from the heat.
  • Add 2 teaspoons each of thyme, rosemary, and oregano.
  • Cover the pan for 5 minutes with a lid, and then remove lid and let the sick person lean over the pot (careful not to touch it). The person covers his or her head with a towel to hold in the steam and breathes the steam to help ease discomfort.

We try to breathe in the steam as long as we can, or for about 15 minutes. This seems to help loosen congestion and soothe the throat and sinuses.

See the full recipe and method here.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas can also be very soothing during illness. I keep my ten favorite herbal teas on hand all the time, but we drink them often during illness. Many herbal teas are now available in regular grocery stores. I personally like chamomile and peppermint for easing discomfort during colds and flu.

Bone Broth and Soup

Chicken soup is the age-old remedy for illness, and we also turn to broth and soups when we don’t feel well. These can be made with ingredients from a regular grocery store. Homemade bone broth and homemade chicken soup are soothing remedies during illness and a source of protein and minerals.

When I don’t have homemade, I buy this brand that is long simmered from grass-fed bones for the gelatin many other store-bought brands don’t have. I order online for the best price, but it is now easily found in most grocery stores.

Lemon Juice or Ginger

I find fresh lemon juice and fresh ginger in water especially soothing for illnesses involving respiratory issues or sore throat. During illness, I’ll squeeze an entire lemon and slice a piece of ginger into hot or cold water for a soothing drink. Lemon juice is beneficial in other ways too and many people drink it each morning. Again, this is something you can pick up quickly when needed.

Electrolyte Drink

When my kids really don’t feel well and don’t feel like drinking, I sneak some remedies in by making a natural electrolyte drink. They like the flavor and I’m able to get some vitamin C and minerals in. We also take our favorite electrolytes whenever we travel in case we don’t have the ingredients for homemade.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Certainly not a favorite remedy for many due to the strong taste, but apple cider vinegar can really soothe a sore throat and has many benefits. I’ll drink a teaspoon (or up to a tablespoon) in water during illness. Adding honey makes the taste more palatable.

Other Natural Remedies

A few of my other favorite natural remedies are not readily available in all stores, but I always keep them on hand:


Elderberry is a great natural remedy with a long history of use. I keep dried elderberries on hand at all times to make several different remedies.

Homemade elderberry syrup is my go-to during any illness. The homemade version is very similar to Sambucol, which is available nationwide in many places.

Vitamin C

Many studies show that vitamin C can really help battle cold and flu. We always have it on hand and take it every few hours during illness.

Detox Baths

A detox bath may not really speed recovery during an illness, but it certainly seems to help ease discomfort. I often turn to these detox baths during minor illnesses to help ease symptoms.

Herbs to Help Remedy Cold and Flu

There are many herbs that support the body when healing from an illness. I always keep these around just in case:

  1. Nettle Leaf: It contains large amounts of vitamins and trace minerals and helps the body stay hydrated and remove toxins. In a tea with red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, and peppermint, nettle makes a powerful immune supporting and illness preventing remedy.
  2. Elderberry: Well-known for supporting the immune system. You can find conventionally made elderberry syrups at many stores now, or to save money, make your own. Here is the recipe.
  3. Ginger: Fresh ginger root can be steeped in boiling water to make a tea that is very effective against sinus symptoms and congestion. Ginger baths are a soothing way to stop some of the discomfort of body aches.
  4. Yarrow: This is a common herb for children. Many children’s remedies include yarrow for its soothing properties. It is naturally bitter, so it is often good to include peppermint and stevia leaf (or raw honey) when making a tea. It is great for the liver and kidneys and supports the endocrine system.
  5. Chamomile: An absolute staple for our kids. Chamomile is calming and seems to help children sleep. It tastes great and is easy to get kids to take. We use it in tea and tincture form. My kids always ask for chamomile tea with raw honey when sick.
  6. Peppermint: Great for all digestive disturbances and for calming a fever. It can be used as a tea or tincture or rubbed on the skin to bring a high fever down. It is antimicrobial and antiviral and kids usually love the taste. Take as a hot tea or cold tea during illness in any amounts.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

How do you keep from getting sick or remedy it naturally when you do? Share your tips below!


  1. Braun H, Von andrian-werburg J, Malisova O, et al. Differing Water Intake and Hydration Status in Three European Countries-A Day-to-Day Analysis. Nutrients. 2019;11(4). doi: 10.3390/nu11040773
  2. Lissiman E, Bhasale AL, Cohen M. Garlic for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(11):CD006206. doi: 10.1002/14651858
  3. Ulbricht C, Basch E, Cheung L, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2014;11(1):80-120. doi: 10.3109/19390211.2013.859852
  4. Mathes, A., & Bellanger, R. (2010). Herbs and Other Dietary Supplements: Current Regulations and Recommendations for Use to Maintain Health in the Management of the Common Cold or Other Related Infectious Respiratory Illnesses. Journal of Pharmacy Practice, 23(2), 117–127.

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Science Wants Pictures of Your Poop for AI

Your poop says a lot about your overall health. In fact, it’s a direct reflection of your gut, which contains a complex microbial ecosystem. It exerts such a strong influence over your body it is frequently referred to as the “second brain.”

There is a strong connection between your gut health and mental health, affecting your subconscious thought and immune system. Health conditions associated with your gut microbiome include obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome and allergies; your gut health also influences your risk of cancer and Parkinson’s. Optimizing your gut microbiome may be one of the more important strategies you could undertake to prevent disease.

The diversity of your gut microbiome also plays a role in your heart health. The authors of one study found that those who suffered a heart attack had a larger number of metabolites produced by certain gut microbes. This high level was not found in those who did not have a heart attack or have atherosclerosis.

Scientists have found that eating more plants and fiber affects the formation of your stool and reduces the number of bacteria producing metabolites linked with hypertension and heart disease.

Researchers See a Goldmine Being Flushed Down Your Toilet

The size and shape of your poop is one indication of the health of your gut. If you’ve been in the habit of flushing before looking, you may be making a mistake. One group is also asking you to take a quick pic of your poop before pressing the toilet lever and flushing it away.1

Researchers from MIT are building a database of images to train artificial intelligence (AI) they hope will ultimately play a role in patient care and research. An MIT startup, Auggi, and a microbiome company, Seed, have teamed up for the project to develop a program able to analyze human poop.

The team hopes 100,000 people will turn and shoot before flushing, sending the image to be included in the database. The team first tested the software using blue Play-Doh poop and a 3-D printed toilet to mimic real life.2 The researchers decided to use blue since they didn’t “want to scare people in the lab.”

The initial training with 36,000 pictures of fake poop resulted in 100% recognition by the software. However, this may have been since the researchers could perfectly mold the Play-Doh. For real data they next turned to images people were posting pictures of their poop on Reddit.

The team is now asking 100,000 people to submit pictures of their poop to improve the accuracy of the AI program and create the first image database of human poop. You can participate by using your mobile phone to go to where you’ll enter your name and email address and the time of your regular poop schedule. If you’re ready, you can shoot a picture then and there to send.

If you need a bit of time, you can ask the site to send an email reminder. The company says that once you’ve collected the image and sent it, they will strip the identifying metadata, including your email address and other digital information that may potentially be used to identify you, before the picture is added to the database.


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Auggi Will Use AI to Match Stool With Bristol Stool Chart

The group has engaged the help of seven gastroenterologists who will evaluate the images as they are collected, making notes for the software program.3 The goal is for the AI to identify which of the seven categories your poop falls into on the Bristol Stool Chart.

In 1997, Dr. Ken Heaton from the University of Bristol4 developed the chart as a means for patients to report the consistency and formation of their stool. This helps medical professionals recognize whether their patients are short on fiber, severely constipated or dealing with diarrhea. The lucky 66 volunteers who helped Heaton changed their diets swallowed marker pellets and recorded the weight, shape and frequency of their poop.

The Bristol chart is a widely used tool that involves a seven-point scale. It ranges from Type 1 indicating constipation to Type 7 indicating diarrhea with a variety of consistencies, shapes and forms in between. Types 3 and 4 are considered normal and ideal. Types 6 and 7 indicate diarrhea and inflammation.

It is normal for your stool consistency and shape to fluctuate from day to day, particularly when you change your diet. However, most of the time you should aim for Types 3 and 4 that some describe as a torpedo, sausage or snake.

stool chart

What’s in It and How Often Should I Go?

The consistency and shape are largely determined by fiber and water. When food travels rapidly through the intestinal tract your body absorbs a limited amount of water from the waste product, leading to a loose or liquid stool. A slower transit time allows the body to absorb more water, leading to harder stool.

The average time it takes between eating and defecating varies from person to person and depends upon your age, sex and the type of food eaten. Loose stools or diarrhea may be a sign of infection, causing the body to move food and fluids rapidly through the digestive tract. The most common type of acute diarrhea is attributed to bacterial infections.

Chronic diarrhea may result from irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, drugs, endocrine diseases or malabsorptive diseases such as celiac disease or reactions to fructose or gluten. When you experience poor nutrition, lack of exercise, dehydration or a low fiber diet it may lead to constipation.

Normal frequency varies from three bowel movements per day to three per week. For more information about signs of a healthy stool, see my past article, “What Should Your Poop Look Like?

AI Tracking May Help Researchers and Patients

The team hopes their software will help people take control of their own gut health and better understand the relationship between lifestyle choices and the symptoms they experience. David Hachuel, a co-founder of the startup Auggi, is building the AI platform. He commented on the patients who experience bowel irregularities and the impetus behind the software development:5

“They struggle every day making decisions on what to eat, how much exercise to do to keep their symptoms at bay. And so it’s really critical to build this database and to develop these simple monitoring tools to allow those patients to essentially do that at home.”

The team’s goal is to train the platform to categorize photos using the Bristol Stool Chart to make inferences about overall health. They hope to roll out the application publicly in the first quarter of 2020 to help those who keep a log of their stool, helping them and their physicians guide treatment.

Dr. Jack Gilbert from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine is co-founder of the American Gut Project and also solicits stool samples from research participants. He commented to CNN6 that the application may help reduce research bias and variation since nearly every clinical trial he conducts requires the participants to rate their stool on the Bristol chart.

Gilbert said, “Human beings are just not very good at recording things.” The automation of this process would potentially help patients improve their treatment protocols and researchers gather more accurate data.

Tips to Optimize Gut Health and Stool Form

With the information and knowledge currently available, it’s no longer necessary to guess the types of changes needed to improve your health and the condition of your stool. can help make suggestions to help you achieve the “perfect stool.” The Bristol Stool Chart is also a useful tool to rank the health of your stool.

Shape, color, diameter and texture are all factors you can use to gauge whether your stool is healthy or unhealthy. If your stool is not ideal, it’s important to pay attention to your diet and water intake. Whether the stool is too hard or too loose, it’s important to increase fiber intake. Good options include organic psyllium and freshly ground organic flaxseed. Shoot for 25 to 50 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat each day.

You can boost the health of your intestinal microbiome by adding naturally fermented foods. If you suspect you’re not getting enough beneficial bacteria from your diet it may also be important to add a probiotic supplement. Your bowel health may be optimized by removing gluten, the most common sources of which are wheat, barley, rye, spelt and other grains. Avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed foods.

You will make a significant impact on the movement of stool through your intestinal tract by exercising at least 30 minutes each day and moving as much as possible throughout the day. Another strategy to try is changing the position you use while pooping. Sitting on a typical toilet does not allow the muscles involved in bowel control to fully relax.

In order to fully evacuate you must push or even strain. However, while squatting, these muscles relax easily, making elimination easier. The combination of squatting and lifestyle changes can make a significant difference. However, if you continue to experience problems, schedule a visit with your holistic health care provider to rule out any medical issues.

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Chronic fatigue syndrome: Gradually figuring out what’s wrong – Harvard Health Blog

In 1983, a health professional in her 30s walked into my office and said, “I’ve been healthy all of my life. A year ago, I came down with some kind of virus — sore throat, aching muscles, swollen lymph glands, fever. My fatigue was so bad I was in bed for nearly a week. Many of the symptoms gradually improved, but the terrible fatigue and difficulty thinking have not gotten better. They’re so bad I can’t fulfill my responsibilities at home or at work. This illness is affecting my brain, stealing my energy, and affecting my immune system. It’s keeping me from realizing my dreams.”

There’s a piece of advice attributed to a famous physician, William Osler, that every medical student probably has heard: “Listen to your patient. The patient is telling you the diagnosis.” But I wasn’t sure it applied in this case.

What we knew then

First of all, the textbooks of medicine didn’t describe an illness like this. In addition, all the usual laboratory tests to screen for various diseases came back normal. At this point, a doctor has two choices: decide to believe the patient and keep searching to find what is wrong, or to tell the patient, “There is nothing wrong.” Indeed, some doctors seeing people like my patient did just that, adding insult to injury.

Fortunately, many physicians and biomedical scientists around the world became interested in this illness, and over 9,000 scientific studies have been published in the past 35 years. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that the condition, now called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) “is a serious, chronic, complex systemic disease that often can profoundly affect the lives of patients.” It affects up to 2.5 million people in the United States, and generates direct and indirect expenses of approximately $17 to $24 billion annually.

What we know now

As I discussed in a recent article in the journal JAMA, research has documented underlying biological abnormalities involving many organ systems in people with ME/CFS, compared with healthy controls. Here’s an overview of what the current science suggests.

The brain. Tests of brain hormones, formal tests of thinking, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brain are abnormal in a substantial fraction of patients with ME/CFS. Tests of the autonomic nervous system, which controls vital functions including body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and movement of the intestines and bladder, also are abnormal. Not all of these abnormalities of the brain are present in every person with ME/CFS, and they appear to come and go.

Energy metabolism. We are alive because the cells of our body are alive. And they’re alive because they can make energy, and use that energy to do their jobs and remain alive. Our cells make energy out of the oxygen in the air we breathe, and out of the sugars, fats, and proteins we eat. In ME/CFS, research has shown that the cells have trouble both making and using energy. That is, people with ME/CFS feel they don’t have enough energy because their cells are not making enough, nor using what they make efficiently. The ability of cells to extract oxygen from the blood and use it to make energy appears particularly defective after physical and mental exertion.

Immune system. The immune system is complicated, containing many different kinds of cells that make many different kinds of chemical signals to talk to each other. Hundreds of studies have found evidence that in people with ME/CFS, the immune system is chronically activated, as if it is fighting something, and that parts of the immune system are exhausted by the fight.

Activation of “hunkering-down” systems. Animals, including humans, have systems to protect them during times of major threats. For example, worms and bears that are faced with a shortage of food “hunker down”: they activate systems that focus the energy they are able to make on the processes necessary to stay alive. Nonessential, energy-requiring activities are minimized. Humans who are seriously injured or sick also activate various hunkering-down systems. Some evidence suggests that in ME/CFS the hunkering-down systems may have been turned on, and remain inappropriately stuck. Research teams are trying to figure out how to turn off the hunkering-down systems.

Continued research should lead to better understanding and treatments

A great deal more is known about ME/CFS today than 35 years ago. With continued and expanded support from the NIH, CDC, and private foundations dedicated to ME/CFS, I expect a lot of progress in the coming decade. Instead of doctors saying, “The tests came back normal, there is nothing wrong,” they will say, “Tests showed us what was wrong, and we have treatments to fix it.”

And doctors will recognize the wisdom of the wise advice we all learned in medical school: “Listen to your patient. The patient is telling you the diagnosis.”

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A Simple Fix for Nearsightedness

Have you been told that your child needs glasses? Health experts estimate that almost half the U.S. population — 42% — is myopic (nearsighted), a figure that has almost doubled over the past three decades and continues to grow. But being nearsighted is more than just an inconvenience, it can pose long-term hazards.

While glasses, contact lenses, and surgery can correct the effects of myopia and allow clear distance vision, they treat the symptoms of the condition, not the thing that causes it — a slightly elongated eyeball in which the lens focuses light in front of the retina, rather than directly on it.

“When the eye becomes longer, the tissue of the retina and the structures supporting the optic nerve stretch and become thinner,” says Andrei Tkatchenko, MD, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmic sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. “This thinning increases the risk of retinal detachment, cataracts, glaucoma, and even blindness. The faster myopia progresses and the more the prescription increases, the greater the risk of these diseases.”

Children with nearsighted parents are more likely to be nearsighted themselves, and scientists have identified a lot of myopia-related genes. But genes usually work with a person’s environment to cause a disease. The top thing in the environment linked to myopia is close-up work such as reading or working on a computer or smart device. “Over the past 3 decades, the level of near work has significantly increased in most of the world,” says Tkatchenko.

Can the advance of myopia be slowed or even halted to prevent long-term complications? Tkatchenko says yes: “There is a clearly defined treatable period between ages 8 and 25 during which there is the greatest progression of myopia, and myopia control is most effective during those years.” He and other researchers are studying new methods for treating myopia. Multifocal contact lens have been found to be effective in slowing the progression of myopia in kiids. For those diagnosed with severe myopia, known as high myopia, specail contacts, worn at night can help reshape the cornea and help stablize the eye.


But there’s one simple prescription that could protect your child from getting myopia in the first place: spending time outside. “A number of studies have shown that outside activities suppress the development of myopia,” says Tkatchenko. Scientists aren’t sure why this happens, but one theory is that outdoor light stimulates the release of chemicals that signal the eye to slow its growth to a normal rate.

“Go outside and play. That’s the best thing parents can tell their children to help prevent myopia,” says Tkatchenko.

By the Numbers

66%: Percentage increase in myopia in the U.S. between the early 1970s and early 2000s.

50%: Percentage of the world’s population that will have myopia by 2050.

4 in 10: Ratio of adults in the U.S. who have myopia.

1.25: Number of daily hours of outdoor time needed to cut the chance that a child will get myopia by 50%.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of
WebMD Magazine.

WebMD Magazine – Feature
Reviewed by Whitney Seltman on November 07, 2019



Andrei Tkatchenko, MD, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmic sciences, Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

British Journal of Ophthalmology.  

National Eye Institute: “Myopia Increasing in the US Population.”

Ophthalmology: “Global Prevalence of Myopia and High Myopia and Temporal Trends from 2000 through 2050.”

Acta Ophthalmologica.

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Paleo Staples: 9 Simple and Easy Recipes to Make at Home

There’s no doubt that making your own versions requires more work, but the process is rewarding and usually much cheaper than buying Paleo products off the shelf. I’m going to share nine recipes for Paleo staples that are almost always stocked in my kitchen. Affordable, kid-friendly, nourishing food is my goal.

Looking for a way to eat Paleo without needing to stock up on expensive packaged staples? Check out this article for nine recipes you can make at home. #paleo #wellness

Useful Paleo Kitchen Gadgets

In the recipes below, I will mention a number of handy kitchen gadgets. Not all are necessary, but these appliances do make Paleo cooking easier.

  • Instant Pot: for bone broth and yogurt (and so much more)
  • Yogurt maker: to make yogurt if you don’t want to splurge on the Instant Pot
  • Immersion blender: to emulsify eggs with oil for dressings and mayonnaise
  • Food processor: to grind up nuts for nut bars
  • Pickle Pusher: to weigh down vegetables while they are fermenting to keep them below the liquid
  • Mason jars: to store everything, from dressings to bone broth to yogurt
  • Magic Bullet: for making smoothie popsicles
  • Sous vide device: to “pasteurize” an egg for dressings and mayonnaise
  • Digital instant-read food thermometer: to assist in making yogurt

My Top 9 Paleo Staples to Make at Home

1. Salad Dressings

At $7 or more per bottle, Paleo-friendly salad dressing costs can add up! But salad dressings are some of the easiest things to make at home, as they don’t require any cooking or special tools. A basic vinaigrette recipe usually contains:

  • Avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • Vinegar and/or lemon juice
  • Fresh or dried spices

By changing up these basic ingredients, vinaigrettes like Greek, balsamic, and Italian can be made in minutes. My go-to vinaigrette recipes are from Wellness Mama.

Creamier salad dressings, like ranch or caesar, generally require a raw egg (or a pasteurized egg that was cooked for a couple of hours at a low temperature using a sous vide device). But my favorite “dump ranch” recipe is actually egg-free! It contains:

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut milk
  • Vinegar
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lots of dill

Although the recipe calls for fresh dill, I use dried dill with zero complaints.

2. Mayonnaise

A 16-oz jar of Paleo-friendly mayonnaise costs $8.50 at my local grocery store! Luckily, making it at home with an immersion blender is significantly cheaper, and I can customize the flavors, like adding garlic or chipotle.

My preferred simple mayonnaise recipe is from the Whole30 website, and contains:

  • Olive oil
  • An egg
  • Mustard powder
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice

The key to making an emulsion from an egg and oil is to have both at room temperature before you begin. First, blend the egg with an immersion blender, and then slowly pour in the oil while continuing to blend.

3. Yogurt

My family enjoys yogurt topped with frozen fruit, fresh fruit, or nuts pretty much on a daily basis. Luckily, we seem to have no trouble tolerating high-quality dairy products. We have saved literally hundreds of dollars making our own yogurt from milk. Using my yogurt maker, I can make 3 quarts of yogurt at a time using the following recipe:

  1. Heat 11 cups of whole milk in a large saucepan on medium heat until the milk reaches a temperature of 180°F to kill any bacteria. Stir often with a whisk.
  2. Allow the milk to cool until the temperature reaches 110°F. While the milk is cooling, stir often with a whisk to keep a film from forming on the surface. (To speed up the process, I place my saucepan in a large bowl filled partway with ice water, and stir.)
  3. Pour the milk evenly into 3-quart-sized mason jars. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of store-bought yogurt or yogurt from a previous batch to each jar, and stir with a whisk.
  4. Place the jars into the yogurt maker uncovered, and leave the milk to ferment for 18 to 24 hours. (I have gone up to 28 hours by accident with no issues!)
  5. When stored in the fridge, homemade yogurt keeps for at least a couple of weeks.
Sometimes, individuals with lactose intolerance and FODMAP-intolerance can tolerate homemade yogurt. Yogurt that has been fermenting for 24 hours is close to being lactose-free if your starter yogurt has lactose-consuming bacteria species.

4. Nut Bars

Paleo nut bars are a great alternative to granola bars, which usually contain grains, excess sugar, and/or vegetable oils. They are one of our go-to travel snacks—but fair warning that they don’t keep their shape if left at room temperature for too long. My kids also love to crumble the bars on top of yogurt, kind of like grain-free granola.

Paleo Nut Bar Recipe


  • 6 cups nuts or seeds (I use 2 cups each of dry roasted almonds, cashews, and walnuts)
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ cup coconut oil (or butter, ghee)
  • 1 ¼ cups nut butter
  • ⅓ cup raw honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon


  1. Grind the nuts/seeds in a large food processor for about 10 seconds, to create a variety of sizes, from sand-size to small chunks.
  2. Pour ground nuts into a large bowl, add in raisins and coconut flakes, and stir to combine.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt coconut oil, peanut butter, honey, vanilla, sea salt, and cinnamon on medium heat until it bubbles, stirring often.
  4. Pour the hot mixture over the dry mixture and stir until everything is coated evenly.
  5. Pour the mix into a 9×13-in. pan. Press down firmly and evenly.
  6. Place in the fridge for at least six hours before cutting into pieces.

5. Bone Broth

The benefits of bone broth span many aspects of health. Rich in collagen, glycine, other amino acids, and minerals, bone broth consumption boasts health benefits for skin, bones, and joints, the gut and digestion, and more. The Weston A. Price Foundation provides simple bone broth recipes for chicken, beef, and even fish stock.

A basic bone broth recipe includes lots of cartilage-rich bone pieces, water, a splash of vinegar, carrots, celery, onions, and spices like sage, thyme, rosemary, and parsley. With a slow cooker, bone broth should simmer for 24 to 48 hours. With an Instant Pot, bone broth can be ready in just a few hours!

6. Smoothie Popsicles

Smoothies-turned-popsicles are one of my favorite parenting “hacks,” but they aren’t just for kids. On hot summer days, popsicles hit the spot, but the popsicles available at the grocery store leave much to be desired.

My favorite popsicle recipe uses a few simple ingredients:

  • ½ banana
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • ½ cup frozen mango
  • 1 tbsp almond butter (optional)

Using the Magic Bullet, blend all the ingredients and then pour them into popsicle molds. Place them in the freezer for several hours. When made in the morning at breakfast, the popsicles are ready to eat that same day after school (or work!).

7. Probiotic Switchel

Have you ever bought the probiotic drink kombucha? It’s crazy expensive! A cheap, easy alternative to kombucha is switchel—it’s not produced in the same way as kombucha, but it’s a deliciously refreshing probiotic drink that can be easily made at home and fermented overnight.

My preferred recipe comes again from Wellness Mama, and includes the following ingredients:

  • Raw apple cider vinegar (the probiotic component)
  • Raw honey
  • Lime juice
  • Ginger
  • Filtered water

In a pinch, I have used ground ginger instead of fresh, and packaged lemon juice in place of fresh lime juice. My favorite way to enjoy switchel is by mixing it in a one-to-one ratio with lemon or lime seltzer water.

8. Sauerkraut

Bring on the probiotics! Fermented fruits and vegetables were staples of our ancestors’ diets. They preserved well and provided ample probiotics to keep our guts healthy. I have dabbled in fermented vegetables, but the tried-and-true recipe I use is from Nourishing Traditions for sauerkraut.

Homemade sauerkraut is straightforward. First, the cabbage needs to be sliced into very thin, small pieces. After sprinkling sea salt (note: do not use iodized salt!) onto the shredded cabbage, pound the cabbage with a mallet or use your hands to knead the cabbage for 10 or more minutes until the juices are released from the plant cell walls.

Once the juices are able to cover the sauerkraut if packed down, transfer the cabbage to mason jars. Cover the cabbage with its own juices and some spices, and leave it to ferment for a few days. I prefer to use the Pickle Pusher, but it’s not necessary as long as you make sure to push the cabbage below the liquid a couple of times each day to prevent mold formation. If mold does form, you can usually get away with just scraping off the top layer and proceeding with fermentation.

Sauerkraut is an excellent side dish to many recipes, from Mexican-inspired cuisine to standard “meat-and-potato” fare.

9. Spice Blends

This last Paleo staple serves more as a money-saving hack. When people first make the change to eat “Paleo,” they still want flavor. All too often, this leads to buying spice blends for all kinds of cuisine. These spice mixes cost a fortune compared to the price it actually costs to mix them up yourself. If you are cooking most of your meals at home, you probably already have many of the spices that are included in common spice blends you find at the grocery store.

My solution is to premake commonly used spice blends in different dishes. For some examples, I always keep Cajun, Mexican, Italian, Greek, and Ethiopian spice mixes in bulk in 8-oz mason jars in my pantry. If you search around, there is a plethora of recipes on the internet, including here.

Do you have any of these Paleo staples in your kitchen? What would you add to this list? 

Our hunter–gatherer ancestors lived very different lives than we do. They ate nutrient-dense foods (not processed, inflammatory ones), they were active (not sedentary), and they made time for pleasure and rest (instead of living in a constant state of stress and busyness). This mismatch between the way we evolved and the way we now live is driving the current chronic disease epidemic. For many, correcting the mismatch with an ancestral diet and lifestyle is a great place to start.

The ADAPT Health Coach Training Program includes course materials on ancestral diet and lifestyle, Functional Health, and the art and practice of coaching. Graduates of this program are well equipped to collaborate with Functional Medicine practitioners and support clients as they make lifestyle changes and better their health.

Are you interested in a career as a Functional health coach? Find out if the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program is the right step forward for your future.

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The Top 15 Supplements & Vitamins for Stress Relief

Imagine going through the day with a constant happy vibe. You’re productive, content, and feeling good. In today’s busy world, we can so easily forget it’s possible to feel stress-free and live in a peaceful state of mind. Your stress levels don’t have to be through the roof. In fact, chronic stress can have serious ramifications on your health. Getting to that peaceful place may require lifestyle and dietary changes, but it’s definitely possible.

After I changed my diet and my lifestyle decades ago, I went from being depressed to having a positive state of mind almost all of the time. One of the best things I did during this shift was to start paying close attention to my nutrition. I realized there were some important nutrients I wasn’t getting in my diet so I started taking high-quality supplements — including vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements — to fill the gaps.

Being low on certain vitamins or minerals can actually lead to the feeling you know of as anxiety or stress. People who are missing essential nutrients in their diets are more likely to have mood disorders. Counteracting those deficiencies by taking daily supplements can help improve symptoms and get you on the right track.[1]

Top Supplements & Vitamins for Stress

The following vitamins, minerals, and supplements are the best ones I’ve found for countering daily stress and creating a positive, carefree mood.


Minerals are compounds formed naturally in the Earth, some of which are essential for our health. A few minerals play a clear role in mental wellness and promoting a healthy response to stress.


This essential mineral increases your body’s production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that encourages relaxation and even sleep.[2] If you’re low or deficient in magnesium — far too common in North America — it can directly cause low stress tolerance and agitation.[3]

Magnesium is a mineral that you can find in foods like green leafy vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Lucky for you chocolate lovers, this comfort food is rich in magnesium! Choose dark chocolate with more than 70 percent cacao.


The essential mineral zinc is integral to your immune system and brain. People with lower zinc levels are more prone to depression.[1] When people took zinc daily for 10 weeks, they reported feeling a lifted mood and more positive feelings.[4, 5]

You’ll find zinc in hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, black beans, oats, wild rice, quinoa, pecans, mushrooms, and spinach, to name a few.[5]

Lithium Orotate

Lithium is an alkali metal that you need in trace amounts. Incredibly, studies have linked the presence of this nutrient in drinking water to happier states of mind and more peacefulness across entire neighborhoods.[6] It positively affects your brain health, nervous system, mood, and immunity.[7]

Lithium orotate is lithium bonded to orotic acid. This very small molecule is able to cross the blood-brain barrier as well as cell walls, making it readily available for brain health. Small servings can have very positive effects on your emotional well-being.[7]


Vitamins are compounds that play a crucial role in many body processes. However, you must get them from dietary sources since your body does not make them. Below are the vitamins that affect the stress response.

Vitamin D

Most individuals in the United States are low in vitamin D — an essential nutrient. Vitamin D not only helps your body absorb calcium, but it’s also important for a happy mood.[8] Since most people get their vitamin D from sunshine, you may not get enough, especially in the winter.

Lack of vitamin D can lead to depression and an increase in stress and anxiety.[9] Light therapy or supplementation can help, as there are not too many vitamin D-rich foods. Global Healing Center’s Suntrex D3™ contains lichen-derived D3 — the most absorbable form of the vitamin.

Vitamin B Complex

One of the main benefits of taking a vitamin B complex supplement is its positive impact on mood and stress. A vitamin B complex supplement usually includes thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid or folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12).

A lack of B12, in particular, is linked to low mood and high stress. Men who took a B complex supplement along with vitamin C for around a month reported that their mental health was better, and they had less stress.[10] In another case, men and women taking a vitamin B complex reported improvements in their mood and stress.[11] That’s good news!


Several herbs, which you can find in capsules, extracts, or tea, can help lift mood and reduce daily stress. Below are the best of the best!


Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a popular herb in Indian culture. This plant has a positive impact on stress, anxiety, and memory. When people took ashwagandha for two months, it reduced levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — in their blood.[10] Cortisol increases when you’re under pressure and affects your memory, immune system, weight, and more. Researchers also noted that ashwagandha didn’t cause any serious side effects.[12]

Valerian Root

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb that has a calming effect on the body by supporting healthy levels of the neurotransmitter GABA. It lowers nervous tension and reduces anxiety and daily stress, as well.[13, 14] Ancient Greeks used this herb to improve sleep, and today it’s still popular among people who experience trouble sleeping. In fact, it’s the most commonly used sleeping aid in Europe. So if you do take valerian for stress, you may want to take it later in the day to avoid daytime drowsiness.

Tulsi (Holy Basil)

Holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) has a lovely, spice-like taste and aroma that resembles nutmeg. Tulsi is an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt or adjust to stress. It’s popular in teas as well as nutritional supplements. As a supplement, it has been shown to help improve mood and daily stress and anxiety.[15]


Korean or red ginseng (Panax ginseng) is an incredible herb with health-giving properties. In fact, Panax means “cure-all” in Greek. It can boost energy, reduce fatigue, increase alertness, lower stress, and lift mood. It’s known as a nootropic or brain booster, as well as an adaptogen. Korean ginseng also has powerful antioxidant activity that may reduce oxidative stress and protect brain cells.[16]


Rhodiola rosea is a flowering plant that grows in cold climates. People typically use it for anxiety, headaches, depression, and stress.[17]Rhodiola is an adaptogen that normalizes body processes and hormones. When a group of people who had anxiety, stress, and other mood issues took Rhodiola, they experienced less anxiety, stress, anger, depression, and confusion.[18]


Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is an Indian herb with small white flowers. For centuries, people have used Bacopa to improve memory and lessen stress. In recent times, when a group of people took this herb for 12 weeks, they felt less depressed and anxious.[19] As a bonus, they also did better on a memory test. It’s thought that Bacopa helps regulate stress hormones.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant that is popular in teas and supplements. People often dry and prepare its yellow flowers to help depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Today, it’s easy to find St. John’s wort in supplement form. It may help you better manage stress.[20]

Other Supplements

Some supplements don’t fall cleanly into the categories of mineral, vitamin, or herbal supplement. However, they have an important and positive effect on health — in this case, brain health and the stress response.


L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in green tea leaves. As a supplement, you can buy it in a powder or pill form — or you can just drink green tea. L-theanine helps people manage stress and feel calm. People taking L-theanine may have lower cortisol levels, less stress, and less anxiety.[21] This amino acid promotes relaxation without causing drowsiness.[22]

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fat that your body needs. Since the brain is composed mainly of fat, it makes sense that they play an important role in cognitive function and the brain’s response to stress.[23] When people with anxiety took omega-3 fatty acid supplements, they reported feeling more calm and less stressed.[24]

You can find these fatty acids in nuts, seeds, fish, and plant oils. I recommend plant-based options, like flaxseed oil, olive oil, and algae oil for best results.


Probiotics are microorganisms that help balance gut bacteria inside your body. The gut plays a crucial and often underappreciated role in mental health, including how much stress you feel.

The gut makes most of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to happiness and well-being. Probiotic bacteria actually help produce the serotonin used by your body. They live symbiotically within our bodies, and we need a healthy gut microbiota for mental wellness.[25] An advanced probiotic blend like Floratrex™ that has 25 unique strains and 75 billion CFUs provides well-rounded support for your gut and mind. You can also find probiotics in fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and non-dairy yogurt.

Other Tips for Managing Stress

Taking herbs and vitamins isn’t the only way to manage stress. From getting a good night’s sleep to meditating more often, there are simple modifications you can make to feel better. The bottom line is that you should find what is really at the root of your stress and take action to reduce it. Experiencing stress over the long term can have detrimental impacts on various aspects of your health, so take it seriously. Here are a few ideas:

  • Go for a walk outdoors

  • Get more exercise

  • Try deep-breathing exercises

  • Meditate at least 10 minutes per day

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Create a gratitude journal

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine

  • Talk to a counselor

If you’re not able to manage stress on your own, and it’s affecting your ability to enjoy life, please reach out to a licensed therapist to get additional help.

Points to Remember

When you’re feeling stressed, certain supplements and vitamins can provide a natural way to manage stress with few side effects. Improving the nutritional content of your diet is the first option, but where your diet falls shorts, you can add in supplements.

Minerals that may help include magnesium, zinc, and lithium, preferably lithium orotate. Vitamins include the D and the B-complex, particularly B12, and other supplements that don’t fit into neat categories, include probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and L-theanine. Herbs that can play a positive role in your response to stress include ashwagandha, valerian root, Korean ginseng, Rhodiola, Bacopa, and St. John’s wort.

There is a strong link between your physical health and emotional health, so try exercise, walking outdoors in nature, meditation, or journaling to alleviate stress. Also, focus on eating a healthy diet and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking.

Stress reduction is an essential part of taking care of your health. We all deserve to live happy lives. You are worth it!

What herbs and supplements have you used successfully for stress relief? Share your experiences in the comments below!

References (25)
  1. Sathyanarayana Rao TS, et al. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian J Psychiatry. 2008;50(2):77-82.

  2. Boyle NB, et al. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress—a systematic review. Nutrients. 2017 May;9(5):429.

  3. Gröber U, et al. Magnesium in prevention and therapy. Nutrients. 2015;7(9):8199-8226.

  4. Sawada T, Yokoi K. Effect of zinc supplementation on mood states in young women: a pilot study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;64(3):331-333.

  5. Zinc Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Updated 26 Sep. 2018. Accessed 29 Oct 2019.

  6. Schrauzer GN, Shrestha KP. Lithium in drinking water and the incidences of crimes, suicides, and arrests related to drug addictions. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1990;25(2):105-113.

  7. Marshall TM. Lithium as a nutrient. J Am Physicians Surgeons. 2015; 20(4):104-109.

  8. Penckofer S, et al. Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine? Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010 Jun; 31(6):385-393.

  9. Bičíková M, et al. Vitamin D in anxiety and affective disorders. Physiol Res. 2015;64(Suppl 2):S101-S103.

  10. Kennedy DO, et al. Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010;211(1):55-68.

  11. Lewis JE, et al. The effect of methylated vitamin B complex on depressive and anxiety symptoms and quality of life in adults with depression. ISRN Psychiatry. 2013 Jan 21;2013:621453.

  12. Chandrasekhar K, et al. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262.

  13. Valerian Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Updated 15 Mar 2013. Accessed 29 Oct 2019.

  14. Kennedy DO, et al. Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress. Phytother Res. 2006 Feb;20(2):96-102.

  15. Bhattacharyya D, et al. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008;10(3):176-179.

  16. Kim EH, et al. Anti-oxidative stress effect of red ginseng in the brain is mediated by peptidyl arginine deiminase type IV (PADI4) repression via estrogen receptor (ER) beta up-regulation. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013;148(2):474-485.

  17. Rhodiola. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), National Institutes of Health. Updated 24 Sep 2017. Accessed 29 Oct 2019.

  18. Cropley M, et al. The effects of Rhodiola rosea L. extract on anxiety, stress, cognition and other mood symptoms. Phytother Res. 2015 Dec;29(12):1934-1939.

  19. Calabrese C, et al. Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14(6):707-713.

  20. Kumar A, et al. Effect of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) treatment on restraint stress-induced behavioral and biochemical alteration in mice. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 May 7;10:18.

  21. White DJ, et al. Anti-stress, behavioural and magnetoencephalography effects of an L-theanine-based nutrient drink: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):53.

  22. Nobre AC, et al. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17(Suppl 1):167-168.

  23. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Updated 21 Nov. 2018. Accessed 28 Nov. 2018.

  24. Su K-P, et al. Association of use of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with changes in severity of anxiety symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(5):e182327.

  25. Wallace CJK, Milev R. The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review. Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2017;16:14.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.