You’re Probably Not Getting Enough Omega-3s

Given their brain, heart, eye, and other health benefits, you’d think we’d all be loading up on omega-3s left and right. Thing is, most Americans don’t—at all. Here’s how to finally up your intake and reap the benefits.

The Omega-3 Basics

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that supports healthy blood pressure and triglyceride levels, makes up much of our brain, and more.

Of the three types of omega-3s—EPA, DHA, and ALA—DHA and EPA are regarded as the most important.

“DHA and EPA are the forms of omega-3s found in abundance in the body,” says Johane Filemon, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., owner of Wonderfully Nutritious Solutions. “Therefore, they’re the most important for consumers.” EPA and DHA are found in the foods we often think about as omega-3 sources, like fish and eggs.

Then there’s ALA. Found in plant foods like walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds, ALA can be converted into EPA and then DHA in the body. Issue is, the body’s ability to convert ALA to DHA is pretty inefficient.

How Many Omega-3s We Need

The National Institutes of Medicine recommends men and women consume 1.6 and 1.1 grams of ALA a day, respectively. (An ounce of walnuts provides more than two grams.)

Though there’s no official daily recommended intake for EPA and DHA, many experts recommend an intake of about 250 milligrams of the two fatty acids combined per day. (Just an ounce of wild-caught Atlantic salmon provides twice that.)

People with heart health issues may benefit from consuming more omega-3s, and should work with their doctor to determine the intake that’s right for them.

Eating Omega-3s

Since ALA is such an inefficient source of DHA and EPA, you can’t rely on it alone to fulfill your needs. That’s why most experts emphasize the importance of eating foods like fish and eggs, which contain DHA and EPA.

Related: All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Could Do For Your Health

However, research suggests few Americans actually eat the recommended amounts of omega-3s. Unless you’re going out of your way to eat omega-3s (and EPA and DHA in particular) pretty much every day, chances are you’re falling short, too.

The Omega-6 Issue

Eating too few omega-3s isn’t our only omega issue: Eating too many omega-6 fatty acids (which is common in the standard American diet) can also offset the benefits of eating omega-3s. Omega-6s, which support growth and development, brain function, and reproductive health, and more, do contribute to our health; however, because the vegetable oils used in just about every processed food Americans eat contain omega-6s, we consume far too many.

“Studies have shown that omega-6’s, although essential, are more pro-inflammatory, while omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory,” says Filemon. “Over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids can prevent the body from using the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.”

Research suggests that the ideal ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s consumed is less than four to one. Most Americans, though, consume a ratio closer to 20 to one. Without seriously slashing our omega-6 intake, we benefit little from the omega-3s we consume.

What’s At Stake With Omega-3 Deficiency

Consuming too few omega-3s—or too few omega-3s compared to omega-6s—comes with big consequences.

“Deficiency in DHA, specifically, can lead to a decrease in the brain’s ability to function optimally,” says Filemon. People with omega-3 deficiencies may also experience reduced vision and immunity, and even skin issues.

Low levels of omega-3s have also been associated with increased risk for certain chronic diseases, like coronary heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States).

How To Optimize Your Omega-3 Intake

Before you even worry about eating more omega-3s, slash your omega-6 intake by avoiding processed foods—especially fast food—as much as possible. Even packaged foods marketed as ‘healthy’ often contain omega-6 oils, so keep an eye out for ingredients like soybean and sunflower oil on labels.

From there, try to eat 3.5 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) of cooked fish, such as salmon, trout, tuna, or Pollock, twice a week. If you’re not a big enough fan of fish, supplementation is a good option.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, load up on plant-based foods such as walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds, and also consider adding a supplement to your routine.

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Most fish oil supplements contain about 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA a pop, while vegan omega-3 supplements, which are made from algae, can provide up to a few hundred milligrams of EPA and/or DHA per serving. Ora’s Nothing Fishy Here Vegan Omega-3 Spray, for example, provides 600 milligrams of DHA.

Just talk to your doctor before taking all the omega-3s you can get your hands on—high doses may interact with certain medications.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

What It’s Like To Do A 6-Week Self-Improvement Challenge

My mind has always been on-the-go. I’m the person who prefers to brainstorm ideas during a long walk, or who would rather dance through the house while on a phone call than sit in one spot.

From time to time I’d considered finding ways to practice mindfulness—which is the practice of being aware of the present moment—but I would always end up talking myself out of it. I’d download an app at the suggestion of a friend but wind up using it once and then forgetting about it.

After a couple of rough years dealing with a disability called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is a grouping of disorders that affects the skin, joints, and blood vessels, I decided that I needed to give self-care a serious try. I was having a lot of symptoms and was open to anything that might provide relief.

I knew I needed to bridge the gap between how I wanted to feel about my body and how I actually felt. Because I wasn’t getting anywhere with mindfulness on my own, I signed up for a personal coaching program, which included weekly webinars, warm-up videos, workouts, cool downs, and meditations.

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self-improvement challenge: The Program

Each week, I dedicated 40 minutes to the webinars, which guided me deeply through numerous weekly themes, like mastering your subconscious mind, creating a healing mindset, ending self-sabotage, letting go of destructive relationships, and forgiveness. (You know, pretty light stuff.)

I also dedicated time to the workouts and meditations, committing to get outside in nature—free from modern-day distraction—and move my body at least once a day.

That first week, I admit that I felt a little silly sitting in front of my laptop, listening to the webinar. Would I really, actually feel transformed? But as I listened, closed my eyes, and felt the energy travel through my body, I knew: I’ve been hiding behind my own busyness. I haven’t been taking the time to work through my own emotions and listen to what they’re telling me. I’ve been unable to find true peace, especially when it comes to my disability or wellness, because I’ve been refusing to be vulnerable and raw about the situation, even with myself.

I realized, if I want to make authentic peace with my life and my body, I needed to really feel my feelings.

The webinars talked a lot about how we connect to ourselves (and to something deeper) when we move our bodies—not only at the gym, but also if we’re doing simple workouts in our own homes or getting outside in nature. I hadn’t been making as much time for these things in the last few years. Instead, I’d been keeping myself busy and not taking the time to honor my emotions.

How The Self-Improvement Challenge Changed Me

It’s become more and more difficult to stay totally present as I’ve gotten older, advanced in my career, taken on new responsibilities at work and at home, and dedicated myself to more passion projects. Not to mention social media! Being present in the moment is so important—even though it’s easy to lose sight of.

After doing the six-week coaching, I committed to incorporating some of it into my wellness regular practice. Now, every day after work, I take at least 30 minutes to be with myself and in nature, mostly through daily walks on the beach or in the park. On the weekends, I spend at least two hours a day doing this; sometimes with others, but at least once each weekend I do it alone. Walking on the sand, with the waves crashing next to me, I’m able to be in tune with what’s going on in my life and what I’ve been ignoring.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

Mindfulness is about so much more than just sitting still. I’m finding that mindfulness works best for me when my body is physically moving (like during a slow walk break), but I still really need to be present in the moment. That’s the hardest work for me: not taking out my phone to scroll through Instagram while I’m in the grocery checkout line, paying attention to how my body feels when I’m running, and listening to my breathing when I’m alone at the park, looking up at the sky.

I realized throughout my six-week coaching program that I’d been actively avoiding being completely present in the moment for a while now, especially since my disability has caused more pain and fatigue in my body. I didn’t want to listen to what my body had to tell me or how I felt about it—I just wanted to escape it.

The other day, I was feeling a lot of pain. Instead of turning on the TV to drown it out, I laid down on my heating pad on my living room floor, closed my eyes, and visualized my life the way I want to live it. I visualized being a little closer to living pain-free, not feeling fatigued, and doing everything I can to respect my body’s needs, including accepting it as it is. I would have never tried this before my six-week coaching; it turns out opening your mind really can lead to calming your body and spirit.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Innovation, Trends, And Transformation In Health And Wellness: Join Our LIVE Discussion!

Remember when protein powder was just a bodybuilder thing? Or when no one bothered to wonder what all those hard-to-pronounce ingredients on their food labels were? If the new millennium taught us anything about self-care, it’s that eating right and getting regular exercise aren’t optional if you want to live a long, active life.

Today, the world of wellness is bigger than ever, and encompasses nutrition, fitness, beauty, and even wearable technology. At The Vitamin Shoppe’s Product Education Conference (PEC) on August 14th, we’re sitting down with some of the buzziest names and most innovative brands in the supplement industry—from fitness icon and Kaged Muscle CEO Kris Gethin to plant-based chef and Ora Organic co-founder Ron Chang—to talk about the trends shaping the future of health and wellness.

Join us live on The Vitamin Shoppe’s Facebook page from 3 p.m. EST to 7:30 p.m. EST this Tuesday, August 14th, to get in on the conversation!

Here’s the full lineup:

Learn more about what our guests will be discussing:

Training Like An Elite Athlete on a Plant-Based Diet: Don Saladino—Garden of Life Athlete, Celebrity Trainer

Many people still don’t seem sold that you can work out—and look—like an athlete without a diet that features plenty of milk and chicken breast. Saladino, who uses plant-based supplements with his celebrity clients, knows that’s not the case. He’ll discuss how plant-based foods and supplements can contribute to fitness goals like building muscle, becoming stronger, and shedding fat, and share what a successful plant-based approach to fitness looks like.

Is Bread Really The Enemy?: Yemeni Mesa—KNOW Foods CEO

KNOW Foods was founded with the goal of creating a ‘better bread’ to address the negative impact of conventional bread and similar foods on health in the U.S. Yemeni will walk us through the low-carb revolution, the rise of keto, and how re-thinking high-carb staples like bread and cookies can help us better our health.

Pushing The Limits of Fitness Beyond Bodybuilding: Kris Gethin—Kaged Muscle CEO, Fitness Icon, Endurance Athlete

Not only is Kris Gethin a renowned bodybuilder, but he’s also run an ultramarathon and completed an Iron Man triathlon, proving that his fitness knows no limits. Gethin will discuss how and why he’s pursued such ambitious and varied feats of fitness, and what his training has taught him about discipline, and the capabilities of the human body. He’ll also address how supplementation and nutrition have helped him achieved his goals and how his experiences have shaped Kaged Muscle.

The Importance of Sustainability In Product Innovation: Ronald Chang—Ora Organic Co-Founder, Chef

Ora is all about organic, plant-based ingredients from sustainable sources—and while we’ve heard about organic for years, the importance of sustainability may not fully be on everyone’s radars. Ron will discuss why Ora uses sustainably-sourced ingredients, and why consumers should care about where their supplements come from.

The Rise Of The Keto Trend: Chris MacKenzie—BPI Sports CCO, Competitive Bodybuilder

One of the first sports nutrition brands to really embrace the keto trend, BPI has helped more and more bodybuilders embrace the high-fat, low-carb trend. Chris will discuss why keto has become such a hit with the bodybuilding community, how it’s changing the way competitors think about macros, and what supplements can help make it successful.

How Community Commerce Spreads Health And Wealth Across The Globe: Lanaia Edwards—Shea Moisture Senior Director Of Marketing

Shea Moisture has donated more than two million dollars to community commerce programs, including minority women-owned businesses, clean water initiatives, and more to date. Lanaia will discuss how Shea Moisture’s origins inspired its mission to support women and under-served communities, how this mission has grown with the company, and why you should support brands who give back.

Technology As A Tool for Healthy Living: Matt Hesse—Performix CEO, Founder of the FitOps Foundation

The conversation about technology lately seems to focus a lot on some of the ways it’s negatively impacted our health (such as excessive screen time making us increasingly sedentary). Hesse will discuss the flip-side. After all, his brand Performix is all about utilizing cutting edge technology to enhance supplements. Hesse will explain how technology will continue to revolutionize the supplement industry, and how he uses technology as a health and fitness tool in his own life.

The Evolution of Protein Supplements: Kris Gerulski—Glanbia Marketing Director

Optimum Nutrition, BSN, and Isopure have endured as some of the biggest brands in the world of protein—but protein supplementation has come a long way since the birth of protein powders! Kris will discuss how these brands have remained on the forefront of protein’s transformation, why protein is for everyone, what innovative products they’re buzzing about, and where the future of protein is headed.

How Everyday Athletes Can Train And Fuel Like The Pros: Matthias McKinnon—BodyTech Ultimate Athlete

Since his days playing college football, Matthias McKinnon has continued to pursue his fitness goals with the intensity and rigor of a competitive athlete. BodyTech’s first-ever Ultimate Athlete will talk about how the right attitude, training, and supplementation can help the everyday fitness enthusiast make incredible gains.

Are Your Bowel Movements ‘Normal’?

Talk to your doctor or read about your gut online and you’ll encounter one vague—but clearly important—term again and again: ‘regular.’ Experts constantly tell us how crucial being regular is to our digestive and overall health, but many of us still wonder if our bowel movements are truly normal.

Turns out, there’s no one right number of number-two’s per day or week. “Normal for most (but not all) people can be from one bowel movement every three days to three bowel movements every day,” explains Rusha Modi, M.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at USC’s Keck Medical Center. Docs call this the ‘rule of three:  anything between three poops a week and three a day is a-okay.

Different People, Different Schedules

When stool gets to our colon, it’s held there until all water and electrolytes are extracted and the water not needed elsewhere in the body is reabsorbed. The sensation of stool build-up signals your body to create space for more and voila, you hit the toilet.

The speed of this cycle varies from person to person, as some of our GI tracts just process and transport materials slower or faster than others’. If you poop multiple times per day, you have what docs call a fast ‘transit’ time, meaning your GI tract absorbs what it needs and empties quickly. If you go just a few times a week, though, you have a slow transit time. (Dietary triggers, such as sugar intake, trouble breaking down lactose, and electrolyte imbalances can all also influence how your body forms and flushes out stool.)

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Constipated

Whatever your schedule may be, norm is based on your usual bathroom habits over time. Consider your last two months of bowel movements: If you went once a day for seven weeks out of those eight weeks, consider that your version of regular.

Whatever your poop routine may be, as long as it’s comfortable and doesn’t interfere with your day or sleep routine, it’s probably just fine.

What Abnormal Bowel Movements Look Like

Now that you know your number-two timing isn’t all that important (as long as it’s consistent), there’s another aspect of your BMs worth paying close attention to: what they look like.

If you’re not taking a peek in the toilet after you go, you should be. Any of the following characteristics are considered abnormal:

1. Oily, Greasy Stools

Slimy-looking stools “suggest a malabsorption in the mid-gut or pancreas,” says Modi. “This means that some food—especially fat—isn’t processed normally.” These undigested nutrients remain in your stool and exit your body still somewhat intact.

When fats, specifically, aren’t broken down properly, the excess not only creates a greasy-looking BM, but can also cause diarrhea. (Gross but true, doctors can see actual fat droplets when they test BMs like these.)

3. Floaters

A random floating stool here and there shouldn’t be cause for alarm, says Modi. Unusually fatty meals, increased fluid intake, and excess gas can all make stools less dense.

However, if your stools float persistently, you may have a food intolerance, likely to dairy and/or gluten. People with food poisoning or gastroenteritis (a.k.a. the stomach flu) may also experience floating stools, but they should disappear as the digestive system recovers, says Modi.

3. White Or Gray Stools

“The typical brown color of stool comes from the green-yellow pigment of bile, which helps digest fats and cholesterol,” explains Modi. Obstructions and other issues, like infections, in the liver and biliary tract (which stores bile) can block the flow of bile to the digestive system and lead to pale stools. If your stools have become chronically clay-colored or unusually pale, give your doctor a call.

4. Diarrhea

While most isolated cases of diarrhea are caused by temporary infections like gastroenteritis, diarrhea that lasts more than a few days signals larger digestive issues. “Chronic diarrhea can occur for a whole host of reasons, from inflammatory bowel disease to celiac disease, and more,” says Modi. In many of these cases, active inflammation in the digestive tract leads to nutrient and protein losses and eventually erodes the surface of the GI tract’s lining.

5. Blood

Blood in stool is never normal, but it’s more common than you might think—especially in the case of hemorrhoids, says Modi. If you notice blood in your stool, give your doc a call just to be safe, but don’t fret just yet. (When a more hazardous condition, such as colorectal cancer, dumps blood into stool, that blood is often difficult to see with the naked eye and has to be identified through testing.)

How To Normalize Your Toilet Time

The number-one way to become (and stay) regular is to make sure your diet contains enough fiber. Insoluble fiber, which comes from fruit skins, vegetables and some grains (like brown rice) is especially important because it speeds up the stool-producing process absorbing the by-products of digestion in your GI tract. If whole foods don’t make up the bulk of your diet, a fiber supplement can help keep your digestion regular.

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Regular exercise—at least 30 minutes, four times a week—also helps. “It is not uncommon that I see patients with constipation begin an exercise regimen and find that their bowel habits improve considerably,” says Modi. “The body is designed to move, so problems emerge when we are sedentary.”

Modi also recommends reviewing your medication list with your doctor. “Since most medications are first absorbed and processed by the digestive system, the use of multiple medications is becoming an increasing issue,” says Modi. Many pharmaceuticals list GI upset as a primary potential side-effect, and could be behind unexplained issues.

When To See Your Doctor

If you notice dramatic changes in the frequency or the appearance of your stools, pay your doctor a visit.

If these changes are accompanied by abdominal pain, shifts in appetite, and/or weight loss or night sweats, make an appointment ASAP. Together, these symptoms can indicate internal bleeding, severe inflammation, and even cancer.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

5 Huge Health And Fitness Trends Worth Exploring Right Now

With so many health and fitness trends out there these days, it can be hard to tell which ones are actually worthy of our time. Whether you’ve heard about them on a podcast, seen your friends testing them on Instagram Stories, or read about them online, below are five trends that have some solid science behind them.

1. The Keto Diet

Unless you’ve been on a year-long life sabbattical, you’ve heard about the ketogenic diet by now. Probably the diet of 2018, keto has actually been around since the 1920s, when doctors started using it as part of a therapy plan for people with epilepsy.

“The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very low-carb, moderate protein diet that transitions your body into a state of ketosis,” says Ariane Hundt, M.S., a clinical nutrition coach in New York City. “Ketosis means that your body uses fat (in the form of ketones) as energy instead of carbohydrates (or sugar).” The perks: quick water and fat loss, steady energy, and diminished hunger and cravings.

You see, carbohydrates promote water retention, says Hundt. (For every gram of carbs you eat, your body holds onto about 2.5 grams of water.) When you slash your carb intake to less than 50 grams total per day—as is required on keto—you shed water weight.

Plus, by eliminating sugar, you free yourself of the blood sugar spikes and crashes it causes, promoting stable energy, keeping you out of the cookie jar, and further supporting weight loss.

The buzz doesn’t end there, though: Early research suggests keto may protect cognitive function and help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar. While more large-scale studies are needed, the preliminary results have many a health expert intrigued.

The hitch for many people, however, is that the keto diet requires an all-or-nothing approach. “People think they can eat keto one day and have carbs the next, but that leads to fat storage fast,” says Hundt. “As soon as more carbs come in, the body switches back to burning carbs and not body fat.”

So if you’re interested in trying keto, you have to be willing to commit. Hundt recommends easing into it with three to five days of clean eating, and sticking to keto for at least a month to see substantial benefits.

2. Collagen

Gone are the days of artificial cinnamon bun-flavored coffee creamers. Personal trainers, fitness influencers, and nutritionists alike are now mixing collagen into their morning coffees (or smoothies).

Fans tout the protein for improving athletic performance, supporting joints and muscles, and promoting healthy skin. The idea makes sense, considering collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and makes up our joints, skin, and other tissues. (In fact, it’s collagen that makes our skin supple and elastic.) Thing is, we produce less collagen as we age, which contributes to the rise of wrinkles and achy knees.

Researchers are still playing catch-up to prove the benefits of collagen supplements, but there is some initial evidence out there. One study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, for example, found that just four weeks of collagen supplementation improved skin elasticity in women ages 35 to 55.

Research published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism also suggests that collagen peptide supplementation may improve symptoms in athletes who experience joint pain during exercise.

While collagen specifically hasn’t been shown to improve fitness and boost muscle gains, supplementing with it can up your overall protein intake, which in turn supports performance and physique gains.

Want to give a supplement a try? Hundt recommends looking for a product that’s organic, grass-fed, and contains Type I and III collagen (the most abundant). Brands like Vital Proteins offer a variety of collagen supplements, including collagen peptides, whey-collagen combos, and Beauty Waters infused with other skin-nourishing ingredients. Bone broth is also a great source of the protein.

Related: 10 Tasty Ways To Get Your Collagen Fix (Other Than Mixing It Into A Smoothie)

To support your body’s own collagen-producing ability, you can also boost your intake of whole foods that contain lots of glycine and proline (the two most prominent amino acids in collagen), says Hundt. Beef, chicken, pork, eggs, kale, cauliflower, spinach, and pumpkin are all good options.

3. Functional Fitness

Though Monday chest days and Tuesday leg days have long dominated many a workout routine, more and more trainers, classes, and gyms now embrace functional, or ‘real life,’ fitness. Stemming from the rehabilitation world, functional fitness is all about developing and maintaining strength, mobility, and agility that prepare you for life both in and out of the gym.

“Unlike a conventional routine that targets specific muscle groups (say, glutes or triceps), functional training hones in on specific movement patterns in multiple planes of motion that are seen in daily life,” says group fitness instructor Lauren Seib, C.P.T. When hiking or playing with our kids in the backyard, we’re constantly rotating, side stepping, and stepping up and down—not just moving forward and backward. Mimicking those movements in the gym—with exercises like squats, lateral lunges, pushups, medicine ball throws, and step-ups—helps better prepare our bodies for whatever movements we need to do in day-to-day life, she says.

Functional training also offers another major perk: The movements in function-focused workouts are compound in nature, meaning they recruit more than one muscle group at a time, challenge stability, and involve a full range of motion. “All in all, this helps improve quality of life while developing muscle memory, increasing flexibility, strengthening from head to toe, and burning major calories,” says Seib.

Instead of sitting on machine after machine, or focusing on just one muscle group at a time, incorporate more full-body workouts into your strength training routine—and don’t shy away from the free weights! Seib recommends movements that mimic daily life, like bent-over rows, which simulate lifting groceries out of the car.

For cardio, trade in the treadmill for a hike or walk outside. If you’re a group fitness fanatic, look for classes that incorporate multiple types of equipment, like rowing machines, dumbbells, and medicine balls. (CrossFit, OrangeTheory, and Les Mills are all good examples.)

4. Self-Care

The more we try to cram into our daily to-do lists, the more we realize the importance of one high-priority task: self-care.

“In this age of anxiety, self-care has become the new kale, but it’s more than just a buzzword,” says Kristen Lee, Ed.D., L.I.C.S.W., behavioral science expert and author of Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking—Learn What it Takes to be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World. “We are living at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities.” Take the never-ending news cycle or the black hole of perfectly-curated Instagram accounts constantly trying to draw us in, for example.

Whether it’s meditating, heading out for a mind-clearing walk at lunchtime, or soaking in a long bubble bath at the end of the day, taking the time to do whatever helps you relax and tune into what you need is a trend mental health experts hope sticks. (Especially considering more than 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety disorders.)

“We now have the science to prove that when we engage in self-care—deliberate, intentional attention to our physical, mental, and whole health—that we are actually protecting ourselves from stress overload and burnout epidemics,” says Lee.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for what works, but dedicating time to whatever self-care works for you can help sustain your health in the long run. “The key is making it a daily ritual, and being deliberate about it,” Lee says.

Start by replacing little time-suck activities (like scrolling through Instagram at night) with something that makes you feel good, like writing in a gratitude journal. Even just 10 minutes makes a difference.

5. Sleep Tech

We all know how crucial quality Zzz’s are for our health, but let’s face it: Going tech-free in the hours before bed is tough. Luckily, the sleep industry has learned how to make our beloved technology more snooze-friendly.

“Good sleep plays a critical role in your health and well-being, from protecting against cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, to boosting neurocognitive functions, mental health, and longevity,” says Jonathan Charlesworth, staff research scientist at Fitbit, which has tracked more than 6.5 billion nights of sleep through its wearable devices. “Technology provides data that can help you better understand your sleep patterns, sleep quality, and how you compare to other people of your same age and gender.”

Having all of this information on hand helps you pinpoint where things may be going wrong, says Charlesworth. “[It] can help you make more informed decisions about your health and implement lifestyle changes that can help improve your sleep over time.”

Another way to learn more about your sleep quality: the iFit Sleep HR. Download the app, slip the device under your mattress, and hit the hay. The device tracks your heart rate and respiratory patterns, then churns out data on your sleep cycles and breathing quality that can make you aware of sleep problems like excessive snoring or even sleep apnea. Plus, the built-in smart alarm wakes you during the lightest part of your sleep cycle so you’re not jolted awake.

There’s also the ‘sleep robot,’ Somnox, which can actually help you sleep better. Designed as an easy-to-snuggle pillow, this machine simulates breathing patterns that your body naturally syncs to, helping you relax and fall asleep faster. It can even play white noise, guided meditations, or lullabies for those who need audio to help them mentally power down.

5 Quick Fixes For When You’re Super-Gassy

Whether you ate too fast, slurped down tons of sparkling water, or went too hard on fiber, dairy, or anything sugar-free, feeling like you’ve got a balloon inflating in your stomach is the pits. (The only thing worse is accidentally letting it deflate in public.) The next time you’re doubled over your gas-filled middle, try one of these simple, natural, fast-acting remedies.

1. Take Enzymes To Break Down Food

If your gut is punishing you for downing that extra-creamy latte or yogurt bowl, a digestive enzyme can help your body process certain foods you’re not well-equipped to break down on your own.

Different enzymes break down different types of food, so make sure you’re taking the right enzyme for your meal. If you suspect dairy is giving you trouble, for example, try a lactase enzyme. “Lactose is a sugar found in dairy, and lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose,” explains Kailey Proctor, M.P.H., R.D.N. If you’re lactose intolerant, you don’t have enough enzymes to break it down, and may experience cramping, gas, and bloating as it passes through your system.

Related: 7 Foods That Can Make You Gassy

Ideally, you want to take enzymes with the first few bites of food, but they may still provide some relief if you’re already dealing with the digestive aftermath of a meal.

2. Get Moving

If you’ve got a bubble in your gut, simply getting up and moving around can help break it up. “Movement helps push gases through your digestive system by quite literally getting things moving,” says Maggie Michalcyzk, M.S., R.D.N.

Whether you do some jumping jacks, squats, high knees, or just go for a walk, a little bit of action can go a long way. Any movement that targets the belly specifically (like twisty yoga moves), is especially good at easing gas.

3. Drink Peppermint Tea

Peppermint prevents spasms in the GI tract by acting as a relaxant,” explains Proctor. “This then allows gas to pass through your digestive tract.” Try sipping on a mug of warm peppermint tea, or adding fresh peppermint to your water.

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4. Sip On Chamomile Tea

If you’re not a fan of peppermint, try chamomile tea instead. “Chamomile has soothing properties that aid in digestion and may ease temporary bloating and gas,” says Michalczyk. Plus, chamomile’s calming quality doesn’t just help settle your digestive system, but also helps you feel generally grounded and relaxed.

5. Chew On Fennel Seeds

This plant has long been used in traditional medicine to support healthy digestion by stimulating muscles in our GI tract.

Michalcyzk recommends chomping on about a teaspoon when gas pops up. Keep a plastic baggie of seeds in your bag for on-the-go gas support, or try roasting and seasoning them for a flavorful, gut-loving salad- and side dish-topper.

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7 Supplements That Support Mental Well-Being

If you, or someone close to you, has ever struggled with anxiety or depression, you know how difficult simply getting through the day can be when your mind won’t stop racing or you’re overcome with a sense of hopelessness. Americans are suffering from mental health issues more than ever before. In fact, research now estimates that anxiety disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the U.S. every year, and more than 16 million adults in the U.S. had a depressive episode in 2016.

Though they’re not a replacement for prescribed medications and counseling, a number of natural herbs, nutrients, and supplements can support mental well-being. Here are seven that are backed by experts and science.

1. St. John’s Wort

Known as the ‘happiness herb,’ St. John’s Wort can be a powerful supplement for mood. It’s got plenty of scientific support, with research (like this Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews review) deeming it effective.

“Very strong short-term evidence suggests that St. John’s Wort is effective in cases of mild to moderate depression, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics..

Something to keep in mind, though: “St. John’s Wort interacts with a number of drugs and should be taken only under the guidance of a health care provider, especially if you already take medications for depression,” says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. The herb might also increase the breakdown of estrogen, making contraception less effective, and can cause rashes, moodiness, and stomach issues in some people.

If you and your healthcare provider decide St. John’s Wort is a good fit for you, they’ll likely suggest you take it in tincture or capsule form, which are more potent than herbal teas.

2. Ashwagandha

The herb ashwagandha is buzzy right now because of its purported stress-fighting, vitality-boosting properties. Considered an ‘adaptogen,’ ashwagandha contains compounds believed to help the body adapt to and overcome stress, and restore communication between your brain and adrenal glands (which produce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline), says Axe.

According to one study published in Pharmaceuticals, adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha have the potential not only to reduce stress, but to improve attention, increase endurance, and fight fatigue, too.

Because ashwagandha can affect glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain), though, it may be too stimulating for some people, says Taz Bhatia, M.D., integrative health expert and author of Super Woman RX. “If it’s a good fit for you, you will feel your energy balancing rather than a ‘rev’ and a crash.”

Valdez suggests trying 200 milligrams in powder or capsule form per day, alongside a snack or meal.

3. Reishi Mushrooms

Adaptogenic mushrooms like reishi mushrooms, which have been used in traditional Chinese Medicine for over 4,000 years, are nothing new when it comes to supporting mental health naturally. “These amazing fungi, known as the King of Herbs, are noteworthy because of their unique collection of compounds—like triterpenes, alkaloids, and sterols—and antioxidants—like beta-glucans, and triterpenoids—that  support a healthy response to stress and healthy energy levels,” says Axe.

One small study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that people experiencing irritability and emotional unease reported mood improvements after taking 1,800 milligrams of reishi a day for eight weeks.

“If reishi is a good fit for you, you’ll feel a relief in irritability and lift in mood over the course of a few weeks,” says Bhatia. If it’s not, you might experience nausea or a worse mood than usual.

Reishi is easy to take in capsule form, but you can drink it, too. Four Sigmatic’s Reishi Mushroom Elixir promises to help you chill.

4. SAMe

The compound s-adenosylmethionine, or SAMe, is involved in our body’s process of synthesizing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness.

SAMe is now being used to support those with dealing with low mood, with the most impressive results coming from clinical trials using SAMe injections, says Axe. (According to a 2016 review published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, more research on the effectiveness of oral supplements is necessary.)

If you’re interested in learning more about whether SAMe might be right for you, talk to your doctor. Just keep in mind that, according National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), SAM-e supplements could contribute to manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.

5. Magnesium

When you’re stressed, your body releases a continuous flow of adrenaline (the hormone that makes you feel like you can lift a car but can also worsen anxiety). The mineral magnesium is an important player in adrenaline production, so the more adrenaline you churn out, the more magnesium you burn through. Since we also need magnesium to produce the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin, that’s a big problem, says Bhatia.

In fact, research suggests that a magnesium shortage in our body can worsen stress and mood issues. One study published in the Journal of American Board of Family Medicine, for example, linked low magnesium intake with up to a 22 percent greater risk of developing depression.

Related: 4 Unexpected Benefits Of Taking Magnesium

Most Americans are deficient in magnesium, so upping your intake can have major mood benefits. (The recommended daily intake is 320 milligrams per day for women and 420 milligrams per day for men.) You’ll find the mineral in leafy greens, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and almonds—and of course, supplements. “Several human case studies show that 125 to 300 milligrams of magnesium at each meal and bedtime can be helpful,” says Axe.

6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Honestly, what can’t omega-3s do? In addition to supporting heart and eye health and boosting your immune system, these fatty acids may also have mental well-being benefits.

The two primary omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are essential for brain function—and research suggests they relate to mood, specifically. One study published in Psychiatry Research, for example, linked low levels of omega-3s with higher risk of depression and anxiety.

Meanwhile, another review published in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience found that omega-3s supplementation may help protect us against mood issues.

Since most people don’t get enough omega-3s through their diet (unless they eat fish regularly), Valdez recommends considering a supplement with 1,000 total milligrams of EPA and DHA. Just check with your doctor first since omega-3s can act as a blood thinner and interact with certain prescription medications.

7. Probiotics

The relationship between mood disorders and the gut is a complex but critical one. People with depression have been shown to have disturbances in their gut microbiome—specifically increased levels of inflammation, says Mahmoud A. Ghannoum, Ph.D., one of the most sought-after gut health experts in the world.

That’s why Ghannoum (and some research) suggests that depression is more of an inflammatory condition of the immune system (which is housed in the gut) than an issue that stems from the brain.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, Axe recommends talking with your  healthcare provider about adding probiotics to your routine. “Most people feel better when taking the right probiotic, and notice their mood lifting and that they feel calmer and more focused,” adds Bhatia.

Research on mood issues and inflammatory gut conditions (which often go hand-in-hand) supports the idea that probiotics can help. For example, one study published in Gastroenterology found that taking a probiotic altered IBS patients’ brain responses to negative emotional stimuli and improved mood.

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5 Steps To A Happier, Healthier Gut

I firmly believe that one of the biggest steps you can take to promote your overall health and well-being is to improve your gut health.

Not only does your gut act as the defense shield between what you ingest and your bloodstream, but it also helps you digest food and absorb its nutrients, houses most of your immune system, and even influences your brain function and mood.

Because your digestive tract and immune system are so intertwined, many of the health issues we deal with have some connection back to gut health. Compromised gut health can allow inflammation run rampant, which can cause digestive issues, fatigue, food sensitivities, skin conditions, mood changes, and more.

So if you’re feeling sick, tired, or just a little off, chances are your gut needs some extra attention.

Thankfully, you can improve your gut health in five easy steps. Whether you’re already suffering from symptoms of leaky gut syndrome (which basically means that your gut is compromised) or just need a quick reset, I recommend making these simple changes to your daily health regime for a happier, healthier gut.

1. Start With A Bone Broth Fast

By now, you probably know that bone broth is a powerful health food. Bone broth contains antioxidants, minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and collagen protein, which supports the health of tissues like your bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. These nutrients provide your digestive system with the ingredients it needs to restore the strength of your gut lining, support your microbiome, and ward off harmful compounds. Together, they help your digestive—and immune—system thrive.

To kick these benefits into gear, I recommend doing a bone broth fast. For three to four days, you’ll consume about 12 ounces of bone broth five times per day. You can either cook up a big batch of homemade broth or simply mix bone broth protein powder, into water.

You can have some solid foods (or smoothies) throughout your fast; just stick to healthy fats, clean proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

These few days give your system a break from potentially problematic foods and the opportunity to really load up on bone broth’s antioxidants, minerals, and collagen. When you finish, I bet you’ll have easier digestion, sleep a little better, and feel all-around renewed.

2. Remove Inflammatory Foods

During and after your bone broth fast, it’s important to eliminate all potentially-offending foods.

The following foods are the most problematic:

  • Grains and breads
  • Packaged and processed foods
  • Foods and drinks with added sugar
  • Dairy products
  • Refined vegetable oils (soybean, canola, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut, and sesame)

For many people, these food groups can trigger an immune response and inflammation that affects not only digestion, but mood and even skin health, too. They can be especially problematic if you have leaky gut, since undigested proteins (like gluten) and other potentially harmful particles in them can actually pass through your intestinal wall and enter your bloodstream, according to research published in Frontiers In Immunology.

3. Eat Fermented Foods Or Supplement With Probiotics

Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that line your digestive tract and support your body’s ability to fight infections and absorb nutrients, have been widely researched—and hailed—for their positive impact on digestive and overall health.

You’ll find these good-doing bacteria in fermented foods (like kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh), cultured milk (kefir) or yogurt, and, of course, in supplements.

Related: 5 Foods That Are Packed With Probiotics

According to research published in Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, “probiotics may restore the composition of the gut microbiome and introduce beneficial functions to gut microbial communities.” Basically, these bacteria maintain balance in your gut, so you’re better able to avoid digestive- and immune-related issues.

4. Try Other Gut-Friendly Supplements

By cutting out problematic foods and working to increase the number of healthy bacteria in your gut, you’ve built a solid foundation for healing your gut health. To take it one step further, try incorporating a few other gut-friendly supplements into your routine, too.

Some of my go-to’s include:

  • Digestive enzymes: Taking a full-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement before or after meals can help your digestive system break down proteins, complex sugars, and starches, and avoid potential inflammation caused by undigested compounds passing through your system.
  • Collagen powder: Not only does collagen protein help to strengthen your bones, cartilage and tendons, but two of its amino acids, glycine and proline, also help build your gut lining and support overall gut integrity.
  • L-glutamine: According to research published in the Journal of Epithelial Biology & Pharmacology, the essential amino acid l-glutamine not only acts as an antioxidant, but can also be used by your intestinal cells for fuel, and helps rebuild your gut lining.
  • Quercetin: This powerful antioxidant can be particularly active in the digestive system, says research published in Nutrients.

 5. Reduce Stress

Research shows that chronic stress can negatively affect your immune function, skin health, heart health, digestive function, and even hormone balance. So if you truly want to restore the health of your gut and reduce system-wide inflammation, you need to lower your stress levels.

That seems like a tall order, I know—but small changes can make a big difference. Start by incorporating stress-relieving practices, like daily exercise, meditation, acupuncture, time outdoors, or meaningful social activities, into your routine. Seeing a therapist can help you establish more productive ways of dealing with stress triggers.

To further fight off stress, I also recommend trying adaptogenic herbs, like holy basil, panax ginseng, and ashwagandha. Adaptogens contain compounds that help your body respond to stress and normalize your physiological functions (like hormone responses) so you can better handle stress that comes your way.

Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, in Nashville, TN, and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.

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9 Wellness Gurus Share Their Health & Happiness Tips

Wellness is the culmination of a healthy mind, body, and spirit. It’s all about feeding your personal growth. Here, we share nine tips from gurus across the wellness spectrum—from recipe developers and psychologists to yoga instructors and meal-prep experts—so you can take inspiration from their words, insights, and suggestions. Victory is yours!

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6 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Constipated

Few things are quite as frustrating and uncomfortable as not being able to go—but plenty of people deal with the issue every day. In fact, according to the American Gastroenterological Association, 16 percent of Americans are chronically constipated, meaning they pass fewer than three stools a week.  

On top of the stress and discomfort, chronic constipation can cause a good deal of health problems. “Toxins and other metabolites recirculate and can contribute to concerns like hormone imbalance, weight gain, skin breakouts, headaches, fatigue, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and more,” explains New York City-based naturopathic doctor Serena Goldstein, N.D.

Here are six of the most common culprits behind constipation—and what you can do to get things moving.

1. You Don’t Eat Enough Fiber

For an average 2,000-calorie diet, the American Heart Association recommends you get 25 grams of fiber a day—but most Americans only manage to rack up 15 grams. “Soluble fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut and allows water to remain in your stool—making it softer and easier to pass—while insoluble fiber helps move things through by adding bulk,” explains Goldstein.

The Solution: Slowly increase your fiber intake by incorporating more plant foods into your diet. “Fiber is found in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, the very foods we encourage to support all aspects of health,” says dietitian Rachel Begun, R.D.N.

Begun recommends eating a wide variety of plant foods to provide your digestive system with different types of fiber. To meet your needs, eat at least two servings of fruits and vegetables with each meal and at least one with each snack. (In other words: Include fruits and veggies every time you eat.)

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Incorporating more legumes, nuts, and seeds—which provide both fiber and protein—into your diet can also help you reach your fiber needs, says Begun. Legumes make a great addition to any soup or salad, while nuts and seeds are easy to add to baked goods or grind to make breading for proteins like fish.

If you’re struggling to get in those 25 grams of fiber daily, a fiber supplement can help you up your intake. Most supplements offer about five grams per serving and can easily be mixed into water or added to smoothies.

2. You’re Not Drinking Enough Water

Fiber aside, dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation out there. “Even if people think they’re getting enough water, urinating, pooping, sweating, and drinking alcohol or anything caffeinated can contribute to dehydration,” says Goldstein. Water keeps stools soft, which makes it easier for them to pass through the colon.

The Solution: Goldstein recommends keeping a glass of eight to 16 ounces of water on your nightstand and drinking it as soon as you wake up in the morning so you start the day with water in your system. If you’re not a huge H20 lover, infuse it with lemon or fruit to up its appeal. Begun also recommends ‘eating your water’ by loading up on fruits and vegetables that have an especially high concentration of it, such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, citrus, and melon.

In combination with a high-fiber diet, drinking more water has been shown to boost regularity—so these two tips couldn’t be more important.

3. You’re On Certain Medications

Some prescription drugs, such as narcotics, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-cholinergics, can cause constipation, says board-certified gastroenterologist Samantha Nazareth, M.D.

The Solution: Regular exercise and a fiber-filled diet may help those on certain medications ‘go’ more regularly, but if constipation is a regular issue, Nazareth recommends reviewing your treatment plan with your physician.

4. You Take Calcium Or Iron Supplements

In addition to medications, if your supplement regimen includes and iron and/or calcium supplement, you may also find yourself struggling more than usual on the toilet. Iron can pull water out of the large intestine and cause discomfort and constipation, while calcium (which helps muscles—including those along your digestive tract—contract) can contribute to constipation if taken without magnesium (which helps muscles relax).

The Solution: Get as much of your daily calcium and iron needs through food as possible, recommends Goldstein. For calcium, think quality dairy, greens in the cabbage family (like kale and mustard greens), or tofu. For iron, go for meat and dark leafy greens.

A tip when supplementing: “Gradually work your way up to the recommended dosage, split up your dose throughout the course of the day, and drink lots of water,” says Goldstein.

5. You’re Stressed Out

Research has linked mood and anxiety disorders with constipation, but even just being plain stressed out can contribute to the issue. “Stress puts your system into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode—meaning it thinks there’s a crazy tiger about to eat you—in which the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated,” explains Nazareth. When the sympathetic nervous system is ‘turned on,’ digestion becomes less of a priority, and you may experience constipation.

The Solution: Consider trying yoga, meditation, and/or regular exercise to help you manage stress, advises Nazareth. Yoga specifically may address the culprit behind stress-induced constipation: Research has shown that by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, it produces a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response.

6. Your Hormones Are Out-Of-Whack

If your thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that produces metabolism-regulating hormones, is sluggish (a condition called hypothyroidism), you’re likely to deal with some constipation, says Nazareth. That’s because low stores of thyroid hormones slow movement of the intestines.

Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?

Fluctuations of the hormones that are involved in premenstrual syndrome (PMS), like progesterone, can also have the same effect.

The Solution: If constipation is a persistent issue, check in with your doctor about having your thyroid function checked.

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6 Calcium-Packed Foods That Aren’t Dairy

One of the major reasons your mom made you drink milk as a kid was for the calcium, the mineral your body needs for proper muscle, nerve, and blood function, and healthy, strong bones.

With an average glass of milk providing 300 milligrams of the calcium (30 percent of our 1,000-milligram daily needs), dairy is by far the richest source of the mineral we can put on our plates and in our glasses. Unfortunately, though, milk, cheese, and other dairy foods leave many of our stomachs in shambles.

Forgoing calcium isn’t an option if you want healthy bones and muscles, but there are non-dairy sources out there. Here are your six best options, each of which offers about 10 percent (or more!) of your daily calcium needs per serving. With a little mixing and matching, you can absolutely get your fill.

1. Figs

Looking to switch up your snacks? “Swap out your afternoon apple or banana for half a cup of dried figs, which delivers almost 250 milligrams of calcium for just 145 calories,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Not to mention, they contain plenty of fiber to keep you regular.

You can find dried figs in the bulk section of the grocery store year-round, and they’re delicious in both sweet and savory dishes. Add them to trail mix, stir them into yogurt, or slice them to top toast along with a spread of goat cheese, ricotta, or burrata.

 2. Canned Salmon

While three ounces of grilled salmon steak provide just 24 milligrams of calcium, an equal serving of canned salmon provides 183 milligrams of the bone-strengthening, muscle-boosting mineral (about 18 percent of your daily needs). Why the difference? Canned salmon contains the bones, which soften over time and provide an extra boost of calcium. In addition to calcium, this fish also offers heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of protein, says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D., C.L.T., C.P.T.

Related: 5 Nutrients That Are Good For Your Heart—Other Than Fish Oil

Shaw recommends using canned salmon as a protein-packed salad topper, in sandwiches, or just eating it straight out of the can with a few whole-wheat crackers.

 3. Chia Seeds

Along with healthy fats, protein, and fiber, an ounce of chia seeds also offers 179 milligrams of calcium.

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“Try adding chia seeds to your morning smoothie or afternoon fruit parfait to enjoy the benefits of a delicious and nutritious snack,” says Shaw. These babies make any recipe more satiating—and add a bit of texture to anything creamy.

4. Edamame

“With 10 percent (100 milligrams) of your daily calcium needs and almost 20 grams of muscle-building protein in one cup, edamame is a bone-boosting snack that’s ready in less than a minute,” says Rizzo, who suggests stashing a bag in the freezer to microwave up when hunger strikes.

You’ll also find roasted edamame—often in a variety of flavors—in many snack aisles these days, if you’re looking for a satisfying snack that packs some crunch. Rizzo also recommends adding edamame to salads and making veggie burgers with the beans.

5. White Beans

“While I love to encourage consumption of all varieties of plant proteins, like beans and lentils, white beans are actually one of the highest in calcium,” says Shaw. Half a cup cooked provides just shy of 100 milligrams of the mineral.

Pair white beans with your leafy greens and chicken breast for dinner, or toss a serving into a homemade soup, chili, or salad.

6. Almonds

“A quarter cup of almonds offers about 80 milligrams of calcium—a little less than 10 percent of your daily needs,” says Rizzo. Even though they’re a little lower in calcium, almonds are still a great, nutritious snack, and provide protein, healthy fats, and fiber to fill you up and kick cravings to the curb.

Related: 8 Nutrition Myths That Hurt Dietitians’ Feelings

Add almonds to homemade trail mixes, toss a handful of whole, chopped, or sliced nuts into chia seed pudding, acai smoothies, oatmeal, and salads and veggie sides, or use ground almonds as breading for chicken or fish.


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5 Common Health Issues That Trace Back To The Gut

The moment we’re born, bacteria start setting up camp in our intestines. By the time we’re grown, our gut houses trillions of these tiny, single-cell organisms, which do everything from signal our body to digest food, fight bad bacteria and pathogens, and break down cholesterol.

In recent years, we’ve learned that these bacteria (collectively known as our ‘gut microbiome’) affect a whole lot more than whether we feel gassy or bloated. “There have been so many studies in the last few years that link the microbiome with all sorts of diseases, disorders, and health issues that you wouldn’t think are connected to your gut at all,” says Daniel Almonacid, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development at uBiome, maker of microbiome testing kits.

Below are five common health issues that trace back to your gut, along with expert recommendations for nourishing your microbiome (and overall well-being!).

1. Depression

“So many factors influence depression and mood disorders, but our guts are proving to be one of those factors,” according to Mahmoud A. Ghannoum, Ph.D., one of the most sought-after gut health experts in the world (he coined the term ‘mycobiome,’ which refers to the fungus and yeast in the gut). Though research is still developing, animal studies have found that a lack of bacteria diversity and overall vitality in the gut microbiome is “strongly associated with mood-relating behaviors, including major depressive disorder,” according to a 2018 review published in the Reviews in the Neuroscience.

Related: Can Your Diet Make You Depressed?

“The relationship between mood disorders and the gut is complex, but people with depression have been shown to have disturbances in their gut microbiome, specifically an increase in inflammation,” says Ghannoum. Much of the immune system is housed in the gut, and some research suggests that depression is primarily an inflammatory condition (meaning it’s caused by immune dysfunction).

Additionally, a 2016 meta-analysis and review published in Nutrients says that the healthy bacteria in our gut play a noteworthy role in immune function and influence our overall well-being, linking probiotic supplementation with a reduction in mood issues in people under the age of 60. Ghannoum recommends that those dealing with low mood add a probiotic to their routine and take up a meditation or mindfulness practice, which have been shown to stimulate the expression of anti-inflammatory genes.

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The ‘gut-brain axis,’ a series of nerves that runs directly between our gut and brain and passes signals back and forth between the two, may also play a role in mood issues, says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. The ‘feel-good hormone’ serotonin, for example, is actually produced in our digestive tract—and changes in its production and function have been implicated in mood disorders.

2. Anxiety

As with depression, the link between gut health and anxiety is also now being explored in preliminary animal studies. Thus far, the research suggests the gut-anxiety connection may stem from the relationship between our microbiome and gene regulators in the brain called microRNAs (miRNAs), which have been implicated in anxiety- and fear-based behaviors.

One study published in the journal Microbiome found that mice that grew up in a normal environment and had well-colonized microbiomes typically displayed normal miRNA function, while mice raised in sterile conditions—which hindered microbiome development—displayed dysfunctional miRNA activity in the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala. Interestingly, when researchers colonized the mice’s guts with healthy bacteria, their miRNA function normalized.

The influence of the gut microbiome on mirRNAs is important because “these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions […] which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression,” said lead researcher Gerard Clarke Ph.D., M.Sc., of the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork in a press release.

3. Obesity

Because they affect everything from digestion and how your body absorbs nutrients to feelings of hunger and satiety, the bacteria in your gut also play an integral role in weight management, says Axe. One study published in Gut, for example, found that increasing propionate (a chemical produced by the microbiome) increased levels of satiety hormones and warded off weight gain in overweight adults.

A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism also identified a connection between four specific strains of intestinal bacteria (BlautiaDoreaRuminococcus, and SHA) and weight. The researchers analyzed the gut microbiomes and stool samples of over 600 people, and identified that differing levels of those four specific strains of gut bacteria, along with 19 other compounds, explained their varying BMIs, suggesting a relationship between these compounds, the gut microbiome, and obesity. “This means that future studies should focus more on how the composition of gut bacteria can be modified to reduce the risk of obesity and associated metabolic and cardiovascular diseases,” said study co-author Marju Orho-Melander, Ph.D. in a press release.

Experts agree that more research is needed to better understand how our gut microbiota influence our weight before probiotic supplements can be used as a preventative measure. However, Ghannoum does have some advice: “The same tips given to most people who need to lose weight are the same tips I give for improving gut health. Eat a wide variety of real foods.” After all, a well-nourished microbiome is a thriving microbiome.

4. Skin Diseases

In addition to the brain-gut axis, a concept known as the skin-gut axis is also emerging, says Ghannoum. “The intestinal microbiome relates to skin health in a complex communication network between the immune system, endocrine system, metabolic system, and nervous system,” says one review published in World Journal of Dermatology.

Essentially, this means inflammation that may occur because of imbalances in the gut microbiome can also manifest in skin diseases like rosacea, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.

One study published in Clinical Gastroenterology, for example, linked small intestine bacterial overgrowth (or ‘SIBO,’ which occurs when bacteria, residual food and bowel secretions, and digestive enzymes don’t move from the small intestine to the colon properly, and build up to an excess in the small intestine) with rosacea. When study participants (who had both SIBO and rosacea) were given antibiotics to address their SIBO, not only did the excess bacteria clear up, but the rosacea did, too.

As research develops, experts are addressing inflammatory skin issues by recommending a holistic approach to improving overall gut health. “A well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle are the two most important factors when it comes to gut health, and therefore the gut-skin axis,” says Axe. “Nutrient-rich whole foods nourish the gut, while ultra-processed junk and chemical-laden artificial sweeteners disrupt it. And though research is still limited, some studies suggest that taking probiotics can enhance gut health and support healthy skin.” Axe’s recommendation: Eat well, minimize stress, and get plenty of physical activity and sleep.

5. Diabetes

According to Almonacid, a healthy gut microbiome may also help control blood sugar and mediate our risk of developing diabetes. In fact, though there’s much research to be done, decreased microbiome diversity has actually been linked with increased incidence of type 2 diabetes.

After measuring more than 800 people’s blood sugar levels (a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes), the researchers behind one Cell study found that the same meal elicited different blood sugar responses in different people (even when factors like age were taken into account) and suggested that the differences in the participants’ gut microbiomes influenced their abilities to respond to an influx of blood sugar. The study authors propose that diets designed to bolster the microbiome can influence the body’s ability to manage blood sugar, which would help healthy individuals avoid the disease and those with the disease better manage it.

Research also suggests the inflammation and dysfunction involved in type 1 diabetes may be related to the gut, with one Cell Host & Microbe study showing that infants predisposed to type 1 diabetes experienced a sudden drop in microbiome diversity, an uptick in inflammatory bacteria, and changes in gene behavior and stool content just before developing the disease.

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5 Supplements That Help Your Body Detox

This article was written by Kim Erickson and originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.

The liver. It’s not something that most of us routinely think about, but it’s actually the largest internal organ in the body—and responsible for breaking down contaminants that come our way so they can be escorted from the body. In a world filled with toxins, the liver is our body’s garbage collector.

Ideally, the liver could process all of the toxins we encounter—but due to the sheer volume of industrial chemicals and pollutants that we are exposed to today, it can have trouble keeping up. The following herbs and nutrients support the organ’s detoxification mechanisms while optimizing overall function.

1. Amla Fruit Extract

Also known as Indian gooseberry, amla is one of the most important foods in Ayurvedic medicine, largely because of its antioxidant properties. High in phytochemicals (plant compounds that act as antioxidants), amla has been shown to help the body fight off the toxic effects of many industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical drugs. Amla is also one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C out there.

Try: Himalaya Herbal Healthcare Amla caplets

2. Glutathione

Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant made by the body, and it’s found in the highest levels in the liver. Often called “the master antioxidant,” glutathione is made up of three amino acidscysteine, glycine, and glutamine. Along with squashing free radicals in the liver, glutathione plays a critical role in the second phase of the body’s two-step detoxification process.

Try: The Vitamin Shoppe Reduced Glutathione

3. Milk Thistle Extract

Perhaps the best-known herb for liver support, milk thistle gets its power from an active compound called silymarin, a polyphenol that scavenges damaging free radicals. What’s more, milk thistle boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidants, such as glutathione. Studies suggest it also stimulates new liver cell production and prevents glutathione depletion.( Artichoke, which is related to the milk thistle plant, is another liver-protective herb.)

Try: Nature’s Answer Milk Thistle Seed Extract

4. Burdock Root

Another liver-specific herb, burdock is rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C, stimulates bile flow, and protects and tonifies the liver. One study in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that burdock defends against potentially harmful toxins from our environment, while Taiwanese researchers have found that burdock root also helps the liver cope with chronic alcohol consumption.

Try: Nature’s Way Burdock Root

5. Chlorella

Chlorella is a single-celled, freshwater algae that has survived on the earth for more than two billion years, thanks to its fibrous outer wall. Though this wall is indigestible to humans, scientists have been able to break it down and release chlorella’s natural ability to bind toxins and heavy metals through a process called ‘chelation.’ Chlorella also boasts a wealth of nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber.

Try: Green Foods Organic Chlorella

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7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency

We all need a variety of nutrients to fuel our bodies and live our best lives, yet many of us regularly fall short on a number of those nutrients. Of particular concern in recent years: our lack of vitamin D.

According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D levels in Americans have declined significantly in the past few decades. It makes sense, considering how much time we spend indoors. Our skin converts the sun’s UVB rays into vitamin D, but most people’s office environments and daily commutes limit their direct exposure to that natural light. And even when we’re outside, we’re using sunscreen to protect our skin from damage. On top of that, few foods contain vitamin D and our ability to produce vitamin D declines as we age. Not an ideal slew of circumstances.

The vitamin D we produce when exposed to sunlight is technically a hormone, not a vitamin—but since we don’t get enough sun to produce what we need (and can’t fulfill our needs with food) it’s been added to many fortified foods and become a popular supplement, and is now known as a vitamin.

The D we produce or consume is first broken down in the liver and then again in the kidneys. From there, it optimizes calcium absorption to support healthy bones and regulates phosphorous, which is key for cellular function in just about every tissue in the body, making vitamin D important for muscle health, mood and well-being, memory, heart function, and more, explains Arti Lakhani, M.D., Director of Integrative Oncology at AMITA Health Cancer Institute in Illinois. Experts have also recently learned that immune cells have vitamin D receptors, indicating that the vitamin is also crucial for immune function. Not to mention, it’s been shown to support breast, prostate, and colon cell function, as well as the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin. All pretty important stuff.

A blood test is the only true gauge of a vitamin D deficiency, but there are a number of signs and symptoms that can indicate you’re running low.

1. You Get Sick All The Time

Feel like you’re coming down with different illnesses left and right? A vitamin D deficiency could be to blame. One All India Institute of Medical Sciences review of 12 observational studies found that children with lower levels of vitamin D had higher instances of lower respiratory tract infections.  The resulting theory: Vitamin D may affect the body’s response to infections.

Another review, published in PLoS One, meanwhile, found that supplementing with vitamin D could have an immunoprotective effect. After evaluating 11 studies, the researchers found that participants who supplemented with vitamin D had lower instances of respiratory tract infections than those who took a placebo, suggesting that vitamin D supplementation can bolster the immune system.

2. You’re Exhausted

A never-ending energy slump may be another sign of a vitamin D deficiency. One case study published in Springer Plus, for example, followed a 61-year-old man who reported extreme fatigue during the day. After identifying that his blood levels of vitamin D categorized him as deficient, doctors prescribed the man with a daily supplement. In follow-up appointments three and 12 months later, he reported a significant improvement in energy. The case study authors hypothesized that because vitamin D impacts the immune system, it could influence the sleep-wake cycle, and suggested doctors consider screening patients with fatigue for vitamin D deficiency.

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Tired All The Time

3. Your Bone Density Is Declining

Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, which is key for bone growth, density, and strength—and without ample vitamin D (and thus calcium), bones become brittle and weak. One study published the Journal of Midlife Health identified a strong connection between vitamin D deficiency and low bone mineral density (a measure of bone strength) in menopausal and postmenopausal women. More than 60 percent of the women studied were vitamin D deficient, and about 30 percent of those women had osteoporosis (a condition marked by significant loss of bone mineral density).

4. You Have Back Pain

Another bone-related consequence of low D? Back pain. One study published in the BMC Muscoskeletal Disorders found that menopausal women with vitamin D deficiencies reported back pain more frequently than those with normal levels. The 22 percent of participants who were vitamin D deficient reported more frequent and severe back pain, and more trouble completing daily tasks. The researchers suggest that, in addition to vitamin D deficiency’s impact on bone health, it may also be implicated in age-related muscle and strength loss called sarcopenia.

5. You’re Feeling Blue

One of the most common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency is depression, says Levitan. After analyzing a number of observational studies and randomized trials, one review published in the Journal of Affective Disorders identified a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of depression later in life. Other research suggests that since the brain contains tons of vitamin D receptors, not getting enough of the vitamin could affect its function, and thus, your mood.

6. Your Muscles Are Always Sore

Another unexpected sign you might have a vitamin D deficiency is muscle pain or weakness, says Arielle Levitan, M.D., co-founder of Vous Vitamins and author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. One potential explanation for this: Our muscle cells contain receptors responsible for transporting calcium into muscle cells so that muscles can contract. “Vitamin D deficiency would decrease calcium—and other electrolytes—in muscle cells and thus cause dysfunction and weakness,” explains Lakhani. One European study found that those with low levels of vitamin D often report muscle pain and fatigue.

7. You’re Losing Hair

Last but not least, hair loss could be yet another sign of vitamin D deficiency, says Lakhani. While there’s not a ton of research in this area, one study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology identified a correlation between hair loss and low vitamin D levels in women. Of the 80 female participants, those experiencing the most severe hair loss also had the lowest levels of vitamin D and iron in their blood. Other research suggests this link traces back to the role vitamin D receptors play in hair follicle function.

How To Treat A Vitamin D Deficiency

Because vitamin D deficiencies are common, Levitan recommends having your levels tested every year. If a blood test confirms you are, in fact, vitamin D deficient, your doctor will recommend a supplement at the dosage that’s right for you. (The usual range is between 1,000 and 2,000 IU a day.)

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Since your body stores vitamin D long-term, it is possible to go overboard with supplements, so make sure to consult with your doctor before adding them to your routine.

Pin this infographic to keep an eye out for signs of a deficiency:

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Pair Your Collagen With These Nutrients For Extra Oomph

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already pretty familiar with collagen. This protein—the most abundant in the body—is responsible for the health of your skin, nails, bones, joints, and other connective tissues.

Thing is, our diet today doesn’t provide much (if any) collagen, and our ability to produce it declines as we age. That’s why wellness warriors have been incorporating collagen supplements—which range from collagen capsules, to bone broth (which contains collagen), to just-add-water powders and teas—into their diets. Supplement fans praise the extra protein for everything from boosting their digestive health, to keeping their joints in tip-top shape, to working some serious skin-smoothing magic—and the trend only continues to grow.

Adding collagen alone to your routine can boost your health in a number of ways, but it turns out that it can do its job even better when paired with certain nutrients. Here are six of collagen’s nutritional besties; keep them in mind the next time you’re blending up a protein-packed smoothie or taking your daily supplement.

1. Vitamin A

“In order to make collagen, our bodies use certain amino acids, along with vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, and copper,” says dietitian Maggie Michalczyk R.D.N, creator of the website Once Upon A Pumpkin. She suggests taking collagen supplements alongside the vitamins our bodies use to make it naturally, for what she calls ‘a collagen double-whammy.’ Vitamin A, for example, not only aids in collagen production, but it also supports immune function, vision, and healthy skin. Talk about an overachiever!

You’ll find vitamin A in foods like sweet potatoes, kale, berries, and organ meats—so try adding kale or berries to your collagen smoothies! If you opt for a supplement to take alongside your collagen, Michalczyk recommends beta-carotene, which our bodies can convert into vitamin A as needed.

2. Vitamin C

“Like vitamin A, vitamin C supports collagen synthesis in the body, so combining collagen with vitamin C-rich foods or a vitamin C supplement is a win-win,” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. In fact, one study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that vitamin C boosts collagen’s youth-promoting powers to support an even, glowy, and supple complexion.

Related: Which Beauty Supplement Is Right For You—Biotin Or Collagen?

Vitamin C is already added to many collagen supplement formulas (like Reserveage Collagen Replenish), but you can also just take your collagen alongside a vitamin C supplement or C-packed foods like citrus, bell-peppers, broccoli, or strawberries to reap the benefits, Axe says.

3. Zinc

Zinc is another molecule that’s required for collagen synthesis,” says Michalczyk. Problem is, older people and anyone under a lot of stress (which is far too many of us) tend to be low in the mineral.

“You can find zinc in foods like oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, spinach, organ meats, tahini, sardines, brown rice, wheat germ, and tempeh,” says Michalczyk. If these foods aren’t regulars in your diet, consider taking a multivitamin that contains zinc alongside your collagen supplement.

4. L-Arginine

“The amino acid arginine supports the normal build-up of collagen in the body, and can be especially useful for the collagen in our skin,” says Axe. One paper published in The Journal of Nutrition suggests that the collagen synthesis necessary for healing wounds depends on adequate nutrition, and particularly on adequate arginine intake.

Arginine is also known for its ability to boost production of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes our blood vessels to increase blood flow and shuttle more oxygen, protein, and other nutrients to our heart, brain, and muscles. This increased flow supports collagen production, too, because the better the blood flow, the better and faster the body can create new cells, Axe says.

“Arginine can be found in cage-free eggs, dairy, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry, organ meats, wild-caught fish and several types of nuts and seeds,” says Axe. Consider this an invitation to add a spoonful (or two) of nut butter to your next collagen smoothie.

5. Whey Protein Powder

The downfall of collagen protein, though minor, is that unlike whey, hemp, and soy protein, collagen is not a ‘complete’ protein, meaning it does not contain all nine of the 20 essential amino acids our body needs to build proteins and function, explains dietitian Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Collagen only contains eight of the nine essential amino acids,” he says. Plus, the levels of these aminos in collagen aren’t as equally balanced as they are in protein supplements made from complete proteins.

This means that collagen protein powder isn’t ideal for optimal muscle recovery and growth after working out, though its particular amino acid ratio does come with unique benefits. “Collagen has a high concentration of glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine,” says Valdez.

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According to one study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, glycine combines with two other amino acids in the body (glutamine and cysteine) to create an antioxidant called glutathione—and antioxidants have been shown to support healthy skin by fighting off free radical damage and oxidative stress.

To reap collagen’s benefits and give your body the aminos it needs after a workout, Valdez recommends combining it with whey protein or looking for a collagen-enhanced protein powder (like Vital Proteins’ Collagen Whey Protein).

That said, collagen protein is better than no protein supplement at all when it comes to muscle-building. One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that when older men with muscle loss took collagen peptides—a type of easy-to-digest form of the protein—while following a strength-training program, they built more muscle and lost more fat than those who took a placebo.

6. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is found alongside collagen in the connective tissues of your body, and helps bind collagen with another protein, elastin, which gives your skin its stretch, explains Valdez. Since hyaluronic also has hydrating properties, a lack of it can lead to dull, dry, lifeless-looking skin. (That’s why you’ll find it in serums and lotions in the beauty aisle.)

Since collagen and hyaluronic acid work together to keep skin youthful, Valdez recommends combining collagen with a hyaluronic acid supplement, or magnesium, which is found in spinach, almonds, dark chocolate, avocado, and seaweed, and has been shown to boost hyaluronic acid production. If you’re feeling creative, try mixing a scoop of collagen peptide powder into mashed avocado for a powered-up version of avocado toast.

Pin this infographic for all of the info you need in one place!

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How My Nightly Epsom Salt Baths Make Everything Better

When I first learned about the magical powers of Epsom salt baths, I thought: This is too good to be true. For starters, Epsom salt (also known as magnesium sulfate) relaxes your muscles like nobody’s business.

Because of its many health benefits, I decided to start incorporating Epsom salt into my nightly ritual. I already loved taking long, sudsy baths, but adding Epsom salt to the tub kicked the experience up a whole lotta notches. Bath time became not only relaxing, but purposeful.

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Here’s what regularly soaking in Epsom salt baths does for me.

Chills Me Out

Magnesium tends to be used up when we’re stressed out (leading to all sorts of bad news, like irritability, high blood pressure, and digestive issues), so sitting in a magnesium bath actually helps replenish those stores. I’m not certain of whether a single bath can do the trick, but taking a good 10 minutes before bed each night helps me drift off to sleep in a more peaceful way. The worries and anxieties of the day sort of just vanish. Whether it’s the effect of ritualizing self-care or the magnesium alone (or some combo of both), I have felt so much more relaxed after incorporating this into my routine.

soothes My Aches & Pains

My muscles are often tight, which, like most of us, comes from a combo of hunching over a desk and not getting enough movement in during the day. I’ve also got an autoimmune issue that causes chronic pain in my back and neck. Magnesium is said to relieve muscle and tissue aches, which makes sense because magnesium is found in our bones, muscles, and tissues. Spending  just 10 minutes in a magnesium bath helps me feel more ready for bed—I’m way more limber and the aches and pains sort of fall into the background.

Related: 4 Easy Ways To Use Aromatherapy Blends For Self-Care

Eases my Stomach

I’ve always had digestive issues. They stem from autoimmune issues, as well as a deep love of cheese and carbs. Whenever I have dairy or gluten, I end up bloated, in pain, or constipated. Not a fun time! Short of trying to exercise control over some of my bad eating habits (“I’ll pass on the cheese” is a concept I don’t understand), I take probiotics and sit in my Epsom salt baths.

Some people drink magnesium or take magnesium supplements, but I find a bath to be helpful in helping me stay regular and debloating a puffy belly.

Softens My Skin

Every single time I leave an Epsom bath, my skin feels smooth, exfoliated, and soft. I tend to have pretty rough skin: I probably don’t drink enough water, and swimming in chlorinated water certainly doesn’t help! Thankfully, Epsom salt counterbalances all of those effects. I always apply a bit of coconut oil (Shea Moisture’s Virgin Coconut Oil is my favorite) after the bath to double down on the results.

All in all, making regular time for an Epsom bath has worked wonders for my body and my psyche. I like to know that I’m taking care of myself—and there’s certainly plenty of undeniable benefits to magnesium. Plus, it’s just so easy!

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I’m A Poison Ivy Magnet—Here’s How I Relieve My Rashes Naturally

As an only child for almost a decade, I spent a lot of time playing by myself outdoors, making up games and jumping into the brush and plucking flowers. I’d run around in fields until sunset and climb trees and dream up stories of faerie rings.

One summer, I came home with a red rash that was rapidly spreading from my arms down my side. I was rushed to the emergency room when it spread inside my throat. Large brownish-red masses swallowed up my face and my eyes were swelled shut and covered in lumpy welts. It was the start of a lifelong relationship I’d go on to have with poison ivy. 

At least once per summer I’d get a serious reaction to poison ivy, and during the healing process I would have to stay home from school (mostly because I was contagious, but also because I looked like an alien).

My mother would cleanse and gently apply both calamine and medicated lotion to my whole body. I was also given steroids. It was frustrating, painful, itchy, embarrassing, and exhausting. Imagine being itchy ALL DAY LONG. It’s torturous, and it usually lasts—unless there’s quick intervention—around two to three weeks.

So what’s responsible for the rash? Urushiol, the compound inside of poison ivy (and poison sumac and oak, and even parts of the mango tree) causes the skin irritation. Depending on the amount of urushiol oil you get on your skin (and whether or not you touch other parts of your body or take a shower after being near or in a heavily poison ivy-filled area), you may experience a massive rash outbreak or just a small patch or two. My brother, for example, would catch poison ivy from me—but he’d only experience a few small lumps. You could say I was jealous.

As I got older and learned how to differentiate between certain flowers and plants (poison ivy tends to have little hair-like follicles at the base or red or yellow patches or lines on the leaves), I was affected less often. However, at least once every few years, I still get a nice reminder of poison ivy by waking up with a patch—usually on my neck, hands, upper arms, or back. It’s contagious, can knock you out, and can spread easily—so by now I have an arsenal of natural ways to treat it:

Apple Cider Vinegar

According to the journal MedGenMed, poison ivy rash irritation can be reduced by using Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)—my favorite go-to for all sorts of ailments, including shingles (yep, I can speak to that as well). I soak a rag in cool water and ACV (you want to dilute the ACV so it’s not too acidic, though I tend to prefer a little less water and little more ACV), and then apply it as a compress against the rash. You can put two parts water to one part ACV as a start.

Oatmeal Baths

I’ve got more memories of soaking in an oatmeal bath than I’d like to admit! The stuff works, but it might turn you off of oatmeal for breakfast for life. According to the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, oatmeal has long been a key player (as in, for centuries) in skin-soothing remedies. It’s believed to relieve itchiness and irritation—mostly due to its starch and beta-glucan, which are skin-protective compounds. It also contains phenols, which deliver antioxidant powers. To use, grind oatmeal into a fine powder (most blenders will do this for you) and pour about two-three cups into a half-filled bath.

Related: I Thought I Was Too Young To Get Shingles

I prefer to use cool or lukewarm water (since hot water can majorly aggravate itchiness). Sitting for about a half an hour, making sure to immerse myself, really helps. I also like to pat the oatmeal directly onto my poison ivy-covered skin to let it work its magic. Rinse off, pat dry, clean the tub, and throw out the residue. (Oh, and be sure to quarantine the towel you use, as the poison ivy oils can stick to fabric.)

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel is an incredible wellness tool—it can be used as a cleansing agent, and is painless when applied to irritated or wounded skin. Because witch hazel is an astringent, it promotes the skin’s process of healing. I like to use it (especially for very small patches of poison ivy) by pouring it onto a small towel, applying it directly to the area for a few minutes. This is especially helpful when the skin is weeping or feeling super-aggravated. 

Baking Soda

I swear by this remedy—and it’s always served me well! When my poison ivy blisters are open or weeping, I’ll mix about four tablespoons of baking soda into a small glass of water. When it becomes a thick, gooey consistency, I’ll apply it (like a paste) right over the skin. I tend to do this several times a day, especially in the early stages of poison ivy. I also cover the area with a light wrap or gauze to keep the paste intact.

And, just like the oatmeal bath, it’s a good idea to pour a little baking soda into the tub and let the concoction do its magic. You may want to mix the baking soda and the oatmeal together for an ultra-powerful blend of poison ivy-fighting goodness.

Carnitine: It Isn’t Just For Gym Rats

Carnitine, which we get from animal proteins like red meat and chicken, and produce from the amino acids lysine and methionine, has been a popular supplement in the fitness and bodybuilding world for years. Why? This compound—more than 95 percent of which can be found in our muscles—helps us turn fat (specifically long-chain fatty acids) into energy by transporting them to the mitochondria (a.k.a. energy generators) in our cells.

In fact, one 2011 Journal of Physiology study found that when healthy recreational athletes supplemented with two grams of carnitine and 80 grams of carbohydrates twice daily for six months, they increased the concentrations of carnitine in their muscles by 21 percent, which allowed them to use about 50 percent less glycogen—and thus more fat (like body fat)—to fuel low-intensity exercise. They were also able to work at a 35 percent higher intensity—while producing significantly less lactate, a biomarker of fatigue—in all-out cycling tests after their workouts. “Maximal exercise has been associated with a decrease in carnitine levels in trained athletes, so restoring levels through supplementation can have beneficial effects,” echoes Ginger Hultin, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Given its fat-burning, endurance-boosting abilities, it’s no wonder carnitine has long been a favorite of gym junkies. But guess what? Carnitine’s benefits extend far beyond the walls of the weight room. Here are four other reasons to consider taking it.

1. Reproductive Health

Remember when we said 95 percent of carnitine is located in the muscles? In men, some of the other five percent is housed in the testes, and therefore in sperm. According to a 2016 Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology study of guys with subfertility (reduced fertility indicated by failed attempts to conceive), supplementing with 500 milligrams of carnitine twice daily for three months significantly improved sperm volume, density, and motility (ability to swim). How? Carnitine acts as an antioxidant (a.k.a. free radical catcher) and helps to ward off oxidative damage to reproductive cells, a major contributor to infertility.

Since nutrient insufficiencies have also been linked to fertility issues, a concoction that combined carnitine with other nutrients—including arginine, zinc, and vitamin E—was shown to have an even greater benefit for sperm health.

Carnitine’s antioxidant actions can impact female reproductive health, too. A recent Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology review concluded that carnitine supplementation supports healthy hormone levels and oocyte (immature egg) health, and may especially benefit women with reproductive issues such as polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and amenorrhea.

2. Energy

You already know that carnitine helps combat muscle fatigue—but its energy-boosting benefits don’t end there. “The reason carnitine could help decrease fatigue may have to do with its role in lipid metabolism and energy production in the body,” says Hultin. By transporting long-chain fatty acids and a compound called acetyl-CoA into the mitochondria, carnitine supports mitochondrial function and energy production on a cellular level.

Related: Why Having Healthy Mitochondria Matters—And How To Power Yours Up

Those with low carnitine levels—like people undergoing chemotherapy, which can lead to decreased carnitine consumption and affect the body’s ability to absorb carnitine—often experience fatigue. One recent Molecular and Clinical Oncology study found that chemo patients who supplemented with 500 milligrams of carnitine three times a day for eight weeks reported a decline in general fatigue.

Carnitine has also been shown to ward off fatigue in the elderly, with one study finding that supplementing with two grams a day for six months reduced physical and mental fatigue in older participants by 52 and 43 percent, respectively, says Hultin.

3. Heart Health

One of the most promising potential benefits of carnitine being explored by researchers these days is its role in improving heart health, specifically cholesterol and blood pressure.

One recent Lipids in Health and Disease study, for example, found that 12 weeks of supplementing with 1,000 milligrams of carnitine a day supported healthy HDL (‘good cholesterol’) and apolipoprotein-A (the substance that helps clear fat from cells) levels in people with coronary artery disease.

Meanwhile, a 2017 meta-analysis of 468 studies about carnitine and heart health concluded that carnitine supplementation may “improve factors associated with metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, such as arterial hypertension, cholesterol levels, impaired glucose tolerance, and insulin resistance.”

The researchers cite carnitine’s transportation of fatty acids to the mitochondria as critical for the heart, which requires a constant flow of energy to function properly. They suggest that carnitine increases heart cells’ ability to produce energy, helping to increase how much blood the heart can process and pump out with each beat and lowering resting heart rate.

What’s more, carnitine can also increase the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels, and supports proper circulation.

4. Insulin Function

Insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to rises in blood sugar or concentrations of certain amino acids (like leucine), helps shuttle glucose and amino acids into our cells. According to a review published in the European Journal of Nutrition, carnitine supplementation can improve glucose tolerance, or how quickly the body can clear sugar from the blood. The researchers noted that this effect was especially beneficial for those with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body has become resistant to insulin, and which can develop into prediabetes or type 2 diabetes if not addressed.

The buildup of the by-products created during energy production in the mitochondria has been implicated in insulin resistance—and carnitine helps clear these by-products from the mitochondria.

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8 Major Mistakes People Make When Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is all over the nutrition world, and as more and more of its potential benefits (like weight loss, improved digestion, decreased cravings, and minimized inflammation) get called out by experts, more and more people decide to skip breakfast and give it a try.

What’s tricky about intermittent fasting is that there are so many ways to do it—but generally, you limit the window of time during which you eat and increase the window during which you don’t. The most popular and user-friendly version is the 16:8 method, in which you eat during an eight-hour window and fast for the other 16 each day. Other common fasting protocols include Eat-Stop-Eat, which requires you to fast for a full 24 hours once or twice a week, or the 5:2 method, in which you limit food intake to just about 500 calories on two non-consecutive days a week.

Which form of intermittent fasting you choose depends on what you’re comfortable with and what best fits your lifestyle, says Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., founder of BZ Nutrition. But since it’s a restrictive style of eating, it’s not optimal or safe for everyone—especially those with a history of disordered eating or certain health conditions.

If you decide to give intermittent fasting a try, save yourself some misery and maximize your potential benefit by looking out for these common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Throwing In The Towel Too Soon

Intermittent fasting isn’t easy because, duh, you’re either going all day on fewer calories than usual or going longer than usual without any food at all. No matter what flavor of fasting you choose, the eating style requires a lot of discipline—especially when you feel hungry (or straight-up hangry), says Zeitlin. But take solace in the fact that any feelings of exhaustion and irritability you notice initially should dissipate after the first week or so. If they don’t, it’s possible the method of fasting you’ve chosen doesn’t quite suit your lifestyle and you may need to reconsider your approach.

Mistake #2: Binge-Eating At Meal Time

“When our body is feeling hungry and you sit down to eat, it’s our nature to overeat because we’re so hungry,” says Zeitlin. But overloading on calories isn’t going to help you reap the benefits of fasting—especially if one of the benefits you’re after is weight loss.

If you want to lose weight, one of your simplest guiding principles is ‘fewer calories in than calories out,’ so regardless of when you eat, if you’re taking in the same number of calories as usual (or even more), you won’t drop pounds. And that’s a mistake a lot of new intermittent fasters make. “What intermittent fasting is supposed to do is decrease the amount of food you’re eating in a day,” explains Zeitlin.

Instead of piling food onto your plate when it’s finally time to eat, portion out your meals so you know exactly what you’re taking in and avoid that whole ‘eyes bigger than your stomach’ situation. If you need a little help understanding how many calories to strive for—and what macronutrients those calories should consist of—Zeitlin suggests keeping a food journal or using an app like MyFitnessPal or Fitbit to get a clear picture of how your current food intake matches up to your goals and what nutrients you may need more or less of.

And when you do sit down for your meals, take your time eating so your hunger cues have ample time to kick in and let you know if you truly need more.

Mistake #3: Not Eating Enough

“Some people don’t want to undo what they’ve just done while fasting for hours or they have the mentality that if they eat too much the next fasting period will be harder,” says Zeitlin. But consistently eating far below your calorie needs is a mistake, and kicks your body into ‘starvation mode,’ slowing your metabolism and making it that much harder to shed fat. Even if you’re restricting when you eat your food, “your body still needs an ample amount of food so your organs can function, and you can think straight and be the fantastic human that you are,” she says.

Related: I Tried 5:2 Intermittent Fasting For A Month—Here’s How It Went

If you’re feeling particularly weak, irritable, or unable to focus, it’s likely you’re not eating enough calories. Here, too, a food-tracking app can be helpful. If you want a little more hands-on advice about how many calories you need to thrive, consider consulting with a nutritionist or dietitian.

Mistake #4: Eating The Wrong Foods

When you don’t have many opportunities to eat, what you put in your mouth when you do becomes even more crucial. “It’s not just about calories, but about the quality of your nutrition and focusing on eating nutrient-dense foods,” says Kimberly Snyder, C.N., author of The Beauty Detox Solution. “500 calories of avocado will digest quite differently and have a very different effect on your overall body and metabolism than 500 calories of fried potato chips.”

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Focus on eating a healthy balance of all the macronutrients (healthy fats, lean protein, and carbs) and fiber (which will help with satiety, gas, and bloating) your body needs to function well. Zeitlin suggests loading half your plate with veggies, a quarter with lean protein (think fish, chicken, and turkey), and a quarter with healthy starches like brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potato. If you’re going to end up eating slightly fewer calories than usual, you need those calories to be as nutritious and body-serving as possible. Just because you’re eating fewer calories doesn’t mean those calories can come from sub-par sources.

Mistake #6: Forgetting To Drink

Intermittent fasting newbies often think they can’t take in anything during their fasting hours, but that’s not the case. Liquids like water, tea, and coffee are all totally okay—as long as you don’t add anything (like milk or sugar) to them, says Zeitlin. More often than not, what you think are hunger pangs are actually a sign that you’re thirsty, and staying hydrated can help you feel satiated during those fasting hours.

Mistake #7: Taking It Too Far

The 5:2 method and Eat-Stop-Eat approach to intermittent fasting are designed so that you’re only restricting calories or fasting twice a week, so turning the 5:2 method into the 4:3 or 3:3 method—or completely shunning food on three or more days a week—can be dangerous. “You’re not supposed to starve yourself,” says Zeitlin. “Our bodies require fuel to think straight, work well, converse normally, and move around—and that fuel comes from calories,” she says. Restricting your food intake too much takes a toll on your everyday life—and that’s not what fasting is all about.

Mistake #8: Forcing It

“Intermittent fasting is not necessarily the best solution for weight loss, metabolic health, and longevity for everyone,” says Snyder. So if you’re trying it and feeling miserable, it’s okay to re-evaluate whether it’s the right plan for you. Sure, some argue that our bodies can handle starving somewhat regularly, like our ancestors did thousands of years ago when they didn’t always have access to regular meals—but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you to do now.

Not all bodies are built for intermittent fasting, says Snyder. Some traditional schools of health and medicine—like Ayurveda, a mind-body medicine practice born out of India thousands of years ago—identify different types of people who have different experiences with fasting. “For example, Ayurveda’s Kapha type, who tends to carry extra fat, have a slow metabolism, and is rarely hungry in the mornings, finds it easiest,” explains Snyder. Meanwhile, Vata types, who have varying appetites, can handle fasting sometimes, but may be thrown out of balance if they try to make it a regular thing. And Pitta types, who have strong appetites and digestive fire, find adhering to intermittent fasting very difficult—and it could perpetuate major imbalance for them.

If intermittent fasting feels like a constant struggle and mental drain, ask yourself this simple question: Is it worth the reduced quality of life?

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The Different Teas I Drink For Allergies, Anxiety, Tummy Issues, And More

Often, we’re reactive and not proactive about our health, and we overlook holistic remedies because we’ve been told they won’t be effective. Over the past few years, I’ve struggled with a few different health issues—anxiety, insomnia, indigestion, allergies, and acne. I wasn’t getting answers from my doctor, so I started seeking out holistic practitioners, who are more focused on the cause than simply treating the illness.

First, I wanted to feel heard about my head-to-toe health, since a body and the human inhabiting it add up to more than a set of symptoms. There’s a whole ecosystem inside each of us that needs to be tended to and treated as an interdependent network! I wanted to be looked at as a whole.

Second, I wanted to see if there were preventative (and not reactive) treatments. After all, who wants to wait until 2 a.m. on a work night—after they’ve been tossing and turning and letting their thoughts spin for several hours—before taking medicine to induce sleep? Who wants to wait for that big zit to appear on their forehead to glob some goo on it? Wouldn’t it work better to take care of your body before the issues occur?

When I asked my holistic practitioner about natural ways to treat or prevent some of my issues, she suggested experimenting with herbal teas. My interest (and certainly a healthy dose of skepticism) was piqued—after all, how could some dried herbs and flowers steeped in hot water help me? In time, I found my answer.

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My Allergies

I have dealt with environmental allergies since the spring of my seventh grade year. When I say allergies, I mean horrific hay fever, complete with sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and a throat that felt like it was on fire. I still take over-the-counter or prescription medication for allergies (due to the sheer severity of the problem), but I will say with utmost certainty that a morning cup of tea has been helping me manage these symptoms for several years now.

I often wake up feeling congested and sneezy, so I now start my day with just a bit of caffeine in the form of green tea, to which I add a teaspoon of local honey (which my doctor suggested because it’s said to have a positive impact on allergy symptoms). Just sipping on the hot liquid from a mug—and basking in the steam that comes from it—helps slow mucus production and improves nasal drainage. It also feels great on an inflamed, sore nose.

The science around green tea is there, too: According to a study abstract in Allergology International, green tea has been found to be beneficial in improving allergy issues.

After my morning tea ritual, I always feel clearer in my ears, nose, lungs, and throat.

Related: Can Drinking Lemon Water Really Help You Lose Weight?

My Skin

Later on in my day, I tend to move onto herbal (non-caffeinated) teas. Part of my proactive health agenda is to take measures to stop acne and blemishes before they show up.

I’ve dealt with oily, spotty skin since I was 10 years old. In my experience, using too many masks, creams, pills, and potions tend to aggravate my skin issues. I like to stick to mindful hydration when it comes to my skin—and that’s definitely where rosehip tea enters the picture. It’s packed with antioxidants, as well as vitamin C, which is not just good for your immunity, but a key player in skin health. I believe it helps keep my skin clear and hydrated. There are still fluctuations here and there, but it’s much rarer for me to wake up with a dreaded unicorn zit when I drink rosehip tea on the regular.

My anxiety, insomnia, and digestive issues

My anxiety, insomnia, and digestive issues are all tangled—and that’s because my mental health impacts my digestion, and vice versa. For example, stress during the day has caused me to experience stomach upset. This, in turn, keeps me up at night. With racing thoughts and a gurgling gut, I don’t get much sleep. Because of a lack of sleep, I’ll have shaky fingers, a lack of focus, forgetfulness, and nervousness to the point of stammering (in entirely normal social situations).

For stomach issues, I’ll sip on peppermint tea throughout the day or with my lunch (to help prevent digestive issues like bloating and heartburn) or when I feel stomach problems set in.

If my stomach is more stressed than usual, I’ll drink a cup or two of ginger tea, which is known for soothing an upset gut. I don’t particularly love the flavor of ginger, so it’s not something I drink for the experience. However, a cup of this stuff always calms my belly.

Related: How I Kicked My Coffee Habit For Tea—And Lived Happily Ever After

For sleeplessness or as a sleep-inspiring nighttime ritual, I turn to chamomile, which is said to relax and sooth the body. Chamomile tea eases me into my nighttime routine, helps me relax before I get into bed, and doesn’t have any nasty side effects in the morning.

Drinking tea slowly is ritualistic, which is self-care at its finest: You’re boiling the water, steeping the concoction, waiting for it to cool down, and then drinking it. It engages each of our senses simultaneously while we take our time contemplatively sipping. A big part of its curative qualities, aside from the evidence that it works, is that I’m doing something I know is good for me.

Since I started drinking herbal tea on a daily basis nearly three years ago, it’s helped me lessen my medicine intake, maintain a healthy routine, and ease many of my problematic symptoms.