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There's no doubt about it: what we eat, and how much we eat, has a direct impact on our physical health. But did you know that those same choices also influence mood, mental alertness, memory, and emotional wellbeing? Food can act as medicine, have a neutral effect, or it can be a poison to the body and mind.
When food acts as poison, it creates inflammation, which alters the body's balance of nutrients, hormones, and neurotransmitters. This directly affects your body's ability to manage and heal from stress or illness.
While some body-mind effects are due to naturally occurring nutrient content in food, much is due to hidden additives. Below, are four common culprits. If you're experiencing symptoms that interfere with your quality of living, talk with Dr. Bossio about the role these or other foods may play in your health.
Foods that Impact Body-Mind Wellbeing
Caffeine: The most socially accepted psychoactive substance in the world, caffeine is used to boost alertness, enhance performance, and even treat apnea in premature infants. Caffeine is frequently added to other foods, so be mindful of total consumption. Too much caffeine (500-600 mg daily) interferes with sleep quality, which affects energy, concentration, and memory. Caffeine can aggravate other health conditions, cause digestive disturbances, and worsen menstrual symptoms and anxiety.
Food Dye: Those brightly colored, processed and packaged foods come with a rainbow of health risks. Listed on ingredient labels as "Blue 2," or "Citrus Red," food dye has been documented to contain cancer-causing agents (e.g., benzidine). They're also associated with allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Dyes are sometimes used to enhance skin color of fruits and veggies. A number of dyes have been banned from use in foods and cosmetics around the world.
Sugars: Increased sugar consumption (as much as 30% over the last three decades for American adults), is linked to decreased intake of essential nutrients and associated with obesity, diabetes, inflammatory disease, joint pain and even schizophrenia. Too much dietary sugar can result in blood sugar fluctuations, causing mood swings, anxiety, irritability, headaches, and increased depression. Sugars that can act as poison include High Fructose Corn Syrup, table sugar, artificial and "natural" sweeteners.
MSG: Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer common in packaged and prepared foods. Although the FDA considers MSG "generally safe," some individuals experience a complex of physical and mental symptoms after eating MSG-containing foods. Symptoms vary but can include headache, sweating, nausea, chest pain, heart palpitations, and overstimulation of the central nervous system which can lead to alterations in sleep, mood, and immunity.
Becoming aware of your food choices, why you make them, and how you feel mentally and physically is an important first step in understanding your personal body-mind food connection. It may be helpful to keep a mind-body food journal to provide a clear picture of how your food choices affect your health.
Image Attribution: Eldar Nurkovic/bigstockphoto.com
A favorite in vegan and omnivore cuisine, eggplant can be baked, roasted, grilled, used as a pizza topping or in stir-fry recipes. It has a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture that may vary depending on the color/variety of eggplant selected. Dress your cooked eggplant with herbs, sauces, and condiments and you'll be sure to please even the pickiest guest at your dinner table.
Eggplant contains a phytonutrient (plant chemical with nutritional benefits) called nasunin. Nasunin acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage. In addition, eggplant contains a wealth of other antioxidants that support brain and heart health. In research studies, one variety of eggplant - called Black Magic - was found to have three times the antioxidant properties compared to several other types of eggplant. It's also a terrific source of dietary fiber, copper, potassium and B vitamins.
It's best to buy eggplant in-season during the months August through October. It comes in all sorts of shapes (baseball size to a thick crescent) and a cornucopia of colors such as lavender, jade green, and yellow-white. Choose eggplants that are firm, vivid in color, and heavy for their size. The skin should be smooth, shiny and without damage.
To test for ripeness, press your thumb into the eggplant. If the skin doesn't "spring back," it's not ripe. Eggplant is highly perishable so don't cut it before storing. Keep it stored in a food crisper or on the shelf in the fridge for a few days.
Image Attribution: Dasha Petrenko/bigstockphoto.com
One of the "Seven Spices of Israel" and referenced in many religious texts as a sacred fruit, the fig (Angeer), is rich in nutrition and history.
For centuries, figs have been referenced in mythology and traditional medicine as a powerful sexual supplement. While they have yet to be adequately studied as an aphrodisiac in humans, some animal studies show figs can increase sperm count and motility. Additionally, they are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, and the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E.
The fig offers a unique combination of textures - chewy flesh, smooth skin, and crunchy seeds. California figs are typically harvested June through September. European varieties are available into the fall months. The majority of figs are dried fruits that can be enjoyed anytime of the year.
When selecting dried figs, they should be plump and soft. They will keep for long periods in a cool, dry place. When choosing fresh figs, which are beautifully delicate, select those with deep color, little bruising and sweet fragrance. Keep them in the fridge and plan to eat them in one or two days; don't wash until ready to eat. If figs are not yet ripe, keep them at room temperature to ripen.
Figs can add a sweet sensation to just about any dish. But the high fiber can produce a laxative effect, so don't over do.
Image Attribution: Claire Plumridge/bigstockphoto.com
Satisfying and versatile, eggplant can handle a variety of flavorful accompaniments, several of which give a kick to this Sicilian favorite. The tomato base is spiked with anchovies, garlic, and capers, creating a mouth-watering aroma and a burst of flavor in every bite. Serve as an appetizer, a main dish or as a side with your favorite fish.
Makes 4-6 Servings
- 2 large Italian eggplants, peeled and cut into medium dice
- 2 Tbs kosher salt
- 5 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on an angle
- 2 anchovies, in oil
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup capers, in brine
- Peel and dice the eggplants, peel and slice the onion, peel and slice the garlic, slice the celery.
- In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with the salt. Transfer the eggplant to a colander to drain for 2 hours. In order to facilitate the draining, top the eggplant with a heavy weight, such as a dinner plate topped with full cans.
- Heat 3 Tbs of the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and celery and sauté for 5 minutes more, or until the garlic softens but does not brown. Add the anchovies and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the tomato paste and stir to thoroughly combine. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the paste turns a deep red, almost brown, and starts to stick to the pan. Add the vinegar and sugar and stir until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- In another large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the eggplant and carefully toss it in the oil, letting it sear before stirring. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is translucent and soft.
- Transfer the eggplant to the caponata mixture and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, until the flavors combine. Add the capers and their brine and stir to incorporate.
- Serve warm or at room temperature accompanied by toast points or crostini.
Image Attribution: Timolina/bigstockphoto.com
Avena sativa, also called the common oat, is a grain full of healthy goodness. Oats are often used for breakfast cereal, oatmeal, granola and as a flour for baking breads and cookies. A dietary source to fuel the body, a 3.5 ounce serving of oats provides over 60 grams of carbohydrates, 16 grams of protein, and about 7 grams of fat.
Oats contain beta-glucans, which are known to decrease saturated fat in the blood and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Most people are familiar with oat as a medicinal food for its ability to regulate cholesterol.
Other important effects of having a serving of oats in your daily diet include: support for digestion, sexual health, and bone health, as well as enhancing energy and maintaining a positive mood. Oat is a fantastic source of dietary fiber, which helps maintain a healthy gut. Oat has been studied in the management of male sexual dysfunction as well as managing menstrual symptoms and regulating blood sugar levels. It's also an excellent source for B vitamins and the mineral manganese, which play important roles in physiological processes that support the health of mind and body.
If you are gluten sensitive be sure to look for gluten free oats.
Image Attribution: Ferumov/bigstockphoto.com
Vitamin E is a fat soluble cluster of compounds that comes in eight different forms, all of which are essential to the overall health of your body. One of its major functions in the body is as an antioxidant, which helps protect your cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E is also responsible for immune function, skin health, cell signaling and regulation of gene expression. Research has shown Vitamin E can help improve Diabetes, and protect against bladder cancer.
The best way to increase your levels of Vitamin E is to eat more vitamin rich foods. Oils such as wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower, nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts, and vegetables such as tomatoes and spinach all contain high-levels of Vitamin E. This food-based Vitamin E is better for the body than supplementation because it contains all eight forms of the vitamin. If you are going to consume your Vitamin E through food, make sure to eat the nuts and leafy greens raw. Heat can kill up to 2/3 of the available vitamins and nutrients.
Sometimes your Doctor may want you to add additional supplementation to your diet. If this is the case, look for supplements that contain mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. Some of the best supplements will also have gamma-tocopherol. Because Vitamin E is fat soluble, doses at too high of a level can be toxic. For an average adult, levels should not exceed 1000 mg. Because Vitamin E can effect blood coagulation, it should not be taken before surgery. And, as with any supplementation, it is important to consult with your physician.
A plant in the mint family, Motherwort gets its name from its ancient use: helping women who had a tendency to "over-mother" and thus experienced more stress, and less joy, in their maternal role. Today, throughout Europe and in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's used as a medicinal herb to treat emotional conditions such as anxiety and depression. It also helps ease symptoms of menstrual distress, as well as physical and emotional exhaustion.
Motherwort can be prepared as a tea, tincture, or in capsule form. Depending on the the type of preparation, it can have a rather bitter taste and an odor some may find unpleasant. However, for many users, it becomes an "acquired taste" and the benefits outweigh any bitterness.
Motherwort has the ability to calm without causing drowsiness, and it has medicinal effects on circulation and heart rate. Because it can thin the blood, this herb should be used carefully and under the guidance of Dr. Bossio or other qualified herbalist or natural health practitioner.
Image Attribution: 13-Smile/bigstockphoto.com
How would you like to understand, once and for all, the relationship between what you're eating and how you feel? Keep a mind-body food journal. It's a powerful way to gain insight into eating habits and the impact of food choices on your mental and physical wellbeing. A mind-body food journal is different from a "diet diary" because the intention is different: it's not just about the fit of your jeans, it's about how food fits your life and your lifestyle.
Too often we eat mindlessly - on the run, watching television, behind the computer. A mind-body food journal helps create clarity between what we choose and how we feel. It leads the way to improved choices and - because food is medicine - supports total mind-body health and healing.
Start your journal today. Track your eating habits for a few weekdays and at least one weekend day. Do this for at least two weeks.
What to Track in a Mind-Body Food Journal
- When did you eat?
- What did you eat?
- How much did you eat?
- Why did you eat?
- How did you feel after eating?
- What was your overall mood before and after eating?
- Did you have headaches, or mental/emotional fatigue?
- What did you notice about your body before and after eating?
- Social & Environmental Factors
- Who were you with for the meal?
- Did you eat hurriedly or calmly?
- Were you doing another activity while eating?
Review your journal at the end of each day and summarize your habits. Note the key factors for why you chose to eat the way you did, what was going on, how you felt and if there were any physical symptoms. You and Dr. Bossio can use this information to help make healthier food choices.
Image Attribution: monkeybusinessimages/bigstockphoto.com
When: September 14 @ 7pm-9:15pm
Where: Whole Foods Store, Danbury, CT
What: Group shopping tour with author Andrea Anderson and Dr. Deb Bossio. The tour will show you specific foods that improve anxiety, mood, focus,and behavior; give you snack and meal ideas that improve symptoms and satisfy cravings; and show you new food ideas based on what you and your kids like to eat.
Register: Call 860-485-4118
It's hard to admit to yourself. Even harder to talk about. But there it is: your sex drive has taken a dive and you don't know why. You're likely embarrassed, confused and upset. Try not to be. Over the course of a lifetime, it happens to lots of us for lots of reasons.
Studies show that as many as 43% of women and 31% of men experience a drop in libido at some time in their life. Without a doubt, this has an impact on your overall physical and emotional health, as well as your relationship with your partner. Ironically, those same three issues are often the underlying factors in a low sex drive, which can be attributed to lifestyle and relationship problems, age-related hormonal changes, stress, physical disability, and certain medications. But there is help. Before venturing into unknown territory with a mass-marketed "quickie fix," consider a variety of holistic approaches to help lift your libido.
Take Specialized Herbs. Several herbs have been studied for their positive impact on low sex drive, insufficient hormone levels, and performance problems, such as erectile dysfunction or inability to achieve orgasm. Herbs to consider are Panax Ginseng, Yohimbe, Maca Root, and Dong Quai. Each one works differently and some can interact with other medicines. It's important to first consult Dr. Bossio before trying one of these herbal remedies.
Get to the Point with Acupuncture. Shown to be a beneficial complementary therapy for sexual dysfunction, acupuncture can help boost libido by stimulating physiological systems in the body that are involved in sexual response.
Talk about Sex. Sometimes what's not going on in the bedroom has a lot to do with how you and your partner communicate. From the honeymoon period, to being together for decades, sexual needs can and do change. Have honest, open conversations. Consider engaging the services of a sex therapist, who can guide you toward strategies that will lead to more fulfilling and intimate times together.
Enjoy Forbidden Fruits. While there are few specific studies on the aphrodisiac effects of fruits, for centuries different cultures have touted the stimulating benefits of foods such as avocados, figs, pomegranate, dark chocolate, watermelon, and strawberries. The most likely effect of having these foods in your diet is that they provide vitamins and minerals necessary for peak performance of the whole body. Why not experiment with pomegranate wine and dark chocolate nibs to get you in the mood?
Move that Body. Exercise improves circulation, creates sexy muscles, helps manage stress. and promotes both positive body image. When you feel good physically and emotionally, you're more likely to be in the mood for love. Also, working out with your partner can stimulate the sexual energy between you.
Healthy lifestyle practices provide the best foundation for enhancing sexual prowess. When the body is unhealthy, it may not respond optimally to the use of holistic approaches, which are intended to work synergistically with your natural ebb and flow.
Image Atrribution: monkeybusinessimages/bigstockphoto.com
You and your partner will swoon over the delectable combination of sweet, ripe fig filled with creamy goat cheese and drizzled with tangy balsamic and honey. All natural and gluten free, perfect for a romantic appetizer or healthy snacking after a little love in the afternoon!
- 12 Black Mission figs, halved vertically
- 1 Tbs unsalted butter
- 3 Tbs balsamic vinegar
- 3 Tbs honey
- 2-3 ounces fresh goat cheese
- Flaky sea salt, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- While the oven preheats, melt the butter in a small saucepan, along with the balsamic vinegar, honey, and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened.
- Place the figs, cut side up, in a baking dish the size of a pie pan. Top each fig half with a 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of goat cheese. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar syrup over the figs.
- Roast in the oven until very soft, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with flaky salt.
Image Attribution: POPSUGAR Photography / Nicole Perry
Maca is a Peruvian superfood used in traditional medicine to balance male and female sex hormones. It's regarded as an aphrodisiac and has fertility enhancing properties. In animal and human clinical trials, Maca has been studied for effects on sexual desire, reproductive hormone levels, and sexual performance.
For example, in a study with healthy men age 21-56, Maca was compared to a placebo. Two different doses of Maca were given and testosterone was measured at 4, 8, and 12 weeks. The men also completed assessments of sexual desire and mood. Even though treatment did not show an effect on testosterone levels, there was an improvement in self-reported sexual desire from 8 weeks of treatment. This effect was independent of reports of depression, anxiety, or testosterone levels. The researchers concluded Maca improved sexual desire.
In a study comparing rats that did and did not have ovaries, researchers concluded Maca has "balancing effects" on sex hormone levels and has potential for correcting physiological symptoms associated with post-menopause and possibly pre-menopause.
A study of rats with erectile dysfunction (E-D) showed, for the first time, the aphrodisiac effect of Maca. There was an increase in mating and in the number of female mice with evidence of sperm deposited. Additionally, there was a decrease in the time between erections in rats with E-D.
While research continues, it's clear Maca can be used as an herbal alternative for individuals seeking a non-pharmaceutical solution for sexual health concerns.
Image Attribution: Ildi Papp/bigstockphoto.com
The bark of the West African Yohimbe tree is rich in a biologically active substance called yohimbine. Indigenous tribes and medical herbalists have used both the crude bark and purified compound as an aphrodisiac. Modern clinical studies suggest Yohimbe may be effective in the treatment of sexual dysfunction in both men and women. For 75 years, it has been an accepted treatment for male erectile dysfunction (ED). In fact, in the late 1980's the FDA approved Yohimbe as the first plant-based drug for treating impotency. It quickly earned a reputation as the "herbal Viagra."
Yohimbe is believed to be effective in treating sexual dysfunction due to its ability to increase the flow of blood to the penis, which helps promote sexual arousal and erection. It also works by increasing the body's production of norepinephrine-a hormone essential to the formation of an erection.
Yohimbe is also believed to stimulate nerves in the pelvic region. This can lead to an increase in sexual sensation and stamina. In a study of men without ED, Yohimbe had an effect on sexual vigor and length of erection. In post-menopausal women, Yohimbe increased sexual arousal when taken in conjunction with the amino acid L-arginine.
Yohimbe can interact with certain pharmaceuticals such as cardiac medications, as well as tyramine containing foods such as cheese and red wine. Be sure to consult with Dr. Bossio before taking Yohimbe and do not exceed the recommended dose .
Image Attribution: Steven Foster
We want the best for our children. From the moment they're born, we look for ways to stimulate learning potential and strengthen their IQ (Intelligence Quotient). While studies differ on whether we can actually enhance IQ, they concur that we can - and should - support Emotional Intelligence/Quotient (EQ). Doing so not only improves a child's ability to learn, it provides tools for managing emotions and developing coping skills that result in healthy self-esteem and good decision-making.
EQ is defined as the ability to identify and manage emotions, as well as having regard for the emotions of others. People with high EQ exhibit leadership skills and are typically excellent team members. Of course we want our children to have a high EQ. However, with our busy adult lives and our child's organized play, we seem to be ignoring its importance. Today, nearly one in five children has an emotional disorder such as anxiety, depression, or behavioral conduct problems.
According to Dr. Gerald Newmark, founder of the Children's Project, "[It is vital] to create a positive atmosphere in which family members interact with each other in ways that make everyone feel respected, important, accepted, and secure." In doing so, "we can become a powerful force for developing emotionally healthy and high-achieving children and families."
Try incorporating these strategies into your family's routine:
Model Coping Skills. Children learn by observing you. Research shows this begins in the prenatal period, when developing babies sense maternal stress. When your anxiety levels get high, don't just muddle on. Take time out. Do something just for you. This kind of self-awareness models emotional health and shows children how to cope with stress.
Solve Problems Together. Whether it's kids who don't want to get out of bed for school or an epic struggle around chores, open communication is the best way to reduce tension. Talk with your kids about what's important to your family and why. Invite them to offer solutions.
Listen to Your Kids. Too often adults view kids' problems as insignificant or silly. But our children see themselves as real people with real problems. Ask them about their challenges and concerns. When children feel heard, they feel validated and that builds trust between them and you.
Express Gratitude. Acknowledge the good things in your life; this steers focus away from negative events and gives new perspective to tough situations. Keep a family journal, or during mealtime have each person express what she or he is grateful for that day.
Honor a Child's Spirit. Children can experience profound moments that shape their lives in enduring ways. It can be a moment of wonder (seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time) or an awareness of their own inner wisdom (an 'a-ha' moment). It can be moments in which children ask big questions about life. Set aside time to discover and discuss these experiences.They can become cornerstones in a child's evolving sense of themselves and an awareness of something greater than the material world.
Image Attribution: alenkasm/bigstockphoto.com
There are so many reasons - and so many ways - to love avocado. A culinary superfood, avocados provide up to 20 nutrients including vitamins K, C and E, as well as folate, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. In fact, they actually have more potassium than bananas.
Unlike most fruits, avocado is low in carbohydrates and high in a healthy fat called oleic acid. Like olive oil, oleic acid has been linked to health benefits such as reducing inflammation, protecting cells against cancer, and reducing cholesterol. This amazing fruit also improves digestive health and helps your body absorb other nutrients.
There are limitless ways to add avocado to snacks or meals: Use avocado as a healthy spread on toast; blend it into scrambled eggs; add it to dips, salsa, or soup; slice for a salad topping.
Avocado is optimally ripe when the fruit is mildly soft to touch. Its flesh should be creamy and green-gold in color. If you don't use the whole fruit at one time, keep leftover avocado fresh by leaving the pit in the unused portion and allow it to sit, uncovered, on a counter for a few hours before placing it in the fridge (still uncovered) for up to two days. When you want to use the other half, simply peel off the brown crust to reveal a soft and deliciously ripe avocado beneath.
Image Attribution: Natalia Zakharova/bigstockphoto.com
Want to satisfy your sweet tooth without adding inches to your waistline? This rich, creamy avocado mousse is about as close as you'll get to a truly healthy chocolate treat. Serves 1.
- 1 ripe avocado, skin and pit removed, mash slightly with a fork
- 3 1/2 Tbs unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
- 3 1/2 Tbs RAW honey
- Unsweetened almond, coconut or hemp milk
- Place avocado and cocoa powder in food processor. Add honey.
- Process avocado, cocoa powder and honey for approximately 1 min, pausing to scrape the sides, or until a thick, smooth mousse forms.
- Add milk as needed to bring to desired consistency.
- Spoon mousse into a small bowl; top with almonds or fresh fruit.
Image Attribution: Elena Veselova/bigstockphoto.com
Beta-carotene has two important functions in the body: It functions as an antioxidant, protecting cells against damage, and it can be converted to Vitamin A (retinol), critical to maintaining skin and eye health.
Without beta-carotene, our bodies are unable to manufacture Vitamin A. And without sufficient Vitamin A, nearly all of our systems are at risk, including lungs, kidneys and immune function. Research shows that people who consume the necessary levels of beta-carotene are able to lower their risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, macular degeneration, and other age-related diseases.
You can get beta-carotene from a variety of foods:
- Chinese cabbage
- Yam/Sweet Potato
The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily intake of 3,000 IU for adult men and 2,310 IU for adult women. For children, amounts vary according to age. While beta-carotene deficiency is rare in most industrialized countries, it can be difficult getting the recommended levels simply from food. That's where supplements come in. In consult with your healthcare practitioner, design a plan that meets your individual needs. You may want to consider a supplement with a mixture of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lycopene, astaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.
It's possible to take too much beta-carotene. This is usually indicated by a yellowing of the skin, palms or soles and is known as carotenemia. Once consumption of beta carotene is reduced, this yellowing fades over time. As always, your best outcomes are achieved when working closely with Dr. Bossio or your healthcare practitioner.
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There's nothing like a rose to stimulate feelings of wellbeing. And nothing quite like rose hip - the actual fruit of a rose - to enhance health and promote wellness.
Of all the roses, the beautiful Wild Dog Rose is the type most often cultivated for their hips. Once the flower has bloomed, and all the petals have fallen off, the hip is picked and used in a range of herbal preparations. Rose hips contain a variety of antioxidants (especially Vitamin C), Vitamin A, carotenoids, and other plant compounds that are recognized for their role in preventing degenerative disease, including heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Many natural health practitioners use rose hip to treat wounds and inflammation. Rose hip oil is commonly used in cosmetics as it has the ability to revitalize skin cells. It has been used to treat scars, acne and burns. In Germany, rose hip powder (capsule) has been used to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Herbalists have long used rose hip tea to ease constipation and as a supplement to treat a cold.
Rose hip pulp can be incorporated into sauces or made into a jelly. Standardized extracts are also available in capsules. Always check with Dr. Bossio or your wellness practitioner before using any herbal remedy.
Image Attribution: Anna21/bigstockphoto.com