How to Treat Infant Colic

Colic, characterized by prolonged periods of inconsolable crying, affects up to 40 percent of young infants. The condition is often dismissed as trivial by the medical profession, but should be treated seriously, as I discuss in my video, Treating Infant Colic by Changing Mom’s Diet. It can contribute to postpartum depression, interfere with breastfeeding, and even lead to the death of the infant at the hands of a parent from shaken baby syndrome.

They’re not just crybabies. Colic is pain.

The medical profession has a scandalous history, not just denying pain relief to infants, but routinely performing surgery on infants with minimal or no anesthesia into the 1980s. One famous case in 1985 was little Jeffrey Lawson, who underwent open heart surgery fully awake and conscious. He had been given a drug to paralyze him so he wouldn’t squirm, but, like in a horror movie, the baby couldn’t move yet could feel everything. This wasn’t some rogue surgeon. Torturing babies was standard operating procedure in the 80s. Not the 1880s, mind you, but the 1980s.

“The liaison between the [American Academy of Pediatrics] AAP and the Society of Anesthesiologists commented that the use of paralyzing agents was a standard and time-honored technique…” The profession has a history of infant pain denial. They didn’t even think babies could feel pain. Even today, most physicians don’t use painkillers or even local anesthesia for circumcisions, a procedure so traumatic the babies show stronger pain responses to vaccinations even months later.

The pain of colic is thought to be caused by gastrointestinal discomfort, like intestinal cramping. In my Peppermint Oil for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and What to Take Before a Colonoscopy videos, I explored the role of peppermint oil in reducing intestinal spasms. Might it help with colic? A few drops of a peppermint leaf solution appeared to cut in half the number of colicky episodes and reduced daily crying from three hours to two hours, working just as well as simethicone, a leading over-the-counter drug for colic. The problem is that simethicone has been shown to have no benefit for colic. So, saying peppermint is as good as something shown to be useless isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. And the American Academy of Pediatrics warns about the use of peppermint oil in infants.

One study found an herbal tea preparation to be helpful, but parents have been cautioned not to use it. Not only might tea interfere with breastfeeding continuity, but there is a lack of adequate industry regulation. For example, star anise tea is commonly used for colic. Chinese star anise is regarded as safe and nontoxic, but Japanese star anise is poisonous. They look identical, but Japanese star anise contains a potent neurotoxin, and it has been found contaminating star anise tea in the United States. So, we shouldn’t give it to kids.

There is even a report of toxicity from a supposed homeopathic dose of belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, that evidently wasn’t homeopathic enough. Another report found the same. Just because it’s homeopathic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe.

It’s no better when doctors prescribe it, though. The drugs used for colic are made from belladonna, too. The drugs may work, but they should not be used because of their serious side effects.

What about just good old fashioned burping? After all, “[b]urping after feeding is commonly advised by paediatricians, nurses and parenting websites to promote expulsion of gases that accumulate during feeding with aim of decreasing discomfort and crying episodes.” Scientific evidence for the efficacy of burping was lacking until a 2014 randomized controlled trial for the prevention of colic and regurgitation (also known as spitting up) in healthy infants. What did they find? Burping is useless for colic and made the regurgitation worse. Burped babies spit up twice as many times as unburped babies!

So, what’s an effective treatment? The elimination of cow’s milk protein, since colic appears be some sort of allergic response. Decades ago, it was shown that infants fed cow’s milk developed antibody responses to the bovine proteins, which may explain why colic can improve after changing from a cow’s milk formula to either a hypoallergenic hydrolyzed protein formula or a soy-based formula.

Breast-fed infants have similar rates of colic as formula-fed infants, but that might be because breast milk from cow’s-milk-drinking mothers contains cow’s milk proteins. We know cow’s milk proteins can pass through breast milk and cause certain serious allergic reactions, but what about colic? Based on studies of formula-fed infants, colic was already a well-known symptom of intolerance to cow’s-milk protein back in the 1970s. So, thinking colic in breast-fed infants may be caused by cow’s-milk proteins transmitted from mother to infant via breast milk, researchers tried a dairy-free diet for breast-feeding mothers whose infants had colic. Of 19 infants, the colic disappeared promptly from 13 babies, and they were able to show they could bring back the colic in 12 of those 13 by challenging the mothers with a little dairy. For example, a baby boy develops colic that almost completely disappears within a day of his mom eliminating cow’s milk, and then the colic promptly comes back when mom goes back on dairy. The researchers conclude that the treatment for infantile colic in breast-fed infants is a diet free of cows’ milk for the mother—a recommendation that continues to this day.


Isn’t that horrifying about little Jeffrey Lawson’s open heart surgery? I’ve grown more and more cynical over the years, but it still shocks me how terribly wrong the medical profession can be in the face of overwhelming evidence and basic common sense. Now that more women are becoming physicians and graduating medical school classes are approximately 50:50 women and men, hopefully things will change for the better.

More on dairy in infancy and childhood:

More on healthy pregnancies:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The Best Diet for Depression

Depression affects more than 150 million people worldwide, making it a leading cause of losing healthy years of life as a result of disability. By 2020, depression may be second only to heart disease as the leading cause of healthy years of life lost. Why is depression so common? Well it’s said, “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Why would we evolve to get depressed?

Depression presents a baffling evolutionary puzzle. Despite its negative effects, it remains common and heritable, meaning a large part of the risk is passed through our genes. Presumably, there must be some kind of adaptive benefit or it would have been naturally selected against. Could depression be an evolutionary strategy to provide a defense against infection? Infection has been the leading cause of mortality throughout human history, making it a critical force in natural selection. Indeed, because of infections, our average life expectancy before the industrial period was only 25 years, and it was not uncommon for half of our children to die without reaching adulthood.

When we become infected, there is a surge of inflammation as our body mounts a counter-attack. Our body responds by feeling lousy, sick, weak, tired, and slow. We don’t want to socialize. The only thing we do want to do is sleep. These symptoms are similar to the ones we experience during depression and are great for fighting infection. Slowing down not only helps us conserve energy to put up a good fight; it also reduces social contact so we don’t infect others. We see this protective phenomenon in other social animals, like honeybees and mole rats, who feel compelled to crawl off and die alone to reduce the risk of infecting the rest of their community. Humans have even evolved to think poop and decaying flesh don’t smell particularly good to keep us safe from infection.

To explore the relationship between inflammation and mental health, we have to look back to 1887, when this connection was first noted by Dr. Julius Wagner-Jauregg, the only psychiatrist to ever win the Nobel Prize. What evidence have we accumulated in the past century that inflammation causes depression? We know that people who are depressed have raised inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein and that inflammatory illnesses are associated with greater rates of major depression. Indeed, we find depression in even more benign inflammatory conditions such as asthma and allergies. This is important as it suggests that the mood symptoms may be directly tied to the inflammation and are not simply the result of “feeling bad about having a terrible disease.”

We also know that you can induce depression by inducing inflammation. For example, when we give interferon for certain cancers or chronic infection, up to 50 percent of people go on to suffer major depression. Even just giving a vaccine can cause enough inflammation to trigger depressive symptoms. Taken together, these studies “are strongly suggestive of inflammation being a causative factor of mood symptoms.”

Can an anti-inflammatory diet help prevent depression? We didn’t know until researchers followed the diets of about 43,000 women without depression for approximately 12 years. Those who ate a more inflammatory diet, characterized by more soda, refined grains and meat, became depressed. “This finding suggests that chronic inflammation may underlie the association between diet and depression.”

Normally, we think of omega-3s as anti-inflammatory, but researchers found fish to be pro-inflammatory, associated with increased C-reactive protein levels. This is consistent with recent findings that omega-3s don’t seem to help with either depression or inflammation. As I discuss in my video Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Depression, the most anti-inflammatory diet is a plant-based diet, which is capable of cutting C-reactive protein levels by an impressive 30 percent within two weeks, perhaps because of the anti-inflammatory properties of the antioxidants found in plants. I talked about this in my Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants video, but never explained why antioxidants are anti-inflammatory.

When free radicals cause oxidative damage, it may cause an autoimmune response in the body by changing the chemical structures of otherwise ubiquitous molecules to generate new structures that the body attacks as foreign. For example, when LDL cholesterol gets oxidized, our body creates antibodies against it that attack it. Likewise, clinical depression can be accompanied by increased oxidative stress and the autoimmune inflammatory responses it creates. Free radicals may thus lead to autoimmune inflammation.

Where else does inflammation in our diet come from? Endotoxins. It’s worth reviewing my videos on the subject—The Leaky Gut Theory of Why Animal Products Cause Inflammation, Dead Meat Bacteria Endotoxemia, and The Exogenous Endotoxin Theory—to see how the endotoxins in animal products can cause a burst of inflammation within hours of consumption. What does this burst do to our mood? Within a few hours of injecting endotoxin, inflammation shoots up, increasing feelings of depression and social disconnection.

Although previous research has demonstrated that inflammatory activity contributes to depressive symptoms, only recently did research show the effect of experimentally induced inflammation on anhedonia, the lack of reaction to pleasurable stimuli. In the study, subjects were injected with endotoxin. Within hours of the endotoxin hitting their bloodstreams, they began feeling depressed and had significant activity reductions in the reward center of the brain. The subjects, for example, were less excited about winning money playing video games. But as I discuss in my Plant-Based Diets for Improved Mood and Productivity and Antioxidants and Depression videos, we may be able to treat or even prevent depression by eliminating animal products and eating antioxidant-rich diets.


If you’re as much of a sucker for evolutionary biology theory as I am, you can learn more about it by checking out my High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice, The Problem with the Paleo Diet Argument and Why Do We Age? videos. 

I have several videos on inflammation, including: 

And in Biblical Daniel Fast Put to the Test, I discuss a study that shows a dramatic decrease in inflammation within weeks on a plant-based diet.

For more information on the effect diet can have on mental health, check out:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The Health Benefits of Laughter, Tears, and Kisses

In my video, Music as Medicine, I explored a study about how listening to Mozart can reduce allergic reactions. This reminded me of a similar study on humor, which I discuss in Laughter as Medicine. In the study, researchers took a group of people with dust mite allergies and directed half of them to watch a Charlie Chaplin video and the other half to watch the Weather Channel. The researchers then injected all subjects with dust mite poop. In the subjects who watched the humorous video, their allergic response was significantly reduced and this reduction lasted for a matter of hours. This suggests that “the induction of laughter may play some role in alleviating allergic diseases.”

Is there a chance that it might suppress our immune system too much? Apparently not. In fact, if you have people watch a comedian for an hour, their natural killer cell activity goes up, compared to watching nothing. Their white blood cell count, the number of immune cells in their bloodstream, also goes up. The level of immune-boosting interferon and antibody production go up as well and even stay up the next day. So, your body is actually pumping out more antibodies because you saw a funny video the day before. In short, humor seems to offer the best of both worlds at preventing over-reactive allergic responses, while also boosting immune protection.

There is a catch, though. You actually have to laugh. And the more you laugh, the better your natural killer cell activity gets. Exposure to a humorous video without laughing did not significantly affect immune function. Those who didn’t physically laugh did not benefit. This reinforces that it is not the funny video that improved immune function, but our laughter in response. Natural killer cells play a significant role in viral illness and various types of cancer. So, being able to significantly increase the activity of these cells using a brief and non-invasive method could be clinically important the next time you have a cold or cancer.

Laughter, like music or healthy food, offers potential benefits without any risks. Or…almost no risks. You’ve heard of side-splitting laughter? In a rare case, a 67-year-old woman attended laughter therapy sessions where, evidently, rapture led to rupture. Thankfully, you can’t actually laugh your head off, but you can laugh until you wet yourself. “Giggle incontinence,” as it’s called in the medical literature, is actually quite common in women, and is no laughing matter.

Does this mean that the next time you go to the theater, you should choose the comedy over the tear-jerker? Not necessarily. Researchers took people with a latex allergy and had them watch a weather video versus a heart-warming drama. Because viewing the weather information video did not cause emotion with tears, it failed to modulate allergic responses. The tear-jerker, however, successfully reduced the allergic response, but only in those whose tears were actually jerked. So, when it comes to improving allergies, laughing and crying both work, if you actually do them.

Anything else you can do? Kiss! There’s actually a whole science of kissing, which sounds like a pleasant enough college major, until you realize it’s about all the diseases you can get. But if you take people with seasonal pollen or dust mite allergies and have them kiss someone in a room for 30 minutes, they have a significant reduction in their allergic reactions, for both the pollen and the dust mites. If you instead just have them hug for that 30 minutes, there’s no benefit. Bottom line: Kissing significantly reduced allergic responses in patients with both allergic rhinitis (runny nose and itchy eyes) or allergic dermatitis (like a rash). “Collectively these findings indicate that the direct action of love may be beneficial,” though evidently cuddling wasn’t quite direct enough.

With all the side effects of antihistamine drugs, you’d think it would have been easy to get people to sign up for the kissing study. But, it was conducted in Japan where, apparently, they “do not kiss habitually.” The follow-up study, which found a similar benefit for an even more direct action of love, was also performed by researchers who apparently did not speak English as their primary language, evidenced by their speculation about females having more “organisms.”


Did I say “Mozart study”? Yes, there have been a bunch of them, in fact. I had fun with them in my videos Music as Medicine and Music for Anxiety: Mozart vs. Metal. I don’t go seeking out these peripheral topics; I just stumble upon them in the journals. There’s so much wonderful, juicy medical science out there. I wish there were dozens of different NutritionFacts.org-type resources where one could find evidence-based reviews of the latest in the science of wellness. There could be another ten or so websites just on nutrition alone! If anyone out there is interested, I’d be more than happy to share all my know-how to facilitate its creation. I did help the Lifestyle Medicine Foundation develop LifestyleFacts.org. Check it out if you haven’t already.

For less funny and racy ways to combat allergic diseases, see my videos:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: