31 Powerful Ways to Induce Autophagy in the Brain

Autophagy is an absolutely essential biological process that plays a key role in the normal functioning and survival of your brain cells.

The word autophagy is derived from the Greek words auto and phagein.

Auto translates to “self”.

And phagein translates to “devouring”.

So autophagy essentially means “self-devouring”, or “to eat oneself”.  

That may sound scary and something that you would want to avoid…

But it’s actually something you want to embrace and induce yourself.

Because autophagy is a self-cleaning mechanism within our cells, which helps your brain detoxify, repair and regenerate itself.

It destroys the old, damaged, and malfunctioning components of your cells – and rebuilds new and healthier ones instead!

It’s sort of like spring cleaning or replacing old parts of your car.

By inducing autophagy, we are clearing out worn-out and faulty cellular parts within our brain cells.

Our brain cells need to last a lifetime, so autophagy is our body’s unique way of naturally rejuvenating them and defending them from disease.

ways-how-to-induce-autophagy-in-the-brain-foods-that-promote-diet-plan-recipes-activating-increase-cells-fast-autophagic-flux-neurodegenerative-diseases-neurons-neuronal-induction-pathway-protocol-enhancers-healing-neurodegeneration-supplements-triggers-upregulation-process-start-nootropic-stack-aging-naturally.jpg

How Does Autophagy Affect Your Brain and Mental Health?

What we’ve discovered is that autophagy protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and certain forms of dementia. If you switch on autophagy, you remove proteins rapidly, as well as protect against excessive inflammation. By learning how to influence this process, we are able to affect the progression of these diseases.
— Dr. David Rubinsztein, professor of molecular neurogenetics at the University of Cambridge and UK Dementia Research Institute

Research shows that autophagy supports the central nervous system, improves brain function and reduces neurological cellular breakdown (136-138).

And studies suggest that autophagy is a built-in defense mechanism that detoxifies and clears the central nervous system (139).

But the autophagy process becomes less efficient as we get older.

And over time, our brain cells accumulate a variety of damaged organelles, abnormal and pathogenic proteins, and oxidized particles (141-142).

This clogs up the brain, accelerates cognitive aging, and even contributes to the development of dementia (140).

But autophagy doesn’t just decline in older individuals.

Even younger people with depression and schizophrenia have been shown to have deficiencies in autophagy pathways (162-163).

In fact, researchers have found a link between autophagy dysfunction and many neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, including (143-161):

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Huntington’s disease

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Frontotemporal dementia

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

  • Autism spectrum disorders

  • Fragile X syndrome

  • Mood disorders

  • Psychotic symptoms

  • Behavioural change

The good news is that you can do something about this.

You have the power to activate autophagy.

There are several reliable and natural ways to increase it.

And by doing so, you can reduce neuroinflammation, protect the nervous system, improve cognitive function, encourage the growth of brain cells, and even fight depression and Alzheimer’s disease (164-174).

Read on to learn more about how you can induce autophagy.  

Lifestyle Habits and Therapies That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to boost autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that aerobic exercise induces neuronal autophagy (1).

They believe the reason why exercise improves cognitive function is perhaps because it increases autophagy in the brain (2).

Exercise is a stressor on the body, and the body induces autophagy so that your cells can recover from the stress. All it takes is 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to activate autophagy in the brain (3).

As a result, exercise increases neurogenesis and reduces neurodegeneration.

Many doctors and researchers recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

You should find a sport or aerobic exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

2. Intermittent Fasting

One of the major benefits of fasting is a dramatic increase in autophagy, followed by a massive boost in stem cell production.
— Dr. Rhonda Patrick, PhD

Fasting is another biological stressor that promotes autophagy.

When you’re fasting, your body isn’t receiving nutrients, so it stresses out and triggers autophagy.

Researchers have found that fasting activates “profound autophagy” in the brain (24-26).

As a result, it can help treat neurological conditions and lowers the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (27-28).

So how long do you have to fast to trigger autophagy in the brain?

Research suggests 24 to 48-hour fasts are ideal and have the strongest effects (29).

But long fasts are not very realistic and practical.

Luckily, even shorter fasts have been shown to significantly promote neuronal autophagy (30-31).

That’s why I personally eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the other 16 hours of the day.

You don’t need to go that long, but you should try to fast for at least 12 hours at a time.

The best way to get started is simply by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day.

That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.

3. A Ketogenic Diet

Ketogenesis is like an autophagy hack. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting.
— Dr. Colin Champ, MD

A ketogenic diet is a very high-fat, low-carb diet.

To follow the diet, you need to get most of your calories from healthy fats, and no more than 10 percent of calories from carbs (less than 50 grams of carbs per day).

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods – such as grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit – your body enters “ketosis”, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose.

And this be very beneficial and increase autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that ketosis is neuroprotective and reduces neurodegeneration by promoting autophagy in the brain (4-6).

Autophagy reduces amyloid beta, the main component of amyloid plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (8-9).

An animal study also shows that ketosis reduces brain injury (during and after seizures) by activating autophagy (10).

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often.

Some of the best foods to eat if you follow a ketogenic diet include coconut oil, olive oil, pastured eggs, ghee, grass-fed meat, avocado, nuts and seeds.

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

I also take Optimal Ketones every day, which are exogenous ketones that get my body into a state of ketosis very quickly. That way I get the mental clarity of ketosis without having to follow a ketogenic diet all of the time.

Research shows that the ketone bodies in Optimal Ketones stimulates autophagy (7).

4. Circadian Rhythm, Melatonin and Deep Sleep

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Getting enough high-quality sleep is very important if you want to increase autophagy.

I used to have very poor sleep and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my poor cognitive function.

Research shows that not getting enough sleep, and waking up intermittently throughout the night, negatively alters autophagy in the brain (11-12).

So it’s the length and quality of your sleep that matters.

That’s why I highly recommend getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.

What can you do to improve your sleep?

  • Maintain a proper circadian rhythm

  • Promote the production and release of melatonin at night

Researchers have found that our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) controls autophagy and plays a role in cognitive decline (13-14).

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain.

It helps control your circadian rhythm, and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Melatonin has been shown to induce autophagy in the brain, and it reduces the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders (66-68).

Even mild changes in our external environment (i.e. blue lighting at night) can affect our circadian rhythm and reduce melatonin production, negatively altering autophagy and our cognition the next day (13-14).

Knowing this, here is what you can do to support melatonin production, maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning. This sets your circadium rhythm.

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time every night.

  • Blue light significantly suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and abnormal functioning of your nervous system. As soon as it’s dark outside, you should avoid sources of blue light. Turn off household lights or install red light bulbs, install f.lux on your computer and/or wear blue blocking glasses. These glasses block out blue light in your environment.

  • Don’t eat anything for 3 hours before bed, other than raw honey, bone broth and MCT oil, which are easy to digest and can actually support your sleep.

  • Avoid stimulating movies and TV before bed.

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Most people should completely avoid it after 2 pm. Some may have to cut it out even earlier. I can’t have any after 12 noon, otherwise the quality of my sleep suffers.

  • Sleep in a dark environment. Completely black out your room with curtains or wear a sleep mask overnight. Sleeping with lights on in your room decreases neurogenesis and impairs cognitive performance. If you need to have light in your room (nightlight or alarm clock), it’s better to have red, orange or amber lighting rather than blue.

  • Reduce stress before bed. I supplement with magnesium and lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed.

  • Avoid alcohol before sleep, as it prevents getting into the deeper stages of sleep, which is when the body and brain heal.

  • Melatonin secretion can be disrupted by EMF exposure, so turn off cellphones, Wi-Fi and other electrical devices while you sleep.

If you’re still having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

5. Hot and Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to both hot and cold temperatures can stress your cells and promote autophagy.

Several researchers have found that “heat stress” triggers autophagy and stimulates the autophagic process (15-18).

Autophagy and the heat-shock response are also tightly linked (19-20).

Researchers have found that cold exposure induces neuronal autophagy, and they believe it can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases (21-22).

Research also shows that switching back and forth between cold and hot can induce autophagy (23).

So how does this translate into every day life?

Try switching back and forth between hot and cold in the shower.

Or spend time in a sauna or steam room, and then take a cold shower.

I personally like to go outside with minimal clothing in the winter, and then eventually come back inside and take a hot shower.

Cold plunges, cold baths and cryotherapy are some other ways to expose yourself to cold.

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6. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that enhances healing and recovery after injury to the central nervous system.

Patients inhale 100% oxygen in a total body chamber.

Usually, oxygen is transported throughout the body only by red blood cells. But with HBOT, oxygen is dissolved into all body fluids, including the fluids of the central nervous system.

This leads to oxygen being carried to areas of the body where circulation is diminished or blocked. As a result, extra oxygen can reach all damaged tissues, including areas that need to heal.

Several studies have shown that HBOT elevates and enhances autophagy in the central nervous system (41-44).

You’ll need to find a practitioner or clinic in your area that provides this treatment.

HBOT can be expensive though. That's why I decided to buy my own oxygen concentrator. An oxygen concentrator is much less expensive than HBOT but it still helps a lot. My doctor recommended it to me and it has helped me recover.

I did a lot of research before buying my own and got this one. You can get it here or through Amazon. I use it almost every day. It's the best option on the market.

Check out my full article about oxygen therapy for more information.

7. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to induce autophagy in the brain (69).

One study found that acupuncture improved learning and memory, and protected brain cells, by upregulating the autophagy pathway (70).

Another found that acupuncture promoted the “autophagic clearance” of proteins from the brain that contribute to Parkinson’s disease (71).

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture. Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear. I’d recommend trying to find a health practitioner in your area who provides it, especially if you’re weening off psychiatric medication. It really helped me the first time I came off antidepressants. I was surprised.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture.

I also lie on this acupuncture mat at home to relax before bed.

Foods That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

8. Coffee and Caffeine

coffee-ways-how-to-induce-autophagy-in-the-brain-foods-that-promote-diet-plan-recipes-activating-increase-cells-fast-autophagic-flux-neurodegenerative-diseases-neurons-neuronal-induction-pathway-protocol-enhancers-healing-neurodegeneration-supplements-triggers-upregulation-process-start-nootropic-stack-aging-naturally.JPG

Drinking coffee is another great way to induce autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that both regular and decaffeinated coffee rapidly trigger autophagy (32).

The polyphenols in coffee are also good for your brain health because they stimulate autophagy (32).

And other studies show that caffeine protects brain cells and lowers the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases by inducing autophagy in the brain (33-35).

I drink one cup of this high-quality coffee every morning.

Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it later in the day. I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep.

It’s also a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just the coffee bean or pure caffeine.

Traditionally, the coffee bean is extracted from the coffee fruit for roasting. And the surrounding fruit is discarded.

But that’s a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

And after years of careful clinical research, scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.

Coffee fruit concentrate is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

9. Green Tea

Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG) is the main polyphenol found in green tea.

It’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

Researchers have found that EGCG stimulates autophagy in the brain, protects against brain cell toxicity and may help treat neurodegenerative disorders (36-38, 40).

It also improves learning and memory after chronic stress by restoring autophagic flux in the brain (39).

I personally drink organic green tea regularly, usually in place of coffee on days when I’m relaxing.

I also take a supplement that includes green tea extract and EGCG.

10. Coconut Oil and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

Coconut oil is one of the best foods for your brain.

It’s especially important if you want to support your thyroid.

But it can also stimulate autophagy in the brain by increasing ketone levels (45-46).

I eat one or two tablespoons of this coconut oil almost every day now, along with Optimal Ketones, to boost ketones and induce autophagy in my brain.

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) within coconut oil are responsible for the ketone-increasing effects of coconut oil

If you don’t like coconut oil, you can supplement with pure MCT oil instead.

11. Ginger

Ginger is one of the healthiest spices.

It contains lots of nutrients and bioactive compounds that have powerful, protective benefits for your brain (47-49).

6-shagol, one of the active compounds within ginger, induces autophagy (50-55).

12. Reishi Mushroom

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a powerful fungus with hundreds of bioactive compounds.

It has been used for thousands of years by Chinese medicine practitioners to support the immune system, regulate inflammation, lower anxiety and support brain function.

Research shows that reishi mushroom can induce autophagy (56).

It also protects the brain from oxidative stress by regulating autophagy (57-58).

I’ve supplemented with this reishi mushroom tincture in the past to support my immune system.

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13. Turmeric (Curcumin)

Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.

It’s one of my favourite natural compounds for the brain.

One reason is because it protects brain cells from damage by activating autophagy (59-61).

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. The Longvida form is my favourite. You can get it here.

14. Broccoli Sprouts (Sulforaphane)

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, similar to curcumin.

Studies have shown that sulforaphane increases autophagy within brain cells (62-63).

As a result, researchers believe it can be a therapeutic tool in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (63).

Broccoli sprouts are the best source of sulforaphane.

You can also take sulforaphane in supplement form.

If you decide to take it in supplement form, make sure you get the "myrosinase-activated" form.

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

I once bought a supplement that didn't contain myrosinase and had to return it, and then ended up buying this one instead.

15. Galangal

Galangal is a spice.

It’s known as “Thai ginger” or “Siamese ginger” because it looks very similar to ginger.

But it’s actually a different spice altogether.

It's commonly found in Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian cooking.

Galangin, a compound within galangal, has been shown to induce autophagy and protect dopaminergic neurons in the brain (64-65).

16. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Oleuropein)

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Olive oil has numerous health benefits, particularly because of its strong anti-inflammatory effects.

Oleuropein, a polyphenol found in olive oil, has been shown to induce autophagy and reduce cognitive impairment (92).

As a result, researchers propose that a diet with extra virgin olive oil might have potential benefits for Alzheimer’s patients because of its induction of autophagy (72).

I add olive oil to my salads and sometimes even just take a tablespoon of it straight.

Be careful though. A lot of cheap extra virgin olive oil in grocery stores are not actually “extra virgin.”

Investigations have found that there is a lot of fraud within the olive oil industry and many so-called extra virgin olive oils contains other cheaper, refined vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn and canola.

This is discussed more in the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.

You don’t just have to eat olive oil to get the benefits of oleuropein though.

Oleuropein can also be found in olive leaf extract and argon oil.

17. Berries

Blueberries, strawberries, acai berries are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain.

And for good reason.

All three berries have been shown to significantly activate autophagy in the brain (74-74).

The polyphenols within them also protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation and improve cognitive function.

I try to eat one cup of berries every day to support my brain health.

18. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself, and they are absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce brain inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers have also demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids can increase BDNF signaling and enhance autophagy in the brain (108-112).

So increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to support your brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including:

  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids.

I feel off when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

Some researchers believe that the beneficial effects of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may simply be due to their ability to activate autophagy (107).

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Natural Supplements That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

19. Probiotics

Research suggests that certain probiotics can stimulate autophagy in the brain.

In one study, researchers gave the SLAB51 probiotic formulation to mice, and it partially restored autophagy in the brains of the mice (75).

The researchers also found that the SLAB51 probiotic reduced brain damage and decreased cognitive decline in the mice (75).

I tried to find the SLAB51 probiotic formulation online, but it doesn’t appear to be commercially available yet.

I personally take the Optimal Biotics supplement every day to support my gut and brain health.

I also like to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods regularly.

Check out this older article for several other ways to increase your good gut bacteria.

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 9 probiotic strains that can help.

20. American Ginseng

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a powerful herb that enhances brain function.

Researchers have found that it induces autophagy, which then protects the brain from neurotoxicity and reduces mitochondrial dysfunction (76-78).

Because of this, researchers believe it can help treat neurodegenerative disorders (77, 79).

American ginseng is included in the Optimal Ketones supplement. I find it increases my mental clarity and energy.

21. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems.

It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it increases brain blood flow and improves memory, mood, mental energy and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have also discovered it helps treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by activating and increasing autophagy in the brain (80-82).

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

22. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects.

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells. It’s been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood.

Researchers have also found that it helps reverse cognitive decline and supports mitochondrial function by inducing autophagy in the brain (83-86).

I find that it personally gives me a big boost in mental energy and resilience.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

23. Vitamin D (and K2)

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Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.

Unfortunately, researchers estimate that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.

This is a huge problem because every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.

Research shows that Vitamin D, and activation of the Vitamin D receptor, induces autophagy (89-91, 93).

Vitamin D supplementation in mice also increases levels of autophagy (92).

One study found that Vitamin D can reduce neurological deficits caused by traumatic brain injury by restoring autophagy in the brain (95).

And some researchers have pointed out that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many diseases that involve defective autophagy (94).

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sun.

I try to get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months.

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.

During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I use this Vitamin D sunlamp. You can get it here or here.

I also take this Vitamin D supplement as needed, depending on my blood test levels.

Vitamin D is so critical for optimal brain health, so make sure to check your levels regularly. You can order a test here.

If you decide to take a Vitamin D3 supplement, it’s a good idea to take it along with Vitamin K2. They are synergistic and mix well together.

There is also some evidence that Vitamin K2 stimulates autophagy as well (87-88).

24. Lithium

Lithium is predominantly known as a medication given to bipolar patients to manage their symptoms.

However, it’s also an essential mineral.

Bipolar patients are often given high doses of lithium carbonate.

But low doses of lithium orotate can be safely supplemented to improve your brain health and increase the formation of myelin.

Research shows that lithium induces autophagy in the brain and enhances the breakdown and clearance of proteins that contribute to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

Therefore, it may help treat Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's disease, and dementia (96-97).

I used to take this lithium orotate. I don’t take it anymore because I don’t need it, but I remember it making me feel calm and stable.

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25. Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active cannabinoids found in marijuana.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD isn’t psychoactive and doesn’t make you “high”.

But it can help treat a number of diseases because it reduces inflammation.

Researchers have found that CBD activates and enhances autophagy pathways in the brain (98-100).

I took this CBD oil for a while and I recommend it. It significantly reduced my stress, made me sleepy and knocked me out before bed.

I only took it in the evening because it made me too drowsy during the day, and I don’t need to take it anymore.

If you decide to get the same CBD oil as me, I found out you can use the coupon code 10off406 for a 10% discount.

26. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as golden root or arctic root, is a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb.

It’s one of the most popular adaptogens used to increase physical and mental stamina.

One study found that rhodiola can reduce neurodegeneration by inducing autophagy in the brain (101).

Other studies have found that the herb significantly upregulates autophagy (102-103).

I take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I need a cognitive boost. You can get it here or here.

Check out this post all about rhodiola to learn more about this amazing herb.

27. Berberine

Berberine-ways-how-to-induce-autophagy-in-the-brain-foods-that-promote-diet-plan-recipes-activating-increase-cells-fast-autophagic-flux-neurodegenerative-diseases-neurons-neuronal-induction-pathway-protocol-enhancers-healing-neurodegeneration-supplements-triggers-upregulation-process-start-nootropic-stack-aging-naturally.jpg

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants.

It has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and possibly antidepressant effects. It can also improve intestinal health and lower cholesterol.

Researchers have also found that berberine reduces inflammation and protects the brain from damage by boosting autophagy in the brain (104-105).

One study even found it reduces neurological deficits and promotes neurogenesis by stimulating autophagy (106).

I’ve experimented with varying dosages of this berberine. I personally didn’t notice any profound brain and mental health benefits, but I have heard good things from other practitioners.

28. Nicotinamide

Nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide or nicotinic acid amide, is the water-soluble, active form of Vitamin B3.

It has been shown to reduce cognitive decline and halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by improving autophagy function in the brain (113-114).

It also improves cognitive performance and preserves mitochondrial integrity (113).

Years ago, I took this nicotinamide supplement after reading that it could help with addiction, withdrawal and energy. It did, but I don’t take it individually anymore. I now take this all-in-one B complex instead.

29. Schisandra

Schisandra is a berry commonly used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.

The seeds of the berry contain lignans, which have health-promoting properties.

It’s considered an adaptogen and traditionally used to treat depression, stress and menopause.

But lots of research shows that Schisandra can also benefit people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (115-116).

This is because it reduces neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment by enhancing autophagy (117-120).

Besides promoting autophagy, it also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects upon brain cells (116).

You can also get Schisandra as dried whole berries or as juice.

But it usually isn’t used as a food.

Rather, it’s more commonly used as a supplement. It’s available in multiple forms, including dried powder and pills.

30. Spermidine

Spermidine is a polyamine compound with various metabolic functions.

It’s found in living tissues and within a wide range of foods, including aged cheese, fermented soy, chicken, mushrooms, pears and potatoes.

It can also be taken as a supplement.

Researchers have found that it’s neuroprotective and reduces synapse aging by enhancing autophagy in the brain (121-127).

As a result, it counteracts neurodegeneration, reduces memory impairment, and protects neurons from demyelination (121).

31. Resveratrol and Pterostilbene

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

It’s known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Several studies have shown that resveratrol induces autophagy in the brain (128-132).

In two of the studies, it protected brain cells and helped brain cells recover after injury by enhancing autophagy (131-132).

Researchers propose it could even be used to help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s Disease due to its autophagy-enhancing effects (130).

To consume enough resveratrol to promote autophagy, you’ll need to supplement with it.

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. I don't take it every day, just every so often. You can get it here or here.

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol, and it has also been shown to induce autophagy (133-135).

I tried this pterostilbene and it was beneficial, but I didn’t find it any more helpful than resveratrol, so I’ve decided to just stick with resveratrol considering it has significantly more research to back it up.

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3463459/

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Reviewed by Dr. Richard Nahas, MD CCFP DCAPM ABIM

The 28 Best Natural Supplements Proven to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

Research shows that most people prefer to take over-the-counter natural remedies to treat their anxiety instead of medication.

Perhaps you’re struggling with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, OCD or a phobia…

The good news is that there are many natural supplements that can bring you relief and ease your chronic stress and anxiety.

And they are safe and don’t cause adverse side effects like anti-anxiety medicine.

This article lists the best natural supplements that are proven to reduce anxiety and stress.

These solutions are evidence-based and backed by research.

They have worked for me and for many other people.

It starts off with my top 10 personal favourites.

And then offers 18 other great options.

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My Top 10 Favourite Supplements to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

1. Theanine

Theanine is a unique amino acid found in tea. It has a number of mental health benefits.

It’s known to produce a calming effect on the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing the production of GABA, serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Unlike prescription anti-anxiety medication, it does not cause sedation and drowsiness (72-75).

Researchers have found that theanine supplements significantly reduce stress and anxiety, lower heart rate, and increase mental relaxation (77-81, 83).

Studies have also shown that theanine increases alpha brain waves and deactivates the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system (76, 82).

And animal research shows that it reduces “circulating biomarkers of stress” in rats (84-85).

I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It improves my mood, helps me focus and cancels out the jitters of caffeine. It’s sort of like meditation in a pill.

This anti-anxiety supplement contains theanine, along with several natural compounds that have helped me manage my anxiety over the years.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

magnesium-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

It’s absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity.

Nine different studies have found that magnesium supplements can reduce anxiety in humans and improve anxiety-related disorders (96-100).

And they start reducing anxiety quickly, often within one week (101).

Plenty of researchers have also found that magnesium has a relaxing effect in animals by calming the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis and activating GABA receptors. These are the same receptors activated by anti-anxiety medication (102-107).

I personally take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

Magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.

3. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania sominifera) is a popular Indian herb that has been used for more than 3000 years. It’s sometimes called the “Indian Ginseng”.

It’s known as an “adaptogen”, which is a compound that balances the body and restores normal bodily functioning after chronic stress.

A systematic review concluded that ashwagandha significantly reduces symptoms of stress and anxiety and is likely useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders (11).

In fact, two studies found that ashwagandha worked better than medication and psychotherapy at treating and reducing anxiety (12, 17, 19).

And other researchers have found that it reduces anxiety, decreases perceived stress, and improves the quality of life of people with anxiety disorders (13-16, 18).

Animal research also shows that ashwagandha causes anti-anxiety effects, reduces OCD-like behaviour and improves stress tolerance in rats (20-25).

So it’s a pretty amazing herb for anxiety!

But how does it work?

By increasing serotonin and GABA in the brain, and lowering cortisol levels by 25 per cent (26-29).

Ashwagandha is one of the herbs I took to help myself get off psychiatric medications.

I took this one.

4. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health, especially if you have chronic anxiety.

Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning.

Researchers have found that zinc supplements can reduce symptoms of anxiety in both humans and animals (123-125).

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal.

I previously wrote about the link between zinc and anxiety in this post.

Zinc can also stimulate your vagus nerve, which reduces anxiety.

5. Bacopa

Bacopa is an adaptogenic herb.

It’s commonly used to improve cognition and memory, but it’s also very good at reducing anxiety.

Researchers have found that bacopa supplements reduce stress, anxiety and cortisol levels in humans (89-91, 94).

In fact, one of the ways bacopa improves cognition is by simply reducing anxiety (95).

So if you have anxiety, and it negatively impacts your thinking, bacopa is a good choice.

Animal studies also show that bacopa reduces the biochemical effects of acute and chronic anxiety in rats. It does this by significantly increasing serotonin and dopamine levels and significantly reducing stress hormone levels (92-93).

I took this bacopa supplement for a while. I found that it made me really relaxed and sleepy. I eventually stopped taking it because it made me too sleepy. But if you have very severe anxiety, it can be very helpful.

Click here to subscribe

6. Probiotics

Probiotics have also been shown to reduce anxiety.

One study found that a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus Rhamnosus significantly reduced anxiety and stress in humans (46).

And animal research shows that Lactobacillus Rhamnosus reduces stress and anxiety-like behaviour in mice (47-48).

Bifidobacterium Longum is another probiotic that can reduce anxiety.

Individuals that took it for 30 days experienced less anxiety and psychological distress, and also had lower cortisol levels (49).

Bifidobacterium Longum also reduces anxiety-like behaviour in animals by stimulating the vagus nerve (50-51).

Both Bifidobacterium Longum and Lactobacillus Rhamnosus are included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.

You can also check out this article to learn more about the top 9 psychobiotics that can help reduce your anxiety.

And this older article includes 5 ways to increase your good gut bacteria.

7. Inositol

Inositol is a naturally-occurring molecule found in nearly all plants and animals. It plays a key role in various biological processes.

Inositol-Powder-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpeg

The brain has the highest concentration of inositol, where it plays an important role making neurotransmitters.

Inositol can be found in many foods, particularly fruit, especially cantaloupe and oranges.

But you need to supplement with it to reduce anxiety.

Researchers have found that taking an inositol supplement every day can significantly reduce anxiety in both adults and children. This includes a reduction in panic attacks and fewer symptoms of agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (64-67).

In fact, research suggests that it’s as effective as an SSRI antidepressant in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorder (62).

And one study shows that it can reduce anxiety in people struggling with bulimia or binge eating (63).

Lots of animal research also shows that inositol reduces anxiety-like behaviour in rats (68-71).

It’s important to point out that the research suggests that you need to take high doses (12 to 18 grams daily) if you want to experience the anxiety-reducing benefits of inositol.

I took high doses of this inositol powder when weening off psychiatric medication.

I now simply take a normal amount found in this B Vitamin Complex.

Check out my full post about inositol to learn more about the benefits.

Fun fact: Inositol is a white powder, so actors snort inositol instead of actual cocaine in television and movie scenes.

8. Valerian

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb, and the root of the herb has traditionally been used to treat insomnia.

But it also can reduce anxiety.

Research shows that valerian root extract significantly reduces stress and anxiety (235-236).

Animal studies have also found that it reduces psychological stress and anxiety in rats and mice (259-265).

And in one study, Valerian demonstrated some anti-obsessive and anti-compulsive effects and therefore may help treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (234).

Scientists have collected a massive amount of research demonstrating that the compounds in Valerian naturally reduce stress and anxiety by:

  • Partially activating serotonin receptors

  • Maintaining serotonin levels

  • Reducing stress hormone levels

  • Binding to GABA receptors in the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear and anxiety

  • Increasing GABA levels

  • Inhibiting the breakdown of GABA in the brain (247-268).

As a result of this, it creates a calming effect similar to anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Valium.

This is why Valerian is often called “Nature’s Valium”.

Valerian is one of the first herbal remedies I took years ago to manage my anxiety at night and improve my sleep. It’s included in this anti-anxiety supplement.

Valerian supplements include the roots and stems of the plant.

But you can also take it as a tea or tincture if you want.

9. Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active cannabinoids found in marijuana.

cbd-oil-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD isn’t psychoactive and doesn’t make you “high”.

But it can help treat a number of diseases because it reduces inflammation.

Research has found that CBD oil significantly reduces anxiety in both healthy individuals and patients with social anxiety disorder (3-4).

It also significantly reduces anxiety, distress and discomfort caused by public speaking (5).

Researchers also think it can help people with panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (2).

This is because studies show that CBD activates serotonin receptors in the brain, increases GABA levels, lowers activity in the amygdala, and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex (6-10).

I took this CBD oil for a while and I recommend it. It significantly reduced my stress, made me sleepy and knocked me out before bed.

I only took it in the evening because it made me too drowsy during the day, and I don’t need to take it anymore for anxiety.

If you decide to get the same CBD oil as me, I found out you can use the coupon code 10off406 for a 10% discount.

Some people report that marijuana makes them anxious.

When I’ve smoked it in the past, it often made me anxious.

This is possibly because most marijuana has high levels of THC and lower levels of CBD.

Taking extra CBD may help.

One study found that CBD blocks the anxiety caused by THC (1).

10. Kava

Kava is a plant located in the western Pacific.

The root of the plant is used medicinally to treat anxiety and sleep disorders because it causes relaxation without impairing cognitive performance. Some people say it feels like drinking alcohol.

A meta-analysis concluded that kava can significantly reduce anxiety without very many side effects (30).

And numerous human studies show that kava can reduce all sorts of anxious symptoms, including tension, agitation, restlessness and phobias (32-34).

Researchers have compared a bunch of different herbal anti-anxiety remedies, and they found that kava is one of the most potent and effective options (35-36).

In fact, they think that kava should be a first-line treatment for anxiety because it’s so powerful and safe and works just as well as anti-anxiety medication (31, 37-38).

Studies even show that kava works similarly to benzodiazepines like Xanax by activating and strengthening GABA receptors in the brain (39-45).

I personally don’t take kava anymore because I get a weird reaction from it and I was able to confirm that I’m allergic to the plant.

But it works very well for many people, so that's why I'm including it in my top 10. 

Other Effective Anxiety-Reducing Supplements

11. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself, and they are absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

Numerous studies show that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids significantly lowers inflammation and progressively reduces symptoms and feelings of anxiety (108-114).

Researchers have also found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids inhibits activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which is involved in anxiety (108).

I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids.

I take this one.

I feel more anxious when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

You can read more about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids here.

12. Chamomile

chamomile-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

Chamomile is a medicinal herb that has been traditionally used for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties.

It contains essential oils and flavonoids that can help you relax.

Researchers have found that oral supplementation of chamomile significantly reduces anxiety and stress in patients with generalized anxiety (54-58).

Animal studies show that chamomile contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain as anti-anxiety drugs (52-53).

Apigenin, one of the main flavonoids in chamomile, reduces anxiety without sedation by enhancing GABA communication (59-61).

This anti-anxiety supplement includes chamomile.

13. Passion Flower

Passion Flower represents a family of plants known as Passiflora.

There are about 500 known species of Passion Flower.

One species, Passiflora incarnata, has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress.

In one study, researchers found that Passiflora incarnata extract reduced generalized anxiety as much as a benzodiazepine. But it didn’t cause side effects that are common with anti-anxiety medication, such as cognitive impairment (213).

Two other studies show that supplementing with Passion Flower significantly reduces anxiety before surgery (214-215).

Animal research has found that it increases GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces stress and anxiety (216-217).

Passion Flower is one of the first herbal remedies I took years ago to manage my anxiety. It’s included in this anti-anxiety supplement.

14. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb and tea known to reduce inflammation, lower cortisol and increase GABA levels in the brain.

lemonbalm-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

As a result, it has a sedative effect, calming the nerves and relaxing the body.

Research shows that lemon balm extract significantly reduces anxiety and stress in humans (146-149).

In one study, researchers gave Cyracos, a standardized lemon balm extract, to individuals with anxiety disorders, and it significantly reduced their anxiety. As much as 95% of the subjects responded to the treatment, and 70% of them achieved full remission (145).

Animal studies also show that it reduces stress and anxiety in rats by reducing stress hormones and increasing serotonin and GABA. The effects are comparable to anti-anxiety medication (150-155).

Lemon balm is included in this anti-anxiety supplement

15. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as golden root or arctic root, is a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb.

It’s one of the most popular adaptogens used to increase physical and mental stamina.

Research shows that rhodiola supplementation significantly reduces anxiety and stress symptoms (86),

In one study, individuals with generalized anxiety disorder supplemented with rhodiola, and it significantly reduced their symptoms of anxiety (88).

Improvements can be seen within just three days of treatment (87).

I take this rhodiola supplement as needed. I find that it improves my mood and energy, especially after stressful periods of pushing myself too hard.

Rhodiola has a number of brain and mental health benefits. I previously wrote about it here if you’re interested in learning more.

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16. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems.

It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it increases blood flow to the brain and improves memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals.

But researchers have also found that it reduces anxiety and stress.

Two studies show that supplementing with Ginkgo Biloba significantly reduces anxiety compared to placebo (115-116).

This occurs in both elderly individuals with cognitive decline and younger people with generalized anxiety disorder (115-116).

And in healthy individuals, it reduces cortisol release during a stressful event (119).

Animal studies also show that Ginkgo Biloba has anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects in both mice and rats, without producing benzodiazepine-like side effects (117-118, 120-122).

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement. You can get it here, and Amazon also now carries it.

17. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.

It accomplishes this by playing a key role in the production of calming neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and GABA.

vitamin-b6-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

Studies have found that Vitamin B6 supplements can reduce anxiety (126-128).

When I took antidepressants and benzodiazepines for my chronic anxiety, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with Vitamin B6.

This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing anxiety in the long run.

If you take a medication to manage your anxiety, or simply have anxiety and want to manage it better, I recommend supplementing with Vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

18. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another way to reduce your anxiety and stress.  

Researchers have found that Vitamin C supplements significantly reduce stress and anxiety in humans and animals by limiting cortisol levels (129-136).

As you probably know, Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables such as green peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day.

But based on my research and experience, if you want to reduce your stress and anxiety, you may have to take large doses of Vitamin C.

Two studies show that supplementing with a high dose (at least 3 grams) of Vitamin C reduces cortisol, psychological stress and anxiety (137-138).

I experimented with taking up to 10 grams of Vitamin C daily, and it definitely reduced my stress and anxiety when coming off several psychiatric medications.

19. Curcumin

Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.

curcumin-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

Research shows that it can reduce anxiety in individuals with major depressive disorder (139-141).

One animal study found that it reduces anxious behavior in rats (142).

Curcumin is a good option is you struggle with chronic inflammation and both depression and anxiety.

In my experience, it doesn’t help as much if you only have anxiety.

But it’s still one of my favourite natural compounds for the brain and mental health.

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. The “Longvida” form is my favourite. You can get it here.

20. Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Hericium Erinaceus – better known as lion’s mane mushroom – is an edible mushroom with numerous health benefits.

It’s another one of my favourite supplements for brain health because it reduces inflammation and has antioxidant effects.

One study found that it reduced anxiety in 30 women after 4 weeks of supplementation (143).

And an animal study showed that it reduces anxious behaviour in rats by increasing neurogenesis (144).

This lion’s mane mushroom supplement is the highest-quality that I could find. I spent a lot of time researching and looking into different sources because not all lion's mane supplements are high-quality and effective, and I settled on this one.

You can get it here or here.

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21. Holy Basil

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is an adaptogenic herb that supports the body’s stress response. 

It’s known to have calming and relaxing effects on the body and mind.

In one study, researchers found that OciBest, a whole plant extract of Holy Basil, significantly reduced symptoms of stress. It was 39 per cent more effective than placebo, and there were no adverse effects (156).

Another study showed that supplementing with Holy Basil significantly reduces stress and anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder (157).

It’s also been shown to reduce cortisol (158-159).

And there is plenty of animal research showing that Holy Basil reduces anxiety, stress and stress hormone levels in mice and rats. And the anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects are comparable to antidepressant drugs (160-164).

Holy Basil can be taken as a supplement, herbal tea, dried powder, or fresh leaf used in cooking.

22. Saffron

Saffron is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus plant.

It has a number of health benefits due to the medicinal compounds within it.

saffron-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

Safranal and Crocetin, two of the compounds within saffron, have been shown to stimulate GABA receptors and increase serotonin levels in the brain (165-166).

Because of this, researchers have found that supplementing with a saffron extract can reduce anxiety (167).

Several preclinical and clinical studies show that supplementing with saffron significantly reduces stress and anxiety in adults and youth without side effects (169-173).

And one study found that the aroma of saffron significantly reduces cortisol levels and symptoms of anxiety in women (168).

Animal research also demonstrates that saffron reduced anxiety-like behaviours in mice (174).

23. Sceletium Tortuosum

Sceletium tortuosum is a plant commonly found in South Africa.

It’s a psychoactive herb but it doesn’t cause hallucinations or lead to addiction.

It often used before stressful events because research shows that it reduces anxiety and stress.

Researchers have found that it reduces anxiety and stress in humans by decreasing activity in the amygdala and inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin (175).

Animal studies have also shown that reduces anxiety and stress hormones (176-179).

Zembrin is the patented form of Sceletium tortuosum often found in supplements. It’s included in this calming supplement.

24. Lavender

Lavender is often used in soap and shampoo because it smells nice.

Lavender-best-natural-supplements-reduce-anxiety-stress-vitamins-good-that-work-for-generalized-panic-attacks-disorder-take-relief-remedies-herbs-herbal-medicine-calming-anti-ocd-calm-cure-combat-chronic-ease-help-like-xanax-lower-nervousness-performance-public-speaking-social-top-treat-fight-over-the-counter-gaba.jpg

But it also has a number of health benefits.

Lots of research shows that lavender significantly increases calmness, relieves restlessness and nervousness, and reduces emotional distress in people with anxiety disorders – without causing any unwanted side effects (180-183).

One study found that Silexan, an oral lavender oil capsule, is just as effective at reducing generalized anxiety as lorazepam, a common benzodiazepine. And it didn’t cause side effects or addiction like the anti-anxiety medication (184).

Tons of other studies show that inhaling the scent of lavender oil significantly reduces anxiety before exams, surgery and dental procedures (185-190).

And in two studies of women with postpartum depression, inhalation of lavender oil significantly decreased their anxiety and stress (191-192).

Unlike a lot of other natural compounds, scientists actually understand how lavender works – it decreases heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and sweating; and it increases heart-rate variability and alpha brain waves (193-198).

Animal research also shows that it reduces anxiety in rats by increasing GABA (199-204).

As a result of all this, it has a powerful sedative effect on the nervous system, decreases the fight-or-flight responses, and relaxes the body.

Lavender essential oil can be taken orally, inhaled or applied to your skin.

Silexan is an oral lavander oil capsule commonly used in studies. You can get it here.

25. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a naturally-occurring amino acid and the precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can reduce stress and anxiety.

It easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and effectively increases the synthesis of serotonin in the brain (205).

Research shows that supplementing with 5-HTP significantly reduces anxiety by increasing serotonin levels (206-208, 212).

One study found that people with panic disorder who take 5-HTP experience a reduction in panic and the fewer panic attacks (209).

Not only does 5-HTP reduce anxiety by increasing serotonin; it’s also been shown to promote relaxation by increasing GABA and BDNF levels (210-211).

5-HTP in supplement form is extracted from the plant Griffonia simplicifolia.

It’s included in this anti-anxiety supplement.

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26. Black Seed Oil

Nigella sativa, more commonly known as Black Cumin Seed, has been used as a natural remedy for more than 2000 years.

It’s surprising more people haven’t heard of it because it’s actually one of the top-ranked evidence-based herbal medicines.

Researchers have found that black seed oil reduces inflammation and anxiety without side effects (218-219).

Studies also show that it significantly reduces anxiety-like behaviour in animals by increasing GABA and serotonin levels (220-224).

You can get high-quality black seed oil here.

27. Skullcap

Skullcap refers to two separate medicinal herbs – American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicallensis).

Both herbs have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress.

A double blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that American skullcap can reduce anxiety in adults (225).

Other research has found that Chinese skullcap can reduce anxiety and treat stress-related disorders by reducing stress hormones and enhancing GABA receptor activity (226-228).

28. Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola (Centella Asiatica) is an herb with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

It has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

Researchers have found that Gotu Kola significantly reduces anxiety, stress and depression in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (229).

In one study, people that supplemented with Gotu Kola were less likely to be anxious and easily startled (230).

Animal research shows that lowers anxiety-like behaviour in rats by increasing GABA levels (231-233).

It's important to point out that the Gotu Kola plant soaks up heavy metals from the soil. So you need to find a high-quality, organic source that doesn’t contain heavy metals.

Here is a good one.

Bringing It All Together: Taking Them in Combination Is Better Than Individually

It’s important to note that taking a combination of the above options will provide the greatest relief from anxiety.

They have a synergistic effect, meaning they work better when taken together.

Here are a bunch of proven combinations that you should consider if you want to powerfully reduce your anxiety and stress:

  • Ashwagandha and Bacopa – In one study, researchers found that taking these herbs together worked significantly better than taking them alone (269).

  • Bacopa and Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Since Bacopa is fat soluble, it’s said that it works better when it’s taken with a meal that contains fat. And research backs this up. One study found that bacopa and fish oil are more therapeutic together (270).

  • Valerian and Lemon Balm – These two herbs are most often sold in combination with each other. And there’s good reasons why. Together, both of these plants significantly reduce anxiety, restlessness, concentration difficulties and impulsiveness in adults and children (272-273).

  • Chamomile and Lavender – One study showed that the aroma of both chamomile and lavender was more effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress than either of them alone (271).

  • L-Lysine and L-Arginine – These two amino acids aren’t even included in the list above because they aren’t effective at reducing anxiety and stress alone. But together, they have been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and decrease cortisol levels (274).

  • A lozenge containing 4 different herbal preparations (lavender oil, extracts from hops, lemon balm and oat) has been shown to reduce anxiety, increase relaxation and increase alpha brain waves (275).

If you’re looking for an all-in-one supplement, this anti-anxiety supplement includes several of the natural compounds listed above all in one capsule. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

And my Optimal Zinc supplement also contains several nutrients that can help you reduce your anxiety and stress.

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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Reviewed by Dr. Richard Nahas, MD CCFP DCAPM ABIM

20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s not a defect in your personality. 

As I’m sure you know, it’s often caused by physiological changes in your body and brain.

So you need to think of it like any other illness. 

If you have a broken bone, you need to wear a cast to stabilize the bone while it heals. 

And if you have depression, you need to be kind to yourself, as you seek and address the underlying root causes. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless. 

I used to think that I’d be depressed forever.

That my depression was simply genetic, and I couldn’t do anything about it. 

In fact, I accepted that notion for a while.

I felt defeated and hopeless, and thought I'd feel that way for my entire life.

I told myself I’d simply have to rely on drugs to survive because that’s just “how I’m wired”. 

But then one day, I changed my mind and decided that I’d had enough. 

And I was actually going to get to the bottom of it instead of just accepting it.

I took action and searched far and wide for safer and healthier solutions to deal with my depression.

I came across research that wasn’t even considered by my psychiatrist.

Therapies that they said wouldn’t work.

But then they did.

And I overcome my depression for good. 

One of my most important discoveries was that nutrient deficiencies can make your depression worse. 

And they could even be the root cause of it. 

It made so much sense.

But why hadn’t my doctors ever brought it up?

I delved deeper into the scientific literature, and I found MANY nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to depression.

I started increasing my intake of them.

And I got better.

Much better.

This new post includes 20 nutrient deficiencies that could be making you feel depressed.

It boggles my mind that many conventional psychiatrists ignore this research.

But that doesn’t mean you need to. 

Read on to learn more. 

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1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to fight depression.

Several studies have shown that depressive patients have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (1-3).

Researchers even conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies, and they found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids were significantly lower in people with depression (4). 

They concluded that having a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is a “contributing factor to mood disorders” (5). 

It’s important to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including:

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpeg
  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids

I take this one.

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

This isn’t surprising because plenty of research shows that omega-3 supplements are effective at treating clinical depression – just as effective as antidepressants drugs – because they lower inflammation in the brain (6-10). 

2. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.

And even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency. 

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency.

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today.

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (16-22). 

And B12 levels tend to be significantly lower in people who are depressed (13). 

In one study, subjects with Vitamin B12 deficiency were 2 times as likely to be severely depressed as non-deficient subjects (15). 

Even a mild decrease in B12 levels is associated with mood disturbances (14). 

Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re not deficient. 

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is an excellent source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver.

You may also want to supplement with Vitamin B12 because studies show that B12 supplementation significantly lowers homocysteine levels and reduces depressive symptoms (23-24). 

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12). 

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active.

I take this B complex supplement regularly, and it includes methyl-B12.

3. Vitamin D (and Vitamin K2)

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.

Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including depression.

Researchers have found a very strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression (27-28). 

The lower your Vitamin D levels, the more symptoms of depression you are likely to have (35). 

Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (25). 

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Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (26). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight.

It’s especially important to make sure you get some sunlight in the morning to set your circadian rhythm. 

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.

That’s why I recommend using a Vitamin D lamp. I use this one. You can get it here or here.

Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement

I now prefer sunlight and the lamp to get my Vitamin D, but research does show that taking a Vitamin D3 supplement is effective at reducing symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (29-31). 

This is likely because Vitamin D increases the production of numerous neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (32-34). 

Lastly, if you decide to supplement with Vitamin D3, you should consider taking it with Vitamin K2

A recent study found that Vitamin K2 reduces depression in animals (36). 

And Vitamin K2 is known to improve brain function in humans (37-38). 

4. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium today.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity. 

Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including depression (42). 

In fact, researchers have found that people with depression have lower magnesium levels than healthy people (49). 

They’ve also found a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression (43). 

On top of this, animal research shows that removing magnesium from their diet results in depressive-like symptoms (50). 

So if you’re struggling with depression, it’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium so that you don’t have a deficiency.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium

I also highly recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement

A number of studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce depressive symptoms in humans – sometimes within 7 days (44-48). 

I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.

5. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health.

Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning.

Mounting evidence suggests a link between zinc deficiency and the development and severity of depression (66-68, 76).  

Depressed patients tend to have lower levels of zinc. And as their zinc levels drop, their depressive symptoms get worse (81-84). 

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Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (63-65). 

So, if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient, and you’ll definitely want to optimize your zinc levels. 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

However, if you’re deficient like I was, I recommend taking a high-quality zinc supplement, at least for a short period of time. 

A meta-analysis and several studies have concluded that zinc supplementation has antidepressant effects and significantly reduces symptoms of depression. One way it improves mood is by significantly increasing BDNF levels (69-75, 77-80).

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal. 

Check out my previous post all about zinc if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels.

Click here to subscribe

6. Folate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (55-56). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens

  • Asparagus

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Strawberries

  • Avocado

  • Beef liver

  • Poultry

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (54).

And supplementation is often needed. 

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (51-53). 

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.

And the research backs up the use of methylfolate.

In one study, patients with depression took methylfolate for 6 months, and they witnessed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms (57). 

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (58). 

Methylfolate can be effective at treating depression because it helps lower homocysteine levels, helps produce serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain (59-62). 

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. Or you can take it separately if you’d like. 

7. Vitamin B6

Having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can also contribute to your depression.

It’s a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.

It can boost your mood because it plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and dopamine. It also lowers homocysteine

Research shows that people with depressive symptoms tend to have low levels of Vitamin B6 (85-87). 

A Vitamin B6 deficiency also contributes to chronic inflammation, which is one of the main underlying root causes of depression (88). 

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Fortunately, consuming more Vitamin B6 can help. 

One study found that women that eat more foods containing Vitamin B6 have a lower risk of depression (89). 

Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken. 

But supplementation is often necessary to see quick improvements. 

One study found that supplementing with Vitamin B6 can reduce depressive symptoms by lowering homocysteine levels (90). 

When I took antidepressants for depression, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with Vitamin B6.

This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing depression in the long run. 

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Vitamin C

Having low levels of Vitamin C can also make you feel depressed.

Researchers have found that poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression (105). 

Animal research also shows that a Vitamin C deficiency can lead to low levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which causes mice to act depressed (106-107). 

As you probably know, Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 1 gram of this Vitamin C every day. 

I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily, and it definitely improved my mood and reduced my stress levels, especially when I was coming off antidepressants

Research backs this up, showing that supplementing with Vitamin C can actually improve mood in both unhealthy and healthy individuals (95, 102-103). 

Various other studies show that Vitamin C supplements reduce stress and anxiety and decrease the severity of depression (96-101, 104).

Studies even show that Vitamin C can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants (108-109). 

9. Thiamine

Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, is an essential water-soluble nutrient that cannot be made by the body. 

It’s used in nearly every cell in the body and especially important for supporting energy levels.

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system (167). 

Research shows that lower levels of Vitamin B1 are associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (168).

Vitamin B1 deficiency is also known to lead to irritability and symptoms of depression (170). 

Some doctors and researchers believe that postpartum depression is sometimes simply a Vitamin B1 deficiency (169). 

Luckily, consuming more Vitamin B1 can help.

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A randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Vitamin B1 supplementation reduces symptoms of depression within 6 weeks (171). 

And another concluded that Vitamin B1 supplementation improves mood, reduces brain fog, and speeds up reaction time (172).

In fact, researchers have even found that subjects’ mood improves if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood increases, and that the opposite occurs if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood decreases (173). 

Benfotiamine is the best supplemental form of Vitamin B1. It’s included in this B complex that I take. 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs. 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is an amino acid found in nearly every cell of the body. It plays a vital role in the production of energy.

Researchers have found significantly lower levels of carnitine in patients with depression. And their low carnitine levels are associated with the severity of their depression (11-12, 174-175). 

Carnitine is mainly found in meat, fish and poultry.

But you can also supplement with it. 

I recommend Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), an acetylated form of carnitine. It’s best supplemental form of carnitine. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.

But it’s also been shown to be very effective at quickly improving mood and treating depression (179-182). 

Six randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that ALCAR is better at treating depression than placebo (177). 

And two other studies found that ALCAR improved depressive symptoms in patients with chronic depression, and it was just as effective as antidepressant medications, but with less side effects (176, 178). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement. You can get it here, and Amazon also now carries it.

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11. Iron

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.

It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale, irritable and foggy

Sounds like depression doesn’t it?

Several studies show that iron deficiency increases the risk of developing depression and increases the severity of depression (184-186, 188-190). 

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

Researchers have also conducted a meta-analysis and found that high iron intake reduces the chance of developing depression (183). 

In one study, iron supplementation resulted in a 25% improvement in depressive symptoms (187). 

Despite this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron though because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems.

It’s definitely preferable to get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.

Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I go with the capsules. You can get them here or here.

Other good sources of iron include:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

12. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health.

Researchers have found that depression is associated with low levels of selenium (191). 

But supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase selenium levels and improve symptoms of depression (192). 

Other research shows that selenium intake is associated with a general elevation of mood (193). 

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured chicken and eggs, and grass-fed meat.

I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.

13. Riboflavin

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.  

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

As a result, a Vitamin B2 deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and depression.

In fact, lower levels of Vitamin B2 have been found in people with depression (91). 

Researchers have also found that Vitamin B2 consumption decreases risk of postpartum depression (92). 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B2 include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

If you’d like, you can also supplement with Vitamin B2.

Studies show that supplementing with Vitamin B2 helps lower homocysteine and reduces depressive symptoms (93-94). 

Vitamin B2 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement. 

14. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a coenzyme and antioxidant located primarily in the mitochondria. It has numerous known health benefits and plays a critical role in producing energy for the body.

CoQ10 is produced within the body, but it’s also found within food and can be supplied to the body through food or supplementation. It resembles a fat-soluble vitamin.

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10 (110). 

Research shows that CoQ10 levels are reduced in people with depression and chronic fatigue (111). 

One study also found that CoQ10 regulates serotonin levels and depressive symptoms in fibromyalgia patients (117). 

CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to improve fatigue and reduce depression symptom severity (112-114). 

It also displays antidepressant-like activity in animals (115-116). 

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. It can be used if you have a CoQ10 deficiency. I took CoQ10 when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

15. Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA) is an uncommon fatty acid.

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

It’s made in the body by the elongation of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).

But small amounts can also be found in animal products (118). 

Last year, researchers found that people with depression are more likely to have low levels of DGLA levels (121). 

And increasing DGLA levels may lower the risk of developing depression (122). 

DGLA also has anti-inflammatory effects in the body (119). 

So it makes sense that levels would be low in depressed individuals because an increasing amount of evidence suggests that depression is a chronic inflammatory disease. 

DGLA can be increased by supplementing with dietary GLA (120). 

GLA can be found in Borage Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Blackcurrant Seed Oil (123). 

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16. Inositol

Inositol is a naturally-occurring molecule found in nearly all plants and animals. It plays a key role in various biological processes.

The brain has the highest concentration of inositol, where it plays an important role making neurotransmitters (124). 

Inositol can be found in many foods, particularly fruit, especially cantaloupe and oranges (125). 

It used to be considered a B Vitamin, called Vitamin B8. But it currently is no longer considered an essential nutrient because your body can produce inositol from glucose (126). 

But I’m including it in this list anyway because individuals with depression have very low levels of inositol in their brains (127-129). 

And inositol supplementation has been shown to increase inositol levels and help treat depression (130, 132). 

It can also reduce symptoms of depression in women with premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (131, 133). 

It’s even been shown to help patients who have discontinued their antidepressant medication (134). 

I took high doses of this inositol powder when weening off psychiatric medication.

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex.

Check out my full post about inositol to learn more about the benefits. 

Fun fact: Inositol is also used as a stand-in for cocaine in television shows and movies. 

17. Manganese

Manganese is an important trace mineral for human health. It acts as a cofactor, helping many enzymes carry out their functions in the body.

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

Research shows that having low levels of manganese can contribute to the development of depression (135). 

One study found that depressed patients had significantly lower levels of “manganese superoxide dismutase”, which is a manganese-dependent enzyme (136). 

Researchers have also found that women with higher manganese intake had a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms (137). 

Hazelnuts and macadamia nuts contain high levels of manganese, while leafy green vegetables, tea, chocolate and some fruits contain moderate levels (139). 

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t consume too much manganese.

In excess, manganese is neurotoxic and can lead to manganism, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes dopaminergic neuronal death and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease (138). 

So I definitely don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of manganese. 

The small amount of manganese in Optimal Antiox is fine though. It’s what I take. 

18. Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, suggesting that it’s very important.

It’s also one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier.

Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning the body can usually produce sufficient amounts of it. But sometimes the body uses up so much glutamine that it becomes necessary to obtain it from the diet or supplements, particularly during periods of illness, stress, inflammation and injuries (156-157). 

Researchers have found that depressed adults have reduced levels of glutamine (158). 

And glutamine deficiency has been shown to increase depressive-like behaviour in animals (159). 

But glutamine supplementation has “clear anti-depressive properties” and has been shown to improve mood (160-161). 

High levels of glutamine can be found in protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, fish and eggs. Beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, brussel sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso also contain some glutamine.

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Glutamine is also available in supplement form. 

Glutamine was one of the main supplements that helped me heal my leaky gut, but I no longer need to take it regularly. 

19. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. It must be consumed through diet or by taking supplements. 

Some healthy foods that contain tryptophan include bananas, chicken, turkey and dark chocolate (140). 

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.png

Tryptophan helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in the brain, which then produces serotonin (141-142). 

Researchers have found that depressed patients have significantly lower levels of tryptophan in their blood than healthy control subjects (143-144). 

Studies also show that depressed patients have a decreased ratio of tryptophan to neutral amino acids in their blood. This suggests that tryptophan availability to the brain is likely reduced in depressed patients (145-146). 

Personally, supplementing with tryptophan never helped me. In fact, it always seemed to make me worse. It gave me asthma and acne and increased my depression.  

This is because depressed patients sometimes have problems creating serotonin from tryptophan. Instead, they create other metabolites from tryptophan, such as quinolinic acid, which can be toxic. For depressed patients like me, tryptophan supplementation won’t help, and may actually make their depression worse (150-151). 

However, some people do see their mood improve when they increase their intake of tryptophan. So it shouldn’t be completely disregarded. 

There are studies that show that consuming a high tryptophan diet and consuming additional dietary tryptophan can increase mood and lead to significantly less depressive symptoms (152-154). 

So supplementing with tryptophan is worth a shot if you’re struggling with depression and haven’t tried it yet. Just be aware of possible side effects. 

If you want, you can also try supplementing with 5-HTP instead of tryptophan. 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin. 

5-HTP is included in this supplement

20. Glutathione

Glutathione is a small peptide made up of 3 important amino acids – glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine – each of which have several important roles in the human body.

Glutathione is found in the food supply and within the human body, where it acts as an antioxidant. It is used by every cell in the body.

It’s technically not an “essential nutrient” because the body can create it.

However, it’s still very important, and a glutathione deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in a number of diseases, including depression.

Studies show that patients with depression have significantly lower levels of glutathione. And the lower a person’s glutathione levels, the more depressed they are likely to be (162-164). 

Some practitioners and researchers have found that increasing glutathione intake and levels can successfully treat depression (165). 

Glutathione is also able to prevent behavioural depression in animals (166). 

It’s important to note that standard glutathione supplements are not very effective at increasing glutathione levels because they are not well absorbed by the body.

But I have found that high-quality liposomal glutathione supplements are effective. 

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is another tried-and-true way of increasing glutathione levels because it’s the direct precursor to glutathione

Garlic, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, can also help boost glutathione levels, but liposomal glutathione and NAC supplements are more powerful. 

Other supplements that have been shown to help increase and maintain optimal glutathione levels include Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and S-adenosyl-methionine (Sam-E)

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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(182) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15591014

(183) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28189077

(184) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3680022/

(185) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29603506

(186) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17063146

(187) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15671224/

(188) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29363366

(189) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29307706

(190) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22286844

(191) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18463429

(192) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18463429

(193) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1873372

(194) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16184071

(195) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16184071

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Nahas, MD CCFP DCAPM ABIM

The 36 Best Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

Dopamine makes you happier, smarter, more productive, more creative, more focused, and more social.

Who doesn't want that? 

There are many ways to increase dopamine naturally.

But what are the VERY BEST ways to do it?

This article gives you the answer. 

It includes the 36 very best ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain.

It starts off with my 10 personal favourites.

And then offers 26 other great options. 

Not only do they work, but many of them work very quickly.

Read on to learn more. 

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

What Is Dopamine and What Does It Do in the Brain?

Dopamine may be the secret to what makes us human – meaning awfully bright, able to plan ahead, and resist impulses when necessary.
— Dr. Emily Deans

Dopamine influences almost every aspect of your life.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, meaning it’s a chemical messenger released by neurons (nerve cells) to “communicate” with other neurons (236). 

Like all neurotransmitters, dopamine shuttles between cells and binds to receptors.

In the media and popular culture, dopamine is often promoted as the main pleasure neurotransmitter.   

But dopamine actually appears to increase desire and motivation more than pleasure.

In fact, it’s often called the “motivation molecule”. 

The brain includes several dopamine pathways, and they play a key role in reward, motivation, memory and attention (233-235). 

So not surprisingly, dopamine significantly impacts human behaviour.

And research shows that naturally increasing dopamine levels can lead to numerous benefits, including:

Conditions and Symptoms Associated with Low Levels of Dopamine in the Brain

Low levels of dopamine make people less likely to work for things.
— Dr. John Salamone

Research shows that low dopamine levels are associated with a number of brain and mental health conditions and symptoms, including:

Perhaps you struggle with one of these conditions or symptoms. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless.

You can naturally increase your dopamine levels and recapture your zest for life.

All you need to do is implement some of the natural strategies below.   

They can significantly improve your motivation, focus and mood.

They have helped me, and they can help you too. 

Let’s jump into them.

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My Top 10 Favourite Ways

1. Sunlight and Vitamin D

Exposing yourself to sunshine is one of the best natural ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain. 

And it’s my personal favourite.

Research shows that sunlight increases dopamine release (4-5).

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

I personally get sunlight every single day during the spring and summer months to increase dopamine. 

It’s important to get the sunlight in your eyes to trigger the release of dopamine. 

So make sure you don’t wear contacts, glasses or sunglasses when you go outside. This way, you’ll get a bigger dopamine boost. 

It’s especially important to do this in the morning because it sets your circadian rhythm (3). 

During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I now use this Vitamin D sunlamp. You can get it here or here

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun. Researchers believe that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (6).

Having a deficiency in Vitamin D leads to lower dopamine levels, but treatment with Vitamin D3 enhances dopamine release (1-2). 

So at the very least, you should take a Vitamin D supplement if you’re deficient. 

2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body and part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

Research shows that chronic impairment of vagus nerve function leads to the inhibition of dopamine in the brain (7). 

But vagus nerve stimulation reverses a dysregulated dopamine system (8).

Read this article for 13 ways to stimulate your vagus nerve. 

Deep breathing with the EmWave2 device is my favourite way. 

3. Low-Level Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that uses low-level (low-power) lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to stimulate brain cells, helping them function better.

Dr. Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and researcher who teaches at the University of Toronto, discusses the amazing effects of LLLT in his book The Brain’s Way of Healing.

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

Research shows that LLLT significantly increases the secretion of dopamine in the brain (12).

Several studies also show that LLLT is neuroprotective and protects dopaminergic brain cells from degeneration (13-21).

Because of this, researchers say LLLT is a promising therapeutic strategy for dopamine-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (12).

I previously wrote about my experience with low-level laser therapy here.

I use this device and apply the infrared light directly to my forehead. 

I also use the Vielight 810, which is an intranasal device with 810 nm of near infrared light (If you decide to try one of the Vielight devices, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount).

4. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as golden root or arctic root, is a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb.

It’s one of the most popular adaptogens used to increase physical and mental stamina. I previously wrote about it here

Researchers have found that rhodiola stimulates dopamine receptors and inhibits the enzymes that break down dopamine in the brain (22). 

It also increases the amount of dopamine precursors that can pass the blood brain barrier (23). 

I take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I need a boost. You can get it here or here

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5. Coffee

Drinking coffee is another great way to boost dopamine levels.

Research shows that caffeine increases the release of dopamine in the brain (26-27). 

Other studies have found that it also enhances dopamine signaling and increases dopamine receptors (24-25). 

Coffee usually makes me sick because I’m extremely sensitive to mold. Most coffee contains high amounts of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

But this coffee doesn’t. I usually drink one cup of it most mornings. I can also tolerate pure caffeine tablets.

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Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine. But if coffee makes you feel terrible and jittery, it might be the quality of the coffee. 

Consider trying Kicking Horse coffee, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee.

Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it later in the day. I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep and don't feel great the next day.

Lastly, it's also a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just the coffee bean or pure caffeine

Traditionally, the coffee bean is extracted from the coffee fruit for roasting. And the surrounding fruit is discarded. 

But that’s a problem.

Because the whole coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

And after years of careful clinical research, scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. 

Coffee fruit concentrate is included in the Optimal Brain supplement. You can get it here, and Amazon also now carries it.

6. Uridine

Uridine is a natural compound commonly found in beer.

I definitely don’t recommend drinking beer, but supplementing with pure uridine can protect the brain, enhance cognition, and increase mood and motivation.

Research shows that it significantly increases the release of dopamine and elevates dopamine levels (29-32).

It’s important to note that uridine in food is not bioavailable, and no food has been shown to increase plasma levels of uridine (28). 

So I take this uridine supplement sublingually, usually before bed. You can get it here or here.

7. Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to cold can also increase your dopamine levels naturally.

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

Researchers have found that cold water immersion increases dopamine by 250% (43-44). 

I take a cold shower every day, and often go outside with minimal clothing in the winter to increase dopamine. 

Try finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water and see how you feel.

Then work your way up to longer periods of time.

It's painful to do, but the lingering effects are worth it.

You can also ease yourself into it by simply sticking your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.

Other ways to exposure yourself to cold include cold plunges, cold baths and cryotherapy. 

8. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite relaxation technique and it's linked to increases in dopamine (46-48). 

In one study, researchers used brain scan imaging to confirm that meditation naturally increases dopamine release by 65% (45).

It likely has these effects by stimulating the vagus nerve

I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback on your brainwaves while you meditate. 

I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website.

9. Ginseng

There are two types of ginseng that increase dopamine – American Ginseng and Siberian Ginseng.

American Ginseng has been shown to improve attention and cognitive processing by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain (93-94). 

American Ginseng is included in the Optimal Ketones supplement.

Researchers have also found that Siberian Ginseng has antidepressant effects by significantly elevating dopamine levels in the brain (95). 

10. Citicoline and Alpha GPC

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is one of the most bioavailable forms of choline, an essential B vitamin that most people don’t consume enough of, because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

It’s been shown to enhance the synthesis of dopamine, increase the release of dopamine, and increase the density of dopamine receptors in the brain (136-142). 

It also protects brain cells that release dopamine, which then prevents a reduction in dopamine (143). 

Alpha GPC is another form of choline that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (144). 

Citicoline and Alpha GPC significantly improve my focus and mental energy. They are both included in the Optimal Brain supplement. You can get it here, and Amazon also now carries it.

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but the effects of Citicoline and Alpha GPC are much more noticeable and immediate.  

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Other Effective Ways

11. Take Dopamine Precursors

You can also increase your dopamine levels by giving your body the raw materials to create dopamine. 

It’s first important to understand that dopamine is created within the body from the amino acid Phenylalanine (149). 

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body cannot create it, and you must obtain it from your diet. 

Phenylalanine is converted into Tyrosine, which is converted into L-Dopa, which is then finally converted into dopamine (150). 

Vitamin B6 and iron are two nutrients that are needed for this conversion to take place.   

Both phenylalanine and tyrosine can be obtained from protein-rich foods.

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

Here are some healthy sources: 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

You can also supplement directly with Phenylalanine, Tyrosine and/or L-Dopa, along with P-5-P and iron

Research shows that supplementing with these dopamine precursors can enhance cognitive performance by increasing dopamine levels in the brain (151-155). 

Mucuna Pruriens, a tropical plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, is good source of L-DOPA and has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (156-161). 

In my experience, Tyrosine and Mucuna Pruriens can sometimes be too stimulating and increase anxiety in some people.

So I prefer supplementing with DL-Phenylalanine because it has other mental health benefits besides increasing dopamine, and can actually reduce anxiety.  

12. Probiotics

Research suggests that certain probiotics can also increase dopamine.

One study found that the probiotic species Lactobacillus plantarum significantly increases dopamine.

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Researchers concluded that daily intake of Lactobacillus plantarum may be able to help treat neuropsychiatric disorders (36). 

Another study found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus increases dopamine in the frontal cortex (37). 

I created and take the Optimal Biotics supplement to support my dopamine levels and mental health.

You can also read this older article for 4 other ways to increase your good gut bacteria. 

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 7 other probiotic strains that can help. 

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells. It’s been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood. It also helps reverse neurological decline and supports mitochondria function.

It does a lot, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that it increases dopamine output in the brain (42). 

I find that it personally gives me a big boost in mental energy and resilience.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement. You can get it here, and Amazon also now carries it.

14. Acupuncture

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Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Researchers have found that acupuncture increases the production of dopamine in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve (9). 

Other studies show that acupuncture enhances the availability of dopamine in the brain and normalizes the release of dopamine during withdrawal (10-11). 

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture. Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear. I’d recommend trying to find a health practitioner in your area who provides it, especially if you’re weening off psychiatric drugs. It really helped me when I came off medication.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I’m not sure why. I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

I also use this acupuncture mat at home to relax before bed.

15. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it’s been shown to increase brain blood flow and improve memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It also improves mood and mental energy, and even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have also discovered that it significantly increases dopamine levels in the brain (33-34). 

It also increases the number of dopaminergic neurons in the brain (35). 

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement. You can get it here, and Amazon also now carries it.

16. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a steroidal hormone naturally manufactured by the body, but it can also be taken as a supplement.

It’s the precursor to almost all other steroid hormones, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.

It’s been shown to enhance memory and reduce stress-induced fatigue.

Research shows that it also increases dopamine release in the brain (38). 

Whenever I take pregnenolone, it gives me a big boost in brain function and mental energy. It definitely works. But if I take it everyday, it starts to make me angry and irritable. So I save it and only take it once every so often.

You can get it here.

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17. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that significantly affects brain function. 

Researchers have found that it passes the blood-brain barrier and acts on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

Unfortunately, many people today develop insulin resistance within the brain.

When this happens, there is a reduction in dopamine.

Research shows that insulin resistance within the brain alters normal dopamine functioning, leading to depression and anxiety (40). 

So in a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is being prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support the brain and mental health.

Intranasal insulin has been reported to significantly enhance memory, increase mental energy, reduce brain fog, improve mood, and lower anxiety and stress levels.

One possible mechanism is by increasing dopamine levels.

One study found that insulin enhances dopamine release in the brain (39). 

Another study found that intranasal insulin is neuroprotective and protects dopaminergic brain cells from damage (41). 

If you’re interested in learning more about intranasal insulin, I previously wrote a full article about it.

18. Forskolin

Forskolin is a natural herb historically used in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat various conditions and diseases.

The herb comes from the roots of the Indian coleus, which is a tropical plant. 

Researchers have found that it stimulates the conversion of tyrosine to dopamine and enhances the release of dopamine (49, 51). 

Other studies show that it can upregulate dopamine receptors (50, 52-56). 

I don’t take it anymore because I prefer Rhodiola and Ginseng. But when I did take it, I noticed an increase in mental energy and clarity.

The one I took isn't available anymore but there are many options available on Amazon

19. Standing

One of the best hacks for your brain and mental health is simply standing more often.

Researchers have found that prolonged, uninterrupted sitting leads to fatigue and lower dopamine levels (57). 

I have this standing desk so that I’m not sitting all the time while working.  

20. Iron

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.

It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale and irritable.

Research shows that iron plays a key role in the regulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission, and iron deficiency can lead to lower dopamine levels (58). 

I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron though because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems (59). 

It’s definitely a much better idea to get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.

Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I go with the capsules. You can get them here or here

Other good sources of iron include:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

21. Salt

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Salt is another tasty, natural way to boost your brain’s dopamine levels.

Researchers have found that dietary salt intake increases dopamine levels (60). 

Keep in mind that processed salt should be avoided or limited. 

Stick to sea salt and pink Himalayan salt.

I add this Celtic sea salt to most of my meals. 

22. Theacrine

Theacrine is a natural compound that can increase energy, focus and mental clarity, and improve mood and motivation.

It’s a small alkaloid molecule found in certain fruits and plants. It’s most commonly found in a Chinese tea known as kucha.

Theacrine’s chemical structure is similar to caffeine. In fact, it’s considered a “new alternative” to caffeine because it activates similar pathways in the brain.

Researchers have found that theacrine acts through the dopamine system to provide a stimulant effect (66). 

It activates dopamine receptors, which increases motivation and wakefulness (67). 

In my experience, theacrine is a good replacement for coffee. It works and feels similar to caffeine, but it has a longer half life and less of a tolerance. It’s also less likely to disrupt sleep (61-63). 

I sometimes take this theacrine supplement when I feel like taking a break from coffee and caffeine. You can get it here or here

You can also take them together for even better results. Research shows that theacrine and caffeine are more effective when taken together because caffeine increases the bioavailability and positive effects of theacrine (64-65). 

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23. Exercise

Not surprisingly, exercise is another natural way to increase dopamine levels in your brain. 

Plenty of research shows that daily exercise leads to increased dopamine neurotransmission, including increased dopamine release and increased dopamine receptor expression and binding (70-73). 

Exercise also slows the break down of dopamine and prevents the loss of dopaminergic brain cells (71). 

Besides boosting dopamine levels, exercise can also stimulate the vagus nerve, promote neurogenesis and increase blood flow to the brain.

So many experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

I recommend you find a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

24. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to promote the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

In one study, researchers fed animals omega-3 fatty acids, and they found that the animals had 40 per cent higher levels of dopamine in the brain than animals that didn’t receive omega-3 fatty acids (69). 

The researchers also noted a reduction in the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, and greater binding of dopamine to the dopamine receptors (69). 

Research also shows that omega-3 fatty acids can help restore normal dopamine release after traumatic brain injury (68). 

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It’s important to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. 

I take this one.

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

You can also order very high-quality seafood and krill oil supplements here.

25. Touch and Massage

Interpersonal touch is another natural way to increase your dopamine levels.

Researchers have discovered that touch significantly increases dopamine release in the brain (74-76).

This can include kissing, cuddling, stroking, tickling, hugging and sex. 

But it can also include massage therapy. 

Studies have shown that massage therapy increases dopamine by 31% on average (77). 

This is one reason why I regularly get a massage from a registered massage therapist. 

Massage also reduces cortisol, increases oxytocin, and stimulates the vagus nerve

26. Tea and Theanine

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Tea has also been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

This includes both green tea and black tea (79-83). 

Both green tea and black tea contain theanine, an amino acid.

Theanine has also been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and significantly increase the release of dopamine in the brain (78, 84-85). 

I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It’s calming and cancels out the jitters of caffeine. 

This anti-anxiety supplement contains theanine. 

27. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break and triggers the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, including dopamine.

Researchers have found that intermittent fasting leads to higher levels of dopamine by increasing dopamine release and enhancing dopamine action (86-89). 

It also reduces age-related loss of dopamine receptors (90). 

I often eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the rest of the day. 

The best way to start fasting is simply by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day. That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.

28. Taurine

Taurine is an organic compound found in food, particularly meat and seafood. It has a wide variety of health benefits.

It can cross the blood-brain barrier and elevate dopamine levels in the brain (91). 

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.  

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29. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. 

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium today.

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity.

Magnesium has antidepressant effects, and one reason for this is because it increases dopamine activity in the brain (92). 

There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium

Supplementation is also a good idea. I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.

30. Folate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression

One reason for this is because folate is absolutely necessary for the production and synthesis of dopamine in the brain (99-100). 

When you have low folate levels, you will also have lower dopamine levels because your body can’t produce dopamine efficiently, and this contributes to depression (101). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (96-98). 

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex

Folate also lowers homocysteine levels

31. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a natural medicinal herb with antidepressant effects.

A 2015 meta-analysis concluded that it is as effective as standard antidepressant pharmaceuticals for treating depression and has fewer adverse effects (105). 

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

A number of studies have also shown that it significantly increases the release of dopamine and increases dopamine levels in the brain (106-110).

One study shows that it increases dopamine in the prefrontal cortex by 40% after one hour (106). 

I took this St. John’s Wort supplement years ago for my depression. It helped me, but I eventually stopped taking it and fixed the true, underlying causes of my depression instead. 

In my experience, it’s best for people who are struggling with mild or moderate depression

It’s important to note that St. John’s Wort shouldn’t be taken if you’re already taking antidepressant medication

32. SAM-e

S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound that naturally occurs in the body. 

It’s also available as a supplement

It’s most commonly used for treating depression because lowered SAM-e levels are associated with depression.

Research shows that SAM-e improves mood by producing dopamine and increasing dopamine levels in the brain (102-104). 

I took this SAM-e supplement after coming off psychiatric medication and it significantly helped me by improving my mood and energy. 

33. Curcumin

Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.

It’s one of my favourite natural compounds for the brain.

It’s been shown to help treat both depression and Parkinson’s disease (111-112). 

Several researchers have found that curcumin increases dopamine levels by reducing the break down of dopamine in the brain (113-120). 

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. The “Longvida” form is my favourite. You can get it here.

34. Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards increasing your dopamine levels naturally. 

Lots of research shows that chronic inflammation reduces dopamine synthesis and dopamine release in the brain, which then leads to a lack of motivation, fatigue and depression (121-124). 

There are many causes of chronic inflammation, including infections, mold, brain injuries, and leaky brain.

But one of the most common causes – and the one you have the most control over – is your diet. 

That’s why I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods such as gluten and dairy that can trigger inflammation in the gut and brain. 

You should also remove processed food from your diet, and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed beef and organic chicken

Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health for a full list of anti-inflammatory foods. 

Other steps you can take to reduce inflammation include reducing stress, exercising, improving gut health, treating infections and getting enough sleep. 

35. Music

Previously, I talked about how music can naturally reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin.

But it also increases dopamine. 

Researchers have found that listening to your favourite music significantly increases the release of dopamine in your brain (125-126, 129-132).

Even the anticipation of good music leads to the release of dopamine (127). 

We are really excited about our study’s results because they suggest that even a non-pharmacological intervention such as music can regulate mood and emotional responses at both the behavioural and neuronal level.
— Dr. Elvira Brattico

And several brain imaging studies show that listening to music activates the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are rich with dopamine receptors (133-134). 

Want to take it a step further?

Start making music. 

Research shows that creating and performing music boosts dopamine levels, even more than simply listening to music (128). 

Because of this, researchers believe music therapy may be an effective therapy for the treatment of disorders caused by low dopamine (130). 

Music has even been shown to help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their fine motor control (135). 

36. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is very important if you want to increase dopamine and naturally optimize your dopamine levels. 

I used to have sleep problems and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my poor mental health.

Research shows that lack of sleep downregulates dopamine receptors, and reduces dopamine receptor availability and sensitivity in the brain (145, 147-148). 

When people are forced to pull an “all-nighter”, the availability of dopamine receptors in their brain is significantly reduced the next morning (146). 

So try your best to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night. 

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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Reviewed by Dr. Richard Nahas, MD CCFP DCAPM ABIM