3 Foods That Make Your Brain Work Remarkably Better

Certain foods are so nutrient dense and have remarkable therapeutic qualities.

Introducing them into your diet can have a profound impact on your brain and overall health. 

Today I’m going to share with you my three of my favourites. 

When I started consuming these regularly, I saw improvements in my physical health, which moved the needle in the right direction towards optimal brain and mental health. 

An illustration of two brain - one full of fruits and vegetables, the other full of candy and junk food.

1. Turmeric (Curcumin)

Turmeric – the spice that gives curry its yellow colour – may be one of the most powerful foods. 

For thousands of years, turmeric has been used medicinally in India. And now today, thousands of high-quality scientific studies have been published, looking into the hundreds of active compounds within turmeric that benefit the body and brain (24). 

One of these compounds is curcumin. 

Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric.

It’s been shown to have a many medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

If you take a high-quality, concentrated source of curcumin, it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and act as a neuroprotective agent, helping to prevent and treat a wide range of neurological and mental disorders. 

A number of studies show that curcumin is a natural antidepressant, working significantly better than placebo and working just as well as Prozac in the treatment of “several mood-related symptoms” – but without the severe side effects that come along with medication.

Other research shows that curcumin is effective at fighting major depression by reducing stress hormones and increasing serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for emotional wellbeing (26-30, 59-62). 

Curcumin has also been shown to help people manage stress and anxiety and overcome trauma. In one study, the curcumin reduced "stress-related depressive symptoms" in animals exposed to chronic stress. In other words, it made them more resilient (31). 

And a ground-breaking 2015 study demonstrated that curcumin can prevent new traumatic memories from being stored in the brain, and can remove “fear memories” already existing in the brain. The researchers suggested that curcumin should be seriously considered as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (32). 

This suggests that people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological disorders that are characterized by fearful memories may benefit substantially from curcumin.
— Dr. Glenn Schafe, PhD, Hunter College

Lastly, curcumin powerfully protects the aging brain, improves attention and memory in older individuals, and prevents and delays the development of Alzheimer’s.

In fact, seniors in India who eat turmeric regularly have the lowest rate of rate of Alzheimer’s in the world (33, 34, 58, 66). 

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How Can A Spice Possibly Treat Mental Illness?

Almost every chronic disease – including depression, anxiety, PTSD and Alzheimer’s – has been linked to chronic, low-level inflammation. People with clinical depression in particular have been shown to have 30 percent more brain inflammation than the general population (35-38). 

And curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Many researchers point to this as the main reason why the compound is so beneficial for people suffering from these diseases (39- 45).

Despite what has been previously believed, depression is not all about brain chemicals such as serotonin. Our findings support consistent research that depression is associated with increased inflammation and oxidative stress and it can be treated with an agent that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. There is now increasing support for the antidepressant effects of curcumin, with a previous study demonstrating curcumin to be as effective as a pharmaceutical antidepressant for the treatment of depression.
— Dr. Adrian Lopresti, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and senior researcher at Murdoch University

Curcumin also increases the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain. It does this by increasing enzymes that enhance the synthesis of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from its precursor alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (56). 

And as I’ve discussed before, ALA is usually poorly converted into DHA, and DHA deficiency is linked to several brain and mental health disorders. So taking both krill oil and curcumin can support the fatty acid composition of your brain. Both of them played a significant role in my recovery.

Another possible explanation is that curcumin boosts Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that increases the growth of new brain cells, and is linked to improved brain function and a lower risk of mental disease. It's been shown that people with depression and Alzheimer’s have reduced levels of BNDF in their brain (46-50, 31). 

Curcumin definitely helped me overcome post-concussion syndrome, and this makes sense considering the research showing that it counteracts cognitive impairment caused by traumatic brain injury. It can also delay and even reverse general deterioration of cognitive function, and may even improve memory and make you smarter (51, 52, 57). 

But before you go and start eating lots of turmeric and curcumin, it’s important to know how to take it and in what form

The Best Form of Curcumin For Your Brain

It is difficult to experience the full therapeutic effects of curcumin by simply eating turmeric. This is because the curcumin content of turmeric is low - only about 3% of turmeric is made up of curcumin (52). 

Most of the studies I have referenced use turmeric extracts that contain large amounts of curcumin – more than what you’d be able to consume simply by adding turmeric to your meals. On top of this, curcumin is very inefficient at absorbing into the bloodstream and reaching the brain. Luckily, science and technology has been able to concentrate significant amounts of curcumin into supplement form and increase its bioavailibility (54, 55). 

There are several different patented forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I’ve tried most of them. But I didn’t notice a significant effect from most of them, making me think that they are not actually “bioavailable”, or at the very least, they aren’t able to cross the blood-brain barrier effectively and reach the brain.

But I did notice a difference from the "Longvida" form of curcumin

Based on my experience and research, it is the most effective form of curcumin for the treatment of brain and mental disorders, as it’s formulated in a way that enables the active ingredients to cross the blood-brain barrier. Other “bioavailable” forms of curcumin will likely still affect the rest of the body, but not the brain.

That’s why I recommend Curcubrain Longvida . You can get it through AmazonIt is one of my favourite supplements and since it is a fat soluble, I take it every day with a fatty meal. 

2. Coconut Oil (MCTs and Ketones)

Coconuts are largely made up of saturated fat, and since the 1950s, there has been a war on saturated fat (5). 

As a result, coconut oil has been vilified and blamed for clogging arteries and causing heart disease.

But, as I’ve discussed before, saturated fat is actually harmless. It appears to be “common knowledge” that it's bad for us and should be avoided, but this is a myth that has been disproven over and over (3, 4, 6, 7). 

In fact, when people make coconut a big part of their diet, they have lower rates of heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases (1, 2, 9). 

And fats, particularly the ones from coconut oil, are crucial for optimal brain and mental health. The brain is 60% fat and the integrity of your brain cell membranes depend on high-quality dietary fat (8). 

The low-fat approach to eating hasn’t helped us control weight or become healthier. Detailed research — much of it done at Harvard — shows that the total amount of fat in the diet isn’t really linked with weight or disease.
— Harvard School of Public Health

I used to eat this coconut oil every day. But I actually don’t eat as much anymore because I got sick of its taste. Knowing it was healthy for me, I actually ate way too much that I actually started to despise the taste of coconut.

But coconut oil also contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). MCTs are fatty acids of a smaller length that are easily digested in the body, and quickly metabolized into ketones by the liver. Ketones are an alternative source of fuel, which can quickly recharge the brain’s malfunctioning cells and improve cognitive function in susceptible individuals. The ketones that result from supplementing with pure MCT oil readily cross the blood-brain barrier and provides instant energy to brain cells (10, 21). 

Coconuts and glass of coconut oil.

I used to supplement with 1-2 tablespoons of this pure MCT oil every morning.

I now take Optimal Ketones, which is an exogenous ketone supplement that quickly put me into a ketogenic state and immediately increases my mental clarity. It works better than coconut oil and MCT oil.

Optimal Ketones gives my brain a steady supply of ketones and energy to start my day. 

Research is accumulating in support of ketonescoconut oil and its MCTs

Researchers have labelled coconut oil an “anti-stress and antidepressant nutritional oil” after finding that it can reduce stress and depression by increasing antioxidants in the brain (11). 

And high-fat diets and ketones can help slow down aging in the brain by repairing cell damage, which can help treat memory loss, dementia, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury (12, 16-20). 

And you don’t have to wait days or months to witness the neuroprotective benefits.

One study in the journal Neurobiology of Aging showed significant cognitive and memory improvements within 90 minutes of taking MCT oil (13). 

It’s quite possible that these brain and mental health benefits may stem from ketone production, the MCTs within coconut oil, and/or coconut oil’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (14, 15). 

Bacteria, viruses, inflammation and our immune system also impact the health of our brains, and lauric acid, one of the saturated fatty acids found in coconut oil, has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and immune-boosting properties (22). 

Caprylic acid, another main fatty acid in coconut oil and MCT oil, improves circulation, has anti-aging properties and can help treat Alzheimer's (23).

And you don’t need to stick with coconut oil.

Coconut milk, water and meat are other ways to get the benefits of coconut and MCT oil

Or you can simply take Optimal Ketones to experience the fastest and most powerful beneficial effects.

3. Organ Meats (Beef Liver)

You’re going to eat my what?

You’re going to eat my what?

Organ meats are nutritional powerhouses.

Traditional cultures recognized this and have consumed them for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, we hardly we eat them today.

In some traditional cultures, they only ate the organ meats. They threw away muscle meat or gave it to the dogs. And that's obviously the opposite of what we do today. The thought of throwing away a lean piece of steak to your dog seem insane. But muscle meat just isn't as nutritious as the rest of the animal.

And if you look at predatory animals, after they kill their prey, they instinctively start eating the organs first, saving the muscle meat for later.

In one of my favourite books called Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, Dr. Catherine Shanahan recommends the consumption of organ meats for optimal gene function.

Beef liver in particular is incredibly nutrient dense. It’s nature multivitamin, containing more nutrients, gram for gram, than any other food. It’s actually a superfood. And I don’t like using the word "superfood". But beef liver actually fits the definition of a superfood, especially if it’s coming from grass-fed cows.

We hear over and over that fruits and vegetables are so nutritious. And they are. They should definitely make up a large part of your diet, as they include higher amounts of phytonutrients compared to animal foods. But when it comes to vitamins and minerals, fruit and veggies pale in comparison to organ meats such as liver.

Liver has almost everything in it that you need for optimal brain and mental health (63):

  • An excellent source of high-quality protein and amino acids

  • Omega 3 fatty acids

  • Vitamin C

  • Minerals such as zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, iron and chromium, some of which are very important for cognitive function and overall brain health.

  • Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. Liver is the most concentrated source of retinol (preformed vitamin A) found in nature.

  • All of the B vitamins, including choline, B12 and folate, which support methylation, a biochemical process that is very important for robust and vibrant brain and mental health. Liver has 17 times more vitamin B12 than regular ground beef (64).

The nutrients found in beef liver.

That’s why I recommend people throw away their multivitamin and eat liver instead. You can search for high-quality pastured meat at EatWild.com, and if you live in the United States, you can order high-quality, grass-fed beef liver through US Wellness Meats and get shipped right to your house. And the great thing about organ meats such as liver is that they're much cheaper than muscle meat. So you actually save money by purchasing the healthiest part of the animal.

And if you can’t find high-quality grass-fed liver in your area or don’t like the taste of liver, I recommend raw beef liver powder in capsule form by Perfect Supplements. Their supplement contains organic beef liver from free range cows that feed exclusively on grass. You can get it through their website or Amazon. I can’t stand the taste of liver, so I take 4 capsules every day. I’ve seen an increase in my energy levels since I started taking them. 

Some people object to eating liver, as they believe the liver filters and stores toxins in the body. But the liver doesn't store toxins. It neutralizes them, and then they are flushed out of the body. Toxins that the body can't eliminate often accumulate in the fat of the animal, not the liver. That's why I recommend eating lean meats if you aren't eating organic, grass-fed meats. You don't really want to be eating the fat (or organs) of sick, conventional animals.

Another objection is that it contains animal fat and cholesterol. But as I've discussed before, saturated fat and cholesterol are not bad for your health. This is a huge myth.

Other than liver, you can also try incorporating other organs into your diet, including beef kidney, tongue, heart and even brain into your diet. 

That's right, brain.

Some traditional cultures believe “like supports like” and eating the organs of a healthy animals supports the organs of the eater. So it’s possible that eating the brains of healthy animals could support the health of your own brain. And this would make sense since cow brain is full of healthy omega-3 fats and B12, which help fight depression, fatigue and cognitive decline. 

Conclusion

Nutrient-based medical treatments used to be the norm.

Unfortunately, the general public is now convinced that pharmaceutical medicine is their only option.

But it’s not.

Food-based interventions work and they helped me get better.

And despite all the research demonstrating the powerful medicinal properties of these foods, the pharmaceutical industry and conventional medicine seem to ignore them. 

They’re found in millions of kitchens around the world, so they lack exclusivity and therefore profitability. 

They threaten the status quo and pharmaceutical industry revenue.  

Unless they can be transformed into patented substances, the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t have a financial incentive to research and promote them to physicians.

Unless an investor is willing to pay millions of dollars upfront to pay for multi-phased, double-blind, randomized control trials, they will never be approved for clinical practice and prescribed by your doctor. 

You don’t have to wait around for all of this to happen.

You can take control of your own brain health and try them yourself:

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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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.

Autophagy.

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

A baby sleeping. Sleep induces autophagy in the brain.

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 Iris 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.

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

A cup of coffee on a plate with a spoon. Coffee induces autophagy in the brain.

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)

Olive oil on a picnic table. The antioxidants in olive oil can induce autophagy in the brain.

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)

An illustration of the sun with Vitamin D in the middle. Vitamin D induces autophagy in the brain.

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.

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

A bowl of berberine. Berberine induces autophagy in the brain.

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.

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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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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How to Protect Your Brain from Alcohol & Never Be Hungover

Picture of alcohol in front of brain.

Alcohol isn’t good for you.

Ideally, you should completely avoid it for optimal brain and mental health. 

But that’s in a perfect world. 

Alcohol is everywhere and social interactions often involve it. So you’re going to end up drinking it every now and then. And during big holidays or special occasions, you likely won’t stop at one drink. 

And I don’t blame you. 

There are times when I let loose and have a drink or two (or several). Life’s too short not to indulge once in a while. 

Fortunately, it’s possible to have a few drinks on occasion without completely destroying your brain and mental health. In fact, you can enjoy the buzz safely and wake up the next day feeling great.

So I’m going to share with you my comprehensive anti-alcohol regimen so that you can manage and fight back against the damaging effects of alcohol. 

I often go many months without having a sip of alcohol. But when I do imbibe, I follow the steps below.

These recommendations will:

  • Protect your brain while consuming alcohol

  • Decrease the chances that you'll wake up depressed, anxious and hungover

  • Help you recover if you do wake up feeling sub-optimal

  • Heal your brain after long-term alcohol abuse

The more steps that you take, the less likely you will wake up feeling physically and mentally sick. 

And as you’ll see, these recommendations are very good for your brain and mental health in general. If you don’t drink, implementing some of these strategies into your everyday life will help you overcome anxiety and depression.

The Most Important Steps For Protecting Your Brain From Alcohol and Avoiding a Hangover

1. Pick The Right Drinks

The type of alcohol you drink can make a huge difference in how you feel the next morning. 

Certain drinks are worse for your brain and increase your chance of waking up hungover and depressed. 

Based on my experience and research, here are some common forms of alcohol, from best to worst:

Man holding shot glass with vodka.
  • Vodka – best option

  • Gin

  • Rum

  • Dry cider

  • Dry white wine

  • Tequila

  • Whiskey

  • Regular white wine

  • Red wine

  • Cider with lots of sugar

  • Gluten-free beer

  • Regular beer – worst option

Highly filtered and distilled liquor such as vodka, gin and rum are your best options. And it’s best to drink them straight. Carbonation increases the absorption of alcohol, which may increase the chance of you experiencing a hangover the next day (7). 

Dry cider and dry white wine are also decent options, but not as optimal as filtered and distilled liquor.

I recommend you completely avoid or significantly limit sugary drinks and beer. Refined sugar and wheat in beer can activate the immune system and trigger inflammation, which can negatively affect your brain and make you feel mentally unstable and foggy (57, 58). 

Some alcoholic drinks also contain congeners, substances produced during fermentation. They are often found in dark alcoholic drinks, such as whiskey and tequila, and can also contribute to hangovers, making you feel suboptimal the next day. So you should try to stay away from those too (4). 

Glass of red wine.

Lastly, mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by mold that are capable of causing disease in humans. Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in wine and beer, and can make you feel sick if you’re sensitive to them. And some research shows that one type of mycotoxin, ochratoxin A, can cause brain damage (49, 50, 51, 52). 

After living in a moldy environment for over one year, I became extremely sensitive to seemingly healthy foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea and nuts. Eating low-quality versions of these foods give me asthma and make me feel mentally tired. I couldn’t figure it out why at first, but I’ve now confirmed that it’s the mycotoxins that are commonly found in cheap versions of these foods. 

Not everyone will be sensitive to them. But if you are, your hangover will be worse and your cognition will suffer the next day.

That’s why I don’t recommend red wine, as it often contains them. Red wine is also overrated. It does contain the beneficial antioxidant resveratrol but not very much. Red wine manufacturers love to make it seem like it has a lot, but that’s just a marketing gimmick. You would have to drink several bottles of red wine on a regular basis to consume enough resveratrol and get major health benefits. And by drinking that much alcohol, you’d be destroying your health anyway. So you’re better off just supplementing with resveratrol

If you decide to drink something other than straight liquor, I recommend you take activated charcoal along with each drink. You can get it here

2. Drink Lots of Water

Alcohol dehydrates your body. 

And the tissue around your brain is made up of water. So as you drink, and you lose water, the tissues around your brain start to shrink. This leads to pressure around your head that can contribute to headaches, fatigue and dizziness (5, 6).

That’s why you should hydrate heavily. Have one or two cups of water with each alcoholic drink, and lots of water before bed. 

Your brain will thank you for it. 

3. Liposomal Glutathione

Your body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, a highly-reactive compound that is actually much more toxic to your brain than alcohol itself.

Your liver enzymes and antioxidants try to detoxify and eliminate it, but they often cannot keep up, leading to common hangover symptoms (19).

But hangover symptoms can be prevented or significantly reduced if you help your body get rid of the acetaldehyde. 

This can be done by supporting your body's natural detoxification pathways.  

One way to do this is by increasing glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant. 

Man hungover in front of several bottles of alcohol.

Glutathione plays a key role in alcohol detoxification by “mopping up” acetaldehyde. And it's been shown that regular alcohol exposure depletes glutathione (47).

That’s why I recommend supplementing with liposomal glutathione before and after you drink alcohol. Doing so will guarantee you have enough of the antioxidant to protect your brain and prevent hangover symptoms. 

It’s important to note that most standard glutathione supplements get broken down by the your digestive tract and do not enter your bloodstream. So you’ll need to find a highly-absorbable form of glutathione

I take liposomal glutathione an hour before drinking, and in the morning to restore glutathione to healthy levels.  You can get it on Amazon.

4. N-Acetyl-Cysteine and Vitamin C

Another way you can increase gluathione is by taking Vitamin C and n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) together. 

NAC is the precursor to glutathione. It's been shown that it effectively produces and replenishes glutathione levels in our tissues, helping us fend off the consequences of alcohol consumption (23, 24).

In rats, it prevents alcohol toxicity and death by binding directly to acetaldehyde and blocking its damaging effects in the body and brain (25, 26). 

I’ve also previously discussed how NAC can help treat six different mental illnesses

Along with NAC, Vitamin C plays a key role in the production of glutathione. Research shows that it also helps soak up acetaldehyde, and it is depleted by alcohol consumption (25, 36).

If you do just one thing to protect your brain from alcohol, it would be to take either glutathione, or NAC and Vitamin C.

NAC and Vitamin C are both included in the Optimal Antiox supplement. I take it before, during, and after I drink alcohol.

It’s important to note that taking glutathione, NAC and Vitamin C before or during alcohol consumption does not prevent you from getting drunk. It simply blocks alcohol toxicity and the irritable side effects that you may experience the next day. So technically, you can “have your cake and eat it too” when you follow these steps properly.

Lastly, NAC is excitotoxic. If you are deficient in Vitamin B6 or magnesium, you may experience headaches from taking too much NAC along with alcohol. Obviously we’re trying to avoid headaches, so if this happens to you, just stick with glutathione and Vitamin C. 

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5. Bioavailable Vitamin B1

Thiamine (vitamin B1) is an essential water-soluble vitamin.

Alcohol depletes Vitamin B1, and deficiency is common in regular drinkers. A lack of Vitamin B1 has been shown to damage brain cells and cause a variety of mental symptoms including lethargy, fatigue, apathy, impaired awareness, loss of equilibrium, disorientation, memory loss and anorexia, (37, 38, 39). 

NAC’s antioxidant effects are even more powerful when combined with Vitamin B1. In one study, NAC, Vitamin C and Vitamin B1 completely blocked a deadly dose of acetaldehyde in animals. None of the animals treated with these nutrients died (25, 34). 

The two bioavailable forms of vitamin B1 that I recommend to you are benfotiamine and sulbutiamine

Benfotiamine is the fat-soluble form of vitamin B1, and its absorption is approximately five times higher than regular thiamine (48). 

I recommend you take 300 mg of benfotiamine with each drink. You can get it through AmazonIt’s also available in some B complex supplements, like this one.

Sulbutiamine is a synthetic version of Vitamin B1, consisting of two thiamine molecules bound together. This allows vitamin B1 to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support the brain. I recommend you take 200 mg of sulbutiamine before you go to bed, and then another 200 mg when you wake up in the morning. You can get high-quality sulbutiamine here

I remember the first time I took sulbutiamine after years of regular drinking. It felt like a light was turned on in my brain. Everything was brighter and I had a lot more mental energy. It was as if my brain hadn’t fully recovered from chronic alcohol consumption. I suspect regular vitamin B1 wasn’t reaching my brain. 

6. Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that could possibly be even more protective than Vitamin C. It is fat soluble and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain (53, 54, 55).

ALA enhances the antioxidant power of glutathione, NAC and vitamin C and helps them clear acetaldehyde from your body (56).

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement, along with NAC and Vitamin C.

Combining ALA with Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) is even more powerful.

ALCAR is a neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing amino acid.

ALA and ALCAR are synergistic, meaning that when you take them together, they are more effective at protecting your brain.

They've been shown to prevent brain inflammation and neurotransmitter impairment caused by alcohol. They can also reverse brain damage and restore healthy brain function after drinking alcohol (55, 59, 60). 

Along with Optimal Antiox, I also take the Optimal Brain supplement before and after drinking. It includes 500 mg of ALCAR.  

7. Minerals

Alcohol depletes a number of minerals, particularly zinc, potassium and magnesium. 

That’s why I recommend taking a high-quality multi-mineral supplement after your last drink, before going to bed, and then again the next morning. 

Zinc and magnesium are especially important for brain and mental health, so you don’t want to be deficient in either of them. I take extra zinc and magnesium on top of my multimineral before bed. 

Magnesium is especially helpful, as it’s been shown to prevent and relieve headaches and improve sleep. Epson salt baths can provide your body with lots of magnesium (8). 

It’s also been shown that alcoholics are often deficient in zinc (and have too much copper) (28). 

Zinc deficiency may explain why alcoholics drink in the first place. As I’ve discussed before, zinc deficiency can contribute to social anxiety and generalized anxiety. And chronic drinkers often drink to manage their anxiety and stress. 

That’s why I would recommend a zinc supplement if you struggle with anxiety, stress or a drinking problem.

As a former anxious drinker, I find great relief in taking zinc. 

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Theanine

Theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in tea that has a number of health benefits (9, 40). 

It’s been shown to protect your brain from alcohol, as it blocks free radicals, counteracts the loss of glutathione, improves sleep, and accelerates the breakdown acetaldehyde – all of which contribute to the development of a hangover (12). 

It can also make you feel less drunk.

When researchers give theanine to mice, it significantly reduces blood levels of alcohol (12). So when you want to drink socially, but would rather not feel intoxicated, you should take theanine before consuming alcohol. 

Personally, I don’t want to block the buzz of alcohol. That’s why I take 200 mg of theanine just before going to bed, and then another 200 mg again in the morning when I wake up. Doing this will improve your sleep, help you sober up, and make you calmer and more stable the next morning. 

Theanine can also be found in green tea, but you would have to drink a lot to get the same amount that you would in supplement form. 

If you don’t want to experiment and take each supplement individually, I recommend taking this supplement called Vive. It includes many of the nutrients that I recommend throughout this article. I bought and tried Vive myself, and it works. It’s much more convenient than taking everything separately. I contacted Vive and got a discount code for readers. You can save 15% by using the code OPTIMAL15 at checkout.

Vive also have party packs where you actually get a complimentary vacation when you buy a lot of packets. If you go with one of the party packs, you can use the code OPTIMAL10 for a discount.

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Additional Steps To Protect Your Brain From Alcohol and Avoid a Hangover

Based on my research and self-experimentation, my previous recommendations are the most impactful steps you can take. 

However, here are some extra tips and recovery solutions for you to consider.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that mixes well with alcohol. 

It has anti-anxiety effects that are synergistic with alcohol, so you will need less of each to experience the relaxing effects of each (61). 

In my experience, ashwagandha is helpful when you want to be in a relaxed and socialble mood, but would rather limit your alcohol intake. I have a reduced urge to continue drinking alcohol when I take ashwagandha before drinking. And from what I’ve heard, there isn’t any negative interaction between them, and I only experience positive results mixing the two.

It’s also been shown to help relieve anxiety and depression during alcohol withdrawal. In one study, its anti-anxiety effects were comparable to diazepam, an anti-anxiety medication (62).

So when you experience anxiety and depression after drinking alcohol, I’d recommend taking ashwagandha the next morning. It definitely helps me manage and overcome any alcohol withdrawal much easier.

You can get high-quality ashwagandha here. Take a low dose before drinking alcohol or a larger dose the morning after drinking. 

S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e)

If you struggle from depression, you probably notice that alcohol makes you feel more depressed the day after.

I used to be convinced that I would need to avoid alcohol forever because every time I drank it, I would be very depressed for several days afterwards.

Man drinking alcohol.

This is likely because alcohol increases the amino acid homocysteine, and high levels of homocysteine have been associated with depression (2, 3). 

That’s why I take S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) after a night of drinking, as it helps lower homocysteine. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to lead to SAM-e deficiency (27). 

SAM-e also helps restore glutathione after you drink alcohol (29, 30). 

Even if you don’t drink, but struggle with depression, supplementing with SAM-E may really help you. I took it for a few months after coming off psychiatric medication, but no longer need to take it regularly. You can get it here.

Supplementing with trimethylglycine and B vitamins (folate and B12) also helps your body synthesize its own SAMe, similar to how NAC and vitamin C work together to produce glutathione. 

Taurine

Taurine is another amino acid that reduces the bad effects of alcohol on your brain. 

It’s been shown to prevent brain cell death, reduce lack of coordination, and decrease the urinary loss of certain minerals during alcohol use (31, 32, 33).

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

I recommend taking taurine before and after consuming alcohol.

B Vitamins

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, took B vitamins to manage his alcohol cravings

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, took B vitamins to manage his alcohol cravings

As I mentioned above, Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is the most important B vitamin to take when consuming alcohol.

But research shows that alcohol significantly depletes all the B vitamins, particularly vitamin B3, B6 and folate (2, 27). 

Vitamin B3 (niacin) is very beneficial for the brain of regular drinkers. Niacin deficiency often leads to a desire to drink alcohol, and drinking alcohol further depletes niacin in the body and brain. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), took niacin to remain sober and manage his cravings for alcohol. 

Alcohol has also been shown to deplete the body of folate and vitamin B6, which are critical nutrients involved in the production of GABA and serotonin (20, 64). 

I take this B complex before and after drinking alcohol. 

Pyritinol

As I just mentioned, alcohol depletes vitamin B6. 

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of Vitamin B6.

Similar to subutiamine, pyritinol is a special form of Vitamin B6 in which two Vitamin B6 molecules attached to each other. This allows Vitamin B6 to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support the brain. 

Taking it before, during and after alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce hangover symptoms by more than 50% (46).

I take 300 mg before and 300 mg after drinking. You can get it here

Krill Oil

I’ve talked about the many mental health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids before, and it appears they can protect your brain from alcohol exposure too.

When people are exposed to both alcohol and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, they experience less brain inflammation and brain cell death than people who simply drink alcohol alone. It appears that DHA mitigates oxidative damage in the brain that results from binge drinking (11).

I take this krill oil everyday. 

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Curcumin

I’ve also discussed curcumin lots before, as it has helped me overcome chronic depression and anxiety. It’s one of the best supplements you can take for your brain and mental health. 

And here’s another reason you might want to consider taking it – it can increase glutathione and prevent brain damage caused by alcohol (35). 

It’s also been shown to prevent brain inflammation, and reverse the negative biochemical and behavioural changes that result from previous alcohol consumption (1).

I take the Longvida form of curcumin every day anyway. But I try to take it immediately before having any alcohol because of its protective effects. You can get it here.

Silymarin (Milk Thistle)

Silymarin is the active compound found in milk thistle, a herb commonly used to improve liver health and protect the liver from alcohol and other drugs.

Milk thistle also has powerful antioxidant properties that have been shown to help prevent the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde (18, 45). 

I take it before a night out. You can get it through Amazon.

Garlic

Garlic contains the antioxidant s-allyl-cysteine, which neutralizes acetaldehyde. It’s also been shown to reduce oxidative stress and protect the nervous system (41, 42). 

Maybe this is why I always crave garlic shawarma at the end of a night out :) 

I haven’t tried supplementing with garlic extract for preventing hangovers, but I did take this garlic extract after moving out of my moldy house in 2011 and it made me feel better.  

Other Antioxidants

One of the best ways you can  the oxidative stress that results from alcohol consumption is to regularly consume enough antioxidants, especially leading up to a night out (21).

Some other protective antioxidants include CoQ10, quercetin, grape seed extract, Vitamin E, selenium and resveratrol. 

Mixture of berries.

Resveratrol is a very powerful antioxidant that can protect against alcohol’s toxic effects (13, 14, 15). 

Grape seed extract has also been shown to prevent the oxidative damage caused by alcohol (16, 17). 

Selenium levels tend to be lower in people who drink alcohol on a regular basis (22). 

And Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties that can prevent brain damage caused by alcohol. It’s often depleted in chronic drinkers (43, 44). 

And similar to statin drugs, alcohol has also been shown to deplete CoQ10 (63). 

I created and take the Optimal Antiox supplement before and after drinking, and it contains many of the antioxidants mentioned above.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is a potent natural treatment that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body. 

If you choose to drink wine or beer, you should take activated charcoal with each drink and once you’re done drinking. 

Activated charcoal can help bind and remove gluten and mycotoxins from your body, although it won’t catch them all. You’re definitely better off just avoiding drinks that contain them. 

The activated charcoal is also very good at protecting you from the congeners found in tequila and whiskey. 

I take this activated charcoal whenever I eat something that makes me sick. You can get it through Amazon. 

Conclusion

Clearly, there’s lots that can be done to protect your brain from alcohol. 

Even though your body and brain can be overwhelmed by alcohol, you can support yourself and reduce the damage by drinking the right alcohol, hydrating heavily, and supplementing with various antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Obviously it would be much easier to just avoid alcohol altogether. And that would definitely be optimal for your brain and mental health.

But if you do decide to drink, I’ve shared bunch of ideas here, and hopefully you find a good mix of preventative solutions that work for you. Self-experimentation is key.

But in my experience, the below interventions are the essentials. They work very well for me, mitigating damage and allowing me to wake up in the morning feeling great:

Woman smiling and clinking wine glasses with man.

If you don’t want to experiment and take each supplement individually, I recommend taking this supplement called Vive. It includes many of the nutrients that I recommend throughout this article. I bought and tried Vive myself, and it works. It’s much more convenient than taking everything separately. I contacted Vive and got a discount code for readers. You can save 15% by using the code OPTIMAL15 at checkout.

Vive also have party packs where you actually get a complimentary vacation when you buy a lot of packets. If you go with one of the party packs, you can use the code OPTIMAL10 for a discount.

Lastly, it’s important to consider your current level of health. If you’re an alcoholic, on medication, or struggle with severe mental health issues, you should focus on dealing and overcoming those issues first. Otherwise, alcohol will make everything worse. After you heal your body and brain, you should be able to tolerate it just fine.

Alcohol used to be a complete no-no for me, but I can now handle it just fine because I'm healthy. Yet, funny enough, now that I experience optimal brain and mental health, I actually don’t even feel the need to drink alcohol like I used to. 

Overall, I hope you found this useful. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Do you drink? What do you do to protect yourself or avoid a hangover? Have I missed anything?

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

References:

(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23583655

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18790817

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17541043

(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18182417

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20336685

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20497950

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17720590

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8984087

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296328

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15226168

(11) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0101223

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16141543

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17567031

(14) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037055/

(15) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21281738

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17910615

(17) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17567031

(18) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19900758

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20712596

(20) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10726110

(21) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10728605

(22) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175657

(23) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2538005

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16899047

(25) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1171591

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8833231

(27) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8139796

(28) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4012273

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC508623/

(30) http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/115/1/131.full

(31) http://www.hubmed.org/display.cgi?uids=19239146

(32) http://www.hubmed.org/display.cgi?uids=17961547

(33) http://www.hubmed.org/display.cgi?uids=19239172

(34) http://www.dsf.uniss.it/documenti/54.pdf

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10548748

(36) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15969504

(37) http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/134-142.htm

(38) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15166742

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15778906

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21735551

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15380627

(42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12885594

(43) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11723717

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11454938

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(46) http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1974-20470-001

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(48) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8929745

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153291/

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(51) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11403149

(52) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21954354

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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Diseases Caused By Air Pollution: Brain Health Primer

This is a guest post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and helps thousands of people take charge of their own health with his company.

 

Polluted air. Whenever I talk about that subject, people don’t really know what to say:

“No choice but to live with air pollution.”

“Everyone is breathing in toxic air so it’s not that much of a problem.”

“If polluted air really affected health the government would crack down much harder on it.”

“If you live in the city, there’s nothing you can do about an air pollution problem.”

And you know what?

You’d be entirely wrong with such statements. Heart problems, lung cancer, and Alzheimer’s are but a few of the diseases caused by air pollution.

The problem gets worse though: millions of people die every year due to air pollution (1 - 4).

Air pollution costs about 5 trillion dollars every year (107 - 108).

That’s right: $5,000,000,000,000.

Air pollution also kills more people than smoking. And yet, developed nations don’t have national marketing campaigns to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution as they do for smoking. That discrepancy is somewhat short-sighted.

What’s even more tragic is that poor people share the biggest health burden within the air pollution problem. Many poor communities are located close to airfields (5 - 7). Overflying airplanes are a major source of several air pollutants, as well as car traffic.

Highways are often located in poor neighborhoods as well.

But what are air pollutants anyway?

Well, one example is “particulate matter”. Particulate matter are tiny little particles that have a diameter 30 times as small as a human hair that you can breathe in. Lead is a second example (8 - 10). Unlike road vehicles, lead emissions are not regulated by airplane emissions.

I feel sorry for people living close to that airport...

Poor people are also hit hardest by road traffic. Why? Well, if you’re worth 5 million dollars you’re not going to live in an area where thousands of cars pass by every day.

You’ve got choice in that case…

No matter where you live, your exposure to toxic air is almost certainly excessive.

So it’s therefore time for change. It’s time you take this matter into your own hands. It’s time your health is no longer impacted by this human tragedy.

In this blog post I’ll teach you the basics about diseases caused by air pollution. I’ll specifically focus in on brain disease - the theme of this blog. I’ll also show you how to reduce your exposure levels by up to 90%.

Factory releasing pollution into the air.

Diseases Caused By Air Pollution: Brain Health Primer

In the following 6 sections of this blog post I will:

  1. Explain the causes and effects of air pollution. Many people are unaware of how they’re universally surrounded by toxic air. Just understanding the problem can already make a huge difference in your health because you understand your options.

  2. Give you a crash course on the five most important types of air pollution currently in existence. Not all pollutants are similar. Toxic mold, for example, is a big indoor danger, but mostly harmless outside. Knowing how you are exposed empowers you further.

  3. Considers the relationship between lung disease and air pollution.

  4. Does the same for heart disease.

  5. Take a deep dive into air pollution and brain health. I’ll show that you cannot possibly ignore air pollution if you want to optimize brain function and health.

  6. Lastly, I´ll give you several solutions to cut your exposure to toxic air up to 90%. While the problem might seem unavoidable and intimidating, there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Fortunately, Jordan has already prepared you for my treatment of this topic. Jordan has spoken very eloquently about how the environment affects your health in the past, in blog posts such as:

This guest blog post is thus a natural continuation of that series, this time focusing on air pollution and the brain.

Ready?

Let’s get started...

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1. Air Pollution Causes And Effects Basics - A Frightening Problem

Many, many different causes of air pollution exist.

Overflying airplanes emit lead in the air, new furniture continually emits new gases into your living area, industry spreads toxins around that eventually enter your home, and traffic outside your house adds insult to injury.

At first glance, the problem seems overwhelming - a sentiment I extensively described in the introduction of this blog post.

And you’re not safe from air pollution inside your home either. Why? Well, indoor smoking, toxic mold, or dust mites (or simply dust), and carbon monoxide are common sources of indoor air pollution.

You may think: “well, in that case I’ll simply live in the middle of nowhere in a tent or RV to avoid all pollutants”

Not so quick.

Even nature herself is a source of air pollutants. Deserts emit loads of “particulate matter”, the tiny particles I mentioned before (11 - 13).

The difference between spending time in nature and living in a modern city is the extent of exposure. Most cities contain tens if not hundreds of different chemicals that are emitted into the air.

Pollution levels are much higher than in nature.

And it’s not just outdoor air quality that matters. Some estimates claim that many people spend 23 hours a day indoors, and only 1 hour outdoors. The most conservative estimates approximate that the average person spends 90% of their time inside (16 - 17).

Shocking fact:

Indoor levels of air pollutants can be a whopping 10 to 100-fold higher than outdoor levels (14 - 15). The reason for that difference is that air gets “trapped” indoors. Outdoor air often circulates indoors but is less prone to leave again.

Most people do not ventilate their homes sufficiently, which ensures that toxins keep building up indoors.

So if you experience eye irritation, or a stuffy nose 24-7, or you’ve got difficulty breathing, the reason might just be that your home or office building contains toxic air. Brain fog and poor sleep are other symptoms.

Air pollution is so dangerous because you don’t immediately notice any effects. I often call air pollution a “poison drip”. Let me explain that concept:

If your “loving” partner would add a small dose of mercury to your food every day, you’d never consciously notice. Over time that mercury would slowly kill you though. Air pollution is the same: you might only feel slightly worse after being exposed for a long period of time, but you might just think that you’re having a hard day. You don’t know a specific reason exists for why you’re feeling bad - most people never connect the dots.

The human mind is incapable of precisely registering very light damage that occurs over long periods of time. Let me give you an analogy to better understand that principle:

If you’re so unfortunate of being hit by a car, you’ll immediately notice the effects. No way out. And even though you may have broken your leg, at least you’ve identified the problem and you can take action to improve your health.

The problem with air pollution is that people don’t identify the health risk in the first place. For that reason they remain completely helpless in the face of real danger.

Real danger?

Yes…

Let me give you some statistics: Particulate matter alone causes 3-4 million deaths each single year worldwide (18 - 19). Indoor air pollution is almost as dangerous, accumulating to 1.5 - 2 million deaths per year (20 - 21).

In total, about 7 - 9 million people die prematurely because of breathing in toxic air (22 - 23). Smoking “only” kills about 5 million people per year (28 - 29).

You may think: “well, at least I’m not living in a country such as China or India. Problems are far bigger there. I live in *insert big city in a developed nation* so I’m safe”

Yes, you’re safer.

But you’re not safe...

Even in the US, 70,000 - 100,000 people die every year due to air pollution (24 - 25). In Germany, one single pollutant called “nitrogen dioxide” - which is emitted by land vehicles - causes about 6,000 - 20,000 deaths each year (26 - 27).

And remember that not everyone dies from air pollution - for every person who dies because of air pollution, 10 others have their negatively impacted. So if I breathe in toxic air for 30 years, my health and quality of life go down, even though I might die peacefully in old age.

In that case I’m not included in the air pollution mortality statistic.

So why do governments not actively tackle the air pollution problem? Simple: the more restrictive policy on air pollution becomes, the more economic growth will be inhibited. Preventing air pollution with filters on industry and air plus land traffic also costs a lot of money.

If you’re able to pollute the air somebody else will pay the price--not you.

Phrased differently, in the current system the economic costs of air pollution are simply transferred from the polluters to the people who breathe in these toxins. Of course, the category of polluters and victims often overlaps--but that’s not always the case.

Two examples:

  1. Let’s say I own a factory and I don’t filter pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter. If I’m spending lots of time around that factory I’ll surely breathe in more toxic air than I’d otherwise would. But I’ll also save $500,000 or perhaps $1,000,000 per year on preventing toxins from being emitted into the air.

    In that case I benefit on a net-basis.

  2. If I’m a rich person living in Beverly Park in Los Angeles, I’m somewhat removed from the pollution of the inner city. I’ve even got a nice park next to my home that captures instead of creates air pollution.

    I probably also use airplanes very frequently because I’m rich. I love holidays. The airfields I’m using are located very far away from my home though, shielding me from most of the pollution that I’ve contributed to causing.

    I benefit on a net-basis once again...

Poor people thus generally cause less pollutants to be emitted in the air, while being burdened the most in their health.

And people who use their private jet? Don’t get me started.

I know my story sounds bleak up until now - and the science and politics will get even worse before it gets better.

Keep in mind that I’m not fear mongering: I’m going to show you how to reduce air pollutant exposure by up to 90% later on. But before I do, let’s first consider a couple of different air pollutants that are predominant in modern environments right now:

2. Five Different Types Of Air Pollution

In this section I’ll give you a crash course to understand where different air pollutants are coming from.

The more you know, the better you’re able to deal with the problem. Simply understanding the sources of air pollution will help you avoid exposing yourself.

For convenience sake, I’ll consider 5 types of air pollution that can be considered most important:

Factory emitting particulate matter and pollution, which can affect brain health.
  1. Particulate matter

    Very small particles invisible to the naked eye can be found all around you. These particles are emitted by vehicles, industry, and as a byproduct of energy creation (wood or coal).

    Particulate matter kills 800,000  - 4 million people worldwide every year (18 - 19; 30).

    Nine out of ten people on this planet are breathing in polluted air. Yes, nine out of ten (31)

    There’s no way to currently stop all particulate matter exposure, as road traffic and energy generation would have to stop. The economic model you and I live in is thus dependent on causing pollution.

    The problem with these tiny particles is that your lungs cannot always filter them. Different sizes exist, ranging from sizes up to 10 micrometers (PM10) to a maximum-sized particle of 0.1 micrometers (PM0.1). PM2.5 is smaller than PM10, but (generally) bigger than PM0.1.

    PM0.1, PM2.5, and PM10 are standardly recognized categories. And just to help your imagination:

    A micrometer is a thousand times as small as a millimeter. As a point of reference, a human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter. The most dangerous types of particulate matter, PM2.5 and PM0.1, thus have diameters of 2.5 micrometers and 0.1 micrometers.

    That’s inconceivably small. You cannot possibly observe such particles with your naked eyes.

    You nonetheless breathe these particles in. These particles then end up in your body. The simplest analogy to understand that principle is to imagine dust ending up in your system, preventing many physiological processes from performing optimally.

    The smaller the particles are, the more damaging they become.

    PM2.5 can enter your bloodstream through your lungs, for example (35 - 37). PM0.1 may travel directly to your brain through your nose when you’re breathing (32 - 34). Through that mechanism, PM0.1 can cause direct brain damage.

    The closer to “civilized” society you live, the greater your exposure to particulate matter will be. Deserts are also dangerous, but contain the less harmful PM10.

    The lower your exposure, the smaller your risk for getting all kinds of diseases gets. No safe exposure level exists - less is always better.

    Want to learn more about this topic? Read my 22,500-word guide about particulate matter at my Nature Builds Health website.

  2. Nitrogen dioxide

    Another danger…

    Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that’s produced by both traffic and energy generation (38 - 40)

    If you breathe in nitrogen dioxide it negatively affects lung function. The stuff gives you acute discomfort and affects very basic physiological processes of the body (41 - 43).

    Mitochondrial functioning, for example, goes down. Mitochondria are the “energy-producing” factories in your body.

    Without producing energy you’d immediately die. With lower levels of energy creation, moreover, you’ll simply perform worse in daily life and you’ll become unhealthier.

    Heart disease and diabetes are almost certainly caused by this air polluted, so it’s not just your lungs taking a hit (44 - 47).

    Moving on to the next pollutant.

  3. Toxic mold

    Jordan has written extensively about the dangers of mold in the past, such as its role in disrupting the blood-brain barrier.

    To him, the stuff is very dangerous. I fully agree with that assessment. In fact, I often tell people to run, not walk away from a building that’s infested by mold.

    Fortunately, mold exposure is slowly being recognized as a health danger by the medical establishment (51 - 55). I still clearly remember that the thesis that mold caused health issues was frowned upon about 5 years ago by many medical “experts”.

    Some of these experts remain skeptical, unfortunately (48 - 50).

    Water damage is the most likely reason for mold infestations. Modern homes create a unique opportunity for molds in nature, in that they offer both materials in which mold can grow as well as protecting that mold from outside forces.

    In nature, molds cannot grow unopposed because other organisms battle for predominance with them. A previously sterile wet wall in a house thus creates a unique opportunity for molds to grow without opposition.

    Of all types of air pollution, mold is hardest to deal with because it’s often located in your living or working space.

    If you’re genetically susceptible to the negative health effects of mold (your immune system will go haywire), leaving all your possessions behind while living at a mold-free location is the best diagnostic test.

    Of course that step is dramatic--but no better options currently exist. The alternative is to have the issue drag on for a long time, potentially years, with worsening health over time.

    The problem gets worse though: up to 50% of buildings are infested with mold in the US (56). Many buildings are made as airtight as possible today to save energy - which also creates a prison if it’s infected by mold!

    Many plausible mechanisms also exist by which molds affect your health. A very strong immune response causing generalized inflammation is one example (57 - 59). That mold can also be detected in your urine after exposure (60).

    The extent in which you are affected by mold mainly depends on your overall health and genetic makeup, as well as the mold species. Electromagnetic frequencies in the environment may also make molds more aggressive, adding to the danger.

  4. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

    VOCs are a gas found both inside and outside your home. Industry is a main source for VOCs outside the home, while furniture and building materials are prime sources of indoor exposure.

    If you’ve got some plywood in your home, for example, that wood may be coated with material that continually emits VOCs. New furniture is similar.

    Buying some new toys for your kids? These toys probably emit VOCs, unless you buy wooden toys without coating.

    Your new car also emits VOCS - in fact, that new car smell is precisely caused because of these compounds. And when you’re refilling that car at the gas station, smelling benzine is a sign that you’ve just inhaled some additional VOCs.

    Next:

  5. Carbon dioxide

    Everyone knows what carbon dioxide is: it’s a gas that you exhale as a byproduct of using oxygen in your body. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is also frequently posited as a causal influence in climate change.

    What you might not know is that many indoor environments contain excessive carbon dioxide levels.

    The reason for that excess is that indoor ventilation levels have been declining over the last century. Buildings are now built with multiple walls, three layered glass, and airtight windows.

    Nothing leaves and can enter that type of buildings. If you’re staying in such a building for a long time, CO2 levels will build up if no windows are opened.

    The more people are present in the same room, the quicker levels build up as well. The reason for that effect is simple: more oxygen is being consumed, and more CO2 is thus excreted.

    If CO2 levels become very high, however, your wellbeing and brain performance will  go down.

    In nature, CO2 levels are around 400 parts per million. In classrooms or busy offices, that level can approximate thousands parts per million - no bueno. As a result, you’ll get sleepy, for example, and you’ll be more prone to call in sick or get a headache (81 - 83).

    Devastating to your health? No.

    Inconvenient and unnecessary? Yes!

That’s the crash course into 5 important air pollutants...

Now that you understand that air pollutants are very pervasive in the modern world, let’s consider what types of diseases they cause.

If you’d like to know more about 13 other different types pollutants, in much greater detail than discussed here, then read my guide on surviving the health effects of air pollution.

I’ll begin with lung disease:

 

3. Respiratory Diseases Caused By Pollution

Lung health and pollution.

You may think: “Why care about respiratory disease in the first place?”

You’re reading a blog about brain health right?

Sure. But your lung function is closely intertwined with brain performance. In fact, the worse your breathing becomes, the worse brain performance also gets, and vice versa (84 - 87).

Breathing techniques can immediately improve brain performance, for instance (85 - 86). Better breathing capacity also allows you to stay cognitively flexible in old age, for example. So optimizing your breathing pattern affects both short-term and long-term brain function.

Now, breathing in polluted air - many of the toxins I’ve mentioned in the previous section - also directly causes many airway and lung diseases (88).

An example of such a disease are asthma, in which airways become tighter due to swelling and the increased presence of thick fluid (mucus). Another example is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). That disease is also characterized by “obstruction” of the airways, as the name already suggests.

Even during pregnancy, air pollution already affects the eventual lung health of the newborn (89). If higher air pollutant exposure occurred in the mother, lung function will also be lower in children.

In adults too, greater air pollutant exposure leads to lowered lung function (91). By inference, lower lung function also leads to a cognitive decline (93 - 96).

The worst-case scenario is that you’ll end up with lung cancer with more exposure (92). The best-case scenario is that your brain performance goes down.

An inconvenient truth…

Now that I’ve laid out the case for declines in lung function, let’s consider heart disease in relation to air pollution:

4. Heart Disease Caused By Air Pollution

Person making heart with hands, sunlight in the background. Pollution can negatively affect heart health.

Surely heart health will have nothing to do with the health of your brain, right?

Wrong!

In fact, a healthy heart is central to keeping your brain performing well into old age (97 - 100).

The link between heart and blood vessel diseases and air pollution exposure is also extremely well established (101 - 106) If you’re in a frail state, even short-term exposure to air pollutants can trigger a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack (101).

Inhaling an air pollutant such as particulate matter also almost immediately increases your blood pressure, heart rate, strain on the blood vessels, and coagulation (which can damage the walls of vessels) (101).

Of the five air pollutants I’ve treated before, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are most damaging for heart health (104 - 105). Remember that car traffic is one main source of these two pollutants. Energy creation is another one.

Simply living near a busy road already increases your risk of “atherosclerosis”, a narrowing of your blood vessels due to plaque buildup (102). That plaque can eventually fully constrict a blood vessel, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Unfortunately, even in progressive political geographies such as the European Union standards are not stringent enough (102). You’ll thus have to take matters into your own hands...

The longer you’re exposed to air pollution, the more damage being done to your heart. In other words, the causal relationship is linear (103).

If you’re old, very young, or have existing heart conditions, you’re more at risk (104). If government officials thus claim that smog is innocent, they’re either lying or delusional (109).

Air pollution has enormous effect on your overall health.

At a very fundamental level, for instance, air pollution may also increase your susceptibility to psychological stress (105). Stress, in turn, affects brain health and performance yet again…

So we’ve come full circle once more..

Now that I’ve laid out the link between air pollution and heart health, let’s now consider the effects on the brain itself:

 

5. Air Pollution and Brain Health

Nerve cells and brain cells. Pollution can damage the brain and impact brain function over time.

Brain health.

Finally...

The reason you’re reading on Optimal Living Dynamics in the first place.

By now you can guess the outcome: air pollution contributes to brain disease (110 - 111).

It’s not just elderly people who are impacted by air pollutants - even kids’ psychological and motor development is negatively affected (110).

The study of the interaction of air pollution and brain health is actually far more recent (111). In other words, the connection to lung and heart problems has been well known for decades, while the connection to brain disease is relatively novel.

Unfortunately, it’s now getting clear that air pollution increases your risk for getting strokes (111 - 115). During a stroke, a part of the human brain dies off due to a lack of oxygen. Both a bleeding and a plaque buildup can cause that condition.

Some contrary evidence does exist though, so the relationship cannot be definitively  established (yet) (116 - 117). Lots of discussion does still exist on the exact causes of that risk.

Nevertheless, leaving behind the worst-case scenario of a stroke, several brain areas have been implicated in air pollution exposure (118).

These brain areas include the cortex and subcortical regions, which are responsible for higher-order cognitive functions as well as motivation and learning. The functioning of these brain areas is negatively affected.

White matter in the brain is also influenced in a bad way (118). White matter contains lots of myelin, which increases nerve conduction speed. If you’re interested in learning more about that topic, read Jordan’s excellent guide about building myelin in the brain.

Your brain additionally becomes gets more inflamed with greater exposure, for instance (122).

Over time, moreover, higher exposure to air pollution contributes to cognitive impairment (119). Even indoor air pollution such as that originating from indoor cooking can be enormously problematic in that case.

(Quick tip: Always make sure that indoor cooking areas are properly ventilated).

And no, before you ask: Cognitive impairments are not just a problem for elderly people-- even adults run into trouble (120 - 121)..

Executive functions such as planning or memory can deteriorate in your brain, for instance (129 - 131). Result? The more children and young adults are exposed to PM2.5, the greater the likelihood that they’ll be involved in crime (due to a lower inability to inhibit their baser impulses) (130).

Yes, even crime rates are affected by air pollution. The same is true for overall behavioral problems (131).

The end-result over years and decades of exposure is an increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s (123 - 128). Beta amyloid plaques, one of the main hypotheses as a causative agent in Alzheimer’s disease, are increasingly present with greater air pollutant exposure.

So overall, brain health is affected at many levels, either directly or through lowered lung and heart health.

Moving on to the last topic:

 

6. Air Pollution Solutions

Scared yet?

Had enough of my (justified) fear-mongering? You should be!

Don’t worry, I’ll give you solutions to deal with the problem as well. In fact, in this section I’ll give you a step by step guide on how to reduce your exposure by 90 - 95% - even if you’re living in the city.

Before I do though, let’s first get an impression of how you’re doing in the air pollution department. Consider the following air quality index map that contains real time data on thousands of cities all over this planet.

Consider Amsterdam, for example, the capital of the country I'm living in:

Air Quality Index Map in Amsterdam.

Not perfect, but reasonable.

Compare Amsterdam to Mexico City, the capital of Mexico:

Air Quality Index Map in Mexico City.

Mexico City, as you can see, is not that clean.

So if you’re living in Mexico City, you have to apply more of the strategies listed below to mitigate your risk.

Again, check your own risk at that air quality index map to get a general impression before you start reading this section.

Done? Let’s then begin:

  1. Avoid polluted areas.

    This one is really simple. By not traveling in rush hour, for instance, you dramatically cut down on your exposure. Also make sure to exercise outside the city in nature (132). That way you can potentially halve your exposure to air pollutants.

    Don’t believe me? Just look at the map you’ve just searched yourself on: some areas are way less polluted than others in the same city. Another possibility is to exercise away from busy roads and airports.

    Fortunately, the benefits of exercise still outweigh those of the harm done by air pollution (133). Only for longer workouts or in more susceptible individuals that may not be the case.

  2. Use an air purifier.

    Why? Remember I mentioned people only spend 1-2 hours outside during the day? The remaining 22 - 23 hours are thus spent inside.

    Also recall that indoor levels of air pollution are much higher than outdoor levels. Indoor air quality are thus the most important to control.

    Air purifiers therefore become a must in polluted areas. Air purifiers can remove up to 90% of pollutants from an environment when used correctly.

    I recommend the Coway Air purifier for small and medium-sized rooms, up to ~500 feet (~50 square meters). For rooms up to 1,300 foot (120 square meters), use the Alen Breathesmart.

    I’ve reviewed many different air purifiers on my blog, by synthesizing lots of existing data. The two air purifiers listed above have the best price to quality relationship and filter the air very efficiently. These purifiers will also keep working perfectly year after year.

    Make sure to replace filters as prescribed, otherwise filtering will not be as effective. And keep your windows closed (most of the time), otherwise air purifiers won’t do their job.

  3. Ventilate the building you’re spending time in. Yes, that means that you need to open your windows sometimes. The reason is that you’ll want CO2 to exit the building, and fresh oxygen (O2) to come in.

    Late nights and early mornings are generally the best times to open up your windows, as well as between rush hour periods. During these times air pollution levels are (generally) lowest.

    AIr pollution generally builds up during the day, so 6 PM is a bad time to ventilate...

  4. Hire a mold expert if necessary.

    Most people simply don’t have a clue on how to treat a very pervasive problem such as mold, and what to look for. In the best case scenario your interventions are useless--in the worst case scenario you’re making the problem worse.

    Using bleach on mold, for example, might simply mask the problem for a while and give you a false sense of security that the problem is “solved”. Vinegar is equally deceptive.

    Not even an air purifier will not fix your mold problem by the way. There’s one simple rule with regarding to mold if you’re susceptible: The mold needs to be fully removed from your environment.

    How? Hire an expert, unless you’ve read a couple of books on the topic.

    Temporarily move if necessary, or live in a tent in your garden. Mold can wreck your health and set you back for years (in the worst case scenario).

    Some people can live in a moldy environment and feel fine though...

  5. Build up tolerance with exercise.

    You may think: “well, it’s polluted outside today. I just checked the air quality map. So I’ll skip exercise for now. Maybe tomorrow.”

    Not too quick.

    The benefits of exercise still outweigh the risks of pollution in general. Exercise also builds your brain, heart, and lung health (133 - 134).

    The higher your exercise tolerance, the more leeway you’ve got. And if you’re really scared of the health effects of air pollution (which I can imagine by now), I recommend putting that air purifier on max and doing 5 - 30 minutes of bodyweight exercises.

    No excuses allowed.

    If necessary, use an anti-dust respirator, which cuts out particles (but not gases) from entering your lungs.

  6. Have indoor and outdoor vegetation capture as much toxins as possible.

    The best line of defense? Don’t let pollutants enter your home or office in the first place. Vegetation accomplishes that goal.

    The underlying principle as of why these plants work is because they simply capture air pollutants from the air before they enter your home. Vegetation is often called a “living wall” for that reason.

    Pine trees, yews, ivys, and Japanese maples are great options (135 - 144). Pines even function well in the wintertime.

    Combine high pine trees with conifers at ground level for the best results, for example. The more layers of wall, the greater the protection (but also the higher the financial costs).

    Covering your roof with pines also helps .In fact, covering the entire roof with pines captures over 90 kilograms (200 pounds) of particulate matter each year (135).

    Shocking but true.

    Indoor plants can also capture some of the circulating air pollutants such as particulate matter. Make sure to use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to remove these toxins from the indoor plants.

    You cannot fully rely on indoor plants to filter the air and provide oxygen though, as you’d need a lot of vegetation for that purpose. Your living room would essentially need to become a small jungle - a lofty goal for people who want to optimize every aspect of their lives, but a step too far for me.

    I suspect you’re the same...

  7. Go organic - inside your home

    No, I’m not talking about organic food, although such food is a great choice for your overall health.

    I’m talking about organic furniture...

    Remember these VOCs I talked about? If you buy the very cheapest indoor furniture, it’s almost certain that coatings or other substances have been applied to make the objects look better.

    Organic or more natural materials simply means buying solid wooden furniture and stone floors.

    Yes, even your house becomes “paleo” that way. Anything added to natural materials that can offgas is more dangerous. Flame retardants are an example.

    Many natural indoor materials are available though. You can buy paint for your house that’s low in VOCs. You can buy cushions made from pure cotton. You can even buy couches without flame retardants.

    Of course, such furniture is generally pricey--I cannot afford that stuff either (yet)--but your health will eventually thank you for it…

Woman celebrating outside in nature. Pollution affects brain health.

So that’s it. Everything you need to know about protecting your brain from air pollution.

The lesson I hope you take way from this blog?

A health problem that may sound unsurmountable in the very beginning - even hopeless - may be overcome by strategic thinking.

You can do it. Take charge of your health today!

You deserve it. Your brain deserves it. Your life deserves it...

 

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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