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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Jordan Fallis

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References

(1) https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/

(2) https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01234-2

(3) http://time.com/4836660/air-pollution-health-death-epa/

(4) https://psmag.com/environment/air-pollution-kills-more-people-than-smoking

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20383366

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30021333/

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5650728/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230438/

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5338738/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27494542

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How to Actually Heal and Repair a Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier

Blood-brain barrier leakage means that the brain has lost its protective means, the stability of brain cells is disrupted and the environment in which nerve cells interact becomes ill-conditioned. These mechanisms could eventually lead to dysfunction in the brain.
— Dr. Walter H. Backes, Maastricht University Medical Center
A leaky brain leaking water.

A healthy, properly-functioning blood-brain barrier is absolutely critical for optimal brain and mental health.

The blood-brain barrier is a protective shield that surrounds your brain.

It acts as a gatekeeper and filter, allowing beneficial nutrients to cross over into your brain, and keeping unwanted molecules out of your brain.  

But in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working, Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains that the blood-brain barrier can break down and become “leaky”.

This allows harmful substances to enter your brain, contributing to brain inflammation, which has been shown to cause cognitive problems and mental illness (92, 110-111).

Hyper-permeability of the blood-brain barrier and neuroinflammation have been linked to a number of different brain and mental health problems and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, brain fog, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia (101-109). 

A number of factors contribute to “leaky brain”, including (93-100):

A leaky brain leaking.

Needless to say, these things are very common today, so a lot of people likely have a leaky blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that even though the blood-brain barrier can break down and become leaky, it can also be fixed!

You can repair it if you give it what it needs to heal. 

After living in a moldy home and suffering multiple concussions, my brain and its barrier were in rough shape.

Since then, I’ve searched far and wide for solutions that could strengthen it.

Here are 23 strategies that have been shown to support and repair the blood brain barrier.

Many of them have helped me.

Together, they can help you reduce neuroinflammation, heal your “leaky brain,” and overcome your brain and mental health challenges. 

 

1. Avoid Gluten

Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.

I’m convinced that if you struggle with a chronic brain or mental illness, you should follow a strict gluten-free diet for at least 30 days and see how you feel.

You'll likely feel better.

Man with headache and inflammation in the brain because of gluten.

There’s one main reason I recommend this…

Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.

Zonulin is a protein in your body that increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier and disrupts the blood-brain barrier (48).

Researchers have found that gluten clearly increases zonulin and contributes to “leaky gut” and “leaky brain”, resulting in neuroinflammation and altered cognitive function (49, 50).

Gluten sensitivity can also create visible changes to the white matter in your brain, according to research in The Lancet Neurology (51).

Yet unfortunately, the myth continues to spread that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing food.

That’s simply not true.  

Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain and Brain Maker, explains:

Not only is there increased gut permeability when the gut is exposed to gliadin, a protein found in gluten, but in fact the blood brain barrier also becomes more permeable in response to gliadin exposure.

You should also determine if you have other food sensitivities and remove those foods from your diet as well. A lot of people are sensitive to dairy, along with gluten. I can't tolerate gluten, dairy and egg whites and have to avoid them completely. 

 

2. Heal Your Gut (and Increase the Good Bacteria Within It)

There is a clear connection between your brain and digestive system.

I’ve discussed this before.

Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.

Because of this connection, it’s critical to address gut issues in order to heal a leaky brain.

Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.

“Germ-free” mice means that the mice don’t have any bacteria in their intestines.

And what did the researchers find?

They found that these germ-free mice had very leaky blood-brain barriers (56).

But when these germ-free mice received a fecal transfer, where researchers introduced bacteria into their intestines, the permeability of their blood-brain barriers decreased significantly (57).

So it’s becoming increasing clear that our gut bacteria directly affect the health of our blood-brain barrier.

And manipulating your gut bacteria, and increasing the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system, can help improve the integrity of your blood-brain barrier and heal your leaky brain. 

Given that the microbiome composition and diversity change over time, it is tempting to speculate that the blood-brain barrier integrity also may fluctuate depending on the microbiome.
— Dr. Sven Pettersson, MD, PhD

In my experience, this is true, as my brain functions much better when I take care of my gut. 

Eating more prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, taking a high-quality probiotic, and eating fermented foods on a regular basis can increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut.

I take Optimal Biotics every day.

You should check out my previous article about gut health to learn more.

And if you have depression or anxiety, taking these probiotics can help.

 

3. Drink Coffee

Coffee and caffeine are excellent for brain health. There is lots of research showing they are very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

One possible explanation for this is that caffeine supports the blood-brain barrier.

Studies show that caffeine protects against Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease by keeping the blood-brain barrier intact, and protecting against blood-brain barrier dysfunction and leakage (32).

In one study, researchers found that caffeine blocks the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, concluding that caffeine is “useful in the treatment Alzheimer's disease” (33, 34).

Another study showed that caffeine can protect against Parkinson’s disease and neurodegeneration by stabilizing the blood-brain barrier (35).

I used to not be able to handle any coffee and caffeine at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of this coffee most mornings.

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 important to note that some people simply can’t tolerate coffee. This is because most coffee contains low levels of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

After living in a moldy home for more than one year, I’m extremely sensitive to mold and mycotoxins. Kicking Horse Kickass coffee and Bulletproof coffee are the only two coffees I have found so far that don’t make me feel sick. I can also tolerate pure caffeine tablets.

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine. But if coffee makes you feel terrible and jittery, it might be the quality of the coffee. Consider trying one of the two coffees above, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee. 

Lastly, there are additional brain health benefits when you consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just coffee or pure caffeine. 

Usually, coffee beans are extracted from the whole coffee fruit for roasting. And then the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

But this is a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

And researchers have now discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.

That’s why I included coffee fruit concentrate in the Optimal Brain supplement

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4. Sulforaphane

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cabbages.

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

It’s quite similar to curcumin.

Numerous studies have shown that sulforaphane can prevent the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, reduce permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and improve cognitive function after stroke and traumatic brain injuries (87-91).

You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.

If you decide to take it as a supplement, 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.

 

5. Avoid Alcohol

Glass of alcohol. Alcohol disrupts the blood-brain barrier.

Not surprisingly, alcohol and acetaldehyde – a byproduct of alcohol metabolism – can weaken and damage the blood-brain barrier, and contribute to leaky brain.  

Researchers have found that the oxidative stress that results from excess alcohol consumption leads to blood-brain barrier dysfunction (58, 59).

And this can then lead to neuro-inflammation (60).

There are ways to protect your brain from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to heal.

Some types of alcohol are better than others. You can learn more about the best types of alcohol here

 

 6. Resveratrol or 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 scientists are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF and support your mitochondria.

And according to cutting-edge research, it can also protect and support your blood-brain barrier.

In a recent study, researchers gave resveratrol to Alzheimer’s patients and it restored the integrity of their blood-brain barriers.

Because of this, there was a reduction in brain inflammation, which slowed down cognitive decline in the patients (38, 39). 

Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:

  • Significantly reduces the breakage, damage and dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and

  • Improves and maintains the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (36-37, 40-43).

Resveratrol imposes a kind of crowd control at the border of the brain. The agent seems to shut out unwanted immune molecules that can exacerbate brain inflammation and kill neurons.
— Dr. Charbel Moussa, MD, PhD

Because of resveratrol’s ability to stabilize the blood-brain barrier and protect against neuroinflammation, researchers also believe it may reduce the clinical severity of multiple sclerosis (44).

Lastly, resveratrol has been shown to protects against oxidized LDL-induced breakage of the blood–brain barrier (45, 46).

So clearly resveratrol is great for our blood-brain barriers.

If resveratrol was a pharaceutical drug, we would definitely be hearing more about it. But natural compounds cannot be patented, so we don't.  

I regularly supplement with this resveratrol. You can get it here or here

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol.

It’s also been shown to protect the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress, and it’s apparently better absorbed than resveratrol. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as a “better resveratrol” (47).

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

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7. Reduce Stress

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage and reduce your stress.

Research suggests that acute stress damages the blood-brain barrier (52).

And extreme stress has been shown to increase inflammation and increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (53-55).

But normalizing your stress levels can help the blood-brain barrier repair itself.

Person holding stress ball. Reducing stress can help repair the blood-brain barrier.

The most effective way to significantly reduce your stress and anxiety is neurofeedback. It’s advanced, guided meditation and I previously wrote about my experience with it here.

If you can’t access neurofeedback, taking up a daily meditation practice is an excellent idea.

I’m a big fan of the Muse headband. It’s a device that guides you while you meditation. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I wrote an entire review about it here, and you can get the device through Amazon or the Muse website

Regular massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat have helped me a lot as well.

Lying on this acupressure mat while using my EmWave2 for just 10 minutes relaxes my entire body and mind. I do this at night before bed.

Some nutrients and herbs that can help you with stress include zinc, magnesium, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine.

This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress over the years.

 

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. So you need to get them from diet or supplements, as they are absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

Omega-3 fatty acids can support your mitochondria, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can: 

  • Reduce damage to the blood-brain barrier after stoke;

  • Limit blood-brain barrier disruption after traumatic brain injury; and

  • Benefit people with multiple sclerosis by indirectly reducing disruption of their blood-brain barriers (76-78).

Wild fish is the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids, but unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

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

Krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a powerful, naturally occurring carotenoid.

Astaxanthin has also been shown to decreases inflammation and protect the blood-brain barrier (118-119).

 

9. Sleep and Melatonin

Deep sleep is necessary for the optimal functioning of your blood-brain barrier.

My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor brain and mental health. And then my poor brain and mental health would make my sleep worse. So it was a vicious cycle.

Sleep restriction has been shown to impair the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and increase its permeability (84).

Young child sleeping in bed. Sleep can help fix the blood-brain barrier when it becomes leaky.

So you should really try to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night.

Supplementing with melatonin can also help.

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm).

Adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Research also shows that melatonin can stabilize the blood-brain barrier and prevent damage caused by traumatic brain injury (85, 86).

Besides taking melatonin, here are some other steps you can take to maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:

You can also take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin.

 

10. Berberine

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.

And several studies have shown that it can decrease the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and reduce brain damage after traumatic brain injury. It does this by suppressing inflammation (23-26). 

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 about berberine from other people. 

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11. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t even aware that mold is in their home or workplace and affecting their brain function.

In water-damaged buildings, mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold) are released into the air.

If you’re genetically susceptible, they can wreak havoc on your brain, and your cognitive function and mental health can deteriorate for no apparent reason.

One way mold and mycotoxins can disrupt brain function is by causing “leaky brain.”

Researchers have discovered that mycotoxins can clearly reduce the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (62).

They’ve also concluded that exposure to mycotoxins in an indoor environment can cause neurological damage. One way it does this is by breaking down the blood-brain barrier (61).

Moldy roof. Mold can damage the blood-brain barrier and make it permeable and leaky.

Several other studies have found that mycotoxins increase the permeability of blood-brain barrier and disrupt the functioning of the nervous system (63-66).

I lived in a moldy house for more than a year, and my blood-brain barrier likely became significantly leaky during that time, as my brain and mental health deteriorated. I also suffered a terrible concussion while living in that house, making my brain even more permeable. It took a while to get back to normal.

Today I use this air filter in my apartment to protect myself from any mold. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Mycotoxins aren’t just in your environment though. Low amounts of mycotoxins are also often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

If I'm exposed to mold or their toxins, I supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay. Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body.

 

12. B Vitamins

Several B vitamins have been shown to support the blood-brain barrier and help heal leaky brain.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency disrupts the blood-brain barrier, and supplementing with Vitamin B1 restores its integrity (80-81).

Researchers have also found that vitamins B12, B6, and B9 (folate) can restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in adults that have elevated homocysteine levels and mild cognitive impairment. Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound that can contribute to blood-brain barrier breakdown at high levels, and the B vitamins normalize homocysteine levels (82-83).

I take this B complex regularly. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12 and methylfolate.

 

13. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a key role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

It impacts your neurotransmitters and hormones, both of which can significantly impact your mood and brain function.

Magnesium is one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, because most people are deficient nowadays.

Research shows that it can support your mitochondria, protect your brain from alcohol, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

And there is plenty of research showing that it can protect and support your blood-brain barrier as well.

Magnesium and magnesium rich foods. Magnesium can help the blood-brain barrier heal.

Multiple studies have found that magnesium protects the blood-brain barrier, prevents its disruption, and significantly reduces hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier (27, 28, 31).

One study found that it decreases blood-brain barrier permeability by 41% (29).

Magnesium’s protective effect against blood-brain barrier hyperpermeability has also been seen after traumatic brain injury (30).

Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

But supplementation and taking Epsom salt baths is still necessary for most people because magnesium is rapidly used up during times of stress and certain psychiatric drugs can deplete magnesium.

I take this magnesium supplement

 

14. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant produced by your body.

It can also be taken as a supplement.

ALA is fat soluble and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain (1-3).

Human brain and blood flow.

As I’ve discussed before, it can protect your brain from alcohol and support the mitochondria in your brain.

But not only can it cross your blood-brain barrier and support your brain; it can also support your blood-brain barrier itself.

Studies show that ALA has neuroprotective effects, and it maintains the integrity of the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress (4-5)

Researchers also point out that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects can stabilize the blood-brain barrier. This makes it an “attractive therapeutic agent for the treatment” of multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury (6-8).

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

 

15. Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR)

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.  

ALCAR has also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood. It helps reverse neurological decline and supports mitochondria function as well. 

It does so much, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that ALCAR helps repair the blood-brain barrier by reversing mitochondria decay caused by oxidative damage (122).

I find that ALCAR personally gives me a big boost in mental energy and cognitive function.  

That’s why it’s included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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16. Curcumin

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

Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds for the brain. It can lower your cortisol levels and increase your BDNF levels.

Turmeric spice. Curcumin is a compound in turmeric that can reduce inflammation and support the blood-brain barrier.

But it can also:

  • Reduce the disruption and hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and

  • Improve the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (13-18).

Studies have also shown that curcumin can prevent blood-brain barrier damage and reduce the permeability of the blood-brain barrier caused by oxygen and glucose deprivation (20-22).

Researchers believe it can do all of this because it significantly reduces inflammation and oxidative stress (19).

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin

 

17. Vitamin D

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

Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system.

This means your entire body needs it to function properly and a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.

Researchers have found that Vitamin D can prevent the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, mainly by reducing inflammation (72, 73).

In patients with multiple sclerosis, Vitamin D has been shown to protect endothelial cells and reduce blood-brain barrier disruption (74).

And one study found that intranasal administration of vitamin D reduces blood–brain barrier disruption (75).

I personally use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my Vitamin D levels are optimal.

 

18. Citicoline or Alpha GPC

Choline is an essential nutrient that most people don’t consume enough of because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is the most bioavailable supplemental form of choline.

As I’ve discussed before, it can help you overcome brain fog and addiction.

But it’s also been shown to significantly decrease the disruption and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier after traumatic brain injury (11-12).

And after brain ischemia, Citicoline significantly reduces blood-brain barrier dysfunction (10).

I personally take Citicoline every day.

It helps me a lot because I’ve had multiple concussions. 

Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to support the blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that it improves cognitive function by reversing the changes to the blood-brain barrier after a brain injury (9).

You can find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but both Citicoline and Alpha GPC have much more noticeable and immediate effects.  

Both citicoline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Egg yolks. Egg yolks contain choline, which can help repair a leaky blood-brain barrier.
 

19. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

“I have no doubt in my mind that, at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the Earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields.” - Dr. Robert Becker, Nobel Prize nominee and author of The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life

An increasing amount of research is showing that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted from Wi-Fi, laptops, and cellphones can negatively affect the brain and produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression.

It’s an inconvenient truth that needs to be talked about, rather than downplayed, ignored and dismissed.

One way that radiofrequency EMFs may be causing neuropsychiatric effects is by contributing to a "leaky brain".  

Several studies have found that EMFs emitted from cellphones increase the permeability of the brain-blood barrier, and this increased permeability may lead to the accumulation of brain tissue damage and cognitive impairment (112-114). 

I encourage you to check out my other post about EMFs here

I'm still learning about how to manage and combat them, but here are some initial steps you can take:

  • Get an EMF meter to determine your exposure. I use the Cornet ED88T. It's the best option that is currently available. It measures electric, magnetic and radiofrequency fields. It's like having three meters in one. You can get it here.

  • Put your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it and/or use a radiation-blocking phone case such as Safe Sleeve. I did a lot of research into radiation-blocking cases and Safe Sleeve is the best on the market. They are manufactured with materials that have been 3rd-party tested to block 99.9% of radiation coming off a cell phone.

  • Turn off Wi-Fi at night while you’re sleeping.

  • If you have a laptop, don’t touch it. Use a wired keyboard and wired mouse instead.

  • Supplement with the herb Rhodiola. It has radioprotective effects (60-62). I take this one, and previously wrote about it here.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other steps you can take, and I plan on writing more about this soon because it isn’t discussed enough.

This may seem like “woo-woo” but it’s a real issue. And I suspect it will eventually become one of the biggest issues of our time.

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20. Lower Homocysteine

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body as a result of methylation.

In healthy people, it’s properly metabolized and normal levels are maintained. 

But when homocysteine isn’t properly metabolized, it can build up inside the body and levels can become too high.

And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy. 

At high levels, homocysteine is inflammatory, and research shows it increases permeability of the blood-brain barrier (115).

If you test and find out your levels are high, check out this article for 16 ways to lower your homocysteine levels.

Normalizing homocysteine not only helps the brain recover from physical damage, but also reduces depression and cognitive decline.

 

21. Progesterone

Progesterone is a natural steroid and sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.  

It has a variety of important functions in the body, and even plays an important role in brain function.  

Research has found that progesterone supports the normal development of brain cells and protects them from damage

And one study shows that it reduces inflammation and can support the blood-brain barrier after brain injury (120).

In addition to its role as a natural hormone, progesterone can be taken as a medication, usually by women during menopause as part of their hormone replacement therapy. 

 

22. Increase Brain Blood Flow

Brain blood flow, or cerebral blood flow, refers to the blood supply that reaches your brain during a given period of time. 

Your brain needs almost 20% of the blood supply provided by each heartbeat.

A steady flow of blood brings oxygen, glucose and nutrients to the brain, and carries carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other metabolic waste products away from the brain.

But when blood flow to the brain is impaired, problems can arise, including a leaky blood-brain barrier.

Research shows that lack of brain blood flow increases oxidative stress, damages the blood-brain barrier, and increases blood-brain barrier permeability (116-117).

Be sure to check out this post for 21 ways to increase blood flow to the brain.

 

23. Other Nutrients, Antioxidants and Herbs

Here are several other nutrients, antioxidants and herbs that have been demonstrated to support the blood-brain barrier.

I’ve decided to not write about these in-depth because there isn’t as much research to back them up.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful though. They have still helped me: 

The brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and this includes the barrier that protects it.

The above steps have been proven to help repair and support the blood brain barrier, and I’ve noticed the benefits of implementing them into my own life.

I hope they help you too!

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. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC

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27 Proven Ways to Promote the Regeneration of Myelin

Myelin is critical for optimal brain function and mental health.

What is myelin?

Myelin sheath.

Myelin is a fatty, white substance that wraps around the end of many nerve cells. It forms an electrically insulating sheath that increases nerve condition speeds.

In other words, it allows your brain to send information faster and more efficiently, making it absolutely essential for the optimal functioning of your nervous system (39, 40). 

So not surprisingly, myelin sheath plays a key role in determining intelligence and improving cognitive performance (41, 42). 

The production of myelin throughout the nervous system is called myelination or myelinogenesis.

But demyelination can also happen. 

This happens when the myelin that insulates your nerves is destroyed or deteriorates, leading to mental health symptoms and neurodegenerative diseases (44). 

Multiple sclerosis is one of the more common demyelinating condition, but a number of neurological and psychiatric illnesses have been linked to demyelination, including (45):

Myelin sheath.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • Depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Dyslexia

  • Language disorders

  • Stuttering

  • Autism

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Cognitive decline

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Tourette’s syndrome

  • Schizophrenia

  • Tone deafness

  • Pathological lying

If you have one of these conditions and suspect you might have symptoms of demyelination, don’t worry.

There are dietary and lifestyle modifications that can help your body repair and re-manufacture myelin. Studies show that oligodendrocyte cells are responsible for the formation of new myelin in both the injured and normal adult brains (43).

Here are 26 holistic ways to increase oligodendrocyte cells, promote myelin production and myelin sheath repair, and increase the regeneration of myelin. 

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1. Deep Sleep and Melatonin

Research has found that sleep increases myelination and increases the production of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs).

One study found that production of OPCs doubled in mice while they slept. The mice that were forced to stay awake had higher levels of stress hormones and higher rates of brain cell death (1-2). 

Researchers believe this means that sleep loss can aggravate symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Baby sleeping. Sleep and melatonin help regenerate myelin.

That’s why getting at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep is so critical. 

But it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of your sleep. 

The researchers found that the production of the myelin-forming cells increased the most during deep, rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. 

Melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone, has also been shown to promote myelination and increase myelin production by significantly reducing inflammation in the brain (46).

Here are some actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin, maximize the quality of your sleep, and make sure you get deeper sleep:

Deep sleep can also improve your brain’s growth hormone, lower your stress hormone, and slow down the onset of dementia

2. Iodine and Thyroid Hormones

Iodine is a key mineral that is required to produce thyroid hormones. Without enough iodine, you may end up with symptoms of hypothyroidism

Research shows that a deficiency in iodine and lack of thyroid hormones can impair myelination (7).

The process of myelination is known to depend on the thyroid hormone. The myelinating cells are the oligodendroglia which appear to stop functioning in MS (and sometimes to a milder degree in Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions). The cells’ absorption of thyroid hormone is influenced by dietary factors.
— Ray Peat

Other studies show that thyroid hormones stimulate the expression of myelin protein genes, and promote remyelination in the brain by enhancing oligodendrocyte maturation (8, 9). 

So supporting your thyroid and getting enough iodine are key steps towards increasing myelin and optimizing the formation of new myelin. 

I make sure I get enough iodine by taking this multimineral

And you can read more about how to support your thyroid and enhance the production of thyroid hormones here.  

3. Vitamin C

Oranges. The Vitamin C in oranges help regenerate myelin.

Vitamin C is known to participate in myelin formation (10, 11). 

Collagen synthesis, which is dependent on Vitamin C, has also been linked to the formation of myelin sheath (12, 13). 

Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. 

You can also take it in supplement form
 

4. Zinc

As I’ve discussed before, zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates several hundred enzymatic reactions, including neurotransmission.

It’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and six different studies show that subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (14-16).

Oysters. The zinc in oysters help regenerate myelin.

So, if you struggle with a brain or mental health disorder, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient.  

Zinc also affects myelination.

The mineral is needed for myelin proteins to work properly, and research shows that a deficiency in zinc leads to a reduction in myelin formation and myelin recovery (17). 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms and spinach.

But I still recommend at least short-term supplementation to ensure you get enough to increase myelination.

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement

Check out my previous post about zinc and copper if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels. You can also check your levels here

5. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.

Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D.

And it’s an indispensable component of myelin. 

Butter. The cholesterol in butter helps regenerate myelin.

Without it, myelin membrane growth is “severely perturbed” (18). 

So just like you shouldn’t be afraid of saturated fat, you shouldn’t be afraid of eating cholesterol-rich foods.

Some of the best sources of cholesterol include grass-fed butter or ghee, beef liver and pastured egg yolks.

I take these beef liver capsules and eat at least 3 egg yolks every day, as recommended in the Perfect Health Diet by Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet.

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6. 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 support the brain and improve mental health. I’ve taken this one before. 

Research shows that lithium stimulates the expression of myelin genes, restores the myelin structure, and promotes remyelination (19). 

As I discussed before, lithium orotate can also increase your brain’s growth hormone (BDNF)

So it’s definitely something you want to consider taking if you want to increase myelin in the brain.

You can get lithium here.

7. 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.

Researchers have found that HBOT can cause "significant remyelination" (83-84). 

Other studies show that it can alleviate myelin damage (85). 

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. You can also get a refurbished one for cheaper.  

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

8. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet – 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.

Foods incorporated in a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet and ketones can help repair myelin.

Ketones are an alternative source of energy for your brain cells. And several studies show that when you increase the production of ketones, you improve myelination and increase myelin production (3-6). 

So if you’re trying to rebuild myelin sheath, you should consider a cyclic ketogenic diet. 

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often.

I also take Optimal Ketones

Optimal Ketones are exogenous ketones that help my body get into a state of ketosis more quickly. They immediately increase my mental clarity.

As I’ve discussed before, ketones can also increase your brain’s growth hormone, help you overcome brain fog, support your brain’s mitochondria, and slow down cognitive decline

9. Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that is present in all cells and plays a role in several vital functions, including oxygen consumption and ATP production.

It’s also important for myelin production.

Studies show that low iron levels lead to a reduction in myelination, and normal iron levels support the formation of myelin and increase myelin (20). 

In most cases, I don’t recommend supplementing with iron. Instead, get it from food.

Beef liver is the best source. I take these beef liver capsules
 

10. Low Level Laser Therapy

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

Most doctors don't know about LLLT; but not every doctor.

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

Researchers have found that LLLT can increase myelination and increase the total number of myelinated axons (79-81). 

LLLT has also been shown to restore normal levels of myelin in animals (81-82). 

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

I use this device and shine the infrared light directly on my forehead. 

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

LLLT also supports mitochondria function, reduces brain fog, promotes synaptogenesis, and increases blood flow to the brain

I encourage you to check out my full article about it for more information.

11. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid compound that plays a key role in optimal cognitive function. High amounts of phosphatidylserine can be found within the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention and memory, especially in the elderly (21-23).

…consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction in the elderly.
— Food and Drug Administration

Researchers have also concluded that phosphatidylserine is required for healthy nerve cell membranes and myelin in the brain (24). 

I take phosphatidylserine every day. It's part of the Optimal Brain supplement

12. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a steroidal hormone manufactured by the body, but it can also be taken as a supplement.

Picture of a human brain.

It’s been shown to enhance memory and reduce stress-induced fatigue.

It’s the precursor to almost all other steroid hormones, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.

Pregnenolone and other steroid hormones regulate, repair, rebuild, and increase the production of myelin (25-28). 

I personally tried this pregnenolone. It did give me a boost in brain function and mental energy. However, it also made me angry and irritable so I stopped taking it. This happens to some people, but a lot of people don't experience this. It's worth trying to see how you react. You can get it here.
 

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13. Uridine 

Uridine is a nucleotide base found in beer.

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

It’s been proven to help treat “myelin sheath lesion” in several experimental and clinical studies (29, 30). 

I take this uridine. You can get it here or here

It’s synergistic with krill oil and citicoline

14. Herbs That Increase Myelin

Ashwagandha helps regenerate myelin.

Ashwagandha is a popular Indian herb commonly used to prevent anxiety.

“Withanoside IV” is one of the main therapeutic compounds in ashwagandha and research shows that it can increase myelin levels in the nervous system (31).

I take this ashwagandha during periods of high stress.

Ginkgo Biloba is another common herb, which is taken for cognitive enhancement or to alleviate cognitive decline.

It’s beneficial effects of cognition may be because it significantly increases the number of myelinated axons (34).  

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

15. Inositol

Inositol is a small molecule structurally similar to glucose that is involved in cellular signalling. 

At high doses, it reduces anxiety. 

Research shows that animals treated with inositol have significantly fewer demyelinating lesions (32). 

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

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex

I previously wrote a full article about inositol here

16. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane mushroom helps regenerate myelin.

Hericium Erinaceus – better known as Lion’s mane mushroom – might be my favourite way to regenerate myelin. 

Research shows that lion’s mane increases the rate of myelination production, and the process of myelination begins earlier in the presence of the mushroom (33). 

I take this lion’s mane mushroom. It’s one of the highest-quality lion’s mane mushroom supplements that I could find from a reputable brand. I spent a lot of time researching and looking into different sources because not all lion's mane supplements are high-quality and effective, and I settled on this one. You can get it here or here

17. Consume Flavonoids

There are several flavonoids, a diverse group of phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables, that have been demonstrated to promote myelination. 

Research shows that the flavonoids luteolin, quercetin and fisetin significantly decrease myelin phagocytosis and may be able to limit the demyelination process during multiple sclerosis (35). 

Quercetin, one plant flavonoid in particular with potent antioxidant action, has been shown to increase the number of oligodendrocyte precursor cells and myelin basic protein cells (36). 

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18. Learn or Experience Something New

You can also generate new myelin by learning something new and exposing yourself to novel life experiences.

Guitar. Learning the guitar can help you form new myelin.

For example, one report showed that learning a new instrument leads to increased myelin in areas of the brain involved with musical performance. 

The researchers explain that myelin increased proportionately to the number of hours each person had practiced the instrument (38).

So the more you practice and try to learn something, the more myelin you generate.

19. Exercise

I’ve already discussed how exercise increases your brain’s growth hormone, supports your brain’s mitochondria, helps reverse cognitive decline, and stimulates your vagus nerve.

It clearly does so much good, so it’s not too surprising that it also supports myelin formation. 

Woman lifting weights. Exercise can help with the regeneration of myelin.

Research shows that long-term exercise improves memory by increasing and restoring myelin (47). 

Running has also been shown to increase myelination and delay the progression of demyelination, and therefore delays the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (48). 

Lastly, researchers have found that exercise increases mitochondrial activity, which then increases myelination in the brain (49). 

Many brain health experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health. 

This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:

  • Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week

  • High-intensity interval sprinting 1-2 times per week

  • Walk as much as I can (ideally 30-60 minutes every day)

  • Walking, weightlifting and sprinting are the best forms of exercise, but you should choose a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently

20. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF, is a naturally-occurring hormone in the brain that improves brain function and lowers your risk of mental disease. 

It also regulates the myelination process. 

Research shows that BDNF produces a long-term increase in both the rate and extent of myelination, and enhances and accelerates myelin formation (50). 

I previously provided 21 ways to boost BDNF in this post.  

21. Testosterone

When I lived in a moldy home, suffered multiple concussions and was placed on antidepressants, my testosterone plummeted. 

Very muscular man looking angry. Testosterone can increase myelin formation.

No conventional doctor tested my testosterone because they assumed every a man in his 20s would have healthy levels. 

But they were wrong. 

Eventually I saw a functional medicine doctor and he found out that I had the testosterone levels of an old man.

I was put on testosterone replacement therapy for almost one year to get my levels back to normal. And over that time, I saw a huge increase in my brain and mental health.

This may be because testosterone has been shown to stimulate the formation of new myelin and reverse myelin damage (51). 

Researchers have also concluded that hormone replacement should be a considered treatment for males who have multiple sclerosis, as it can stall (and perhaps even reverse) the neurodegeneration associated with MS (52). 

That's why it's so important to test. Make sure you check both total testosterone and free testosterone

22. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. They are found primarily in fish and are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system.

Cooked piece of salmon. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon can help with the regeneration of myelin.

They appear in most of my posts because they are so critical for brain and mental health and affect so many aspects of wellness.

They’ve been shown to help people overcome addiction, repair the blood-brain barrier, stimulate the vagus nerve, and even reverse cognitive decline.

And now researchers have found that they also increase myelin production, helping your body produce more myelin (53, 54). 

According to Judy Graham, author of the book Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally: A Self-Help Guide to Living with MS, myelin cell membranes that contain omega-3 fatty acids are more fluid, which improves the efficiency of nerve impulse conduction. 

She also points out in her book that rates of multiple sclerosis are lower in areas of high fish consumption. 

I eat lots of wild salmon and supplement with this krill oil daily. You can get it here or here

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23. Vitamin D and Vitamin K2

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

Sun shining through the clouds. Vitamin D from the sun can help repair myelin.

Research shows that the Vitamin D receptor boosts the regeneration of myelin (55). 

Vitamin D also significantly increases myelination in rats (56). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D from sunlight, but most people can’t get enough, especially during the winter. 

That’s why I use this Vitamin D lamp.

If you do decide to supplement, it’s a good idea to take Vitamin K2 along with Vitamin D3, as it has also been shown to support myelin (57). 

I also highly recommend checking your Vitamin D levels. It's one of the most important tests you can take for your health.

24. Choline

Choline is an essential B vitamin that most people don’t consume enough of, because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

It’s also a component of myelin and supports myelin production.

Research shows that the choline pathway promotes remyelination, and enhances the repairing and rebuilding of myelin sheath (64). 

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is the most bioavailable form of choline. 

One study found that citicoline enhances myelin regeneration and increases remyelination in the central nervous system. The researchers concluded that citicoline could become a promising substance for patients with multiple sclerosis because of its regenerative action combined with its excellent safety profile (63). 

That’s why I recommend supplementing with it. It’s one of my favourite supplements for optimal brain and mental health. I personally take citicoline every day now, and I find it improves my focus and mental energy. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but citicoline is more impactful. 

And as I’ve discussed before, citicoline can also help you overcome brain fog and support the blood brain-barrier.

25. Reduce Inflammation 

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards protecting and regenerating myelin. 

Man experiencing inflammation in the brain. Reducing inflammation can increase myelin formation.

Researchers have found that inflammatory cytokines reduce myelination, and high levels of inflammation are often found in people with multiple sclerosis (65). 

The best way to reduce inflammation is by following an anti-inflammatory diet.

You should strive to eliminate all gluten, refined carbohydrates (particularly flour), and processed food from your diet, and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed beef and pastured chicken.

My free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains a bunch of healthy low-inflammatory foods that you can eat on a regular basis. 

Taking curcumin and krill oil supplements can also significantly reduce inflammation in the body and brain. 

I also recommend testing for C-Reactive Protein, which is a general marker of inflammation. That way you'll know if it's one of your problems. 

26. B Vitamins and Methylation

A number of different B vitamins can increase myelin and help your body regenerate myelin. 

Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the generation and function of myelin.

Researchers have found that low vitamin B12 levels are significantly associated with myelin degeneration (66, 68). 

Other studies have also shown that people with multiple sclerosis often have abnormally low levels of vitamin B12, and vitamin B12 injections significantly improve their symptoms (67). 

The B Vitamins, including B1, B2, B5, B6 and B12. B Vitamins can help the body form new myelin sheath.

According to Dr. Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker and Grain Brain, vitamin B12 deficiency enhances the destruction of myelin and compromises the ability of the body to repair and rebuild damaged myelin sheath. 

Folate is another B vitamin that plays an important role in the maintenance of myelin. Studies have shown that a deficiency can lead to reduced levels of myelin (69-70). 

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) isn’t a B vitamin, but along with folate and B12, it is involved with methylation, and has been shown to increase the development of myelin (71). 

One amazing study found that biotin (Vitamin B7) activates enzymes involved in myelin synthesis and 91% of patients with multiple sclerosis improved with high doses of biotin. Two multi-centric double-blind placebo-controlled trials are currently underway (72). 

Lastly, pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) can indirectly help with myelin formation because it helps with the synthesis of fatty acids and myelin is mostly made up of fat. Myelin has been shown to degenerate in chickens that are deficient in B5 (73). 

I used to experiment and supplement with individual B vitamins but I’ve now settled on taking just one B complex as needed. I take this one. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins. 

27. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

“I have no doubt in my mind that, at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the Earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields.” - Dr. Robert Becker, Nobel Prize nominee and author of The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life

You won't hear many people talk about this but it needs to be acknowledged.

An increasing amount of research is showing that electromagnetic frequencies emitted from Wi-Fi, laptops, and cellphones can negatively affect the brain and produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression (59). 

It’s an inconvenient truth that needs to be talked about, rather than downplayed, ignored and dismissed.

Image of EMFs surrounding a home. EMFs can reduce myelin formation, so you are best to avoid them or limit your exposure to them.

Some people are more sensitive to them than others. I’m one of them. 

Two environmental doctors have told me that I’m sensitive to environmental radiation, and some of my symptoms can be traced back to EMF hypersensitivity. It's likely why I benefited so much from neurofeedback, as EMFs can affect brainwaves (74-78). 

I suspect a lot of people are dealing with the same problem. 

This research paper explains that there is an association between EMF exposure and myelin deterioration, which may account for many of the symptoms that people with EMF hypersensitivity experience (58).

So if you’re trying to rebuild myelin, it’s a good idea to limit your exposure to EMFs.

How do you that?

I'm still learning about how to manage and combat them, but here are some initial steps you can take:

  • Get an EMF meter to determine your exposure. I use the Cornet ED88T. It's the best option that is currently available. It measures electric, magnetic and radiofrequency fields. It's like having three meters in one. You can get it here.

  • Put your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it. Or use a radiation-blocking phone case such as Safe Sleeve. I did a lot of research into radiation-blocking cases and Safe Sleeve is the best on the market. They are manufactured with materials that have been 3rd-party tested to block 99.9% of radiation coming off a cell phone.

  • Turn off Wi-Fi at night while you’re sleeping.

  • If you have a laptop, don’t touch it. Use a wired keyboard and wired mouse instead.

  • Supplement with the herb Rhodiola. It has radioprotective effects (60-62). I take this one. You can get it here or here. I previously wrote about Rhodiola here.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other steps you can take, and I plan on writing more about this soon because it isn’t discussed enough.

This may seem like “woo-woo” but it’s a real issue. And I suspect it will eventually become one of the biggest issues of our time.

Conclusion

You don’t have to let your brain deteriorate over time. 

You have the power to maintain it and rebuild the myelin within it. 

Overall, the above 25 steps can help your body regenerate myelin. They have really helped me.

I hope you implement some of them into your daily life and you notice your brain functions more optimally. 

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. Terry Wahls, MD

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The 9 Most Promising Psychobiotics for Anxiety

I used to walk around ruminating, struggling with inner turmoil and nervousness all the time. 

It never went away.

It was impossible to shake. 

It wore me down and ruined the quality of my life. 

There’s no doubt that fear and vigilance are helpful when you’re faced with an actual threat. 

But an unnecessarily high state of worry and arousal when there is nothing threatening you? That's a nightmare. 

It doesn’t have to be that way though. 

If you have chronic anxiety, there are ways to manage and reverse it, like I have.

And psychobiotics are one way to do that.

Psychobiotics are probiotics and prebiotics that can improve your mental health by changing the mixture of bacteria in your gut (46-47). 

It is estimated that 100 trillion bacteria, and 500 to 1,000 species of bacteria, live in the human gut. These gut bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome, help with digestion. But an increasing amount of research suggests that they also communicate with your brain through the microbiome-gut-brain axis, affecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviour (48-49). 

Gut is playing chess with Brain. Gut says “Gutsy move for a brain…”.

A dysfunctional gut microbiome has been linked to a number of mental health problems and psychiatric conditions, including anxiety.

In fact, anxiety and gut health are very tightly linked. 

Research shows that people who have digestive disorders are more likely to have anxiety, and those with anxiety have higher rates of gastrointestinal disease (50-52).

And studies show that when digestive disorders improve, anxiety improves as well (53). 

Unfortunately, a lot of people have poor gut health today because of the widespread use of antibiotics, medications, herbicides, stress, infections, poor diet, etc. 

But don’t worry. You can improve your gut health and anxiety at the same time with the use of psychobiotics. 

Studies show that psychobiotics can improve anxiety by (54-55):

Here are the nine best psychobiotics that have been shown in human and animal studies to decrease stress and help treat anxiety disorders. 

They are truly the best probiotics for anxiety.

The word psychobiotic.

1. Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a bacterium found in the human gut. It is one of the most popular probiotic species found in supplements.

Preliminary research suggests that supplementing with lactobacillus rhamnosus can lower anxiety in humans (3). 

GABA is the main inhibitory and relaxing neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and studies suggest that lactobacillus rhamnosus may reduce anxiety by changing the expression of GABA receptors (1-2, 4). 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice, and it reduced their anxiety-like behaviours. But when researchers removed part of their vagus nerve, lactobacillus rhamnosus did not reduce their anxiety, suggesting that psychobiotics communicate with the brain and improve mental health through the vagus nerve (1-2). 

The mice [given lactobacillus rhamnosus] were more chilled out.
— Dr. John Cryan, researcher and pharmacologist with the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center at University College Cork, Ireland

Other studies have found that lactobacillus rhamnosus decreases stress-induced anxiety-like behaviour, and researchers have concluded that it can protect against anxiety (5, 7). 

Lactobacillus rhamnosus has also been shown to reduce obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)-like behaviour in mice. In fact, researchers found it was just as effective as fluoxetine, an SSRI antidepressant commonly used to treat OCD (6). 

So if you struggle with OCD or obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it’s worth trying this psychobiotic.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus can be found in some yogurt and dairy products, such as fermented and unpasteurized milk and semi-hard cheese. But I typically don’t recommend eating these foods unless you’re sure you can tolerate them.

2. Bifidobacterium longum

Bifidobacterium longum is another bacterium present in the human gut. It is often added to food as it can help prevent the growth of pathogenic organisms.

I previously wrote about how it’s been proven to help treat depression.

Bacteria. Bacteria can affect the mind through the gut-brain axis.

But it can also reduce anxiety. 

Researchers have concluded that bifidobacterium longum can reduce cortisol and alleviate psychological distress in humans (including obsessions, compulsions, paranoia, anxiety) (28-30). 

Lots of animal research also shows that bifidobacterium longum can significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviour (31-34). 

One study found that a chronic infection in mice increased inflammation and caused anxiety-like behaviour, but bifidobacterium longum reduced anxiety and normalized behaviour (35-36). 

Researchers have even figured out that it works by acting through the vagus nerve (27). 

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3. Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus plantarum is another probiotic species that can reduce anxiety. 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus plantarum to patients with irritable bowel syndrome and it significantly reduced their anxiety and improved their quality of life (8). 

Animal studies also show that lactobacillus plantarum can cause positive changes in emotional behaviours and significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviours. It does this by increasing dopamine and serotonin, lowering stress hormone levels, and reducing inflammation (9-11). 

As a result, researchers have concluded that lactobacillus plantarum has psychotropic properties without physical side effects, and has great potential for treating neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety (9-11). 

Lactobacillus plantarum is also commonly found in many fermented vegetables including sauerkraut, pickles, brined olives, kimchi.

4. Lactobacillus helveticus

Lactobacillus helveticus is a probiotic strain that has been shown to reduce cortisol and have anti-anxiety effects in humans (37, 39, 44).

One study found that it can even reduce paranoid and obsessive-compulsive thoughts (38). 

Blue bacteria. Bacteria can influence our anxiety levels.

Animal research shows that a Western-style diet can negatively change the gut microbiome, increase brain inflammation, and contribute to anxiety. But lactobacillus helveticus can protect against this, reducing both neuroinflammation and anxiety (40-42).

One study even found that lactobacillus helveticus works better than citalopram, a common SSRI antidepressant, at reducing anxiety-like behaviour in rats. It also reduced their stress hormone levels and increased their serotonin levels (43). 

Lactobacillus helveticus is also commonly found in American Swiss cheese and Emmental cheese, and sometimes other cheeses, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Romano, provolone, and mozzarella.

I’m very sensitive to dairy so I can’t eat cheese regularly. But if you’re not and can tolerate them, you could try adding some of these cheeses into your diet. 

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5. Lactobacillus reuteri

Lactobacillus reuteri is a bacterium with anti-inflammatory effects that scientists first discovered in the 1980s. 

It is usually found in the human gut. However, not all humans have it, and some people simply have very low levels of it. Therefore, you may need to supplement with it to introduce and maintain high levels of it.

Research shows that Lactobacillus reuteri can reduce anxiety-like behaviours in animals by reducing stress hormone levels and altering the expression of GABA receptors (13-14).

And one study found that the absence of lactobacillus reuteri causes social deficits in animals.

We found that treatment with this single bacterial strain was able to rescue their social behavior.
— Shelly Buffington, neuroscience researcher at Baylor College of Medicine

By adding it back in to the guts of the animals, the researchers were able to reverse some of their behavioural deficits, which were similar to symptoms of social anxiety and autism in humans (15-16). 

Therefore, lactobacillus reuteri is definitely the psychobiotic strain worth trying if you struggle with social anxiety or symptoms of autism.

It's also found in breast milk, and some meat and dairy products.

6. Lactobacillus casei

Lactobacillus casei is another bacterium found in the human gut. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and digestive problems took Lactobacillus casei as a daily supplement for two months. At the end of the study, they had a significant decrease in their anxiety symptoms (17-19). 

So this is a good psychobiotic to try if you struggle with a mixture of fatigue, digestive problems and anxiety.

Lactobacillus casei is the dominant species in naturally fermented Sicilian green olives, and can also be found in other fermented vegetables and dairy products. 

7. Lactobacillus fermentum

Lactobacillus fermentum is another species that is part of the human microbiome and commonly found in fermented vegetables.

It hasn’t been studied as much as other lactobacillus probiotic species.

Bacteria. Psychobiotics are bacteria that affect our psychological state of mind.

But there still is some evidence that is may be able to help treat anxiety, especially if you have a long history of antibiotic treatment. 

Research shows that antibiotics can trigger anxiety in animals by disturbing the microbiome.

But by giving animals lactobacillus fermentum, researchers can reduce the inflammation and reverse the psychological problems brought on by antibiotics, including anxiety-like behaviour (12).

So if you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics over the years, or noticed that your anxiety got worse after taking a course of antibiotics, taking a psychobiotic supplement with lactobacillus fermentum is worth a try. 

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8. Bifidobacterium breve

Bifidobacterium breve is a beneficial bacterium found in human breast milk and the human gut. The amount in your gut declines as you get older (20). 

Research shows that bifidobacterium breve can reduce anxiety-like behaviour in animals (21). 

Anxious animals also perform better on cognitive tests after being given it (22). 

This makes bifidobacterium breve a great psychobiotic option if your anxiety impairs your cognition and interferes with your ability to complete tasks. 

Bifidobacterium breve can be found naturally in some fermented foods.

9. Galacto-oligosaccharides

Not all psychobiotics are simply probiotics.

Psychobiotics can also include “prebiotics,” which are non-digestible soluble fibres that stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria, and therefore improve mental health and reduce anxiety.

Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are a type of prebiotic that have been shown to do just that. 

Picture of intestines. Our intestinal health can significantly affect our mental health.

In one study, GOS significantly decreased the secretion of cortisol, and participants paid more attention to positive information rather than negative information (23).

People who are anxious tend to have high levels of cortisol and often get caught up in negative thinking. So this study suggests that GOS has anti-anxiety effects. 

Other research has demonstrated that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often have anxiety because of the lack of microbial diversity in their gut. However, when IBS sufferers supplement with a prebiotic mixture containing GOS, it significantly reduces their anxiety and improves the quality of their life (24-26). 

You can get GOS here.

What Psychobiotic Should You Take?

Ideally, you should buy and try one probiotic strain at a time to figure out how you respond to each one.

That's what I did over the span of several years. 

I would buy and try one probiotic species and strain, take it for at least one month, and then monitor how I felt during that time.

Sometimes I would stop taking it if I felt worse.

I was my own guinea pig and tested and experimented with so many different probiotic supplements to find the ones that helped. 

I usually recommend people follow the same process because many people like myself often experience a bad reaction to one strain, but a good reaction to another. 

But I understand doing that can be time-consuming and tedious. Plus, clinical studies often demonstrate that probiotic mixtures with multiple strains are better at improving the diversity of gut bacteria than single strains (45). 

So, to make it easier for you, I’ve now created my own psychobiotic supplement, called Optimal Biotics.

I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best psychobiotic supplement so that they can experience superior results.

I have found that many psychobiotic supplements on the market fall short and even cause side effects.

But Optimal Biotics doesn't, and it contains the 8 most well-researched and beneficial probiotic strains for your mental health.

I also recommend adding fermented foods into your diet and see how that goes. Fermented foods contain many strains of bacteria that have not been documented in the scientific literature.  That said, the downside is that the bacteria in fermented foods will vary depending on the batch, and there is sometimes the risk of them containing pathogenic bacteria.

Here are some other steps you can take to increase the good bacteria in your gut. 

And this anti-anxiety supplement also includes several other natural compounds that have helped me manage my anxiety over the years. It can help reduce stress and anxiety while you work to improve your gut health. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

Conclusion

The microbiome and psychobiotics are at the cutting-edge of neuroscience and mental health research and treatment. It hasn’t been that long since researchers first discovered that there is a gut-brain connection. 

Cartoon image of bacteria and psychobiotics.

When I first found out about it several years ago, I started consuming psychobiotics, and they have definitely helped me recover from chronic anxiety. 

But it’s important to point out that psychobiotics alone were never enough.

I also had to make changes to my diet, take key supplements, improve thyroid health, and overcome trauma. There really is no quick fix or magic bullet. 

Yet for some people, psychobiotics can be life changing, especially if you have digestive issues alongside your anxiety and worry. 

Overall, I think they are absolutely worth a try. 

I hope this article helps you, and please share it with anyone you think might benefit from it. 

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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