How to Support Your Mitochondria for Better Brain Health

Picture of several mitochondria.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic dysfunction of mitochondria is another underlying factor that contributes to poor brain function and mental illness. 

Mitochondria are unique structures within every cell of your body. You have trillions and trillions of them, making up approximately 10% of your total body weight. They are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body by converting your nutrition into adenosine-5’- triphosphate (ATP). ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel. You are constantly using it, and your brain needs enough of it to work properly (106-107). 

Along with your gut bacteria, your mitochondria are critically important and need to be supported to overcome depression and anxiety, and reach optimal brain and mental health.

Mitochondria are especially abundant in your brain cells and involved in many important biological processes in the brain, including the regulation of free radicals and neurotransmitters. In fact, monoamine oxidase (MAO), the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of monoamine neurotransmitters, is localized within the outer mitochondrial membrane (91-93). 

So not surprisingly, numerous studies show that there is a correlation between impaired mitochondrial functioning in the brain and many psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, including bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, schizophrenia, psychosis, panic disorder, social anxiety, generalized anxiety and other stress-related diseases (82-90, 94-100, 102-104). 

Yes, you read that right. Every single one of those conditions has been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction. In fact, many researchers are convinced that mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in almost every chronic disease (108-110). 

Mitochondria dysfunction decreases ATP energy production and increases oxidative stress, which are commonly found in the brains of people suffering from brain and mental health disorders. Cognitive symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction can also include impairments in attention, executive function and memory. Unfortunately, a number of psychiatric drugs damage the mitochondria and worsen dysfunction (105). 

But luckily, there are ways to halt and reverse mitochondrial decay.

Below are a number of strategies I’ve used over the years to support my mitochondria and you can use them to regain optimal brain and mental health.

Eat Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods

Not surprisingly, eating lots of fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods is the most impactful action you can take to power your mitochondria. 

In order to thrive, your mitochondria need phytonutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats and proteins.

Dr. Terry Wahls, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, is a leading expert on the relationship between nutrition and mitochondrial health.

Dr. Terry Wahls standing in front of her wheelchair.

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) more than a decade ago but reversed the neurodegenerative brain disease by repairing her mitochondria with an intensive nutritional strategy. She outlines how she recovered her health in her book The Wahls Protocol

Research on her protocol shows that patients witness a “significant improvement in fatigue” (67). 

She recommends eating six to nine cups of vegetables and fruits every day, including green veggies (kale, spinach), brightly colored vegetables (beets, carrots, peppers), and sulfur-rich veggies (broccoli, cauliflower).

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health also contains a bunch of foods that you should be eating on a regular basis for optimal mitochondrial health. 

Dr. Wahls also has a fascinating TED talk that you can watch below if you're interested in learning more. 

Avoid Certain Foods and Ingredients

Eating poor-quality foods can also wear down your mitochondria. 

Pizza, burgers and fries. Fast, processed food impairs mitochondria health.

Genetically, your mitochondria were not designed to deal with our current food environment and lifestyle habits. 

On top of this, your mitochondria are expected to perform proficiently for much longer, as our ancestors rarely lived to the age of 80.

That’s why you should avoid refined sugars, processed flours, industrial oils and trans fats. They can damage your mitochondria and prevent them from properly producing energy.

Dr. Wahls also recommends you avoid all gluten, dairy and soy products for optimal mitochondrial health. I feel much better avoiding them completely. 

Eat More Essential Fats

Healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, help build and strengthen the membranes of your mitochondria. They’ve also been shown to improve mitochondrial functioning in brain (5-7). 

That’s why Dr. Wahls recommends eating organic grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish, such as salmon, every day. Avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil are also rich in healthy fats. 

Supplementing with krill oil is another option. I’ve discussed the overwhelming benefits of krill oil before here

Exercise

Not surprisingly, exercise strengthens your mitochondria by increasing oxygen and blood flow and activating biochemical pathways that produce new mitochondria (8). 

Runners have more high-functioning mitochondria than non-runners, and strength training and high-intensity interval training also increase the number of mitochondria and improve the efficiency of your existing mitochondria (9, 10).

Many experts recommend exercise for brain health, and as I’ve mentioned before, it can also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), your brain’s growth hormone

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Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

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

There is strong evidence to suggest that LLLT supports the mitochondria. 

Research shows that it reduces oxidative stress and increases the production of ATP energy in mitochondria (39, 40). 

These mitochondrial benefits have also been seen directly within the brain. Studies show that LLLT increases mitochondrial activity within brain cells, and this leads to beneficial effects in behaviour (41). 

On top of all this, LLLT treatment has been shown to increase the number of mitochondria and mitochondrial oxygen usage within the brain (42, 43).

Frankly, it’s ridiculous that this therapy is not more well-known and promoted by doctors.

But if you’ve read my blog for a while now, I’m sure you understand why.

You don’t have to wait for conventional medicine to catch up, and you can experiment with it yourself since it’s known to be very safe (44).

I use these two devices :

  • Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) - This is a powerful all-one-device that shines 660 nm of red light and 850 nm of infrared light. I shine it on my forehead for 5-10 minutes every day or every other day. I also shine it on other parts of my head, and on my thyroid, thymus gland and gut. If you decide to get this device, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

  • Vielight 810 – This is an intranasal device with 810 nm of near infrared light that I use regularly. It penetrates deeper into brain tissue and is absorbed better by the central nervous system. If you decide to get this one, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount. Some research has shown a 20-fold higher efficiency of light delivery to the deep brain through the nose instead of transcranial application (125).

You can learn more about LLLT in this post

Infrared saunas are another excellent way to expose yourself to infrared light. Check out my post about the benefits here

And you should also limit your exposure to artificial blue light, as it can also wear down your mitochondria. You can learn more about the risks of too much blue light in this post

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant compound found in grapes and red wine. 

Not only does it increase BDNF levels, but it also activates the SIRT1 gene. This gene triggers a number of positive biochemical reactions that protect and improve the functioning of your mitochondria. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting also trigger the SIRT1 gene (11, 12, 13).

In 2006, Harvard researchers found that resveratrol may increase lifespan by protecting the mitochondria (14).

That’s why I take this resveratrol on a regular basis and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting

Restricting your calories is one the best actions you can take to improve mitochondrial function.

Empty plate, fork and knife. Intermittent fasting boosts mitochondrial function.

Studies show that eating less food reduces the demand and damage on your mitochondria. 

But reducing calories is tough to do and absolutely no fun. 

That’s why I intermittent fast instead. 

Fasting activates your mitochondria and triggers autophagy, which is an intracellular process that essentially allows the mitochondria to clean themselves by removing unwanted and damaged debris, proteins and reactive oxygen species (1, 2, 4).

This process has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (3). 

Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)

NADH is a naturally-occurring compound found in the cells of all living organisms.

It plays a key role in the production of energy within the cell and is highly concentrated within your mitochondria (45). 

Depletion of NADH has been linked to a number of diseases, including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and stabilized oral NADH has been shown to improve all of these conditions (46, 47, 48). 

Although I don’t take it anymore, I’ve witnessed a beneficial effect from supplementing with this NADH through Amazon

LLLT also increases NADH in your mitochondria. 

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Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. 

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose (36).

Ketones are an alternative source of energy for your brain cells and their mitochondria. 

When your mitochondria are dysfunctional, following a ketogenic diet can be an effective strategy to fuel the mitochondria. 

When mitochondria are fueled by ketones instead of glucose, their ability to produce ATP is enhanced and free-radical byproducts are reduced.
— Dr. Jong Rho, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Neurology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital

Ketogenic diets may help treat many different brain and mental health diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and autism. 

Exogenous ketones can help you get into ketosis quickly.

I take Optimal Ketones, and it immediately increases my mental clarity (even when I'm eating carbohydrates). 

B Vitamins

All of the B vitamins play an essential role in maintaining mitochondrial function, and your mitochondria will be compromised if you have a deficiency of any B vitamin (37). 

Deficiency is more likely if you take certain medications

I take this B complex. It includes the bioactive forms of all of the B vitamins. 

Ribose

Ribose is a five carbon sugar created naturally by your body. Even though it’s a sugar, research suggests it does not raise blood sugar levels. Instead, your body stores it in the mitochondria (49, 50). 

Ribose is used by the mitochondria to produce ATP and if you don’t have enough, you’ll experience low energy (51). 

Chronic stress can deplete ribose, and certain conditions have been linked to chronic ribose deficiency, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. That’s why I recommend people supplement with ribose if they struggle with these disorders because it can help reduce mental and physical lethargy (52, 53).

I don’t take it every day, but I do cycle this ribose with other mitochondrial enhancers. 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant molecule found in every cell of your body. It’s particularly concentrated in the mitochondria, playing a key role in the production of energy and protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage. 

Without CoQ10, your body cannot synthesize ATP because CoQ10 is an essential component of the mitochondrial electron transport chain.

Many doctors are unaware that CoQ10 is an excellent treatment for many brain health issues, including depression, chronic fatigue, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Low levels of CoQ10 can cause brain fog, mental fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, depression and irritability (68-70). 

Researchers have found that CoQ10 levels are significantly lower in the depressed patients (71). 

Unfortunately, chronic oxidative stress and medications can further deplete CoQ10

But supplementing with CoQ10 can increase your mitochondrial energy production and reduce symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue (71). 

I took this CoQ10 supplement after coming off psychiatric medication

Ubiquinol is a lipid-soluble form of CoQ10. I haven’t taken it but it is the most active form of CoQ10. 

If you decide to supplement with CoQ10, you should take it with a healthy fat source such as coconut oil to increase absorption because it is fat soluble. 

Food sources with high natural concentrations of CoQ10 include organic red palm oil and grass-fed beef heart (72, 73). 

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods with a wide range of brain health and mitochondrial benefits.

It’s been shown to preserve and enhance memory, attention, and cognition by protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage and promoting the growth of new mitochondria in the brain (56-59). 

Since it helps grow new mitochondria, it may help you if you suffer from depression, since fewer mitochondria have been found in people with depression (63). 

Reactive nitrogen species (RNS) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause severe stress on brain cells and mitochondria, and PQQ has also been shown to suppress RNS and ROS (60-62). 

Researchers have found that supplemental PQQ can be neuroprotective by increasing mitochondrial activity levels (64-66). 

I recommend taking 10-20 mg each day along with CoQ10, as they are synergistic. Taking them together leads to further improvements in cognitive function (57).

You can get it here

It's also included in this supplement

Check out the “Neuroprotective” section of the PQQ Wikipedia page for more information on the brain health benefits of this compound. 

Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral within your body, and the mitochondria are considered magnesium “storage units” because they hold onto a lot of your body’s magnesium. 

Magnesium protects the mitochondria and plays a role in the production and transfer of ATP within the mitochondria. And research shows that if you have a deficiency in magnesium, your brain cells will have fewer mitochondria, and they will be less healthy (54, 55). 

This is just another reason to supplement with at least 200 mg of magnesium every day. It’s one of the most important nutrients for optimal brain health. I take this one through Amazon

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Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR) and Alpha Lipoic Acid

Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine.

Carnitine is an amino acid that improves mitochondrial activity and plays an important role in energy production by transporting fatty acids directly into the mitochondria of your brain cells. It is required to produce ATP and deficiencies are associated with reduced mitochondrial function in the brain (74). 

Supplementing with ALCAR makes it easier for fatty acids to cross your blood-brain barrier and nourish the mitochondria within your brain. This can improve your mood, memory and energy levels.

Several studies show that ALCAR eases depressive symptoms and improve quality of life in patients with chronic depression (75-78). 

Scientific representation of brain and brain blood flow.

And individuals with autism often have reduced levels of carnitine within their brain (79). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

ALCAR is also synergistic with Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), meaning that when you take them together, they are more effective at supporting the mitochondria in your brain.

ALA is a mitochondrial enzyme and antioxidant. It is fat soluble and can easily cross your blood-brain barrier.

It’s been shown to improve cognition by reducing oxidative stress, and protecting existing mitochondria and creating new mitochondria in the brain (80, 101).

Other helpful nutrients that support your mitochondria and provide raw materials for them to produce ATP:

Conclusion

Picture of mitochondrion, the energy producer of brain cells.

Paying attention to your mitochondria is crucial for optimal brain and mental health, and luckily there are a number of dietary and lifestyle habits that can protect and support mitochondrial function.

The following steps will ensure your body and brain have healthier and more abundant mitochondria: 

Over time, if you follow these strategies, you can improve your mitochondrial health and naturally restore your mood and energy levels.

Please share this post with one of your friends or family members who you think might benefit from protecting and supporting their mitochondria, because it really is an underappreciated and unknown aspect of optimal brain and mental health. 

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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16 Powerful Ways to Effectively Lower Homocysteine

Lowering and normalizing homocysteine levels is another key way to improve the health of your brain and manage your mental health. 

In fact, keeping homocysteine levels within normal range is good for overall health in general. 

But what exactly is homocysteine?

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body as a by-product 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 neurotoxic, and increases oxidative stress and free radical damage in the brain by reducing levels of cysteine and glutathione (89-95, 138-139). 

Homocysteine and it’s chemical symbol.

It’s also been shown to contribute to mitochondrial damage and reduce energy production in the brain (96-98). 

Researchers have found that high levels of homocysteine disrupt the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, which allows substances that are normally kept out of the brain to cross over and contribute to neurological problems (99-102). 

And studies have found that people with high levels of homocysteine have lower levels of serotonin and SAMe, a nutrient involved in the production of many neurotransmitters that improve mood (103-104). 

Considering all this, it’s not too surprising that high levels of homocysteine have been linked to many chronic neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases, including:

  • Depression (105-111)

  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive impairment/dysfunction/decline (119-133, 143)

  • Headaches and migraines (112-118, 148)

  • Hearing loss (136-137)

  • Brain atrophy (134, 144, 151)

  • Parkinson’s disease (145)

  • Stroke (154-155)

  • Postpartum depression (135)

  • Postmenopausal mental decline (146)

  • Schizophrenia and other affective disorders (147, 153, 156)

  • Alcoholism (149)

  • Brain damage and neurotoxicity (152)

  • Obsessive–compulsive disorder (157)

  • Multiple sclerosis (158-161)

People with nutritional deficiencies and MTHFR gene mutation are at an increased risk of high homocysteine levels. Homocysteine levels gradually increase as you age, and men are more likely than women to have high levels of homocysteine (140-142). 

Thankfully, there are a number of ways to lower homocysteine.

Here are 16 ways to keep your homocysteine levels in check. 

1. Trimethylglycine

Trimethylglycine (also known as betaine) is an amino acid derivative that can be found in plants such as beets and spinach. 

Trimethylglycine plays an important role in methylation, a process that is involved in the synthesis of melatonin, coenzyme Q10, and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. 

An image of beets. Beets contain betaine, which has been shown to lower homocysteine levels.

Several studies show that supplementing with trimethylglycine can significantly lower homocysteine levels (1-5). 

One study found that the more trimethyglycine a person consumes, the lower their homocysteine levels (6).

According to the research, it appears that you need to supplement with at least three grams of trimethyglycine daily to significantly reduce homocysteine. Doing so will reduce homocysteine levels by 10% in persons with normal levels or by 20 to 40% in persons with elevated homocysteine levels (7-9).

However, even 500mg seems to lower homocysteine slightly (10). 

I took this trimethylglycine supplement after coming off psychiatric medication and noticed an improvement in mood and energy. 

2. Folate

The best way to lower homocysteine is by making sure you consume enough B vitamins on a regular basis.

Folate is one of the most important B vitamins because it helps metabolize homocysteine into methionine (51). 

When your body doesn’t have enough folate, elevated levels of homocysteine are the result (52). 

A pile of green, leafy vegetables. They contain folate, a key nutrient involved in lowering and normalizing homocysteine levels.

Good dietary sources of natural folate include leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, avocado, beef liver and poultry. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

However, folate-rich foods may not be enough to lower homocysteine. In fact, many people do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (57). 

That’s why I recommend supplementation. 

Supplementing with 800 mcg of folate has been shown to lower homocysteine by at least 28%. Even supplementing with just 113 mcg daily lowers homocysteine by about 15% (53-56, 58, 62). 

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

5-MTHF is the most effective supplemental form of folate. Many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels and lowering homocysteine levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (59-61). 

5-MTHF is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. 

3. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that plays a role in methylation. It's also a necessary cofactor in the metabolism of homocysteine (75-77). 

Research shows that Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to rising homocysteine levels (78-80, 83-84). 

But in those with elevated homocysteine, supplementing with 1,000 mg of B12 per day can significantly lower and normalize blood levels of homocysteine (81-82).

Ordinary B12 supplements don’t always cut it though.

If you decide to supplement, you should avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and take the methylated form (methyl-B12) instead, which is better absorbed and more biologically active.

Methyl-B12 is included in this supplement. Or you can take it separately

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

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4. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is another homocysteine-reducing nutrient that boosts mood, deepens sleep, and supports your entire nervous system. 

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

Vitamin B6 is also a necessary cofactor in the metabolism of homocysteine, and having a deficiency can cause homocysteine levels to increase (14).

In fact, low blood levels of B6 are common, especially in people with higher homocysteine levels (15). 

Thankfully, supplementation has been shown to help lower and normalize homocysteine levels (11-13). 

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of B6. Vitamin B6 has been shown to lower homocysteine levels.

However, it’s important to point out that it’s best to supplement B6 along with both folate and B12 if you want to dramatically lower homocysteine levels. 

Supplementing with B6, B12 and folate has been shown to significantly lower homocysteine levels and reduce symptoms of depression (87). 

One study found that within three weeks, homocysteine levels could be reduced by 17% using folate alone, 19% using B12 alone, 57% using folate and B12, and 60% using folate, B12 and B6 (86). 

Another study found that combining B6 and folate reduces homocysteine 32% within five weeks (85).

That’s why I highly recommend supplementing with a high-quality B complex that contains all three B vitamins. 

I take this B complex.

Symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency include weakness, mental confusion, depression, insomnia and severe PMS symptoms.

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

5. Taurine

Taurine is an organic compound found in foods, particularly animal products. It has a wide variety of health benefits.

It can cross the blood-brain barrier and produces anti-anxiety effects, and acts as an antioxidant in the brain, protecting it from various substances including lead and cadmium (16-25). 

It’s also been shown to lower homocysteine. 

Research shows that taurine supplementation significantly reduces plasma homocysteine levels (26-28).

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

6. Creatine

Creatine is a molecule produced in the body and found in some foods, particularly meat, eggs, and fish.

Creatine is also available in supplement form. Athletes, bodybuilders, wrestlers, sprinters often take creatine supplement to gain more muscle mass. It’s an incredibly well-researched supplement and safe to take regularly. 

A scoop of creatine powder next to weights. Creatine lowers homocysteine levels.

Supplementing with creatine can also support the brain. It's been shown to have neuroprotective effects and it rapidly produces energy to support brain cell function (29). 

Research shows that creatine supplementation can also lower homocysteine in humans (32, 34). 

Animal studies show the same (30-31, 33).

I take this creatine powder every day on an empty stomach. I take more when I’m lifting weights regularly. 

7. Green Coffee Extract

Green coffee extract is a supplement that is derived from green coffee beans. 

Green coffee beans are similar to regular coffee beans. However, they contain much more chlorogenic acid in them.

Chlorogenic acid is a phytochemical with cognitive health benefits

One study found that 140 mg of chlorogenic acid, which is 28% of the content of green coffee extract, can significantly lower homocysteine (39). 

Here is a good green coffee extract

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8. Reduce Stress

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage your stress because psychological stress has been shown to significantly increase homocysteine levels (70-71). 

A woman meditating on the beach near the water. Reducing stress can help you to lower your homocysteine levels.

My favourite ways to reduce stress include neurofeedback, meditation (using the Muse headband), massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat

Some supplements that can help you reduce stress include zinc, magnesium, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine.

This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have personally helped me manage my stress over the years. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

And here is an article with 20 other ways to lower your stress hormone, cortisol.

9. Estrogen

Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system.

Research shows that higher estrogen levels are associated with lower homocysteine levels, independent of nutritional status and muscle mass (72). 

And individuals on estrogen replacement therapy have significantly lower homocysteine levels (72-73). 

I recommend both men and women get their hormone levels checked regularly and optimize them because it can really improve your quality of life. 

10. 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.

Research shows that high homocysteine levels can be lowered with choline (40-42). 

Deviled eggs. Eggs contain choline, a nutrient that can lower homocysteine levels.

One study found that increased intake of choline led to lower levels of circulating homocysteine (43). 

And other studies have shown that choline deficiency in mice and humans is associated with increased homocysteine levels (44). 

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is my favourite source of choline for the brain. 

Citicoline also supports the blood-brain barrier and promotes the regeneration of myelin

Another good source of choline for brain health is Alpha GPC.

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

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but Citicoline and Alpha GPC have more noticeable effects on cognition. 

11. N-Acetyl-Cysteine

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine. It’s also the precursor to glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant.

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

And it turns out that it can also help lower homocysteine levels. 

Research shows NAC supplementation can cause a “rapid and significant decrease” in homocysteine levels (49). 

Studies have found that NAC can decrease homocysteine anywhere from 25 to 45 per cent (47-48, 50).

Researchers believe NAC displaces homocysteine from its protein carrier in the blood, which lowers homocysteine and promotes the formation of glutathione (45-46). 

12. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Is there anything omega-3 fatty acids can’t do?

They can promote the regeneration of myelin, stimulate the vagus nerve, help reverse brain damage, and support the endocannabinoid system

And now it appears they can also lower homocysteine levels. 

A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial found that consuming three grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily for 2 months significantly decreases levels of homocysteine (63). 

Other researchers have reported that omega-3s can lower homocysteine by 36 to 48% (64-65). 

Salmon and walnuts. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower homocysteine levels.

And studies have also found that people using B vitamins to lower homocysteine should also have enough omega-3s to improve brain function. In fact, some clinical trials using B vitamins to improve brain function show benefits only in people with higher omega-3 levels (143-144). 

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

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

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

That’s why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains omega-3s. 

I take this krill oil supplement. I feel slightly depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

You can also order very high-quality seafood and krill oil supplements here

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

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13. Probiotics

Research suggests that probiotics may also be able to lower homocysteine.

Bacteria. Probiotic bacteria can lower homocysteine levels.

In one interesting study, researchers gave the probiotic VSL#3 to subjects with high homocysteine.

The researchers found that the probiotic increased the number of good bacteria in the gut, which then naturally increased Vitamin B12 and folate production in the gut. As a result, homocysteine levels dropped (66). 

You can get the VSL#3 probiotic used in the above study here.

I personally created and take the Optimal Biotics supplement to support my brain and mental health. 

Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and help with depression

And here are five other ways to increase the good bacteria in your gut. 

14. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol is a neurotoxin that wreaks havoc on the brain by raising cortisol levels, disrupting the blood-brain barrier, and increasing inflammation and oxidative stress (67).

It also increases homocysteine. 

One study found that alcohol significantly reduces Vitamin B12 and folate levels and increased homocysteine levels (68). 

And another study found that alcohol consumption increased homocysteine levels regardless of Vitamin B levels (69). 

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. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all anymore.

If you do decide to drink it, this post explains that some types of alcohol are better than others

15. Eat “Head to Tail”

Whole plant foods tend to be much healthier when they’re left whole, as they tend to have various nutrients that work together synergistically. 

The same can be said about animal food.

Muscle meat (chicken breasts, lean beef) shouldn’t be your only source of animal protein. Our ancestors didn’t eat this way, so neither should we.

Your body prefers and expects to receive a balance of amino acids from different parts of whole animals.

That’s why I recommend “head-to-tail eating” – consuming a wide variety of proteins from the entire animal. 

Along with muscle meat, you should regularly cook and eat organ meats, such as liver, and bone broth.

One of the main reasons I recommend this is because lean muscle meat is high in methionine.

Methionine is an essential amino acid, but too much methionine increases homocysteine levels and increases your need for Vitamin B6, B12, folate and choline (74, 88, 162). 

But bone broth contains collagen, gelatin, and amino acids such as glycine and proline, which balance out the methionine in muscle meat, and helps your body better metabolize it. 

Bone broth can be inconvenient to make all the time, so I drink this pre-made, organic chicken bone broth

And if you’re actually interested in learning about how to cook and incorporate more whole animal proteins into your diet, I recommend checking out the book Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal by Jennifer McLagan.

16. Limit Medications and Compounds That Increase Homocysteine

A number of prescription drugs and natural compounds have been shown to increase homocysteine by interfering with folate absorption, or metabolism of homocysteine, including (35-38):

Various natural health supplements on table.
  • Cholestyramine

  • Colestipol

  • Fenofibrate

  • Levadopa

  • Metformin

  • Methotrexate

  • Niacin

  • Nitrous oxide

  • Pemetrexed

  • Phenytoin

  • Pyrimethamine

  • Sulfasalazine

Conclusion

High levels of homocysteine can be problematic and increase your risk of many brain and mental health disorders.

But fortunately, you can do something about it!

Implementing the above 16 strategies can provide powerful protection against homocysteine’s negative effects and improve your quality life. 

I’ve found great benefit in lowering my homocysteine levels, and I hope you experience the same. 

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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3 Foods You Should Avoid for Better Mental Health

Avoiding these three foods was one of the very first steps I took to improve my mental health.

I had a lot more energy, improved mood and reduced anxiety.

Unfortunately, about two months after cutting them out, I moved into a moldy house and suffered two really bad concussions. At that point, I had to look for even more advanced solutions.

But if you haven't done so already, I would strongly encourage you to try removing these three foods from your diet.

Doing so will likely improve your symptoms and calm your nervous system, making other therapies even more effective.

It’s harder to overcome trauma if you haven’t taken care of your physiology, as researchers have found that food allergies and sensitivities can trigger a wide range of emotional and mental health symptoms (110).

The problem with some foods is that they disrupt normal gut function and increase intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome). 

When this happens, small particles of food can leak into your bloodstream. Your immune system sees these food particles as foreign entities and attacks them, increasing inflammation throughout your body and reducing the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, which can cause or worsen mental health problems (4-6, 66-67). 

This is discussed in the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression, Schizophrenia by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD.

If I eat any of these three foods by accident, I supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay

Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap problematic proteins, toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body. 

I notice I don’t feel as sick when I do this, and recover much more quickly.

Without further ado, here are three foods that I avoid as much as possible. 

A woman thinking and looking at two lightbulbs. One lightbulb is full of pizza, fries and junk food. Another lightbulb is full of leafy green vegetables.

1. Wheat

Gluten sensitivity can be primarily, and at times, exclusively, a neurological disease.
— Dr. Hadjivassiliou, MD, Professor of Neurology

Following a gluten-free diet has significantly improved my mental health (even though I didn’t have any terrible digestive issues). 

Wheat can contribute to mental illnesses.

I completely cut it out seven years ago, and within a few weeks, I felt so much better mentally. 

I also lost a bunch of weight and my asthma disappeared. 

I haven't touched it again since.

The same thing happened to Mikhaila Peterson, the daughter of University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson.

She followed a gluten-free diet and her depression, fatigue, irritability and memory problems faded away, allowing her to come off her antidepressants.

Dr. Peterson made the same dietary changes and was able to reduce his medication by half. 

You can watch a video of them discussing it here

Unfortunately, the myth continues to spread that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing food. That’s simply not true.  

Dr. Kenneth Fine, a pioneer in gluten intolerance research, has demonstrated that 1 in 3 Americans are gluten intolerant, and that 8 in 10 have the genes that predispose them to developing gluten intolerance (1-3). 

The benefits of cutting out gluten are also discussed in this book

So if you struggle with a cognitive or mental health condition, you owe it to yourself to follow a strict gluten-free diet for 30 days and see how you feel. You'll likely feel better.

For more than sixty years, reports in the scientific literature have linked wheat and gluten sensitivity to a variety of neurological and psychiatric conditions (75-81), including:

A PubMed literature search (dates 1953–2011) located 162 original articles associating psychiatric and neurologic complications to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Thirty-six articles were located for seizure disorders, 20 articles for ataxia and cerebellar degeneration, 26 for neuropathy, 20 for schizophrenia, 14 for depression, 12 for migraine, and up to 10 articles each for anxiety disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, autism, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, myopathy, and white matter lesions.
  • Schizophrenia (39-60)

  • Depression (18-25)

  • Autism spectrum disorders (30-38)

  • Epilepsy and seizures (13-17)

  • Dementia and cognitive decline (61-63)

  • Anxiety (9-10)

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (26-27)

  • Cerebellar ataxia (69-72)

  • Social phobia (11)

  • Panic disorder (12)

  • Bipolar disorder (28)

  • Migraines (29)

 

Luckily, research shows that when people with these neurological and psychiatric disorders follow a gluten-free diet, there is a reduction in their symptoms. 

Many times, there is even a complete resolution in their symptoms. 

In one study, depressed patients who didn’t have digestive issues (like me) followed a gluten-free diet. Within 2-3 months, they experienced a reversal of their depressive symptoms (68). 

Researchers have also found that a gluten-free diet improves depression and reduces behavioural problems by increasing levels of l-tryptophan – the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin (64). 

Another study found a significant increase in serotonin and dopamine because of the removal of gluten (65). 

Clearly, there is more to gluten than celiac disease and digestive issues, and cutting out wheat is one of the first dietary steps I recommend to people who are striving to overcome mental health challenges. 

I understand that it's tough to cut out completely, but it’s worth a try because it may be all you need. 

A grain-free diet, although difficult to maintain (especially for those that need it the most), could improve the mental health of many and be a complete cure for others.
— Dr. Paola Bressan

Other than avoiding wheat, you should also avoid foods that contain barley, rye and spelt because they also contain gluten. Sauces, condiments and soups often contain it, so you should stay clear of almost all processed food. Even some medications can contain gluten

As discussed in the GAPS Diet book, the bacteria in our guts can determine the degree to which we are sensitive to gluten (73). 

So you should also try to increase the good bacteria in your gut

And as I mentioned earlier, I take this activated charcoal or this bentonite clay whenever I accidentally consume wheat and it minimizes the negative effects. 

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2. Milk

"Milk, and all that comes from milk, increases melancholy." – Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

After childhood, many people lose the enzyme, lactase, required to digest milk.

And a lot of people who suffer from brain and mental health problems are allergic or sensitive to milk.

People are allergic or sensitive to two main components of milk – lactose and casein.

Casein is the milk protein. Lactose is the milk sugar. 

Like gluten, both lactose and casein can contribute to inflammation in the body and brain, contributing to mental illness.

A glass of milk. The protein and sugars in milk can cause inflammation and contribute to mental illnesses.

Research shows that people with neuropsychiatric diseases – including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and autism – often have significantly elevated immune reactions to casein in milk, which corresponds with the severity of their mental symptoms. And their symptoms can be “improved substantially or even been cured completely” on a dairy-free diet (82-83, 85-91). 

Interestingly, casein has been shown to reduce the absorption of cysteine by 64% (92). 

Cysteine is an important amino acid for mental health. I previously discussed it here

It plays a role in the production of glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant, which protects your body from oxidative stress. And people with mental health problems often have high levels of oxidative stress (93-94). 

Therefore, milk may indirectly reduce glutathione levels and increase oxidative stress by preventing the amino acid cysteine from entering cells (92). 

Perhaps this is why so many people find benefit from supplementing with n-acetyl-cysteine

Folate is another critical nutrient for mental health, and milk has been shown to decrease the transport of folate into the brain (95). 

This makes sense considering that folate plays a key role in methylation, and other research has found that casein also reduces DNA methylation by 43% (96). 

Lastly, researchers have also discovered that high levels of lactose in the intestines can interfere with tryptophan metabolism and serotonin levels. They concluded that lactose malabsorption may play a role in the development of depression (84). 

All this being said, it seems that dairy affects everyone differently.

So you should try eliminating all conventional milk-based foods including ice cream, cheese and yogurt for 30 days. Then try adding it back in and examine how you feel.

It’s important to note that the milk in the grocery store is usually processed, homogenized, and pasteurized with distorted fats and denatured proteins. It’s not considered a whole food and I think everyone should avoid it. 

My free food guide still includes grass-fed, full-fat, organic dairy because it’s a healthy whole food and plenty of people can tolerate it just fine.

I personally choose not to eat any milk or dairy though because I still feel better without it.

In conclusion, here is Dr. Daniel Kalish’s take on dairy. He is the author of The Kalish Method: Healing the Body, Mapping the Mind

People with sub-clinical gluten intolerance need to avoid pasteurized cow’s milk products. As the villi on the intestinal lining heal from a gluten free diet, most individuals will be able to tolerate raw or unpasteurized dairy products again in nine months to a year. In other people, there will be a more or less permanent sensitivity to dairy products. However, in the initial two months of eliminating gluten, it is absolutely required to avoid all milk dairy products, because they will inflame the intestine lining just like gluten does and prevent healing.
— Dr. Daniel Kalish

3. Vegetable Oil

The increased incidence rate of major depression since 1913 may be explained by a sharp increase in the rate of omega-6 PUFAs in the diet.
— Dr. Michael Maes

The last food you should avoid or significantly limit is refined vegetable oil, including soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola oils.

They are highly unstable and oxidize very easily. 

Like gluten, vegetable oils are everywhere and hard to avoid because they’re included in most processed foods.  

These oils are also predominantly made up of omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega 6 and Omega 3 content of oils.

This is a problem because most people eat way too many omega-6 fatty acids today, and not enough omega-3 fatty acids.  

Omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation, while omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation.

An international panel of lipid experts says that the ideal dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is approximately 1 to 1. But these same experts estimate that the current ratio that people are consuming today is around 20 to 1 (97-101).

As I discussed before, omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent and treat mental disorders

Unfortunately, they are being outnumbered by the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in our food supply. 

Luckily you can combat this by staying clear of vegetable oils, supplementing with krill oil, and eating wild salmon regularly (You can get very high-quality seafood and krill oil supplements here).

Not doing this can lead to mental health problems.

Dr. Raymond Peat, PhD, says that the sudden increase of vegetable oils in our food supply after World War II has caused many changes in our mental health:

In 1980, experimenters demonstrated that young rats fed milk containing soy oil incorporated the oil directly into their brain cells, and had structurally abnormal brain cells as a result.

Studies have also found a very strong correlation between vegetable oil consumption and violent behavior, including homicide (109). 

This graph shows data from one study, looking at omega-6 intake and homicide rates in five countries.

Correlation between homicide rates and omega-6 fatty acid consumption.

Dr. Stephan Guyenet, author of The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat, discusses this in more depth here

And it’s not just violent behaviour. 

There is a significant correlation between the severity of depression and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Many researchers suggest trying to treat depression by reducing the ratio with omega-3 supplementation (106). 

Other researchers have found significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of patients with depression because of their higher omega-6 fatty acid intake (107). 

Too many omega-6 fatty acids have also been linked to increases in cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone (102-104). 

And elevated homocysteine levels – a known risk factor for mental health problems – has been associated with excess omega-6 fatty acids (108). 

I recommend checking out the Perfect Health Diet if you’re interested in learning more about the detrimental health effects of refined vegetable oils. 

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Other Possible Food Intolerances

Be aware that you may be sensitive or intolerant to other seemingly healthy foods, and if so, they should be avoided to maintain good mental health. 

This is discussed in Brain Allergies: The Psychonutrient and Magnetic Connections by Dr. Willam Philpott, MD. 

Three eggs. Sometimes people have an intolerance to eggs and it can contribute to symptoms of mental illness.

For example, eggs are an incredibly nutritious and healthy food, but I’m personally intolerant to the egg whites, so I throw away the whites and just eat the yolks. 

It’s not a big deal though because the yolks are the healthiest part of the egg anyway.

But I originally figured this out by following an elimination diet.

You eliminate all possible food allergens and then add them back in one by one and see if you have a negative reaction.

You can learn more about it in this book. 

Some of the most common food allergens that could affect your mental health include:

  • Eggs

  • Soy

  • Corn

  • Nightshade vegetables

  • Peanuts

  • Tree nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans.

  • Yeast

  • Fish

  • Shellfish

  • Sulphites

If you struggle with mental health problems, you should cut them all out for at least 2 weeks. Then add them back in one by one and see how you feel. 

Eat each food a lot over the course of three days and monitor your reaction to each one. Sometimes negative symptoms can pop up a few days later. 

Conclusion

Unfortunately, the role of food in the development of mental health disorders is often overlooked by conventional psychiatrists and some psychologists. 

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of a brain.

They hardly receive any training in nutrition and rarely consider food intolerances as a possible cause of mental health symptoms. 

Instead, psychiatric drugs are simply prescribed, which can lead to worse gut health, more symptoms and more medications. 

However, psychiatric drugs are necessary for many people. I completely understand that.

But if your mental health is failing, try eliminating gluten, dairy and refined vegetable oils and observe the effects. You may be surprised at how much better you feel. 

Please share this post with anyone that might find it useful. 

Let’s spread the word that there is a link between nutrition and mental health!

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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