13 Powerful Ways to Support Your Thyroid for Better Mental Health

When you know better, you do better.
— Maya Angelou
Picture of the thyroid gland.

Sometimes it may feel as if we have no control over our thoughts and emotions. Our minds can take on a life of their own, with no rhyme or reason as to why we're suddenly sad and anxious.

But there are always underlying causes of these mood swings, and with a better understanding of them, you can learn to manage and overcome them. 

Like I have, you can connect the dots, determine your underlying triggers, learn to control them and even completely eliminate them over time. 

So today I want to talk about thyroid dysfunction. It was one of the underlying issues of my chronic mental illness. 

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple.

It’s one of your most important glands, producing hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) – which impact the health and functioning of your entire body.

In fact, normal metabolism and energy levels depend on these hormones. 

Your thyroid also plays a key role in the optimal health and functioning of your brain. It can impact your cognition, concentration, mood, memory and emotions. 

So when your thyroid hormones are out of balance, you can be too, and brain and mental problems can arise.

Your thyroid can either be overactive and produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), or underactive and produce too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).

Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is much more common, and since I personally struggled with symptoms of hypothyroidism, this post will mostly focus on that.

Picture of thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism can also be caused by an autoimmune conditions called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid tissue.

According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working? and Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s. 

Here are some of the common brain and mental health symptoms of low thyroid that I experienced:

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low mood

  • Forgetfulness

  • Weakness

  • Sluggishness

Sounds just like depression, doesn’t it?

You Don't Have Mental Illness, You Have Thyroid Problems

Many studies show that people with cognitive, emotional and behavioural disturbances have lower levels of thyroid hormone than the general population, and their psychiatric symptoms improve when they take thyroid hormone.

The following symptoms and disorders have been linked to thyroid problems (69-86): 

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar disorder, mania and mood swings

  • Irritability and rage

  • Insomnia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis

  • Dementia and confusion

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Borderline personality disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

In fact, many people struggling with these conditions see better improvements when they are treated with thyroid hormone than when they are treated with psychiatric medication (and experience fewer side effects). 

Psychiatric patients with subclinical hypothyroidism - especially those with incomplete responses to psychotropic therapy - should usually be treated with thyroid hormone. In some patients with no clear evidence of a biochemical or clinical thyroid disorder, mood symptoms nevertheless respond to thyroid hormone.
— Thomas D. Geracioti Jr, MD

A number of different medical practitioners and researchers have written books about how thyroid problems can negatively affect brain and contribute to mental illness:

So if you struggle with brain or mental illness, you likely do not need a prescription for antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medication. What you really need is to support your thyroid. Treating the underlying thyroid problem is critical to alleviating the associated psychiatric symptoms.

Luckily, there are easy, natural ways for you to do just that.

Below are 13 main strategies I’ve used to balance my thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function. 

Before implementing all of them, I highly recommend getting a full thyroid panel (like this one) so that you know your starting point. True Health Labs allows you to order their Complete Thyroid Panel even without a doctor. 

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1. Cut Out Gluten

Certain foods can disrupt proper thyroid function and you should avoid them to optimize brain and mental health. 

Gluten-containing grains (barley, wheat, rye, spelt) are the worst offenders.  

Picture of bread and bagels, which are full of gluten and worsen thyroid function.

The problem with gluten is that it can 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. 

On top of this, the molecular structure of gliadin (the protein found in gluten) resembles that of the thyroid gland. So when gliadin enters your bloodstream, your immune system not only attacks the gliadin, but also your thyroid tissue because of its close resemblance. And this can cause many brain and mental health problems (11-13). 

Research shows that people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance are more likely to have thyroid diseases and mental illnesses, and vice versa (1-10). 

Many people that have hypothyroidism really have gluten sensitivity. Over time, they actually have significant brain degeneration. When people degenerate their brain, one of the first things they get is depression.
— Dr. Datis Kharrazian

Thyroid function, and therefore brain and mental health, will often improve after the elimination of gluten-containing grains. 

2. Eat Enough Calories and Carbohydrates

Making sure you eat enough calories and carbohydrates on a daily basis is critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.  

A landmark paper, known as the Vermont Study, found that thyroid hormone drops when you don’t eat enough calories and carbohydrates (14). 

Person holding potatoes in their hands.

Several other studies also show that ketogenic low-carb diets can suppress thyroid function and reduce thyroid hormone. This is because carbohydrates play a key role on the production of thyroid hormone (15-18). 

In previous posts, I have mentioned that fasting and ketogenic dieting can have beneficial effects on your brain. This is still true. However, it's important to note fasting and low-carb diets should be followed intermittently and not consistently over long stretches of time, mainly because of their detrimental effects on the thyroid. I prefer to take Optimal Ketones instead. They immediately increase my mental clarity without having to restrict carbohydrates. 

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains plenty of healthy, nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrate, including:

  • Yams

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Other root vegetables

  • Berries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Raw honey

3. Avoid Vegetable Oils

You should also significantly limit all refined vegetable oils, including soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola. 

These oils are predominantly made up of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are highly unstable and oxidize very easily within your body. 

Unfortunately, like gluten, rancid PUFAs are everywhere and hard to avoid. Most commercially-prepared processed foods include them. 

And your thyroid is particularly vulnerable to their effects.

Dr. Raymond Peat, PhD, says that the sudden increase of fragile and rancid polyunsaturated oils into our food supply after World War II has caused many changes in human health, particularly thyroid function and hormones: 

Their [polyunsaturated oils] best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. By 1950, then, it was established that unsaturated fats suppress the metabolic rate, apparently creating hypothyroidism. The more unsaturated the oils are, the more specifically they suppress tissue response to thyroid hormone, and transport of the hormone on the thyroid transport protein. And 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.
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4. Eat coconut oil

I’ve discussed the brain and mental health benefits of coconut oil before here

It can help reduce brain fog and enhance your cognitive performance. And it may be accomplishing this by supporting your thyroid. 

According to Dr. Raymond Peat, coconut oil is very beneficial to the brain and thyroid:

Coconut oil has a general pro-thyroid action by diluting and displacing anti-thyroid unsaturated oils. And brain tissue is very rich in complex forms of fats. An experiment in which pregnant mice were given diets containing either coconut oil or unsaturated oil showed that brain development was superior in the young mice whose mothers ate coconut oil. Because coconut oil supports thyroid function, and thyroid governs brain development, including myelination, the result might simply reflect the difference between normal and hypothyroid individuals.

I recommend this coconut oil

And you don’t need to stick with coconut oil. Coconut milk, water and meat are other ways to get the benefits of coconut. 

5. Try Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is probably the best cutting-edge way to support your thyroid. I wrote about it previously here.  

Using it on my thyroid has made a remarkable difference in my energy levels and mental clarity. And this is likely because of an increase in my thyroid hormones. 

Multiple studies show that LLLT can improve the production of thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function in patients with chronic autoimmune thyroid disease. Study participants were able to reduce the dosage of their thyroid medication (36, 37).  

A study from Brazil showed that LLLT not only reduced the need for thyroid medication in all patients, but 9 months later after the study concluded, it also showed that 47% of patients no longer required any thyroid medication at all.  Participants with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis also saw a reduction in their anti-thyroid antibodies by more than 39% (40). 

A Russian study also demonstrated a 97% success rate when treating women with subclinical hypothyroidism. Researchers concluded LLLT should be the “method of choice in the treatment of [subclinical hypothyroidism], especially in the elderly” (40). 

Animal research has found similar results in rats and rabbits (38, 39). 

I shine the Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) device on my thyroid. It includes both red and infrared light. I’m convinced most people would benefit from it. If you decide to get it, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

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

6. Get Enough Vitamin A and D

Fat soluble vitamins A and D are also critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.

Vitamin D is necessary to help transport thyroid hormone into your cells and deficiency is quite common in people with thyroid problems. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with thyroid disease and supplementation has been shown to benefit the thyroid. (22-24). 

I previously discussed the brain health benefits of vitamin D here. I now use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my levels are optimal. 

Vitamin A helps your body produce thyroid hormone and protects the thyroid gland from oxidative stress (which is higher in people with thyroid issues). Research also shows that vitamin A can reduce your risk of hypothyroidism (19-21). 

However, I personally don’t recommend you supplement with vitamin A. It’s better to get it from food. Pastured eggs, grass-fed liver and butter (or ghee if you can't tolerate butter) are ideal sources. 

Cod liver oil is another great option as it contains both vitamin A, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids all together. I take this one every so often.

7. Get Enough Minerals

Your thyroid gland needs specific trace minerals to do its job properly. 

I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement so that you have all the minerals you need to support brain and thyroid health. It includes a small amount of iodine, selenium, magnesium and zinc.

Iodine is the most important, as it’s one of the building blocks used by your thyroid to create hormones. 

However, I don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of iodine separately. Many functional medicine practitioners that I’ve interviewed over the years have told me that high iodine intake through supplements can often do more harm than good. Too much supplemental iodine has been shown to cause further thyroid problems (66-68). 

Brazil nuts contain selenium, which can support your thyroid.

So I think the small amount in a multi-mineral is enough.

And getting some more iodine from whole foods, including seafood and sea vegetables, can also benefit you since they contain other nutrients that can support your thyroid.  

Selenium is another indispensable mineral for your thyroid and brain health.

It helps regulate and recycle your iodine stores, and selenium-based proteins help regulate thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism.

Without it, you’ll likely experience low-thyroid symptoms.

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium. 

Low levels of zinc can also lead to depleted thyroid hormones, and vice versa (34). This is just another reason to supplement with zinc.

As I’ve discussed before, a zinc deficiency can also contribute to stress and anxiety.

And although it isn't mentioned very often, magnesium is also critical for optimal thyroid function. The thyroid gland can't function properly without it (89).

I previously discussed how it can help a lot of people with depression and anxiety here

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8. Reduce Stress and Cortisol

High levels of physical and mental stress can be detrimental to your thyroid function. 

Your adrenal glands –  two walnut-shaped glands that sit atop the kidneys – secrete your stress stress hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. 

Research shows that cortisol inhibits thyroid hormones from getting into your cells, and weakened adrenal glands can lead to hypothyroid symptoms over time (35).

That’s why it’s critical that you manage stress.

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage it. 

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

Person meditating outside.

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 can guide your 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 it through Amazon or the Muse website

I also find massage, acupuncture, heart-rate variability (HRV) training and this acupressure mat very helpful as well.

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

Supplements that can help with stress include zinc, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine, which have been shown to lower cortisol levels (87, 88). 

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

Lastly, you should get enough sleep and don’t exercise too much. The stress caused by excessive exercise can wear you’re your body and contribute to thyroid problems. So make sure you get plenty of rest and recover between workout sessions.

9. Take Thyroid-Supporting Herbs

A number of different herbs can assist your thyroid gland. 

Ashwagandha is one of my favourites. Not only can it reduce stress and anxiety, but a number of studies show that it can boost thyroid hormones (25-29).

Bacopa is another adaptogen that has been shown to increase thyroid (T4) hormone levels by 42% (30). 

Forskolin stimulates the release of thyroid hormones (31). 

And one study found that ginseng increases and normalizes thyroid hormone levels (32). 

And last but not least, researchers say that rhodiola can “improve the quality of life of patients with short-term hypothyroidism” (33). 

Rhodiola also has a number of brain and mental health benefits. I explored them previously here

I’ve experimented with all of these herbs and they have improved my brain and mental health.

But it’s good to know they have some beneficial effects on my thyroid as well.

This mental health supplement includes bacopa, forskolin and rhodiola all in one supplement. 

10. 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 meats contain so much tryptophan and cysteine that a pure meat diet can suppress the thyroid. In poor countries, people have generally eaten all parts of the animal, rather than just the muscles – bones, cartilage, skin, organs, and other odd bits. About half of the protein in an animal is collagen, and collagen is deficient in tryptophan and cysteine. This means that, in the whole animal, the amino acid balance is similar to the adult’s requirements.
— Dr. Raymond Peat

In other words, 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 and thyroid prefer and expect 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.

Jars of bone broth.

Bone broth contains collagen, gelatin and amino acids such as glycine and proline that help the body better metabolize muscle meat.

Organ meats such as liver have an abundance of beneficial nutrients that aren’t found in muscle meat alone. For example, it’s much higher in vitamin A, which is important for optimal thyroid health (19, 20). 

I previously discussed the benefits of liver in more depth here.

I personally don’t like the taste of liver and bone broth can be inconvenient to make all the time, so I often supplement with these grass-fed beef liver capsules and drink this high-quality pre-made bone broth.

I also take this Multi-Glandular For Men, which contains a number of different organ tissues. There is also one for women

But 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.

11. Limit Halogens

Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference between iodine, and other halogens such as bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water. 

So your thyroid soaks them up and uses them like iodine.

By occupying iodine receptors, they worsen iodine deficiency, inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

Studies show that chlorine interferes with proper conversion of thyroid hormone (50, 58-61). 

That’s why I recommend filtering your drinking and shower water. Brita filters aren't enough because they don’t remove fluoride. I use this Berkey water filter to make sure I’m drinking the purest water available. It filters everything out of the water. I also use this filter to remove chlorine from my shower water. 

The research shows that bromide in particular can cause a lot of problems. Bromide is found in pesticides, prescription medication, plastic products and personal care products. PBDE (bromide) fire retardants have been added to mattresses, carpeting, electronics, furniture and car interiors since the 1970s. 

Even small amounts of bromide can be problematic, depleting iodine and weakening the thyroid gland. Bromide levels are 50 times higher in thyroid cancer than normal thyroid tissue, and elevated levels of bromide have been linked to mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia (50-57). 

12. Avoid Environmental and Dietary Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins – toxic metabolites produced by mold – can also disrupt normal thyroid function.

Mycotoxins are released into the air in water-damaged buildings, and you may not realize it’s affecting your brain and thyroid health until you develop certain symptoms. And even then, people frequently won’t make the connection between the mold and their health. 

That’s what happened to me, and my hormonal health went downhill, along with my brain and mental health. Luckily I’ve recovered since then

Mycotoxins are known hormone disruptors that cause inflammation, and a couple of studies mention that there is an increased frequency of “thyroid, immune dysfunction and autoimmune conditions” in people exposed to water-damaged building (41, 42). 

Very moldy home and man trying to clean it.

And one study shows that mold exposure is correlated with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (43). 

Kurt and Lee Ann Billings wrote the book Mold: The War Within after extensive personal bouts with toxic mold exposure. They write extensively about their experience and recovery and describe ongoing problems with thyroid dysfunction. 

After I moved out of the moldy home, I became extremely sensitive to any environmental mold and mycotoxins. 

I now use this air filter in my apartment. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, grains, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

Lastly, if exposed to mold or their toxins, you should 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.

13. Avoid and Remove Other Environmental Toxins

Mold and other halogens aren’t the only endocrine disruptors in your environment that can affect your thyroid metabolism and function.

In the book Thyroid Mind Power, Dr. Karilee Shames reports that “the last 40 years have witnessed a massive increase in the amount of hormone-disrupting synthetic chemicals, finding their way into our air, food and water. The most sensitive and highly susceptible of human tissues turned out to be the thyroid gland.”

Here are some common ones:

Water bottle. The plastic in water bottles can disrupt the thyroid.
  • Bisphenol A – found in plastic bottles and containers. I recommend you only eat and drink out of glass, ceramic and stainless steel. Avoid storing any of your food in plastic too. BPA-free plastic isn’t much better for you and can still disrupt hormonal health.

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – found in common household products including non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics. Researchers have found that people with higher levels of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) have a higher incidence of thyroid disease (44, 45).

  • Other pesticides and chemical additives – You should avoid processed food and eat organic as often as possible, wash all produce thoroughly to minimize your pesticide exposure, and find personal care products that don’t include toxic chemicals.

I also recommend increasing your levels of glutathione – your body’s main antioxidant and master detoxifier – to help your body combat the above substances from your body. I do this by supplementing with this liposomal glutathione on regular basis. 

Or you could take NAC and Vitamin C to help your body produce more of its own glutathione. 

Researchers have found that a decrease in thyroid function could be reversed by NAC supplementation, which increased glutathione. This is because glutathione plays a key role in the production and conversion of your thyroid hormones (46-49). 

Epsom salt baths, infrared saunas, and turmeric can also help your body release and remove environmental toxins. 

Summary and Conclusion

With the right information, you can make simple choices to improve thyroid health.

Here's a summary of everything we've gone over:

Doctor holding a woman’s neck to monitor her thyroid.

So with that, I want to leave you with a quote from a book I read recently by Sam Harris, called Free Will. It's an excellent book and you can get it through Amazon if you're interested.

I think this quote is appropriate considering the wide variety of factors that underlie brain and mental health problems:

Becoming sensitive to the background causes of one’s thoughts and feelings can - paradoxically - allow for greater creative control over one’s life. It is one thing to bicker with your wife because you are in a bad mood; it is another to realize that your mood and behaviour have been caused by low blood sugar. This understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet, of course, but it also allows you to grab hold of one of your strings: A bite of food may be all your personality requires. Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).

So even though it seems like there are an overwhelming amount of “strings” to pull, realize that you don’t have to pull them all at once.

You just have to start with one, and go from there.

And then over time, you'll start to get a handle on all of them, and you'll heal.

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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(81) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24480318

(82) http://www.eje-online.org/content/138/1/1.full.pdf

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(84) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24345793

(85) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3013313/

(86) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23380316

(87) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798

(88) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1325348

(89) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6747732

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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The Remarkable Antioxidant That Can Help Treat 6 Mental Illnesses

When I went to the doctor 5 years ago for help with my concussion symptoms and mental health challenges, he offered me two options – addictive sleeping pills or expensive antidepressants. 

That was it.

I was left in the dark. I had no other options and nowhere to turn, so I had to take the medication.

Five years later, I now know there are many better solutions. The drugs that your doctors give you are not optimal – far from it. 

Read More

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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How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health

By developing an understanding of the workings of your vagus nerve, you may find it possible to work with your nervous system rather than feel trapped when it works against you.
— Dr. Arielle Schwartz, Clinical Psychologist

Stimulation of my vagus nerve has played a key role in the management of my anxiety and mental health over the years. 

What exactly is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body.

13 ways to stimulate your vagus nerve for better mental health

It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs. 

In fact, the word "vagus" means “wanderer” in Latin, which accurately represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs.  

The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.

But what you really need to pay special attention to is the "tone" of your vagus nerve.

Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve. 

Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.

In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa (5).

It’s almost like yin and yang. The vagal response reduces stress. It reduces our heart rate and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, stimulates digestion, all those things that happen when we are relaxed.
— Dr. Mladen Golubic, MD, Medical Director of the Cleveland Clinic
An image of the vagus nerve.

What’s interesting is that studies have even shown that vagal tone is passed on from mother to child. Mothers who are depressed, anxious and angry during their pregnancy have lower vagal activity. And once they give birth to their child, the newborn also has low vagal activity and low dopamine and serotonin levels (1-3). 

Your vagal tone can be measured by tracking certain biological processes such as your heart rate, your breathing rate, and your heart rate variability (HRV). 

When your heart rate variability (HRV) is high, your vagal tone is also high. They are correlated with each other (53-55). 

You can increase your HRV by using the EmWave2 device

Some researchers actually use the EmWave2 to measure vagal tone in their studies. 

If your vagal tone is low, don’t worry - you can take steps to increase it by stimulating your vagus nerve. This will allow you to more effectively respond to the emotional and physiological symptoms of your brain and mental illness.

Stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing vagal tone has been shown to help treat a wide variety of brain and mental health conditions, including:

For people with treatment-resistant depression, the FDA has even approved a surgically-implanted device that periodically stimulates the vagus nerve. And it works (6-9). 

But you don’t need to go down that route.

You can enjoy the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation naturally by following these 13 steps. 

1. Cold Exposure

Acute cold exposure has been shown to activate the vagus nerve and activate cholinergic neurons through vagus nerve pathways (10). 

Image of an old-fashioned, muscular, manly man. It says “Have a cold shower? You mean a shower?”

Researchers have also found that exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve (11).

I often take cold showers and go outside in cold temperatures with minimal clothing.

Try finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water and see how you feel. Then work your way up to longer periods of time.

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

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

2. Deep and Slow Breathing

Deep and slow breathing is another way to stimulate your vagus nerve. 

A woman closing here eyes and breathing deeply near the ocean. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve.

It’s been shown to reduce anxiety and increase the parasympathetic system by activating the vagus nerve (51-52). 

Most people take about 10 to 14 breaths each minute. Taking about 6 breaths over the course of a minute is a great way to relieve stress. You should breathe in deeply from your diaphragm. When you do this, your stomach should expand outward. Your exhale should be long and slow. This is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and reaching a state of relaxation. 

The best way to know if you’re on the right track is by using the EmWave2 device. It’s a biofeedback device that assists you in pacing your breathing. I previously wrote about the benefits of using the device here. You can get it through Amazon or the HeartMath website

3. Singing, Humming, Chanting and Gargling

The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. 

Singing, humming, chanting and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve.

And this has been shown to increase heart-rate variability and vagal tone (12).

I often gargle water before swallowing it. This is discussed more in Dr. Datis Kharrazian’s book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?

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4. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is another alternative treatment that has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve (46). 

A woman’s ear with three acupuncture needles in it. Auricular acupuncture is very effective at stimulating the vagus nerve.

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

Research shows that ear acupuncture stimulates the vagus nerve, increases vagal activity and vagal tone, and can help treat “neurodegenerative diseases via vagal regulation” (45). 

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I’m not sure why. I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

At the end of each appointment, my practitioner would secure these small black seeds on my ear. 

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

5. Yoga and Tai Chi

Yoga and tai chi are two “mind-body” relaxation techniques that work by stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing the activity of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

A woman practicing yoga or tai chi outside. Yoga and tai chi stimulate the vagus nerve and can improve your mental health.

Studies have shown that yoga increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in your brain. Researchers believe it does this by “stimulating vagal afferents”, which increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (13-18). 

Researchers have also found that yoga stimulates the vagus nerve and therefore should be practiced by people who struggle with depression and anxiety (19). 

Despite all the great research, I’m personally not a big fan of yoga. A lot of people swear by it but it’s just not for me. I prefer tai chi. 

Tai chi has also been shown to increase heart rate variability, and researchers think this means it can “enhance vagal modulation” (20).

6. Probiotics

It’s becoming increasingly clear to researchers that gut bacteria improve brain function by affecting the vagus nerve (27).  

Bacteria. Probiotic bacteria can stimulate your vagus nerve and improve your mental health.

In one study, animals were given the probiotic Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, and researchers found positive changes to the GABA receptors in their brain, a reduction in stress hormones, and less depression and anxiety-like behaviour. 

The researchers also concluded that these beneficial changes between the gut and the brain were facilitated by the vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve was removed in other mice, the addition of Lactobacillus Rhamnosus to their digestive systems failed to reduce anxiety, stress, and improve mood (25). 

Another study found that the probiotic Bifidobacterium Longum normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice by acting through the vagus nerve (26). 

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

I previously wrote about some other ways you can increase the good bacteria in your gut. You can read about that here.

And here are 7 other probiotic strains that can help treat anxiety. 

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7. Meditation and Neurofeedback

Meditation is my favourite relaxation technique and it can stimulate the vagus nerve and increase vagal tone.        

Research shows that meditation increases vagal tone and positive emotions, and promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself (22, 23). 

Another study found that meditation reduces sympathetic “fight or flight” activity and increases vagal modulation (21). 

“OM” chanting, which is often done during meditation, has also been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve (24). 

I couldn’t find any research demonstrating this, but in my experience, neurofeedback significantly increased my heart-rate variability and vagal tone as measured by my EmWave2

Now that I’m done neurofeedback, I use the Muse headband to meditate. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback on your brainwaves. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website.

 

8. 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.

They often 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 a “leaky brain”, and even help reverse cognitive decline.

But researchers have also discovered that omega-3 fatty acids increase vagal tone and vagal activity (35-37, 40). 

Studies shown that they reduce heart rate and increase heart rate variability, which means they likely stimulate the vagus nerve (34, 38, 39). 

And high fish consumption is also associated with “enhanced vagal activity and parasympathetic predominance” (35). 

That's why I eat lots of wild-caught salmon, as well as supplement with this krill oil

9. Exercise

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

But it’s also been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, which may explain its beneficial brain and mental health effects (28). 

A man running near the water. Exercise stimulates the vagus nerve.

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

This is my exercise routine:

  • 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. 

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10. Zinc

As I’ve discussed before, zinc is an essential mineral for mental health, especially if you struggle with chronic anxiety

One study shows that zinc increases vagus nerve stimulation in zinc-deficient rats (41). 

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 (42-44).

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

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

However, I still recommend at least short-term supplementation to ensure you get enough.

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

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. 

11. Massage

Research shows that massages can stimulate the vagus nerve, and increase vagal activity and vagal tone (31-32). 

A woman getting a massage. Massages improve your mental health by stimulating the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve can also be stimulated by massaging several specific areas of the body.

Foot massages (reflexology) have been shown to increase vagal modulation and heart rate variability, and decrease the “fight or flight” sympathetic response (29). 

Massaging the carotid sinus, an area located near the right side of your throat, can also stimulate the vagus nerve to reduce seizures (30). 

I personally get a massage from a registered massage therapist every couple of months. 

12. Socializing and Laughing

I’ve already discussed how socializing and laughing can reduce your body’s main stress hormone.

Two men laughing. Laughter and socializing stimulates the vagus nerve.

And now I’ve learned that they are likely doing this by stimulating the vagus nerve. 

Researchers have discovered that reflecting on positive social connections improves vagal tone and increases positive emotions (47, 48). 

Laughter has been shown to increase heart-rate variability and improve mood (49). 

And vagus nerve stimulation often leads to laughter as a side effect, suggesting that they are connected and influence one another (50). 

So my advice is to hang out and laugh with your friends as much as possible. Although I should probably be taking my own advice here, as I’m an introvert and often avoid socializing too much. 

13. Intermittent Fasting

On most days, I don’t eat breakfast at all, and then "break my fast" by eating my first meal of the day around 2 or 3 p.m. That means I eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window.

An empty plate with a fork and knife beside it. Intermittent fasting stimulates the vagus nerve.

There are many health benefits to doing this. As I’ve discussed before, intermittent fasting can boost your brain’s growth hormone, improve mitochondrial function, and may help some people overcome brain fog and cognitive decline

Research also shows that fasting and caloric restriction increase heart rate variability, which is an indicator that it increases parasympathetic activity and vagal tone (33). 

The best way to start fasting is simply by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day. That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time. 

Conclusion

You don’t have to be controlled by your body and mind. You have the power to tell them what to do. 

By stimulating the vagus nerve, you can send a message to you body that it’s time to relax and de-stress, which leads to long-term improvements in mood, wellbeing and resilience. 

Increasing my vagal tone has allowed me to overcome anxiety and depression, and better manage them when they arise.

Overall, I hope you implement some of the above steps into your daily life, and they allow you to live more optimally.

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12768648

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12521495/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556849

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705176/

(5) http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/05/06/0956797612470827.abstract

(6) http://www.webmd.com/depression/vagus-nerve-stimulation#1

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990624/

(8) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160204111728.htm

(9) https://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/new-non-invasive-form-of-vagus-nerve-stimulation-works-to-treat-depression

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11447037

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18785356

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705176/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3111147/

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12568274

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(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2176143/

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16641939

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15750381

(19) http://www.bu.edu/news/2012/03/07/researchers-find-yoga-helps-ease-stress-related-medical-and-psychological-conditions/

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18991518

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3546358/

(22) http://healthland.time.com/2013/05/09/why-kindness-can-make-us-happier-healthier/?iid=hl-main-lead

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23649562

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099099/

(25) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3413724/

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/

(28) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20948179

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22314629

(30) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23962632

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3133856/

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844909/

(33) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16581971

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17326331

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217222/

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16616012/

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18461305

(38) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483717/

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17134636

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3653417/

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19158231

(42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22664333

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(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673824

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(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23649562

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(49) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22894892

(50) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12959437

(51) http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131734718/just-breathe-body-has-a-built-in-stress-reliever

(52) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/743504/

(53) http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/118/8/863.long

(54) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_rate_variability

(55) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagal_tone

Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC

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