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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(149) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11205139

(150) http://fxmed.co.nz/homocysteine-and-brain-health/

(151) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192851/

(152) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001457930600545X

(153) https://goo.gl/AqKptM

(154) https://goo.gl/n65tzT

(155) https://goo.gl/n65tzT

(156) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2326409817701471

(157) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4164291/

(158) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077571/

(159) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16421120

(160) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22421956

(161) https://goo.gl/2ARLyh

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

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27 Powerful Ways to Increase Your IGF-1 Levels

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a hormone in your body that’s absolutely critical for optimal physical and mental performance.  

It’s produced by the liver.

And once it’s released into the bloodstream, it stimulates growth, regenerates cells, and helps your body recover and repair itself.  

It’s known to play an important role in childhood growth and development, and helps you build and maintain muscle throughout your entire adult life.  

But it doesn’t just affect your muscles… 

It also powerfully supports your brain. 

Unfortunately, your IGF-1 levels drastically decrease as you get older, contributing to cognitive decline

Your levels can even drop when you’re young, especially if you’ve had a brain injury or developed a chronic health issue. 

Luckily, there are many different ways to optimize and increase IGF-1 levels. 

Researchers have found that IGF-1 levels can be manipulated to improve quality of life and delay the deteriorating effects of brain aging

It doesn’t matter if you’re old, run down, or chronically ill... 

The 25 strategies in this article can naturally boost IGF-1 production and amplify your cognitive performance.  

I’ve divided this article into four main sections:

  • The benefits of IGF-1

  • Food and nutrients that increase IGF-1

  • Supplements and herbs that increase IGF-1

  • Lifestyle habits and therapies that increase IGF-1

Continue reading to learn more and discover how to increase IGF-1.  

Image of brain cell connections.

The Benefits of Increasing Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1) and How It Affects Your Brain 

IGF-1 is a very important blood marker to monitor. 

Yet many doctors don’t check it. 

This is a shame because it plays a crucial role in healing and brain health.  

Research suggests that IGF-1 levels tend to be low in people struggling with chronic illness and systemic inflammation (87-88, 103).  

Studies also show that IGF-1 crosses the blood–brain barrier and affects the brain and cognitive function (113, 116, 129-131).  

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are associated with lower IGF-1 levels, and increasing IGF-1 can help prevent the accumulation of amyloid plaque in the brain (104-108).  

Other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease, are also associated with lower IGF-1 levels, and increasing IGF-1 can help lower your risk of developing these diseases (109-112).  

Researchers have also found that IGF-1 and higher levels of IGF-1 can lead to the following cognitive and neurological health benefits: 

But it doesn’t stop there... 

Many people who have had brain injuries also end up having low levels of IGF-1. 

This is because your brain signals to your liver to produce IGF-1. And when your brain gets injured, it can stop doing this efficiently (122-126).  

Research clearly shows that IGF-1 levels often drop after traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which worsens cognitive dysfunction. This even happens in people who have had mild TBIs. But strategies to increase IGF-1 can increase brain cell survival, repair the brain, and improve cognition after TBIs (117-121).  

I personally had low IGF-1 levels after multiple head injuries.  

But I had no idea for the longest time.  

I eventually found a doctor who actually listened to me, we checked my levels, and I found out they were low.  

I then implemented many of the strategies below to increase and normalize my IGF-1 levels, and I felt better.

It’s important to test and monitor your IGF-1 levels like I did because you don’t want your IGF-1 levels getting too high either. 

 

Best Foods and Nutrients to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally

 

1. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for brain health. 

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical zinc deficiency impairs brain function (5-7).  

That’s a problem because a zinc deficiency decreases IGF-1 levels in humans (8).  

In one animal study, feeding a zinc-depleted diet to rats for 14 days resulted in a 28% decrease in IGF-1 compared with rats fed a zinc-adequate diet (9).  

Luckily, zinc supplementation can help.  

Researchers have found that supplementing with zinc significantly increases circulating IGF-1 levels, and increases the synthesis and action of IGF-1 in the body (10-13).  

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc and IGF-1 levels are optimal. I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best zinc supplement so that they can experience superior results. I have found that many zinc supplements on the market fall short.  Optimal Zinc includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc. 

Besides supplementing, you should also eat plenty of healthy, whole foods that contain zinc.  

Some of the best foods to optimize your zinc levels include:  

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

Check out my previous post all about zinc for more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels. 


2. Protein

Protein-rich foods, including eggs, salmon, red meat and nuts. Eating enough protein will ensure you increase your IGF-1 levels.

Eating enough high-quality protein is critical if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels.  

Research shows that low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1 (69).  

Meanwhile, high-protein diets can increase IGF-1 levels (66-67, 71-72).  

Animal protein and red meat in particular has been shown to increase IGF-1 concentrations (68, 70).  

It's important to keep in mind that 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

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. 

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. 

3. Vitamin C

Taking extra Vitamin C is another way to increase IGF-1.  

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

Researchers have found that higher dietary intake of citrus fruits and Vitamin C is associated with higher concentrations of IGF-1 (1).  

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day, just so I know I’m getting enough. 

I’ve taken up to 10 grams of Vitamin C daily, and it definitely improves my mood and reduces stress and anxiety.

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4. Blueberries

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a great idea if you want to improve your brain health and cognitive function.  

And blueberries are particularly potent because of the flavonoids within them. 

Researchers have found that blueberries improve memory by increasing IGF-1 (2).  

Besides that, blueberries also improve brain health by increasing BDNF and improving brain blood flow

I buy wild blueberries every time I go grocery shopping.  

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

Alternatively, you can take a blueberry extract.  

I used to take this one. It’s actually cheaper in the long run that eating blueberries every day, but I just prefer eating actual blueberries.  

In fact, most researchers often use concentrated blueberry extracts instead of actual blueberries when they study the beneficial health effects of blueberries. 

5. Magnesium

Magnesium. Magnesium increases IGF-1 levels. Most people are deficient nowadays.

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

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for optimal brain function. 

Research shows that magnesium levels are strongly and independently associated with total IGF-1 levels (14).  

And researchers believe that magnesium deficiency worsens the age-related decline in IGF-1 levels (15).  

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

I personally take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain because it’s very effective at passing the blood-brain barrier

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

You should also make sure you’re eating enough magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:  

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

Magnesium also supports the blood-brain barrier, increases BDNF, and helps with the formation of new brain synapses

6. Selenium

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

Studies show that there is a significant association between selenium and IGF-1 levels (16).  

Animal research has found that a selenium deficiency is linked to lower IGF-1 levels (17).  

And supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase IGF-1 in elderly individuals (18-19).  

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

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

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7. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a tasty spice that has a number of health benefits.  

It has anti-inflammatory effects, it’s loaded with antioxidants, and it's even been shown to have beneficial effects on neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease (46-49).  

Researchers have also found that cinnamon extract significantly activates IGF-1 signaling (50-51).  

Not all cinnamon is created equal though. 

You’ll have to find and consume Ceylon, which is considered “true cinnamon”. It has the most health benefits.  

Most cinnamon in grocery stores is cheap and not actually Ceylon

You can usually find Ceylon in health food stores.  

It’s also available through Amazon

8. Vitamin D

Vitamin D capsules in a clear bowl. Vitamin D supplements can increase IGF-1 levels, especially if you’re deficient.

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

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

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

Research shows that Vitamin D significantly increases circulating IGF-1 levels in adults (25).  

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

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

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

During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I use this Vitamin D sunlamp.

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

Vitamin D is so critical for optimal brain health, so make sure to check your levels regularly.  

9. Thiamine

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

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

Researchers have found that Vitamin B1 plays a key role in the IGF-1 system, and a deficiency leads to a significant drop in IGF-1 levels (27).  

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

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

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

 

Best Supplements and Herbs to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally 

 

10. Probiotics

The beneficial bacteria in your gut are known to convert the food you eat into short-chain fatty acids.  

These probiotic bacteria - and the short-chain fatty acids that they produce - play a critical role in the synthesis of IGF-1 in your body and brain.  

Research clearly shows that the following probiotics stimulate the IGF-1 system and increase IGF-1 concentrations (33-40).  

All four of these probiotics are included in the Optimal Biotics supplement

Meanwhile, antibiotics have been shown to decrease IGF-1 (41).  

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

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

11. Dehydroepiandrosterone

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of the most abundant circulating steroid hormones in humans. It’s produced in the adrenal glands, the gonads, and the brain, and it’s a precursor to other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.  

It's also available as a supplement

DHEA has been shown to have neuroprotective effects, and it’s also known to improve memory and cognition. 

In one study, a 100 mg daily dose of DHEA for six months elevated IGF-1 levels in both men and women (3).  

You can get DHEA here.  

It's also one of the best supplements for reducing depression

12. Taurine

Taurine is an organic compound found in food, particularly meat and seafood.  

Taken as a supplement, it can improve your mood and reduce your anxiety because it can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase oxytocin, dopamine and BDNF in the brain. 

It turns out that it can also increase IGF-1 levels and increase the synthesis of IGF-1 (42-43).  

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

13. Resveratrol

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

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

And researchers are starting to understand why. 

In one study, resveratrol was shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the production of IGF-1 in the brain (4).  

It’s also been shown to increase BDNF, synaptogenesis, autophagy and blood flow in the brain. 

To consume enough resveratrol to increase IGF-1, you’ll need to supplement with it.  

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain.  

I don't take it every day, just every so often.  

You can get it here or here

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14. Leucine

Leucine is one of three branched chain amino acids (BCAA).  

It's an essential amino acid, meaning you’ll need to get it from food or supplements.  

Athletes and bodybuilders often take it as a supplement because it helps increase energy, improve strength and build muscle.  

Researchers have found that leucine significantly increases IGF-1 and IGF binding protein (52).  

You can get leucine from protein-rich foods, such as fish, chicken and turkey.  

But you may want to supplement with it if your goal is to increase IGF-1.  

I take this BCAA supplement when I lift weights regularly. 

15. Astragalus

Illustration of the astragalus plant. Astragalus can increase IGF-1 levels.

Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to support the immune system and reduce inflammation.  

There are more than 2,000 species of Astragalus, but usually Astragalus supplements simply contain Astragalus membranaceus.  

Astragalus membranaceus extract has been shown to significantly increase IGF-1 levels in humans and animals (53-57).  

It's available in many forms, including liquid extracts, capsules, powders and teas

 

16. Colostrum

Colostrum is a special kind of milk, also known as “first milk”. 

It’s naturally produced by the mammary glands of mammals immediately following the delivery of a newborn. 

It contains a number of different nutrients and growth factors, including IGF-1, that support the health and development of a newborn baby (58). 

Colostrum from cows (bovine colostrum) can be taken as a supplement by humans for its health benefits.  

Research shows that colostrum supplementation significantly increases circulating levels of IGF-1 (59-60).  

I take this bovine colostrum powder regularly. I would say it's probably the most important supplement I've taken to optimize my IGF-1 levels. 

17. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

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

It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects. It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.  

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

It does so much, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that ALCAR increases IGF-1 levels in humans (20).  

Animal studies also show that it increases IGF-1 levels in rats (21-22).  

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

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

18. Creatine

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

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

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 (23).  

In one study, healthy individuals took creatine every day for 5 days, and researchers witnessed a 30 per cent increase in IGF expression (24).  

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

19. Ursolic Acid

An apple partially peeled. Apple peels contain ursolic acid, a natural compound that can increase IGF-1 levels.

Ursolic Acid is a natural compound found in a variety of plants and herbs, such as apple peels, rosemary, thyme and holy basil. Apple peels contain the largest amount. 

In one study, supplementing with 100 mg of Ursolic Acid, three times daily, increased IGF-1 levels in humans by 22.8 per cent (62).  

Animal research also shows that it increases IGF-1 signaling and enhances IGF-1 receptors (61, 63).  

You can get pure Ursolic Acid through Amazon.

Or you can supplement with the herb Holy Basil, which contains some Ursolic Acid. But it may not be as effective as taking pure Ursolic Acid.  

20. Hydroxy Methyl Butyrate

Hydroxy Methyl Butyrate (HMB) is a metabolite of leucine. 

It's also a dietary supplement used by athletes and bodybuilders to increase muscle strength and development. 

Studies show that HMB supplementation increases the expression and levels of IGF-1 (64-65).  

You can get HMB through Amazon.  

21. Coenzyme Q10

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

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

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

Research shows that supplementing with CoQ10 significantly increases IGF-1 levels (26).  

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. I took this one when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

 

Best Lifestyle Habits, Therapies and Practices to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally

 

22. Low-Level Laser Therapy

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

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

Several studies show that LLLT increases the expression, production and release of IGF-1 (28-32).  

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

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

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

Before trying LLLT, I highly recommend reading my full article about it first.

23. Exercise

A cartoon woman lifting weights over her head. Exercise powerfully increases IGF-1 levels.

Exercise is probably the best way to boost IGF-1 levels, as it also appears to “push” IGF-1 to the brain to improve its function.  

There are two main forms of exercise that you need to engage in if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels – high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training.  

Research shows that resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training) significantly increases IGF-1 and increases the bioavailability of IGF-1 (73).  

Intense and strenuous HIIT workouts cause a significant increase in circulating levels of IGF-1 (74).  

Besides increasing IGF-1, exercise can also induce autophagy in the brain, increase dopamine and BDNF, and increase blood flow to the brain

That’s why many doctors and researchers recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.  

24. Deep Sleep

Getting enough high-quality, deep sleep is very important if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels and improve your brain and mental health. 

I used to have very poor sleep and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my low IGF-1 levels and poor cognitive function. 

Sleep deprivation is known to suppress IGF-1 in humans and animals (75, 78-79).  

Meanwhile, sleep extension significantly increases IGF-I concentrations (76).  

In one study, researchers found that increased deep sleep is associated with higher levels of IGF-1 in healthy older men (77).  

And in another study, improving the sleep quality of military personnel led to a significant increase in their IGF-1 levels, and a significant reduction in their symptoms of depression and PTSD (80).  

So, it’s not just the length of your sleep that matters. 

It’s also the depth and quality of your sleep.  

If you’re having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote deeper and more restful sleep.  

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25. Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards increasing your IGF-1 levels naturally. 

Research clearly shows that proinflammatory cytokines inhibit and impair IGF-1 bioactivity, and induce a state of IGF resistance (81-85).  

There are many causes of chronic inflammation, including infections, mold, brain injuries, and leaky brain.  

But one of the most common causes – and the one you have the most control over – is your diet.  

That’s why I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods such as gluten and dairy that can trigger inflammation in the gut and brain.  

You should also remove processed food from your diet, and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed beef and organic chicken.  

Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health for a full list of anti-inflammatory foods.  

Other steps you can take to reduce inflammation include reducing stress, exercising, improving gut health, treating infections and getting enough sleep. 

26. Avoid or Limit Alcohol

A glass of alcohol. Alcohol should be avoided if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels.

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. 

It also lowers your IGF-1 levels. 

Researchers have found that high alcohol intake inhibits IGF-1 (86).  

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. 

27. Sauna Sessions

When it comes to improving your health, some of the simplest strategies can have a huge impact.  

Using a sauna regularly is one of them. 

Research suggests that daily sauna sessions can significantly increase the production of growth hormone and IGF-1 (44-45).  

This sauna is the best low-EMF, infrared sauna on the market.  

Once you start using a sauna, you should listen to your body to determine how much time you should spend in it. Start out slowly and increase the length of your sessions over time.  

Also, make sure to drink lots of water before and after each session, and never consume alcohol in combination.  

Check out this post to learn more about saunas and the 13 ways they can improve your brain 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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References:

(1) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/6/1518.full 

(2) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10284150400020482 

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9876338 

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(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11712076 

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(180 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469470/  

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(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23497226  

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

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20 Proven Ways to Quickly Lower Your Cortisol Levels

A man looking depressed and stressed, hoping to lower his cortisol levels.

Chronic stress is killer. 

It broke me down over the years and led me to deep depression.

Getting a handle on it has been critical to my recovery. 

But it took me a while to figure out what works.

And I’d rather not see other people struggle and frantically look for solutions.

So I’ve gathered some of my favourite ways to quickly lower levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone.

But before we get to them, let’s quickly discuss cortisol and how chronically high levels of cortisol can negatively affect your brain and mental health. 

How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”.

It’s a naturally-occurring steroid hormone that’s produced by your adrenal glands and released when you’re under physical or mental stress. Essentially, it triggers our fight-or-flight response in stressful situations.

But it’s also absolutely necessary for our health, as it plays a key role in many different bodily processes. 

Cortisol levels are generally highest in the morning and lowest at night. But problems can arise when they are elevated for prolonged periods of time (134). 

Chronically high cortisol levels can:

  • Change the size, structure and functioning of your brain;

  • Shrink and kill brain cells;

  • Cause premature aging in the brain;

  • Contribute to memory loss and lack of concentration;

  • Slow down our ability to grow new brain cells; and

  • Increase inflammation in the brain (135-140).

Watch this TED-Ed video, How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain,” to learn more: 

Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol also increase activity in the amygdala, the fear centre of the brain. This can create a vicious cycle in which the brain is more likely be get stuck in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

When I did neurofeedback, my practitioner discovered my amygdala was overactive. She trained it back down to normal levels, and my chronic anxiety dissipated.

Anxiety isn’t the only mental condition linked to an abnormal stress response. Here are some others:

Luckily, there are a number of ways to manage and overcome chronic stress, lower cortisol levels, reverse damage done to the brain, and improve your sense of wellbeing. 

This article includes the best foods, nutrients, herbs and supplements that reduce cortisol; as well as the best lifestyle habits, therapies and practices that reduce cortisol.

Let’s go through them.  

The Best Foods, Nutrients, Herbs and Supplements To Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

1. Eat Dark Chocolate

Most people know that dark chocolate is rich in multiple antioxidants, such as flavonols and polyphenols, which reduce oxidative stress.

But it also reduces cortisol. 

This may explain why people love to eat chocolate and experience relaxation when they do. 

Dark chocolate can protect your brain by boosting BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone

You should always try to get raw dark chocolate with the least amount of sugar like this one.

 

2. Drink Tea

Several different types of tea have beneficial effects on cortisol levels. 

Green tea has been shown to inhibit the synthesis of cortisol (18). 

And a study found that individuals who drank 4 cups of black tea daily for six weeks had lower cortisol levels in comparison to others who didn’t drink black tea (2). 

Researchers couldn’t confirm what caused this reduction in cortisol, but they suspected it had something to do with the high content of theanine, an amino acid found in both black and green tea.

A follow-up study published this year confirmed that theanine can reduce cortisol (13).

Theanine produces a calming effect on the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing the production of both GABA and dopamine in the brain (12). 

I personally can’t drink most teas because they tend to contain mycotoxins (mold toxins) and I’m very sensitive to them after living in a moldy home.

If you’ve lived in a moldy home or have found out that you’re genetically susceptible to mycotoxins, you can supplement with straight theanine like I do. 

This supplement includes theanine. 

And if you do decide to drink black tea, you can lower cortisol even more by getting decaffeinated black tea.

Lastly, chamomile tea is another type of tea that can decrease cortisol. It’s been used for centuries as a sleep aid. It contains flavonoids, essential oils, coumarin and other compounds that can help you relax.

Several studies show it can block the precursor hormone of cortisol and improve sleep quality (14, 15). 

This anti-anxiety supplement includes both theanine and chamomile, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

 

3. Eat Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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

It also contains a compound called oleuropein, which can reduce cortisol levels (37). 

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

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

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

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

 

4. Take Cortisol-Reducing Nutrients and Herbs

There are a number of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and adaptogenic herbs that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol levels. 

I’ll go over some of my favourites here.

Phosphatidylserine is probably the best option for reducing stress hormone levels. 

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid compound that plays a key role in optimal cognitive function. High amounts of phosphatidylserine can be found within the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention and memory, especially in the elderly (114-116). 

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

On top of all this, phosphatidylserine powerfully lowers cortisol (117-119). 

People who supplement with phosphatidylserine have been shown to have lower average levels of cortisol (120).

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

Ashwagandha is another great cortisol-reducing supplement. It’s a popular Indian herb commonly used to prevent anxiety. Its anti-anxiety effect is synergistic with alcohol.

Its stress-reducing effects are likely because it lowers cortisol levels. 

Multiple studies have concluded that it is a potent stress reliever that can reduce cortisol by anywhere from 14 to 32% (121-123). 

Another adaptogenic herb that can lower cortisol is rhodiola

I’ve discussed rhodiola before. It can really help with symptoms of depression. 

Research has found that it may be doing this by significantly reducing stress hormone levels in the body (124-126). 

Lastly, a number of minerals have been shown to reduce cortisol, including zinc, magnesium and selenium (96, 97, 127-133).

That’s why I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement every day. 

Overall, ashwagandha, rhodiola, phosphatidylserine and minerals are my favourite ways to keep stress levels low, but there are plenty of other supplements that have been shown to positively affect cortisol levels, including:

 

5. Consume Enough Food, Protein and Water

Eating enough protein and calories, and drinking enough clean, filtered water is also critical to keeping stress hormone levels low.  

Studies show that severely restricting calories elevates cortisol levels (108, 109). 

Restricting protein and depriving yourself of the amino acid leucine can also stimulate the stress response and increase stress hormones (110). 

That’s why I eat plenty of food each day and supplement with creatine and BCAA protein powder throughout the day when I don’t have access to a source of high-quality protein. 

Lastly, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.

Properly-hydrated runners have noticeably lower cortisol levels than dehydrated runners (81).

I use this Berkey system to filter my water so that it’s as pure as possible. You can get it here or here.

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6. Consume More Omega-3s and Less Omega-6s

As I’ve discussed before, omega-3s are dietary fats that are needed for the proper functioning of your brain and nervous system. They improve learning and memory, and protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (4-7). 

Researchers have also found that when individuals supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, there is a significant reduction in the release of cortisol (1, 10).

Omega-3 fatty acids also significantly reduce stress hormones in animals (3). 

Krill oil is my favourite source of omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one everyday.

I also eat wild salmon and grass-fed beef on a regular basis. 

On the other hand, consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to increased inflammation and cortisol levels (8, 9, 11).

So make sure to avoid refined vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola oil.

 

7. Get Enough Antioxidants

Not only do antioxidants counteract oxidative stress within the body; they can also help reduce cortisol (19, 25). 

Most of the research has been done in athletes, but supplementation with antioxidants – such as berry powders, greens powders, vitamin C, glutathione and CoQ10 – leads to fairly significant reductions in cortisol and other measures of stress (20-23). 

Dark berries in particular contain antochyanins, which have been shown to lower cortisol (24). 

Acai berries are my favourite, as they are loaded with antochyanins and vitamin C.

Regarding vitamin C, the research is mixed on whether it can consistently lower cortisol levels.

However, in my experience, high doses of vitamin C definitely reduce stress.

One study found that a high dose of vitamin C decreases anxiety and improves mood (29). 

After exercise, it’s also been shown to rapidly reduce cortisol (26, 27). 

And multiple other studies have found that both vitamin C and vitamin E reduce cortisol and anxiety (30-32). 

It’s also well known that chronic stress and high cortisol can deplete vitamin C and other antioxidant enzymes (28). 

In addition to getting vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day. I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily (2 gram doses throughout the day) and it helped me manage stress, but it’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you. 

 

8. Take Curcumin

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

Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds for the brain and mental health.

Thousands of high-quality scientific studies have been published, showing that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and can increase BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone. 

Research shows that curcumin inhibits the increase in cortisol caused by stress (33, 34). 

And animal studies have found that curcumin may reverse elevated cortisol levels after chronic stress (35, 36). 

Unfortunately, curcumin is very inefficient at absorbing into the bloodstream and reaching the brain (54, 55).

Luckily, science and technology has been able to concentrate significant amounts of curcumin into supplement form and increase its bioavailability. 

There are several different patented forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. 

My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin, as I noticed a significant effect from it. You can get it through Amazon. It is one of my favourite supplements and since it is a fat soluble, I take it every day with a fatty meal.

 

9. Eat Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotics are substances in food that humans can't digest, so they pass through our gastrointestinal tract and promote the growth of many different strains of good bacteria in our lower bowel.

They are essentially food for the probiotics in our intestines.

Dr. Phil Burnet, a neurobiologist at Oxford University, published a paper in 2015 showing that people who ingested prebiotics have lower levels of cortisol.

The people who ingested prebiotics also focused more on positive feedback and less on negative stimuli.

Dr. Burnet said the results were very similar to when people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but without the side effects (87).

That’s why I eat prebiotic-rich foods regularly, including sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus and squash. These foods are included in my free grocery shopping guide for optimal brain health. 

Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake. A convenient way to incorporate more of it into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. Other high-quality resistant starches include banana flour, plantain flour and waxy maize. Cooked and cooled white rice and potatoes also contain some resistant starch. 

I previously discussed prebiotics and resistant starch here.

I also created and take Optimal Biotics, which is a premium probiotic supplement that reduces stress and support my mental health. 

 

10. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine have been shown to increase stress hormones, so their consumption should be limited. 

Coffee is definitely good for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia

However, it can also disrupt sleep and make people anxious. I used to not be able to handle any coffee at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of Kicking Horse coffee most mornings.  

But if you’re struggling with high cortisol and chronic stress, I wouldn’t recommend high doses of caffeine.

It’s been shown to directly stimulate the adrenal cortex, release cortisol into the bloodstream and increase stress hormone levels (74-76).

One study found that caffeine increased cortisol by 30% in just one hour, and regular consumption can double your cortisol levels (88, 89). 

So limit it as much as possible.

An alternative solution is to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee fruit doesn’t contain caffeine, but it does contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

Scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. Coffee fruit concentrate can be found in the Optimal Brain supplement

Lastly, excess alcohol consumption over an extended period of time has also been shown to raise cortisol levels. Having a couple drinks here and there likely isn’t a problem though, and you can protect yourself from it by following these steps (90, 91). 

Certain types of alcohol are better to drink than others.

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The Best Lifestyle Habits and Practices to Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

11. Laugh

In the book The Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins explains how he cured himself of ankylosing spondylitis by laughing along with Marx Brothers movies.

I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.
— Norman Cousins

It sounds farfetched, but more and more research is showing that laughter has a powerful effect on our health. 

Researchers have found that laughing and having fun significantly reduces stress hormone levels (65, 66). 

In one study, laughter improved the short-term memory of older adults, and simply anticipating humour decreased their cortisol levels by nearly 50% (64). 

So, next time you’re stressed, try watching a funny TV show or YouTube video

 

12. Play with Animals

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

Petting your own dog or another person’s dog has been shown to significantly decrease stress hormone levels and increase oxytocin, endorphins, and other healing hormones (71, 73). 

Researchers have also compared 20 minutes of quiet rest to 20 minutes of interaction with a dog, and they found that hanging out with dog contributed to a much more significant decrease in cortisol. This is often why therapy dogs show up on college campuses during exams (71). 

So you should try to hang out with animals as much as possible, and consider getting a house pet if you don’t have one. I have a cat named Puddy. 

Spending time in nature has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels. So you can kill two birds with one stone by taking your pet for a walk in the park (77). 

Hmm perhaps “kill two birds with one stone” wasn’t the best idiom to use in this section, but you get my point. 

 

13. Listen to Music and Dance

Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain. 

Numerous studies show that music can relax you, especially before a stressful event, by significantly lowering stress hormones. It can also reduce the spike in cortisol during the stressful situation (50-54). 

Music can be even more relaxing when combined with non-strenuous dancing.

Regular dancing has also been shown to greatly decrease cortisol levels (55). 

 

14. Practice Relaxation Techniques and Therapies

Not too surprisingly, simply taking time each day to relax can lower cortisol.  

My favourite relaxation technique is meditation. 

Countless studies show that meditating daily for just 15 minutes can significantly lower stress hormone levels and blunt cortisol spikes (38-43). 

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

Yoga has also been shown to lower cortisol. 

In one study, people with depression practiced yoga regularly for 3 months. By the end of the study, their cortisol levels dropped significantly and they experienced relief from their depression (44). 

Massage is another excellent option, as it’s been shown in many studies to significant decrease in cortisol and anxiety (45, 46). 

I get a massage every couple of months. 

Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”, is another tool I use to manage stress

Tapping is based on ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. You can learn how to practice it here

I know it seems hokey, but it works. 

It’s been shown to significantly decrease cortisol levels (47). 

The book The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living goes in more depth about the practice. 

Lastly, deep breathing exercises can help you manage your stress hormone levels. 

Diaphragmatic breathing – consciously breathing from your diaphragm – has been shown to encourage the body’s natural relaxation response and reduce cortisol (48, 49). 

I use the EmWave2 device every day to reduce stress and make sure I’m breathing optimally. I wrote about it before here.

 

15. Exercise (But Not Too Much)

Exercise is definitely good for you. It can balance hormones and reduce stress by releasing endorphins. However, overtraining can actually backfire and increase stress hormone levels (112). 

That’s why I don’t really recommend chronic endurance exercise and prefer weightlifting and high-intensity sprinting over cardio. 

Research shows that prolonged aerobic exercise can increase cortisol levels, and marathon runners have higher levels of cortisol (111, 113). 

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16. Get More Deep Sleep

This might be the most important step. 

Getting enough high-quality sleep is critical for your brain and mental health. 

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

Let me explain.

Normally, cortisol increases in the morning and then drops very low at night prior to bed. But if you have chronic stress and high cortisol, you can end up feeling wired and anxious at night, making it more difficult to sleep. 

Unfortunately, staying up late when your body expects to be asleep further increases your stress hormone levels even more. And lack of sleep and interrupted sleep have been shown to significantly increase cortisol throughout the next day and contribute to cognitive problems down the road (56-61, 63). 

So it’s clearly a vicious cycle where high cortisol causes sleep problems, and poor sleep increases stress.  

That’s why it’s so important go to bed at the same time every night and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Without doing that, you can end up with dysregulated daytime cortisol production.

And it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of sleep. In fact, the quality of your sleep is more important than the length of your sleep.

So I would try doing everything you can to maximize the quality of your sleep. 

Here are some things that I do:

You can also take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

And if you don’t get enough sleep one night, try to take a nap sometime the next day. Daytime napping after a night of sleep loss has been shown to cause beneficial changes in cortisol levels (62).

 

17. Chew Aspartame-Free Gum

Next time you’re stressed, try chewing a piece of gum

It’s an easy way to lower your stress hormone levels. 

According to one study, chewing gum while under moderate stress reduces mental stress and decreases cortisol by 12 per cent. Previous studies have also shown that chewing can increase alertness, neural activity and blood flow to the brain (82). 

I prefer if the gum is aspartame-free, like this one.

 

18. Stand Tall

Changing your body language can have a powerful effect on your biology. 

Standing tall for just two minutes can lower your cortisol by 25 per cent, according to a famous study led by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy (83). 

Cuddy’s research found that if you switch from low-power body language (arms crossed, hunched over, closed up, slumped shoulders, nervous) to high-power body language (opened up, tall, relaxed, confident), your hormones will change to match your new posture (84). 

So try your best to maintain high-power body language as much as possible as it can reduce stress hormones and increase confidence. You could even try holding a dominant pose for 2 minutes every day. You’ll likely find yourself feeling calmer and more mentally powerful.

And if you haven’t already, check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”.

I also recommend her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

19. Socialize

Social connectivity and positive social interactions also significantly reduce stress hormone levels.

Research shows that the more social support a person has, the lower their cortisol levels will be (67). 

This is likely because you release the hormone oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and oxytocin has been proven to decrease anxiety and block increases in cortisol (68). 

One study states that “the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness during stress” (69). 

Animal studies have also discovered that social isolation leads to higher cortisol and mental health problems (70). 

Make sure to check out my full article about oxytocin to learn more about this powerful neurotransmitter.

 

20. Other Cutting-Edge Therapies

Here are some other therapies that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol:

  • Bright Light Therapy (85, 86) – I recommend this device.

  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (78)

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (79, 80)

  • Acupuncture (92) – I use this acupressure mat.

 

Conclusion

It’s important to take control of your stress before it takes control over you.

Thankfully, there are so many ways to manage your stress and lower cortisol levels without having to resort to a prescription

Here’s a summary of everything we’ve gone over to reduce stress hormone levels:

A person is squeezing a stress ball. The stress ball looks like and is in the shape of a brain.

I remember when I first discovered all of these tools and strategies, it gave me so much hope that I could get better and overcome my depression and anxiety.

And I thankfully I did.

And you can too. 

Let me know what you think in the comments. Have you ever had high cortisol? Do you have any other tips that have helped you reduce cortisol?

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Jordan Fallis

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

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