27 Proven Ways to Promote the Regeneration of Myelin

Myelin is critical for optimal brain function and mental health.

What is myelin?

Myelin sheath.

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

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

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

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

But demyelination can also happen. 

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

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

Myelin sheath.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • Depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Dyslexia

  • Language disorders

  • Stuttering

  • Autism

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Cognitive decline

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Tourette’s syndrome

  • Schizophrenia

  • Tone deafness

  • Pathological lying

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

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

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

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1. Deep Sleep and Melatonin

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

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

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

Baby sleeping. Sleep and melatonin help regenerate myelin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Iodine and Thyroid Hormones

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

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

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

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

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

I make sure I get enough iodine by taking this multimineral

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

3. Vitamin C

Oranges. The Vitamin C in oranges help regenerate myelin.

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

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

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

You can also take it in supplement form
 

4. Zinc

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

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

Oysters. The zinc in oysters help regenerate myelin.

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

Zinc also affects myelination.

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

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

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

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement

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

5. Cholesterol

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

Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D.

And it’s an indispensable component of myelin. 

Butter. The cholesterol in butter helps regenerate myelin.

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

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

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

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

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6. Lithium 

Lithium is predominantly known as a medication given to bipolar patients to manage their symptoms. 

However, it’s also an essential mineral.

Bipolar patients are often given high doses of lithium carbonate.

But low doses of lithium orotate can be safely supplemented to support the brain and improve mental health. I’ve taken this one before. 

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

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

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

You can get lithium here.

7. Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that enhances healing and recovery after injury to the central nervous system.

Patients inhale 100% oxygen in a total body chamber. 

Usually, oxygen is transported throughout the body only by red blood cells. But with HBOT, oxygen is dissolved into all body fluids, including the fluids of the central nervous system.

This leads to oxygen being  carried to areas of the body where circulation is diminished or blocked. As a result, extra oxygen can reach all damaged tissues, including areas that need to heal.

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

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

You’ll need to find a practitioner or clinic in your area that provides this treatment.

HBOT can be expensive though. That's why I decided to buy my own oxygen concentrator. An oxygen concentrator is much less expensive than HBOT but it still helps a lot. My doctor recommended it to me and it has helped me recover.

I did a lot of research before buying my own and got this one. You can get it here or through Amazon. I use it almost every day. It's the best option on the market. You can also get a refurbished one for cheaper.  

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

8. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet – less than 50 grams of carbs per day.

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods – such as grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit – your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose.

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

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

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

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often.

I also take Optimal Ketones

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

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

9. Iron

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

It’s also important for myelin production.

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

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

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

10. Low Level Laser Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Phosphatidylserine

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

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

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

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

12. Pregnenolone

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

Picture of a human brain.

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

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

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

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

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13. Uridine 

Uridine is a nucleotide base found in beer.

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

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

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

It’s synergistic with krill oil and citicoline

14. Herbs That Increase Myelin

Ashwagandha helps regenerate myelin.

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

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

I take this ashwagandha during periods of high stress.

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

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

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

15. Inositol

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

At high doses, it reduces anxiety. 

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

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

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex

I previously wrote a full article about inositol here

16. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane mushroom helps regenerate myelin.

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

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

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

17. Consume Flavonoids

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

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

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

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18. Learn or Experience Something New

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

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

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

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

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

19. Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:

  • Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week

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

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

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

20. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

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

It also regulates the myelination process. 

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

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

21. Testosterone

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

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

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

But they were wrong. 

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

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

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

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

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

22. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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23. Vitamin D and Vitamin K2

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

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

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

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

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

That’s why I use this Vitamin D lamp.

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

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

24. Choline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25. Reduce Inflammation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. B Vitamins and Methylation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

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(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24634831

(53) http://wurtmanlab.mit.edu/static/pdf/1037.pdf

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772061

(55) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151207095956.htm

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25261104

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2891353/

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25205214/

(59) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891061815000599

(60) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16822199

(61) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3148626/

(62) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16013456

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25524711

(64) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4625486/

(65) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9482240

(66) http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/early/2008/10/31/jnnp.2008.149286

(67) http://www.lifeextension.com/protocols/neurological/multiple-sclerosis/Page-02

(68) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3137939/

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/641593

(70) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20090312

(71) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24607226

(72) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211034815000061

(73) http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/pantothenic-acid

(74) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4459698/

(75) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614696/

(76) https://www.ncbi.nlmnih.gov/pubmed/14995060

(77) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12464096

(78) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12881192

(79) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065857/

(80) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17603852/

(81) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5642176/

(82) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20976807

(83) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4029808/

(84) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24848795

(85) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522237

Medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD

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This Mineral Is Probably Making Your Chronic Stress and Anxiety Worse

Stressed and anxious woman grabbing her head and hair.

I suffered from anxiety for years. It runs in my family. Many of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents suffer from anxiety and depression and have relied on alcohol, nicotine, and anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication to manage it. I didn’t want to go down that path, so I’ve sought out other treatments for years.

Unfortunately, my family is not alone. Anxiety and panic attacks are incredibly common today. While in university, I remember asking a doctor on campus if she had witnessed an increase in the number of college students who had come to see her about their anxiety over the years. And she responded with an overwhelming yes. 

“There are just not enough resources and practitioners to manage them all,” I remember her saying.

I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to get to the bottom of my anxiety. And so I have an urge to share this information with the world. But what has worked for me might not work for everyone.

And I want to make it clear - there is not just one solution. There really is no magic bullet if you want to overcome this. There are a number of things that can contribute to anxiety. And there are a number of things you can do to cumulatively get over it. (If you’re looking for a quick fix, try antidepressants. And they really aren’t a quick easy fix, as they don’t work for a lot of people and come with a lot of side effects). 

But today I want to discuss just one of the things I did to help myself, and hopefully it helps you too. In upcoming posts, I will explore other therapies and technologies that have helped me master my own mind and avoid the unfortunate path of my ancestors.

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Nutrient Therapy

If you go to your doctor and suggest that maybe a deficiency or imbalance of nutrients is causing your anxiety, they’ll laugh at you. But nutrients have a powerful impact on your mood and brain function – especially if you take supplements with high-quality, biologically-active nutrients.

Our nervous system requires several dozen minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids to function properly. Deficiencies of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, D3 and E are common, especially if you eat refined foods.

This TED talk by Julia J Rucklidge, Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Canterbury, discusses the power of nutrition and supplements. She explores a range of scientific research showing the significant role that nutrition plays when it comes to mental health or illness:

 

The Intricate Balance between Zinc and Copper

We all get anxious once in a while, but tend to get over it. But chronic anxiety, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is when a person suffers from worry and tension all of the time. People who suffer from GAD are often clinically depressed as well (1).

Recent research looking into GAD suggests that an imbalance of zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu), two essential trace minerals within the body, may be contributing and worsening the condition. Researchers of a study titled “Decreased zinc and increased copper in individuals with anxiety” used Inductively Coupled Plasma-mass Spectrometry (ICP) to measure trace minerals in 38 chronically-anxious individuals. They compared the mineral status of these individuals with the mineral status of 16 people in a control group without anxiety symptoms. They found that individuals with chronic anxiety had significantly higher plasma levels of copper and very low levels of zinc, and their anxiety improved significantly with zinc supplementation (2).

In other words, people who suffer from anxiety have way too much copper in their bodies, and not enough zinc. I used to suffer from GAD and depression, and increasing my intake of zinc, and limiting my intake of copper, is one of the most impactful actions I have taken to overcome them, so this makes sense to me personally.

The positive effects of zinc supplementation also makes sense in light of my independent research and understanding of biochemistry. Zinc and copper are antagonists. They compete with one another for absorption and receptor channels. When your body doesn’t absorb enough zinc, copper rises. And because of their essential roles in neurotransmitter synthesis, zinc and copper levels can directly affect thoughts and behaviour.

Copper and zinc balancing each other.

How Copper Can Accumulate in Your Body and Make You an Anxious Wreck

Functional medicine practitioner Chris Kresser explains that copper and zinc are very important for neurotransmitter health, but zinc needs to dominate. If not, all sorts of neurological and behavioural disorders can emerge, including depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia. (3).

Too much copper can have a powerful effect on the mind and alter mood and behaviour. The accumulation of excess copper in the brain enhances the production of stimulatory neurotransmitters (epinephrine and norepinephrine), which can further promote anxiety. Pfeiffer and Goldstein (1984) monitored the brain waves of individuals who took 5 mg of copper or 5 mg of Dexedrine (a common amphetamine that increases epinephrine and norepinephrine), and they found that copper and the amphetamine exhibited an equivalent stimulation of the central nervous system (40, 41, 43, 44).

On top of this, research has shown that too much copper can inhibit and block the neurotransmission of GABA, one of the main calming neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (5, 6, 42). It’s no wonder that anxious people find such relief from alcohol and anti-anxiety medications, as they both activate GABA receptors in the brain.

Depending on the severity of the copper toxicity and the susceptibility of the person, copper can affect the mind moderately or very severely. The milder effects are initially positive because it is activating and stimulating and can increase creativity and productivity. I’ve witnessed this myself, as I used to feel as if my chronic anxiety motivated me to accomplish a lot of work. It may be why creative people tend be depressed and anxious individuals.

But as the toxicity continues and builds up more and more, it becomes increasingly exhausting on the body and the individual can start to break down mentally, leading to an inability to cope adequately with stress. The anxious person’s fatigued body can’t keep up with their overactive mind, and medication often becomes necessary.

But instead of taking drugs, people need to consider supplementing with zinc.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates several hundred enzymatic reactions, including brain and nervous system function and neurotransmission.

Yet it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in the mineral, and six different studies show that subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (45, 46, 47).

Zinc is very calming and sedating, as it enhances GABA activity in the brain.

A number of studies also show that zinc deficiency causes depression-like and anxiety-like behaviors, and supplementation has successfully been used as a treatment (48-53).

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Practical Takeaways: What Should You Do To Combat This?

Woman confused and thinking about what she should do.

The key takeaway here is that if you suffer from chronic anxiety, you need to work on lowering your copper to zinc ratio, as it is likely very high at this point. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Don’t drink tap water: Copper piping for water has become the norm, which contributes to ingesting much more copper than what can be found in your diet. I filter my water with this high-quality filter.

  • Stop taking a multi-vitamin: Many multi-vitamins and multi-mineral supplements contain relatively high doses of copper. However, there are some multi-mineral supplements that purposely don't include copper. I take this one.

  • Eat zinc-rich foods foods such as oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, Brazil nuts and legumes. Raising zinc levels is a more straightforward approach than trying to lower copper levels.

  • Take a zinc supplement every day: I discovered several years ago that I was very deficient in zinc, and my anxiety improved significantly after supplementing with it. Anxiety itself also lowers zinc levels because the body rapidly uses up zinc in times of stress. I have now created my own zinc supplement, called Optimal Zinc. 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 and sometimes cause severe side effects because they start removing copper from the body way too quickly. But Optimal Zinc doesn't do this, and it includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc and help remove excess copper from the body.

  • Supplement with Vitamin B6: It has been shown to improve the absorption and utilization of zinc (37, 38, 39). It is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

Conclusion

Increasing zinc and reducing copper intake is just one nutritional option for people who suffer from chronic anxiety. It’s one of many things that have helped me. For people with severe anxiety, it will take some time for zinc to build up in your system and copper to be reduced. But you should find relief over time.

Unfortunately, your doctor isn’t aware of this. Modern medicine doesn’t care very much about deficiencies of essential nutrients, and most physicians are mistakenly taught that diet provides sufficient nutrition. 

This is because nutritional deficiencies benefit the pharmaceutical industry. Malnutrition leads to chronic symptoms that can be “managed” by patented drugs. Natural supplements can’t be patented. But drugs can. So as long as underlying nutritional imbalances aren’t corrected, doctors will keep prescribing and the pharmaceutical industry will have life-long customers. 

For now, the “drug model” of disease remains prevalent, and until it becomes a thing of the past, people will just have to acknowledge and accept that they need to take control of their anxiety and overcome it themselves. It is a multi-faceted condition, but nutrients can play a huge role in eliminating it. 

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

References:

1.      http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml

2.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738454/

3.      http://chriskresser.com/rhr-could-copper-zinc-imbalance-be-making-you-sick/

4.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3630857

5.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9749714/

6.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23946400/

7.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3968590

8.     http://journals.lww.com/jinvestigativemed/Citation/2005/01010/Zinc_Deficiency_Alters_Deoxyribonucleic_Acid.141.aspx

9.      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ar00034a005

10.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6727650

11.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938404003105

12.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0447.1963.tb07470.x/abstract

13.  http://www.biobalance.org.au/articles/17

14.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20150596

15.  http://ebm.rsmjournals.com/content/232/2/323.short

16.  http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/2/270.full

17.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15845090

18.  Jing Qian and Jeffrey L. Noebels, Department of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas “Exocytosis of Vesicular Zinc Reveals Persistent Depression of Neurotransmitter Release during Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor Long-Term Depression at the Hippocampal CA3–CA1 Synapse”

19.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1471-4159.2003.01803.x/full

20.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0306987791902776

21.  http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/5/1473S.short

22.  http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=17186550

23.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197018606002233

24.  http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/5/1432S.short

25.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9344463

26.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18338309

27.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19685012

28.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3579922

29.  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02784623?LI=true

30.  ‘Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry & Heal Your Brain”, William Walsh, PhD

31.  ‘Mental & Elemental Nutrients’, Carl C Pfeiffer, MD, PhD

32.  http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/fluoride-childrens-health-grandjean-choi/

33.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12197999

34.  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

35.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20617034

36.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20413065

37.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1957821

38.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17171460

39.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22410949

40.  Jones CE, Underwood CK, Coulson EJ, et al: Copper induced oxidation of serotonin: analysis of products and toxicity. J Neurochem, 2007 Aug; 102(4): 1035-1043.

41.  Wenzel KG, Pataracchia RJ: The earth’s gift to Medicine: Minerals in health and Disease. Alton, Ontario. KOS Publishing. 2005.

42.  Pfeiffer CC: Excess copper as a factor in human diseases. J Ortho Med, 1987; 2(3): 171-182.

43.  Pfeiffer CC, Iliev V: Pyrroluria, urinary mauve factor, causes double deficiency of B6 and zinc in schizophrenics. Fed Proc, 1973; 32: 276.

44.  https://riordanclinic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/The_Schizophrenias_Ours_to_Conquer-Riordan-Clinic-Books.pdf

45.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22664333

46.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939673

47.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673824

48.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jnr.10846/abstract

49.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689416

50.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14730113

51.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796297/

52.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21798601

53.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24130605

54.  http://www.jbc.org/content/264/10/5598.full.pdf

55.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12184792

56.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7705778

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

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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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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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14 Powerful Ways to Form New Synapses in the Brain

Over the years, I’ve taken several psychiatric drugs, drank too much alcohol, and had numerous concussions – sometimes, all at once. 

In other words, my brain has taken quite the beating. 

Researchers used to think that if you damaged your brain like I did, you simply had to live with it.

But that’s no longer true. 

They now know the brain is plastic and flexible, and it can heal and recover.

You’re not stuck with the brain you have. 

You can actually change and improve it.

One way your brain repairs itself is through a process called synaptogenesis.

Synaptogenesis is the formation of new synapses in the brain.

Synapses are the connecting points between your 100 billion brain cells. You have trillions of synapses in your brain, and your brain cells communicate with one another across them (79). 

The deterioration and loss of synapses is linked to a number of neurodegenerative diseases and mental health disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, depression, poor learning and memory, intellectual impairment and other cognitive deficits (83-87). 

The good news is that researchers now know that synaptogenesis occurs in the brain throughout our entire lives (81-82). 

And there are a number of ways you can support synaptogenesis, promote the formation of new brain synapses and increase brain synapses. 

Below are 15 ways to do that.

Following these strategies can improve your mood, learning, memory and cognition.

Picture of brain and synapses.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Uridine and Choline

The formation of synapses depends on sufficient brain levels of three key nutrients – uridine, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline. These nutrients are synergistic, and if you take them taken together, they accelerate the formation of new synapses in the brain (66-67, 75-78). 

Unfortunately, most people nowadays don’t get enough of these essential nutrients through their diet because very few foods in the Western diet actually contain them.

In fact, the uridine in food is not bioavailable, and no food has been shown to increase plasma levels of uridine (1).

Picture of salmon and walnuts. Salmon and walnuts and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to form new brain synapses.

That’s why I now take this uridine monophosphate supplement sublingually to support the long-term health of my brain. 

At the same time, I take this krill oil supplement and the Optimal Brain supplement, which includes CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC (two high-quality sources of choline). This ensures my brain is getting enough of omega-3 fatty acids and choline.

Several researchers have concluded that supplementing with all three nutrients can increase synaptic formation, increase brain synapses, and improve cognition, learning and memory, particularly in people with Alzheimer's disease (68-74). 

Besides supplementation, I still encourage people to eat foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids and choline. 

The best way to get omega-3 fatty acids from food is by eating more cold-water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring. And the best food sources of choline include grass-fed beef liver and egg yolks. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

Taking uridine, choline and omega-3 fatty acids together can also promote the regeneration of myelin.

2. Low Level Laser Therapy

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

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

Man wearing LLLT helmet and using the Vielight device. LLLT and Vielight devices can help form new synapses in the brain.

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

One way that LLLT may help the brain is by encouraging synaptogenesis (12-15). 

Researchers have found that LLLT treatment significantly stimulates the synthesis of synapsin-1 (a marker for synaptogenesis) and increases synaptogenesis in the cortex (16-17). 

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 the Vielight, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount).

LLLT can also support mitochondria function, reduce brain fog, and increase blood flow to the brain

3. Bacopa

Bacopa monniera is an adaptogenic herb with cognitive-enhancing effects.

Several studies show that it improves cognition, learning and memory by strengthening communications between brain cells. Both healthy and elderly people who take the herb experience improved attention, learning and memory (2-5). 

Researchers believe these improvements are because bacopa increases brain synapses and increases specific neuromolecular mechanisms that encourage and enhance synaptogenesis (18). 

You can get bacopa through Amazon.

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4. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to promote the formation of new synapses.

Researchers have found repeatedly that physical activity encourages synaptogenesis and increases brain synapses (32-33). 

Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, promotes the regeneration of myelin, and can help reverse brain damage and cognitive decline

So not surprisingly, many brain health experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

My usual advice is to find a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

5. Magnesium Threonate

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, including neurotransmitter and hormonal activity, which can have a huge effect on your brain function.

Researchers have found that increasing magnesium levels in the brain improves learning and memory by promoting synaptogenesis and increasing brain synapses (25-26). 

One study concluded that magnesium threonate increases the number of synaptic connections between brain cells and boosts the density of synapses (27). 

Magnesium rich foods, including spinach, avocados, bananas, almonds. Magnesium helps the brain form new synapses.

Unfortunately, lot of people are deficient in magnesium today (6-8).

But there are a number of ways you can make sure you’re consuming enough. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

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

But I also recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement. 

Magnesium threonate is the best form of magnesium for increasing brain magnesium levels and forming new synapses. 

I currently take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed.

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

Magnesium can also help repair a leaky blood-brain barrier.

6. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break and triggers a number of hormones that boost your body’s ability to repair itself.

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.

There are many health benefits to doing this.

It can improve mitochondrial function, reduce brain fog, and help protect you from dementia

And researchers have also found that fasting can trigger and enhance synaptogenesis (28-31). 

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. 

7. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. It’s one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it’s been shown to increase brain blood flow and improve memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and may also improve mood and mental energy (34).

Researchers have also discovered that it stimulates synaptogenesis and increases brain synapses (35). 

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

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8. Motor Learning

Motor learning is essentially when you learn something new that involves movement.

Complex processes occur in the brain in response to practicing or experiencing the new motor skill.

This results in changes to the central nervous system, which allows you to produce the movement again in the future.

Researchers have found that motor learning triggers synaptogenesis and generates new synapses in the cerebellar cortex of the brain (36-39). 

Some activities that involve motor learning include learning how to play the piano, climbing trees, juggling, and playing table tennis. 

When you engage in these activities, motor learning occurs, and you form new synapses in order to learn and solidify the new skill. 

9. Resveratrol

Picture of grapes. Grapes are rich in resveratrol, an antioxidant than help you form new synapses in your brain.

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

Resveratrol is known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can help restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, support your mitochondria, and increase blood flow to the brain. But it can also increase synaptogenesis.

Research shows the resveratrol promotes and enhances synaptogenesis (23-24). 

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.

10. Piracetam

Piracetam is a nootropic (cognitive-enhancing) supplement. It provides a mild boost to brain function and has a long history of being used to treat cognitive impairment in Europe, Asia and South America. 

According to researchers, one way it improves cognition is by enhancing synaptogenesis and increasing brain synapses (9-10). 

One study found that rats treated with piracetam had a higher number of synapses than rats not treated with piracetam (11). 

Here is a good piracetam supplement from a reliable brand. I used to take it regularly but not anymore.

Phenylpiracetam is an advanced version of piracetam and I found it to be more effective. It also has impressive anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. You can get it here.

Both piracetam and phenylpiracetam work best if you take them with a source of choline, either CDP-Choline or Alpha GPC.

Both CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

11. Quercetin

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in fruits and vegetables. It is one of the most widely consumed flavonoids in the human diet. 

Quercetin has potent antioxidant action and is “neuroactive”, meaning it can affect brain function. 

As a result, it can protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inhibit the pro-inflammatory molecules that are associated with many progressive brain disorders (45-46). 

Researchers have also found that it stimulates synaptogenesis (48). 

Red apples, onions and tomatoes have the high levels of quercetin. But you can also supplement with it if you want. 

It’s interesting to note that quercetin increases the absorption of resveratrol, so it’s a good idea to take them both together if you want to increase synaptogenesis and form new brain synapses (47). 

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12. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is one of the hormones that significantly affects brain function.

It has a number of important functions in the central nervous system, and researchers have found that it passes the blood-brain barrier and acts on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

In a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support brain and mental health.

Intranasal insulin has been reported to significantly enhance learning and memory, increase mental energy, reduce brain fog, improve mood, and lower anxiety and stress levels.

One possible mechanism is by increasing synaptogenesis.

Brain insulin receptors are found primarily in synapses, and insulin signaling contributes to synaptogenesis (19-21). 

And the disruption of insulin action in the brain leads to impairment of synaptogenesis (22). 

If you’re interested in learning more about intranasal insulin, I previously wrote a full article about it here.

13. Progesterone

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

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

Research shows that progesterone supports the normal development of brain cells and protects them from damage (40).

But many researchers have also found that progesterone promotes synaptogenesis (41-43). 

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

14. Antioxidant Nutrients

Some nutrients have antioxidant effects in the body, and not consuming enough of them can reduce your rate of synaptogenesis. 

Research shows that “synaptic membrane synthesis” depends on sufficient dietary intake of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and the mineral selenium (64). 

A bunch of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables in heart-shaped bowls. Antioxidants can helps the brain form new synaptic connections.

One study found that synaptogenesis was significantly enhanced by supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, uridine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium. But it wasn’t enhanced as much with omega-3 fatty acids and uridine alone, suggesting that Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium play a key role in synaptogenesis (65). 

I get these antioxidant nutrients from a number of sources. 

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day. At one point, I was actually taking up to 10 grams of Vitamin C every day as an experiment, but that’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you.

For selenium, I make sure I eat brazil nuts regularly, as they are the richest source. But I also take some extra selenomethionine, which is the most absorbable form of selenium. 

For Vitamin E, good food sources include almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil, sunflower seeds and butternut squash. It’s also included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

Besides increasing synaptogenesis, antioxidants can also protect your brain from alcohol and help reverse brain damage

15. BONUS: 4 Things to Avoid

It’s not just what you do, but also what you avoid that can impact your rate of synaptogenesis. 

Researchers have found that certain compounds can impair synaptogenesis and inhibit the formation of new synapses in the brain. 

So besides trying to implement the 14 steps above, you should also try to avoid:

  • Bisphenol A – This compound is found in plastic bottles and containers, food and beverage cans, and other common consumer products, such as CDs, DVDs and sales receipts. Researchers have found that it impairs synaptogenesis in the brain (49). That’s why I recommend you only eat and drink out of glass, ceramic and stainless steel. Avoid all canned food and plastic containers. BPA-free plastic isn’t much better for you and can still disrupt hormonal health.

  • Lead – Lead is a heavy metal that can accumulate in the body and negatively affect brain function. Research shows that lead exposure can interfere with the formation of brain synapses (55-59). So it’s definitely a good idea to reduce your exposure to sources of lead. One way is by using an infrared sauna regularly.

  • Gabapentin – Gabapentin is a medication used to treat epilepsy, neuropathic pain, hot flashes, and restless legs syndrome. Researchers have found that it halts the formation of new synapses (80).

  • Stress – Chronic stress decreases synaptogenesis and decreases the number of synapse connections (88-89). Here are 20 ways to lower cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone. These two biofeedback devices are my favourite ways to reduce stress.

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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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