23 Powerful Ways to Support the Mitochondria in Your Brain

Picture of several mitochondria.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic mitochondria dysfunction is one of the main underlying factors that contributes to poor brain function and mental illness. 

Mitochondria are unique structures within every cell of your body. You have trillions and trillions of them, making up approximately 10% of your total body weight.

Mitochondria are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body by converting nutrition into adenosine-5’- triphosphate (ATP). ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel. You are constantly using it, and your brain needs enough of it to work properly (106-107). 

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

Mitochondria are especially abundant in your brain cells and involved in many important biological processes in the brain, including the regulation of free radicals and neurotransmitters.

In fact, monoamine oxidase (MAO), the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of monoamine neurotransmitters, is localized within the outer mitochondrial membrane (91-93). 

So not surprisingly, numerous studies show that there is a correlation between impaired mitochondrial function in the brain and many psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, including:

In fact, some researchers are convinced that mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in almost every chronic disease (108-110). 

Mitochondria dysfunction decreases ATP energy production and increases oxidative stress, which are commonly found in the brains of people suffering from brain and mental health disorders.

Cognitive symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction can also include impairments in attention, executive function and memory (105).

Unfortunately, a number of psychiatric drugs damage the mitochondria and worsen the dysfunction.

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

Below are a number of strategies I’ve used over the years to support my mitochondria.

Supplements and lifestyle changes can improve mitochondrial health by increasing the availability of proteins needed for ATP production.

They also act as antioxidants, assisting the mitochondria in reducing oxidative stress.

Some of the following lifestyle changes and supplements can also increase the number of mitochondria present within the cell.

And you can start using them today to regain optimal brain and mental health.

 

1. Eat Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods

Dr. Terry Wahls standing in front of her wheelchair.

Eating lots of fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods is one of the most impactful actions you can take to power your mitochondria. 

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

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

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) more than a decade ago but reversed the neurodegenerative brain disease by repairing her mitochondria with an intensive nutritional strategy.

She outlines how she recovered her health in her book The Wahls Protocol

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

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

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

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

 

2. Avoid Certain Foods and Ingredients

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

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

Your mitochondria were not designed to deal with our current food environment and lifestyle habits. 

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

Dr. Wahls also recommends you avoid all gluten, dairy and soy products for optimal mitochondrial health.

I personally feel much better avoiding them completely as well. 

 

3. Eat More Essential Fats

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

That’s why Dr. Wahls recommends eating organic grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish, such as salmon, every day.

Avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil are also rich in healthy fats. 

Supplementing with krill oil is another excellent option.

 

4. Exercise

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

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

Many experts recommend exercise for brain health.

Exercise can also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

 

5. Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

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

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

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

These mitochondrial benefits have also been seen directly within the brain.

Studies show that LLLT increases mitochondrial activity within brain cells, and this leads to beneficial effects in behaviour (41). 

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

I use these two LLLT devices myself at home to support my mitochondria and boost my brain function:

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

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

You can learn more about LLLT in this post

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

 

6. Resveratrol

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

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

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

That’s why I take resveratrol every day and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Resveratrol is included in the Optimal Energy supplement.

 

7. Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting

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

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

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

That’s why I fast intermittently instead. 

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

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

 

8. Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)

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

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

Depletion of NADH has been linked to a number of diseases, including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

But stabilized oral NADH has been shown to improve all of these conditions (46, 47, 48). 

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

LLLT is also known to increase NADH in your mitochondria. 

 

9. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. 

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods, your body enters ketosis.

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose (36).

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

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

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

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

Exogenous ketones can also help you get into ketosis and experience the mitochondrial-boosting effects of ketones very quickly.

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

 

10. B Vitamins

B vitamins play an essential role in maintaining mitochondrial function.

In fact, your mitochondria will be compromised if you have a deficiency of any B vitamin (37). 

Deficiency is more likely if you take certain medications

Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 are all included in the Optimal Energy supplement for this reason.

 

11. Ribose

Ribose is a five carbon sugar created naturally by your body.

Even though it’s a sugar, research suggests it does not raise blood sugar levels.

Instead, your body stores it in the mitochondria (49, 50). 

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

Chronic stress can deplete ribose, and certain conditions have been linked to chronic ribose deficiency, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.

That’s why I recommend people supplement with ribose if they struggle with these disorders because it can help reduce mental and physical lethargy (52, 53).

Ribose is also included in Optimal Energy.

 

12. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant molecule found in every cell of your body.

It’s particularly concentrated in the mitochondria, playing a key role in the production of energy.

It also protects the mitochondria from oxidative damage. 

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, chronic oxidative stress and medications can further deplete CoQ10

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

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

But supplementing with it will give you a more significant mitochondrial boost.

 

13. Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods.

It has a wide range of brain health and mitochondrial benefits.

It’s been shown to preserve and enhance memory, attention, and cognition by protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage.

It also promotes the growth of new mitochondria in the brain (56-59). 

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

Reactive nitrogen species (RNS) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause severe stress on brain cells and mitochondria.

PQQ has also been shown to suppress RNS and ROS (60-62). 

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

I personally never really noticed much of anything from PQQ. So I don’t take it anymore and didn’t include it in Optimal Energy.

You can get PQQ here if you want to try it though. 

 

14. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral within your body.

Mitochondria are considered magnesium “storage units” because they hold onto a lot of your body’s magnesium. 

Magnesium also protects the mitochondria and plays a role in the production and transfer of ATP within the mitochondria.

And research shows that if you have a deficiency in magnesium, your brain cells will have fewer mitochondria, and they will be less healthy (54, 55). 

This is just another reason to supplement with magnesium every day.

And it’s why I included magnesium in Optimal Energy.

 
Scientific representation of brain and brain blood flow.

Carnitine is an amino acid that improves mitochondrial activity and plays an important role in energy production.

It’s known to transport fatty acids directly into the mitochondria of your brain cells

It’s also required to produce ATP and deficiencies are associated with reduced mitochondrial function in the brain (74). 

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been shown to improve cognition by reducing oxidative stress in the brain.

It also protects existing mitochondria and creates new mitochondria in the brain (80, 101).

Both ALA and carnitine are included together in Optimal Energy.

 

16. Thiamine

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

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

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system.

Research shows that thiamine deficiency induces oxidative stress, resulting in mitochondrial abnormalities in the brain (21-22).

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

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

Thiamine is also included in Optimal Energy.

 

17. Creatine

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

Creatine is also available as a supplement.

Athletes, bodybuilders, wrestlers, sprinters often take extra creatine to gain more muscle mass.

It’s an incredibly well-researched supplement and safe to take regularly. 

Supplementing with creatine can also support the brain.

It's been shown to have neuroprotective effects. It rapidly produces energy to support brain cell function.

Researchers have also found that creatine supplementation improves function of mitochondria in the brain (25).

I used to take creatine powder before workouts, but I now just take the Creatine in Optimal Energy.

 

18. Curcumin

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

It’s one of my favourite natural compounds for the brain.

One reason why is because it protects mitochondria and prevents mitochondrial dysfunction in the brain (111-113).

 

19. Malic Acid

Malic acid, also known as malate, is an intermediate of the Krebs cycle.

It’s a key step in the pathway of energy production by the mitochondria.

And it has a number of health benefits because it improves mitochondrial function.

Malate supplementation has been shown to increase the availability of NAD+, which is necessary for producing ATP.

Malate also increases NADPH levels, which is a fundamental antioxidant in the body that promotes mitochondrial function (114).

That’s why I’ve included malic acid in the Optimal Energy supplement.

 

20. Niacinamide

Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a vitamin found in foods.

It’s also often taken as a supplement.

Niacinamide is the precursor to NAD+ and therefore supplementation can increase levels of this molecule and improve mitochondrial function.

Researchers have found that niacinamide prevents energy depletion in the brain (115).

It also improves the mitochondrial quality of brain cells by inducing autophagy and causing dysfunctional mitochondria to fragment (116).

 

21. N-Acetyl-Cysteine

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine.

It’s also the precursor to glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant.

Nowadays, we’re exposed to so many environmental toxins, which cause oxidative stress in the body and deplete our reserves of cysteine and glutathione.  

But supplementing with NAC can increase and normalize your cysteine and glutathione levels. 

This can combat and reduce oxidative stress in your brain, which can then help treat several mental illnesses.

NAC can also help support your mitochondria.

In one study, NAC treatment for 9 weeks reduced oxidative damage to the mitochondria (117).

And in multiple cell studies, NAC improved mitochondrial function by reducing oxidative stress (118-119).

 

22. Succinic acid

Succinic acid, also known as succinate, is an intermediate molecule of the Krebs cycle that plays a significant role in the electron transport chain.

It can be purchased as a supplement to boost energy production by the mitochondria.

Succinic acid has been shown to prevent structural and functional damage to the mitochondria caused by oxidative stress (120).

And in brain cells that have mitochondrial dysfunction, succinic acid supplementation improved mitochondrial functioning by increasing glucose and oxygen usage. This led to increased levels of ATP energy (121).

For this reason, succinic acid is in the Optimal Energy supplement.

 

23. EGCG

Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG) is the main polyphenol found in green tea.

It’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

EGCG accumulates within the mitochondria and activates a number of proteins related to mitochondrial function (122-124).

I personally drink organic green tea regularly, usually in place of coffee on days when I’m relaxing.

I also take a supplement that includes green tea extract and EGCG.

 

Conclusion

Picture of mitochondrion, the energy producer of brain cells.

Paying attention to your mitochondria is crucial for optimal brain and mental health.

Luckily there are a number of dietary and lifestyle habits that can protect and support mitochondrial function.

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

  • Take Optimal Energy. It’s an all-in-one mitochondrial supplement. It includes the 17 best natural compounds proven to boost mitochondrial functioning in the brain.

  • Eat nutrient-dense, whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Download my free food guide for a shopping list of the best foods to eat.

  • Avoid refined sugars, processed flours, industrial oils, trans fats, gluten and processed dairy.

  • Eat organic grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish, or supplement with krill oil.

  • Exercise

  • Try LLLT

  • Restrict calories and/or fast intermittently

  • Follow a cyclic ketogenic diet and/or take Optimal Ketones

If you follow these strategies, there’s no doubt that you can improve your mitochondrial health and naturally restore your mood and energy levels.

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

 
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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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(107) http://www.umdf.org/site/c.8qKOJ0MvF7LUG/b.7934627/k.3711/What_is_Mitochondrial_Disease.htm

(108) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17239370

(109) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566449/

(110) https://riordanclinic.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/mitochondria-and-cancer-1.pdf

(111) https://accelerating.org/articles/curcumin.html

(112) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23422877

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26254982

(114) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0058345

(115) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10566977

(116) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19473119

(117) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4312826/

(118) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17917164

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4726696/

(120) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3032929

(121) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5430749/

(122) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26731017

(123) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670924/

(124) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16797120

Medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD

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The Remarkable Antioxidant That Can Help Treat 6 Mental Illnesses

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

That was it.

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

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

Read More

How to Improve Your Brain Function with An Oxygen Concentrator

Insufficient oxygen means insufficient biological energy that can result in anything from mild fatigue to life threatening disease. The link between insufficient oxygen and disease has now been firmly established.
— Dr. W. Spencer Way, Journal of the American Association of Physicians

Oxygen is absolutely essential for life, and your brain depends it more than any other part of your body.

Your brain weighs about 2% of your body weight.

But it consumes about 20% of the oxygen you breathe.

Your brain cells need to get enough oxygen to produce energy and function optimally.

If they don’t, they can start to deteriorate, leading to poor memory and concentration, low mood, lack of energy and drive. 

I personally use oxygen therapy with an oxygen concentrator to support and optimize my brain function. 

This post discusses oxygen therapy, the benefits, how I use it, and how it could help you. 

It’s a great way to boost cognitive function, memory and energy.

Read on to learn more. 

Types of Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy is the use of supplemental oxygen to treat a variety of medical conditions.

Air is typically 21% oxygen by volume, but oxygen therapy increases the amount.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the most well-known type of oxygen therapy, and it allows patients to inhale 100% pure oxygen in a total body chamber.

Tube plugged into oxygen tank

HBOT is often used by professional athletes for recovery and performance.

But it’s expensive and not available to most people. 

Luckily, it’s not the only option available to you. 

Normobaric oxygen therapy (NBOT) is much less expensive, and it’s easily accessible and non-invasive. I personally use NBOT at home. 

Similar to HBOT, NBOT brings a higher percentage of oxygen into the body and can bring major benefits to your brain and cognition.

Researchers have found that both normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen therapy increase the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the blood and brain (1-2). 

With normobaric therapy, oxygen can be delivered via an oxygen concentrator

An oxygen concentrator is a machine that separates oxygen from room air, and then delivers the concentrated oxygen through a nasal cannula or mask.

I use this oxygen concentrator. You can get it here or here.  

Make sure you read the “My Experience” section below where I discuss how to use it. .

Why You Might Need Oxygen Therapy and How It Works

Hypoxia is a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.

If this happens to you, you can end up with mitochondria dysfunction and poor brain function. 

But how do you know?

You can use an oxygen saturation monitor to measure and monitor your blood oxygenation levels. I use this monitor. It’s the best and most accurate oxygen saturation monitor that is often used by medical professionals, and freely available to the public.

Your blood oxygen saturation levels (SpO2) should measure 99-100% if you want to feel optimal.  

An illustration of the benefits of oxygen therapy.

There are a number of reasons why your body and brain might not be getting enough oxygen:

  • Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise

  • Shallow breathing – Most people today don’t breathe well and are shallow breathers.

  • Chronic stressStress and anxiety can also affect your breathing. If you're stressed and anxious, you end up taking more shallow breaths. Your sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system is chronically active, and this reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your brain.

  • Abnormal blood pressure – Both high and low blood pressure can be problematic and may suggest that blood is not optimally flowing to your brain. If blood flow to your brain is poor, oxygen levels in your brain will also be suboptimal.

Normobaric oxygen therapy can help you if you’re struggling with any of these problems.

It can also help if you’re recovering from a concussion or brain injury or some sort of toxic exposure (e.g. mold). 

Neuroplasticity and neurogenesis require oxygen, and increasing the delivery of oxygen to the body and brain supports the healing process of damaged tissue.

Normobaric oxygen therapy has been shown to work by increasing brain blood flow, reducing permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and it may even have cholinergic properties (3-8). 

Researchers have concluded that the “neuroprotective role of normobaric oxygen therapy is extremely promising” (9). 

They have also found that it can lead to a number of positive cognitive outcomes, which I'll explore below. 

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1. Normobaric Oxygen Therapy Improves Memory and Recall

In their book Advances in Natural Medicines, Nutraceuticals, and Neurocognition, Dr. Andrew Scholey and Dr. Con Stough state that normobaric oxygen therapy is an effective memory enhancer

Research has shown that oxygen administration leads to improved long-term memory compared to a control group of normal air-breathing.

Several clinical studies also show that concentrated oxygen significantly enhances memory formation and recall in adults (10-11, 16-17). 

In one study, inhalation of oxygen immediately prior to learning a word list resulted in a significant increase in the average number of words recalled 10 minutes later (14). 

In other studies, subjects who received oxygen remembered shopping lists and faces better than subjects that didn’t receive oxygen (12-13, 18). 

Researchers have also found significant positive correlations between changes in oxygen saturation and memory performance (15). 

2. Normobaric Oxygen Therapy Improves Cognitive Performance

Research shows that concentrated oxygen significantly enhances cognitive performance (19-20, 29). 

And it doesn’t just improve cognitive function in the elderly; it also enhances cognitive processing in young adults (21-23). 

In one study, students that inhaled oxygen while playing a computer game performed much better compared to students who didn’t inhale any additional oxygen (26). 

In two other studies, researchers found that the inhalation of 30% oxygen improved cognitive functioning and performance by activating several brain areas (24-25). 

Oxygen administration appears to facilitate cognition most effectively for tasks with a higher cognitive load.
— Advances in Natural Medicines, Nutraceuticals, and Neurocognition

They concluded that breathing a higher concentration of oxygen increases blood oxygen levels in the brain, which then supports cognition (24-25). 

And other researchers have found significant correlations between blood oxygen levels and cognitive performance (27-28). 

3. Normobaric Oxygen Therapy Enhances Accuracy

Several studies have found that normobaric oxygen therapy can also increase your accuracy when doing tasks. 

Two studies found that 30% and 40% oxygen administration significantly enhanced accuracy rates compared to 21% oxygen (normal air). It did this by increasing oxygen levels in the blood, which then stimulated activity in the brain (31-32). 

As the difficulty of the task increased, the difference in the accuracy rate between 40% and 21% oxygen administration also increased (33-34). 

And researchers found a positive correlation between task performance and oxygen levels in the brain (33-34). 

Other research has found that 30% oxygen administration enhances accuracy rates during verbal tasks by activating specific areas of the brain (35-36). 

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4. Normobaric Oxygen Therapy Reduces Reaction Time

People who receive normobaric oxygen therapy also have faster reaction times (37-38). 

In one study, participants performed visual matching tasks under 43% oxygen or 21% oxygen (normal air).

Researchers reported a significant decrease in reaction time in the presence of 43% oxygen (39).

The researchers hypothesized that normobaric oxygen therapy increases oxygen levels in the blood, which then leads to more available oxygen in the brain (39). 

Another follow-up study confirmed that response time decreases during normobaric oxygen therapy due to the increase in blood oxygen levels (40). 

Normobaric oxygen therapy has even been shown to reduce reaction time in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (41). 

5. Normobaric Oxygen Therapy Increases Energy

Despite comprising only 2 percent of the body’s weight, the brain gobbles up more than 20 percent of daily energy intake.

All cells within your body need oxygen, particularly your brain cells.

They require a lot of oxygen to produce energy. 

In fact, your energy levels depend on how much oxygen you have and how well your mitochondria utilize it.

If your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, it simply won’t function properly, and you’ll end up feeling tired. 

But normobaric oxygen therapy can increase energy.

Research shows that it "decreases fatigue and reduces feelings of sleepiness" (51). 

6. Normobaric Oxygen Therapy Improves Neurological Function After Stroke

Researchers say that normobaric oxygen therapy is a promising therapy for stroke patients. 

It’s been shown to reduce brain swelling and blood-brain barrier permeability and increase brain blood flow after stroke (42-43). 

One study found that normobaric oxygen therapy significantly improved neurological functions in patients with acute ischemic stroke (44). 

Other researchers have found that normobaric oxygen therapy increases oxygen supply to damaged tissues and improves outcomes after stroke, in both animals and humans (45-46). 

As a non-pharmaceutical and non-invasive treatment, normobaric oxygen therapy is “worthy of notice” (47). 

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7. Oxygen Therapy May Help Reverse Brain Damage After Traumatic Brain Injury

Researchers found that a combination of normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen therapy reversed brain damage in 2-year-old girl who nearly drowned in a swimming pool.

She received normobaric oxygen treatment (twice daily for 45 minutes by nasal cannula), and doctors witnessed significant improvements in her neurological function (48-49). 

Normobaric oxygen therapy alone improved the girl’s neurological function before she started hyperbaric oxygen therapy (48-49). 

She eventually made a full recovery with both types of oxygen therapy. 

Researchers have also said that the “neuroprotective role of normobaric oxygen therapy is extremely promising” for traumatic brain injury (50). 

I’ve also seen multiple studies with rats and mice showing that normobaric oxygen therapy reduces brain swelling and brain damage.

8. Other Possible Benefits (with Less Research Behind Them)

  • Increases attention and vigilance – Oxygen administration significantly improved performance on several measures of attention and vigilance (52).

  • Reduces inflammation – Oxygen levels play a critical role in determining the severity of the inflammatory response and ultimately the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs (53-54).

  • Improves hand-eye coordination (55).

  • Increases positive sense of wellbeing (56).

My Experience with Normobaric Oxygen Therapy

If you use oxygen for 20 minutes, muscles become loosened, headaches and stress seem to disappear, there is a renewed energy and a feeling of relaxation.
— Dr. Richard de Andrea

 

I was first introduced to oxygen therapy through an integrative doctor I know.

At the end of each appointment with him, I would use his oxygen concentrator for about 15-20 minutes. He used this oxygen concentrator

I eventually decided to buy my own oxygen concentrator and now regularly use it at home. 

There is a dial for adjusting the flow of oxygen and the port is located on the upper right of the machine.

There is a dial for adjusting the flow of oxygen and the port is located on the upper right of the machine.

I bought this oxygen concentrator. You can get it here or through Amazon. I'll discuss how it has helped me below.

The oxygen from the concentrator is supplied through an nasal canula. It’s completely non-invasive and painless, and it’s become one of my favourite tools for supporting my brain.

I use it for about 20 to 30 minutes, a few times each week. I often do this while exercising on this indoor stationary bike. Sometimes I use it without exercising on the bike. 

I also use it for about 3 to 5 minutes as needed, usually when doing work. 

During a session, I use this oxygen saturation monitor to measure my blood oxygenation levels. 

Your blood oxygen saturation levels (SpO2) should measure 99-100%. I see mine increase and max out while using the concentrator

My oxygen concentrator delivers up to 5 litres of oxygen per minute. I usually set mine somewhere between 3 and 5 litres per minute. 

But I would recommend starting lower and working your way up. 

Similar to low-level laser/light therapy, oxygen therapy is somewhat experimental. You need to find the right “dosage” for yourself.

Benefits and What I’ve Noticed

Jordan Fallis using oxygen concentrator.

I've had good results with concentrated oxygen therapy and it has surprisingly increased the quality of my life. 

One of the main things I notice is that it feels like it puts energy back into my body every time I use it.

One of my clients uses it whenever she gets brain fog, and it clears it up. Another client uses it when she gets a headache and the headache disappears within 10 minutes.

It also does an incredible job of getting rid of hangovers. They essentially go away if you use the concentrator the morning after drinking. You just immediately feel like a completely new person.

Here are some other benefits I’ve experienced:

Keep in mind that this is my personal experience (and the experiences of a couple of clients). There really is no guarantee that you’ll experience the same results, but it’s worth a try if you’re sick and other therapies aren’t improving your brain function. 

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Combining Oxygen Therapy with Other Therapies

I also combine oxygen therapy with other therapies and supplements for their synergistic effects. 

Researchers have found that combining normobaric oxygen therapy with the following therapies leads to better results (57-59):

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23317164

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5234199/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3023418/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5110143/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28931617

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25804925

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27177548

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9600580/

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19922270

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9600580/

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107523/

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10604851/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9600580

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8740047

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18322865/

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9600580/

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9694523/

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9862412

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107523/

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10604851/

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9694523/

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107523/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107523/

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15522765

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15684544

(26) https://goo.gl/h9o5Aj

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107523/

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10604851/

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17662686/

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107523/

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17053947/

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17395994/

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18569150/

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20080151

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16678926

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15929498

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15627418/

(38) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10604851/

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19429029/

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107523/

(41) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22285726

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26416428

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25804925

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28931617

(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5110139/

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4146175/

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5110139/

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5510296/

(49) https://goo.gl/m2CbrR

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19922270

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15627418/

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9694523/

(53) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202121536.htm

(54) https://jlb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1189/jlb.0912462

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11258587

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11258587

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27458543

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27177548

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26416428

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

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31 Proven Ways to Increase BDNF, Your Brain's Growth Hormone

An illustration of a brain with arms and legs. The brain is lifting weights over it’s head.

Just like some people are able to drop massive amounts of weight and never gain it back, you can drop your chronic depression, anxiety and poor cognition and never have it consume you again. 

One way to do this is by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF.

BDNF is a naturally-occurring protein in the brain that improves brain function and lowers your risk of mental disease. 

BDNF protects and repairs your brain cells, increases the growth of new brain cells, and improves learning, memory and mood. In fact, many researchers consider it a natural antidepressant (12-17, 66).

Research suggests that if you struggle with mental illness or poor brain function, you likely have reduced levels of BDNF. But luckily, there are ways to boost it. And by doing so, you can reverse depression and protect yourself from Alzheimer’s disease (46-50, 31, 64-65, 67).

After suffering two concussions, living in a moldy house, and falling into a deep depression in 2010, I started searching far and wide for ways to boost BDNF and heal my damaged brain.

Below are 31 ways that significantly helped me recover, and they likely will help you too.

 

Foods, Nutrients and Natural Supplements to Increase BDNF Levels in the Brain

 

1. Coffee Fruit Concentrate

Whole coffee fruit has a number of brain health benefits.

It includes the flesh of the berry that surrounds the coffee bean. 

Traditionally, the coffee bean is extracted for roasting, and the surrounding fruit is discarded.

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

After years of careful clinical research, scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases BDNF in humans. 

One study found that 100mg of whole coffee fruit concentrate increases BDNF by an astounding 143%.

And another study found that it doubles the amount of BDNF in the blood.

Coffee fruit concentrate is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

 

2. Curcumin

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

It’s one of my favourite compounds for the brain.

Studies show that it can increase BDNF production in the brain, leading to improved cognition and mood (18- 20, 22). 

It also protects the brain by activating BDNF (21). 

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

My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin, as I noticed a significant effect from it. You can get it here.

 

3. Green Tea

Drinking green tea is another way you can increase BDNF. 

The antioxidants within it have been shown to increase BDNF (25). 

You can either drink green tea on a regular basis or consider supplementing with a concentrated green tea extract.

 

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A large number of people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids today, and they are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system (70). 

They've been shown to improve mood, sleep, learning and memory, and protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (31-33).

This is likely because they've been shown to increase BDNF levels (71). 

After traumatic brain injury, omega-3s normalize BDNF levels in rats. Without supplementation, levels did not return to baseline (68). 

And omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help patients with bipolar, likely because they support optimal BDNF levels (69). 

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

That's why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids.

I take this one

 

5. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant compound found in red wine. 

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

And science is starting to understand why. 

For one, it has neuroprotective effects by elevating BDNF (37). 

Because of this increase, it can be effective at improving fatigue (38). 

I supplement with this resveratrol every other day. You can get it here or here.

 

6. Prebiotics and Resistant Starch

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

Essentially, they are food for the good bacteria in our intestines.

Bacteria convert prebiotics into butyrate, a substance that has been shown to increase BDNF (43, 44) 

Prebiotic-rich foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus and squash. These foods are included in my free grocery shopping guide for optimal brain health and you should try to eat them as much as possible.

Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake. 

A convenient way to incorporate more resistant starch into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. I take it on a regular basis and you can get it through Amazon. It's one of the easiest and cheapest ways to incorporate more resistant starch into your diet. It is bland so you can simply add it to beverages, smoothies and meals. It has to stay raw though, so don’t cook it.

I discussed prebiotics and resistant starch in this previous article.

Other high-quality resistant starches include banana flour, plantain flour and waxy maize. I usually rotate between them.

Cooked and cooled white rice and potatoes also contain some resistant starch. 

 

7. Magnesium

Magnesium has been shown to cause antidepressant effects by significantly increasing BDNF expression in the brain (51, 52). 

It’s one of the three nutrients that everyone should be taking for their brain, as most people are deficient. 

The good news is that you can easily correct magnesium deficiency yourself. Supplementation is cheap and can restore the mineral to healthy levels. 

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

Magnesium threonate is also the exact form of magnesium shown in studies to increase BDNF (80).

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8. Lithium Orotate

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 has been shown to improve mood and have neuroprotective effects in people without bipolar disorder, and some studies have shown that it increases BDNF (54, 55). 

I don’t take it anymore but I did feel calmer and more stable when I supplemented with it.

If you’re interested in trying it, you can get the one I took here.

 

9. Dark Chocolate

I’m sure you're smiling right now.

Everyone loves chocolate.

And thankfully, it’s really good for your brain.

The antioxidants in dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) trigger neuroprotection by activating the BDNF survival pathway (56). 

You should try to eat high-quality, organic dark chocolate with the least amount of sugar. 

 

10. N-Acetyl-Cysteine

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a cheap amino acid and antioxidant, and a very safe and effective way to deal with the root cause of your mental illness or sub-optimal cognition.

It has personally played a huge role in my recovery from mental illness and post-concussion syndrome, which is not surprising, considering that it’s been shown to boost BDNF (57). 

I’ve previously explored NAC in depth here. It can help treat at least six mental illnesses

 

11. Theanine

L-Theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in tea.

It’s known to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Unlike prescription anti-anxiety medication, it does not cause sedation and drowsiness.

One study also found that theanine increases BDNF (58). 

My personal experience with theanine is that it mixes really well with caffeine. Coffee can make a lot of people jittery and unfocused. But theanine reduces that side effect. I still take it from time to time when I drink coffee. 

You can get it here.

 

12. Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogens are plants and herbs containing bioactive compounds that can support your brain.

They increase your resilience to physical and mental stress, calm you down, or increase your energy, depending on what your body needs.

Rhodiola is one of my favourite adaptogenic herbs, and it’s been shown to increase BDNF expression in the brain (59). 

I take this version of Rhodiola on a semi-regular basis to maintain my mood and energy, and I previously wrote about it here

Bacopa is another adaptogenic herb I take every so often.

It’s effective at improving memory and cognition, and reducing anxiety.

And research shows that bacopa increases BDNF in rats that are undergoing chronic stress (60).

Lastly, ginseng has been shown to prevent stress-induced decline of BDNF (61). 

I take ginseng daily to support my mood and cognition.

Rhodiola, bacopa and ginseng are the three main herbs I use to increase BDNF and support my brain function.

But there are several other herbs that have been shown to increase BDNF, including baicalin, ashwagandha, gotu kola, and magnolia officinalis (81-84).

 

13. Zinc

Supplementing with zinc can also increase your BDNF levels.

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

Several studies have shown that zinc has antidepressant effects because it causes a significant increase in BDNF levels and BDNF gene expression (76-79). 

But unfortunately, 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 (72, 73, 74).

If you struggle with depression or anxiety, you are likely deficient in zinc, and therefore likely to have depleted BDNF levels. 

I used to suffer from anxiety and depression, and increasing my intake of zinc is one of the most impactful actions I have taken to overcome them. You can read more about my research and experience with zinc here. 

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement every day so that my zinc levels are optimal.

 

14. Blueberries

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

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

Research shows that supplementing with the pure blueberry flavanols for 6 weeks, at levels similar to what is found in blueberries, significantly improves memory by increasing BDNF levels and BDNF expression (85). 

I buy wild blueberries every time I go grocery shopping. 

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

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

In fact, most researchers actually use a blueberry extract instead of actual blueberries when they study the beneficial health effects of blueberries.

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15. 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. 

Researchers have also found that it increases BDNF release (86).  

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. 

 

16. Dehydroepiandrosterone

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

It's also available as a supplement

DHEA is known to have neuroprotective effects and to improve memory and cognition. 

In one study, it increased acetylcholine and BDNF expression (87).  

You can get DHEA here.  

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

 

17. 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. 

Researchers have also found that it increases BDNF (89).  

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 point out that quercetin increases the absorption of resveratrol, so it’s a good idea to take them both together if you really want to increase BDNF (88).  

 

18. Coffee and Caffeine

Drinking coffee is another great way to increase BDNF levels.

Research shows that caffeine protects brain cells and lowers the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases

In one study, researchers found that caffeine significantly reduced age-related impairments in memory by increasing BDNF levels (90).  

This is why I drink one cup of this high-quality coffee every morning.  

Caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it later in the day. I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep.

 

19. Niacin

Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid or Vitamin B3, is an essential nutrient. 

Evidence suggests that niacin supplementation up-regulates the expression of BDNF (91).  

In one study, treatment with niacin significantly increased BDNF expression (92).  

Years ago, I took this niacin supplement after reading that it could help with addiction, withdrawal and energy. It did, but I don’t take it individually anymore. I now take this all-in-one B complex instead. 

 

20. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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

Oleuropein, a polyphenol found in olive oil, has been shown to induce autophagy and reduce cognitive impairment. As a result, many researchers propose that a diet with extra virgin olive oil might have potential benefits for Alzheimer’s patients.  

Researchers have found that it also increases BDNF in important areas of the brain (93-95).  

This is why I add olive oil to my salads and sometimes even just take a tablespoon of it straight.  

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

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

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

 

21. Taurine

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

It has a wide variety of health benefits.  

It can cross the blood-brain barrier and increases short-term memory by increasing BDNF expression (96).  

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

 

22. Saffron

Saffron is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus plant.  

It has a number of health benefits due to the medicinal compounds within it. 

Saffron is one of the best supplements for reducing depression

And researchers have found that it has antidepressant effects because it significantly increases BDNF levels (97).  

 

Lifestyle Habits, Therapies and Practices to Increase BDNF Levels in the Brain 

 

23. Exercise

Exercise is the fastest and most effective way to boost BDNF levels, and improve learning, memory and mood (1, 2, 3, 4). 

In just 5 weeks, mild-intensity exercise significantly increased BDNF levels and reversed cognitive decline in old rats (62). 

And it’s not just old brains that benefit from regular exercise. High-intensity exercise increases BDNF and improves memory in young sedentary men (63). 

You should choose a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently. 

I plan on discussing my exercise routine in more depth soon, but for now, this is the general gist of it:

•    Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week
•    High-intensity interval sprinting 1-2 times per week
•    Walk as much as you can (ideally 30-60 minutes every day)

Exercise has a number of benefits besides increasing BDNF. Many of the experts I’ve interviewed think it’s the most important thing you can do for your brain.

So you should try to exercise as much as you can. 

 

24. Sunlight

Exposing yourself to sunshine each day can also increase BDNF. 

One study found that BDNF increased in the summer and spring, and decreased in the fall and winter. They also found that participants with the lowest BDNF levels were more likely to be depressed, which likely explains why some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (5). 

I try to get 30 minutes every day during the spring and summer months here in Canada. 

On top of increasing BDNF, the sun also provides Vitamin D, which is very important for optimal brain and mental health. 

During the winter months, I use this Vitamin D lamp. Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement

 

25. Intermittent Fasting

A person holds a knife and fork over an empty plate. Intermittent fasting can increase BDNF levels.

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

I personally do not 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. 

That may sound ridiculous and shocking to you. But there are huge health benefits from doing this. 

One benefit is that it increases BDNF signalling, which can improve heart and brain health (7, 8). 

And studies show that limiting yourself to only 600 calories every other day boosts BDNF up to 400 per cent (9, 10).

You don’t necessarily need to be this extreme and fast for 16 hours like I usually do. Even a 12-hour fast shows some benefits (11).

All you need to do is avoid eating anything after dinner, and then eat a regular breakfast the next day. 

 

26. Avoid Processed Food and Refined Sugar

While some habits can raise BDNF, others can lower it.

Many studies suggest that if you eat processed food and sugar (The Standard American Diet), you'll have lower levels of BDNF and neurotransmitters, and impaired cognition (23, 24). 

Ideally, you should stick with the whole foods from my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health and you can be sure that you’re supporting optimal BDNF levels. 

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27. Lose Fat 

The fatter you are, the lower your BDNF levels will be.

Research shows that BDNF levels are lower in obese adults and children (26, 27, 28). 

This may be because overweight and obese individuals are less likely to eat healthy and exercise. 

Regardless, if you’re holding onto extra weight, it’d be best to lose it.

Your BDNF will increase as a result, which will lead to improved brain and mental health. 

One study showed that weight loss in obese men improved depressive symptoms by increasing BDNF levels, and females with higher levels of BDNF are in better shape and perform better on cognitive tests (29, 30). 

 

28. Socialize

Talk to people whenever you get the chance. If you suffer from anxiety, push yourself outside your comfort zone and try starting a conversation with a stranger – even if it’s just the cashier at the supermarket. 

Your brain will thank you. 

I'm an introvert, so I find this difficult. But I try to socialize as much as I can. 

Research has shown that a stimulating social environment increases BDNF and reduces depression and anxiety (34, 36). 

Women who are friendlier to strangers also have higher BDNF levels (35). 

 

29. Deep Sleep

A woman sleeping deeply. Deep sleep can increase BDNF levels.

Getting high-quality, deep sleep is critical for the health of your brain.

My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor mental health.  

Not surprisingly, sleep deprivation reduces BDNF (39). 

And it’s been shown that insomniacs have lower BDNF levels, and higher levels of BDNF are often a sign that a person is sleeping well (41, 42). 

Luckily, regular exercise can maintain BDNF levels when you’re not getting enough sleep (40). 

You should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

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

I'll be writing more about how to improve the quality of your sleep soon.

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

 

30. Reduce Stress (Neurofeedback/Meditation)

People who experience a lot of stress produce less BDNF, and both acute and chronic stress has been shown to significantly decrease existing BDNF levels (45-48). 

Stress can also ruin your sleep, which as I mentioned earlier, decreases BDNF (41).

As you can see, everything is connected. Ignoring one area of your health will often affect other areas.

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

The most effective way to significantly reduce stress and anxiety is neurofeedback. It’s advanced, guided meditation that you need to do with a qualified practitioner. I previously wrote about my experience with it here

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

I’m also a big fan of the Muse headband. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I’ve used the Muse for the past few months, and I've written an entire review about it. You can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

I often use this acupressure mat as well. Lying on it for just 10 minutes can relax your entire body and mind. I also use it before bed. It helps me fall asleep faster. 

Lastly, this anti-anxiety supplement includes several natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years. 

 

31. Ketogenic Diet

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body runs on fatty acids. This happens when there is limited access to glucose, the body’s main source of energy. Ketosis often results from following a very low-carb diet (49). 

To get into ketosis, you need to eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day, meaning you have to avoid grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit.

Picture of foods commonly part of a ketogenic diet, including salmon, red meat, coconut oil, olive oil and butter. A ketogenic diet and ketones have been shown to increase BDNF levels.

I don’t recommend following a low-carb ketogenic diet for long periods of time, unless you witness huge beneficial changes in your health.

However, going in and out of ketosis may have some beneficial effects on your brain. One study found that it can increase BDNF (50). 

Taking exogenous ketones can help you get into ketosis very quickly.

I take Optimal Ketones and they immediately increase my mental clarity, even when I'm eating plenty of carbohydrates. 

 

Conclusion

A picture of a brain.

As you can see, there are so many ways to increase your brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to promote healing and the growth of new brain cells

I’ve implemented and experimented with all these treatments with good results. My brain wouldn’t be as healthy today without them. 

It’s been tough to overcome my chronic depression, anxiety and concussion symptoms. I’m not going to act like it’s been very easy. But you (and your brain) can definitely grow stronger over time. 

If you liked this article, please share it with family and friends because there are still a lot of people who feel hopeless and aren’t aware that they can protect and heal their brains, and strengthen their mental health, without a doctor or prescription.

And let me know what you think in the comments. 

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

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