How to Protect Your Brain from Alcohol & Never Be Hungover

Picture of alcohol in front of brain.

Alcohol isn’t good for you.

Ideally, you should completely avoid it for optimal brain and mental health. 

But that’s in a perfect world. 

Alcohol is everywhere and social interactions often involve it. So you’re going to end up drinking it every now and then. And during big holidays or special occasions, you likely won’t stop at one drink. 

And I don’t blame you. 

There are times when I let loose and have a drink or two (or several). Life’s too short not to indulge once in a while. 

Fortunately, it’s possible to have a few drinks on occasion without completely destroying your brain and mental health. In fact, you can enjoy the buzz safely and wake up the next day feeling great.

So I’m going to share with you my comprehensive anti-alcohol regimen so that you can manage and fight back against the damaging effects of alcohol. 

I often go many months without having a sip of alcohol. But when I do imbibe, I follow the steps below.

These recommendations will:

  • Protect your brain while consuming alcohol

  • Decrease the chances that you'll wake up depressed, anxious and hungover

  • Help you recover if you do wake up feeling sub-optimal

  • Heal your brain after long-term alcohol abuse

The more steps that you take, the less likely you will wake up feeling physically and mentally sick. 

And as you’ll see, these recommendations are very good for your brain and mental health in general. If you don’t drink, implementing some of these strategies into your everyday life will help you overcome anxiety and depression.

The Most Important Steps For Protecting Your Brain From Alcohol and Avoiding a Hangover

1. Pick The Right Drinks

The type of alcohol you drink can make a huge difference in how you feel the next morning. 

Certain drinks are worse for your brain and increase your chance of waking up hungover and depressed. 

Based on my experience and research, here are some common forms of alcohol, from best to worst:

Man holding shot glass with vodka.
  • Vodka – best option

  • Gin

  • Rum

  • Dry cider

  • Dry white wine

  • Tequila

  • Whiskey

  • Regular white wine

  • Red wine

  • Cider with lots of sugar

  • Gluten-free beer

  • Regular beer – worst option

Highly filtered and distilled liquor such as vodka, gin and rum are your best options. And it’s best to drink them straight. Carbonation increases the absorption of alcohol, which may increase the chance of you experiencing a hangover the next day (7). 

Dry cider and dry white wine are also decent options, but not as optimal as filtered and distilled liquor.

I recommend you completely avoid or significantly limit sugary drinks and beer. Refined sugar and wheat in beer can activate the immune system and trigger inflammation, which can negatively affect your brain and make you feel mentally unstable and foggy (57, 58). 

Some alcoholic drinks also contain congeners, substances produced during fermentation. They are often found in dark alcoholic drinks, such as whiskey and tequila, and can also contribute to hangovers, making you feel suboptimal the next day. So you should try to stay away from those too (4). 

Glass of red wine.

Lastly, mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by mold that are capable of causing disease in humans. Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in wine and beer, and can make you feel sick if you’re sensitive to them. And some research shows that one type of mycotoxin, ochratoxin A, can cause brain damage (49, 50, 51, 52). 

After living in a moldy environment for over one year, I became extremely sensitive to seemingly healthy foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea and nuts. Eating low-quality versions of these foods give me asthma and make me feel mentally tired. I couldn’t figure it out why at first, but I’ve now confirmed that it’s the mycotoxins that are commonly found in cheap versions of these foods. 

Not everyone will be sensitive to them. But if you are, your hangover will be worse and your cognition will suffer the next day.

That’s why I don’t recommend red wine, as it often contains them. Red wine is also overrated. It does contain the beneficial antioxidant resveratrol but not very much. Red wine manufacturers love to make it seem like it has a lot, but that’s just a marketing gimmick. You would have to drink several bottles of red wine on a regular basis to consume enough resveratrol and get major health benefits. And by drinking that much alcohol, you’d be destroying your health anyway. So you’re better off just supplementing with resveratrol

If you decide to drink something other than straight liquor, I recommend you take activated charcoal along with each drink. You can get it here

2. Drink Lots of Water

Alcohol dehydrates your body. 

And the tissue around your brain is made up of water. So as you drink, and you lose water, the tissues around your brain start to shrink. This leads to pressure around your head that can contribute to headaches, fatigue and dizziness (5, 6).

That’s why you should hydrate heavily. Have one or two cups of water with each alcoholic drink, and lots of water before bed. 

Your brain will thank you for it. 

3. Liposomal Glutathione

Your body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, a highly-reactive compound that is actually much more toxic to your brain than alcohol itself.

Your liver enzymes and antioxidants try to detoxify and eliminate it, but they often cannot keep up, leading to common hangover symptoms (19).

But hangover symptoms can be prevented or significantly reduced if you help your body get rid of the acetaldehyde. 

This can be done by supporting your body's natural detoxification pathways.  

One way to do this is by increasing glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant. 

Man hungover in front of several bottles of alcohol.

Glutathione plays a key role in alcohol detoxification by “mopping up” acetaldehyde. And it's been shown that regular alcohol exposure depletes glutathione (47).

That’s why I recommend supplementing with liposomal glutathione before and after you drink alcohol. Doing so will guarantee you have enough of the antioxidant to protect your brain and prevent hangover symptoms. 

It’s important to note that most standard glutathione supplements get broken down by the your digestive tract and do not enter your bloodstream. So you’ll need to find a highly-absorbable form of glutathione

I take liposomal glutathione an hour before drinking, and in the morning to restore glutathione to healthy levels.  You can get it on Amazon.

4. N-Acetyl-Cysteine and Vitamin C

Another way you can increase gluathione is by taking Vitamin C and n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) together. 

NAC is the precursor to glutathione. It's been shown that it effectively produces and replenishes glutathione levels in our tissues, helping us fend off the consequences of alcohol consumption (23, 24).

In rats, it prevents alcohol toxicity and death by binding directly to acetaldehyde and blocking its damaging effects in the body and brain (25, 26). 

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

Along with NAC, Vitamin C plays a key role in the production of glutathione. Research shows that it also helps soak up acetaldehyde, and it is depleted by alcohol consumption (25, 36).

If you do just one thing to protect your brain from alcohol, it would be to take either glutathione, or NAC and Vitamin C.

NAC and Vitamin C are both included in the Optimal Antiox supplement. I take it before, during, and after I drink alcohol.

It’s important to note that taking glutathione, NAC and Vitamin C before or during alcohol consumption does not prevent you from getting drunk. It simply blocks alcohol toxicity and the irritable side effects that you may experience the next day. So technically, you can “have your cake and eat it too” when you follow these steps properly.

Lastly, NAC is excitotoxic. If you are deficient in Vitamin B6 or magnesium, you may experience headaches from taking too much NAC along with alcohol. Obviously we’re trying to avoid headaches, so if this happens to you, just stick with glutathione and Vitamin C. 

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5. Bioavailable Vitamin B1

Thiamine (vitamin B1) is an essential water-soluble vitamin.

Alcohol depletes Vitamin B1, and deficiency is common in regular drinkers. A lack of Vitamin B1 has been shown to damage brain cells and cause a variety of mental symptoms including lethargy, fatigue, apathy, impaired awareness, loss of equilibrium, disorientation, memory loss and anorexia, (37, 38, 39). 

NAC’s antioxidant effects are even more powerful when combined with Vitamin B1. In one study, NAC, Vitamin C and Vitamin B1 completely blocked a deadly dose of acetaldehyde in animals. None of the animals treated with these nutrients died (25, 34). 

The two bioavailable forms of vitamin B1 that I recommend to you are benfotiamine and sulbutiamine

Benfotiamine is the fat-soluble form of vitamin B1, and its absorption is approximately five times higher than regular thiamine (48). 

I recommend you take 300 mg of benfotiamine with each drink. You can get it through AmazonIt’s also available in some B complex supplements, like this one.

Sulbutiamine is a synthetic version of Vitamin B1, consisting of two thiamine molecules bound together. This allows vitamin B1 to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support the brain. I recommend you take 200 mg of sulbutiamine before you go to bed, and then another 200 mg when you wake up in the morning. You can get high-quality sulbutiamine here

I remember the first time I took sulbutiamine after years of regular drinking. It felt like a light was turned on in my brain. Everything was brighter and I had a lot more mental energy. It was as if my brain hadn’t fully recovered from chronic alcohol consumption. I suspect regular vitamin B1 wasn’t reaching my brain. 

6. Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that could possibly be even more protective than Vitamin C. It is fat soluble and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain (53, 54, 55).

ALA enhances the antioxidant power of glutathione, NAC and vitamin C and helps them clear acetaldehyde from your body (56).

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement, along with NAC and Vitamin C.

Combining ALA with Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) is even more powerful.

ALCAR is a neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing amino acid.

ALA and ALCAR are synergistic, meaning that when you take them together, they are more effective at protecting your brain.

They've been shown to prevent brain inflammation and neurotransmitter impairment caused by alcohol. They can also reverse brain damage and restore healthy brain function after drinking alcohol (55, 59, 60). 

Along with Optimal Antiox, I also take the Optimal Brain supplement before and after drinking. It includes 500 mg of ALCAR.  

7. Minerals

Alcohol depletes a number of minerals, particularly zinc, potassium and magnesium. 

That’s why I recommend taking a high-quality multi-mineral supplement after your last drink, before going to bed, and then again the next morning. 

Zinc and magnesium are especially important for brain and mental health, so you don’t want to be deficient in either of them. I take extra zinc and magnesium on top of my multimineral before bed. 

Magnesium is especially helpful, as it’s been shown to prevent and relieve headaches and improve sleep. Epson salt baths can provide your body with lots of magnesium (8). 

It’s also been shown that alcoholics are often deficient in zinc (and have too much copper) (28). 

Zinc deficiency may explain why alcoholics drink in the first place. As I’ve discussed before, zinc deficiency can contribute to social anxiety and generalized anxiety. And chronic drinkers often drink to manage their anxiety and stress. 

That’s why I would recommend a zinc supplement if you struggle with anxiety, stress or a drinking problem.

As a former anxious drinker, I find great relief in taking zinc. 

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Theanine

Theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in tea that has a number of health benefits (9, 40). 

It’s been shown to protect your brain from alcohol, as it blocks free radicals, counteracts the loss of glutathione, improves sleep, and accelerates the breakdown acetaldehyde – all of which contribute to the development of a hangover (12). 

It can also make you feel less drunk.

When researchers give theanine to mice, it significantly reduces blood levels of alcohol (12). So when you want to drink socially, but would rather not feel intoxicated, you should take theanine before consuming alcohol. 

Personally, I don’t want to block the buzz of alcohol. That’s why I take 200 mg of theanine just before going to bed, and then another 200 mg again in the morning when I wake up. Doing this will improve your sleep, help you sober up, and make you calmer and more stable the next morning. 

Theanine can also be found in green tea, but you would have to drink a lot to get the same amount that you would in supplement form. 

If you don’t want to experiment and take each supplement individually, I recommend taking this supplement called Vive. It includes many of the nutrients that I recommend throughout this article. I bought and tried Vive myself, and it works. It’s much more convenient than taking everything separately. I contacted Vive and got a discount code for readers. You can save 15% by using the code OPTIMAL15 at checkout.

Vive also have party packs where you actually get a complimentary vacation when you buy a lot of packets. If you go with one of the party packs, you can use the code OPTIMAL10 for a discount.

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Additional Steps To Protect Your Brain From Alcohol and Avoid a Hangover

Based on my research and self-experimentation, my previous recommendations are the most impactful steps you can take. 

However, here are some extra tips and recovery solutions for you to consider.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that mixes well with alcohol. 

It has anti-anxiety effects that are synergistic with alcohol, so you will need less of each to experience the relaxing effects of each (61). 

In my experience, ashwagandha is helpful when you want to be in a relaxed and socialble mood, but would rather limit your alcohol intake. I have a reduced urge to continue drinking alcohol when I take ashwagandha before drinking. And from what I’ve heard, there isn’t any negative interaction between them, and I only experience positive results mixing the two.

It’s also been shown to help relieve anxiety and depression during alcohol withdrawal. In one study, its anti-anxiety effects were comparable to diazepam, an anti-anxiety medication (62).

So when you experience anxiety and depression after drinking alcohol, I’d recommend taking ashwagandha the next morning. It definitely helps me manage and overcome any alcohol withdrawal much easier.

You can get high-quality ashwagandha here. Take a low dose before drinking alcohol or a larger dose the morning after drinking. 

S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e)

If you struggle from depression, you probably notice that alcohol makes you feel more depressed the day after.

I used to be convinced that I would need to avoid alcohol forever because every time I drank it, I would be very depressed for several days afterwards.

Man drinking alcohol.

This is likely because alcohol increases the amino acid homocysteine, and high levels of homocysteine have been associated with depression (2, 3). 

That’s why I take S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) after a night of drinking, as it helps lower homocysteine. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to lead to SAM-e deficiency (27). 

SAM-e also helps restore glutathione after you drink alcohol (29, 30). 

Even if you don’t drink, but struggle with depression, supplementing with SAM-E may really help you. I took it for a few months after coming off psychiatric medication, but no longer need to take it regularly. You can get it here.

Supplementing with trimethylglycine and B vitamins (folate and B12) also helps your body synthesize its own SAMe, similar to how NAC and vitamin C work together to produce glutathione. 

Taurine

Taurine is another amino acid that reduces the bad effects of alcohol on your brain. 

It’s been shown to prevent brain cell death, reduce lack of coordination, and decrease the urinary loss of certain minerals during alcohol use (31, 32, 33).

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

I recommend taking taurine before and after consuming alcohol.

B Vitamins

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, took B vitamins to manage his alcohol cravings

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, took B vitamins to manage his alcohol cravings

As I mentioned above, Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is the most important B vitamin to take when consuming alcohol.

But research shows that alcohol significantly depletes all the B vitamins, particularly vitamin B3, B6 and folate (2, 27). 

Vitamin B3 (niacin) is very beneficial for the brain of regular drinkers. Niacin deficiency often leads to a desire to drink alcohol, and drinking alcohol further depletes niacin in the body and brain. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), took niacin to remain sober and manage his cravings for alcohol. 

Alcohol has also been shown to deplete the body of folate and vitamin B6, which are critical nutrients involved in the production of GABA and serotonin (20, 64). 

I take this B complex before and after drinking alcohol. 

Pyritinol

As I just mentioned, alcohol depletes vitamin B6. 

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of Vitamin B6.

Similar to subutiamine, pyritinol is a special form of Vitamin B6 in which two Vitamin B6 molecules attached to each other. This allows Vitamin B6 to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support the brain. 

Taking it before, during and after alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce hangover symptoms by more than 50% (46).

I take 300 mg before and 300 mg after drinking. You can get it here

Krill Oil

I’ve talked about the many mental health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids before, and it appears they can protect your brain from alcohol exposure too.

When people are exposed to both alcohol and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, they experience less brain inflammation and brain cell death than people who simply drink alcohol alone. It appears that DHA mitigates oxidative damage in the brain that results from binge drinking (11).

I take this krill oil everyday. 

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Curcumin

I’ve also discussed curcumin lots before, as it has helped me overcome chronic depression and anxiety. It’s one of the best supplements you can take for your brain and mental health. 

And here’s another reason you might want to consider taking it – it can increase glutathione and prevent brain damage caused by alcohol (35). 

It’s also been shown to prevent brain inflammation, and reverse the negative biochemical and behavioural changes that result from previous alcohol consumption (1).

I take the Longvida form of curcumin every day anyway. But I try to take it immediately before having any alcohol because of its protective effects. You can get it here.

Silymarin (Milk Thistle)

Silymarin is the active compound found in milk thistle, a herb commonly used to improve liver health and protect the liver from alcohol and other drugs.

Milk thistle also has powerful antioxidant properties that have been shown to help prevent the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde (18, 45). 

I take it before a night out. You can get it through Amazon.

Garlic

Garlic contains the antioxidant s-allyl-cysteine, which neutralizes acetaldehyde. It’s also been shown to reduce oxidative stress and protect the nervous system (41, 42). 

Maybe this is why I always crave garlic shawarma at the end of a night out :) 

I haven’t tried supplementing with garlic extract for preventing hangovers, but I did take this garlic extract after moving out of my moldy house in 2011 and it made me feel better.  

Other Antioxidants

One of the best ways you can  the oxidative stress that results from alcohol consumption is to regularly consume enough antioxidants, especially leading up to a night out (21).

Some other protective antioxidants include CoQ10, quercetin, grape seed extract, Vitamin E, selenium and resveratrol. 

Mixture of berries.

Resveratrol is a very powerful antioxidant that can protect against alcohol’s toxic effects (13, 14, 15). 

Grape seed extract has also been shown to prevent the oxidative damage caused by alcohol (16, 17). 

Selenium levels tend to be lower in people who drink alcohol on a regular basis (22). 

And Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties that can prevent brain damage caused by alcohol. It’s often depleted in chronic drinkers (43, 44). 

And similar to statin drugs, alcohol has also been shown to deplete CoQ10 (63). 

I created and take the Optimal Antiox supplement before and after drinking, and it contains many of the antioxidants mentioned above.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is a potent natural treatment that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body. 

If you choose to drink wine or beer, you should take activated charcoal with each drink and once you’re done drinking. 

Activated charcoal can help bind and remove gluten and mycotoxins from your body, although it won’t catch them all. You’re definitely better off just avoiding drinks that contain them. 

The activated charcoal is also very good at protecting you from the congeners found in tequila and whiskey. 

I take this activated charcoal whenever I eat something that makes me sick. You can get it through Amazon. 

Conclusion

Clearly, there’s lots that can be done to protect your brain from alcohol. 

Even though your body and brain can be overwhelmed by alcohol, you can support yourself and reduce the damage by drinking the right alcohol, hydrating heavily, and supplementing with various antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Obviously it would be much easier to just avoid alcohol altogether. And that would definitely be optimal for your brain and mental health.

But if you do decide to drink, I’ve shared bunch of ideas here, and hopefully you find a good mix of preventative solutions that work for you. Self-experimentation is key.

But in my experience, the below interventions are the essentials. They work very well for me, mitigating damage and allowing me to wake up in the morning feeling great:

Woman smiling and clinking wine glasses with man.

If you don’t want to experiment and take each supplement individually, I recommend taking this supplement called Vive. It includes many of the nutrients that I recommend throughout this article. I bought and tried Vive myself, and it works. It’s much more convenient than taking everything separately. I contacted Vive and got a discount code for readers. You can save 15% by using the code OPTIMAL15 at checkout.

Vive also have party packs where you actually get a complimentary vacation when you buy a lot of packets. If you go with one of the party packs, you can use the code OPTIMAL10 for a discount.

Lastly, it’s important to consider your current level of health. If you’re an alcoholic, on medication, or struggle with severe mental health issues, you should focus on dealing and overcoming those issues first. Otherwise, alcohol will make everything worse. After you heal your body and brain, you should be able to tolerate it just fine.

Alcohol used to be a complete no-no for me, but I can now handle it just fine because I'm healthy. Yet, funny enough, now that I experience optimal brain and mental health, I actually don’t even feel the need to drink alcohol like I used to. 

Overall, I hope you found this useful. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Do you drink? What do you do to protect yourself or avoid a hangover? Have I missed anything?

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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5 Ways to Increase Your Good Gut Bacteria For A Healthier Brain

Picture of Hippocrates with his quote “All Disease Begins in the Gut!”

My brain totally broke in 2010 and I felt like I had developed ADHD, depression, and dementia all at once. By scouring the literature, interviewing and consulting with doctors and researchers, and experimenting with my own body and mind, I finally came to understand that it wasn’t just one thing that had caused my brain and body to break, but the accumulation of many things. 

One of my main problems: I had an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in my digestive system. 

There are approximately 100 trillion microorganisms and 500 known bacterial species living in our guts. That means there is 10 times more bacteria cells in our bodies than human cells and over 90% of our cells are non-human. Simply put, we are more bacterial than we are human (1, 2).

Gut bacteria affect our nervous, hormonal and immune systems and play a key role in countless bodily functions, including the digestion of food and production of vitamins. So not surprisingly, the makeup of these bacteria in our system can affect how we feel physically and mentally. 

But our modern lifestyle isn’t good for our gut bacteria. Stress, bad diet and medications can reduce probiotic (good) bacteria and increase bad bacteria in our digestive tract. A lot of people today have out-of-balance and dysregulated gut bacteria. So if we want to regain optimal brain health, it’s critical to restore and support the “good germs” in our gut.

In this post, I’ll show you how to increase your good bacteria and reduce your bad bacteria like I did, so that you’ll improve the health of your brain and experience more mental resilience. 

Image of the gut and the brain - Can this influence this?

What the Cutting-Edge Research Says: You Need Healthy Gut Bacteria to Have a Healthy Brain

Impressive new research shows that there is a connection between our brain and our digestive tract, and that the bacteria in our gut can have a profound influence on our behaviour, thoughts and mood.

There’s evidence that healthy gut bacteria produce and regulate the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain (such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA), which can affect mood, pain and cognition (50-52). 

Dr. Stephen Collins, a gastroenterology researcher at McMaster University, has done a lot of research in the field and discovered that unhealthy gut bacteria play a key role in causing abnormal behaviour (including anxiety and depression), while certain strains of good bacteria can reduce stress hormones and anxious behavior. 

In one study, Collins took the gut bacteria of mice that were prone to anxious behaviour and transplanted it into calm mice. After the transplant, the calm mice started acting nervously. He has also seen the same results with humans (28 – 35). 

It’s increasingly clear that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, can communicate with the human brain.
— Dr. Kathy Magnusson, PhD, Oregan State University

Studies by Dr. John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and microbiome expert at the University College Cork, shows that gut bacteria can alter brain chemistry.  

He found that after eliminating their good bacteria, mice act in ways that mimic human anxiety, depression and autism. And in one of his studies, two strains of bacteria were more effective than an antidepressant at treating anxiety and depression (36 – 42). 

Lastly, research has found that mice with autistic-like behaviour have much lower levels of a common type of bacteria called “Bacteroides Fragilis” than normal mice. They were stressed, antisocial, and had the same digestive problems often found in autism. And when they were fed “Bacteroides Fragilis”, there was a reversal in their autistic symptoms. They became less anxious, communicated more effectively, and showed less repetitive behavior (43, 44). 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A growing number of scientists and practitioners around the world are researching and speaking out about this, explaining that the gut-brain connection can be hacked to treat psychiatric disorders. 

So without further ado, here are five powerful ways to nurture your good bacteria and eliminate the bad bacteria in your gut. By following these steps, you’ll feel stronger both mentally and physically.  

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1. Take A High-Quality Probiotic

Simply increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut through probiotic supplementation might be one of the most powerful things you can do for your brain and mental health. 

Probiotic supplements add good germs to your digestive system, and providing your body with a diverse array of friendly bacteria can significantly reduce your susceptibility to the negative effects of stress. Researchers have found that mice are less anxious when they are fed probiotics, and numerous studies have shown that humans experience less stress, anxiety, rumination, hostility, depression and aggression when supplementing with probiotics (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). 

Researchers are starting to uncover how probiotics work to support the brain. One study showed that probiotics can help you naturally produce more GABA, a relaxing amino acid and neurotransmitter. Amazingly, this same study showed that probiotics not only help your body produce more GABA, but they enhance the sensitivity of the GABA receptors in your brain, making you more susceptible to calming effects of your natural GABA production (8, 53). On the other hand, if you go to the doctor for anxiety, you’ll likely receive anti-anxiety medication, which works by activating GABA receptors in the brain. 

Other species of probiotics have demonstrated an ability to reduce stress hormones and increase tryptophan, serotonin and omega-3 fatty acids in the brain, all of which play a role in proper mood and cognition (54, 55). So it’s critical to keep your insides flourishing with a healthy colony of good bacteria.

These bacteria could eventually be used the way we now use Prozac or Valium. I think these microbes will have a real effect on how we treat these disorders. This is a whole new way to modulate brain function.
— Dr. John F. Cryan, PhD, University College Cork

I’ve tried a number of different probiotics over the years. Some have helped me somewhat, while others haven’t helped me at all and even made me feel worse.

I’ve now created my own probiotic supplement, called Optimal Biotics.

I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best probiotic supplement so that they can experience superior results.

I have found that many probiotic supplements on the market fall short and even cause side effects.

But Optimal Biotics doesn't, and it contains the 8 most well-researched and beneficial probiotic strains.

2. Avoid antibiotics (unless absolutely necessary)

Seven years ago, I went to the doctor because my asthma was getting significantly worse. A lot of inflammation and phlegm was building up in my lungs. It felt like I was breathing through a straw all of the time. 

The doctor incorrectly assumed I had a bacterial infection (I actually had gluten and dairy allergies), so he gave me a course of antibiotics. And then another course. And then another. They did anything. 

Broad-spectrum antibiotics don’t differentiate between good and bad bacteria. These drugs not only kill bad bacteria, but they destroy good bacteria too. By the time I was done all three courses of antibiotics, a lot of the good bacteria in my gut was completely wiped out. And not only did my asthma get worse (and my body less able to handle the gluten and dairy I was eating), but my mental health deteriorated as well. 

Moral of the story: Antibiotics can save lives, but they can also destroy your health if they aren’t completely necessary. Yet many conventional doctors hand them out like candy on Halloween. 

In most cases, those who suffer from mental health disorders like depression and schizophrenia, and from developmental disorders like autism, something has harmed the beneficial bacteria in their gut, sometimes before birth and sometimes later on in life.
— Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, Author of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet

Studies show that antibiotic use can lead to profound changes and rapid loss of diversity in the composition of the gut bacteria and this can lead to other chronic health complications. American children are typically prescribed one course of antibiotics every year, and excessive and inappropriate use can cause serious long-term consequences without probiotic intervention. For example, antibiotics used to treat acne are associated with the development of inflammatory bowel disease (12, 13, 16, 17). 

An article published in Nature highlights the negative long-term consequences of antibiotic over-prescription. It points out that antibiotics cause significant and possibly permanent changes in gut bacteria, and infants delivered via caesarean section and/or by a mother given antibiotics during pregnancy significantly will have an insufficient level of good bacteria (14, 15). 

I don’t want to suggest that antibiotics are absolutely terrible and we should always avoid them. But they are excessively and inappropriately prescribed and their benefits come at a cost. You should be aware of this so you can make an informed choice. If you do decide to take antibiotics, make sure you take probiotics afterwards. 

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3. Feed the good guys with prebiotics and resistant starch

The existing probiotics in our gut need to be nourished and supported, and this can be done by eating or supplementing with prebiotics. 

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. They are essentially food for the good bacteria in our intestines. 

Dr. Phil Burnet, a neurobiologist at Oxford University, published a paper in 2015 showing that people who ingested prebiotics have lower levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, and focused more on positive feedback and less on negative stimuli. He said the results were very similar to when people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but without the side effects.

Other research by Burnet shows that prebiotics support overall brain health in humans and foster the growth of probiotics in mice, which leads to increased levels of several neurotransmitters that reduced anxiety-like behaviour (19, 20, 21, 22). 

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 be eating them regularly. If you feed the good bacteria, you will feel healthier physically and mentally.

Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake, and it’s been shown to help prevent and manage chronic disease (18). 

A convenient way to incorporate more resistant starch into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. I’ve tried and recommend it. 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. 

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

Image of candy in a bowl and candy in an injectable needle

4. Don't feed the bad guys with sugar

Avoiding sugar is a critical aspect of preventing and treating brain and mental health challenges. Not only does high sugar consumption increase inflammation, but sugar is fuel for bad bacteria. Significantly limiting your sugar intake will starve the bad bacteria and allow the probiotic bacteria in your gut to thrive. 

Diets high in sugar cause negative changes in gut bacteria that impair “cognitive flexibility”, which is the ability to adapt to changing situations. Sugar can also impair short and long-term memory (23). 

In his book The Sugar Blues, William Duffy argues that sugar is an addictive drug and eliminating it can have a profoundly beneficial impact on mental health. For some people, cutting out refined sugar may be all they need to do to overcome their depression and other mental health challenges. 

When I first cut out sugar several years ago, I actually went through withdrawal. I was incredibly tired, had increased anxiety and depression, and was sweating profusely at work. This makes sense in light of the research showing that people who drink more sweetened beverages are more likely to suffer from depression (24). My boss at the time thought I was sick, so he actually sent me home for the day. Eventually, I overcame the withdrawal and my mood and energy improved significantly. 

So radically reducing your sugar intake will support your gut bacteria, brain chemistry and overall health. 

5. Eat whole, probiotic-rich foods

Overall, you should also be eating a wide-variety of whole foods to support your gut health. Eating a standard Western diet for just one day can dramatically change your gut bacteria in a bad way, while eating lots of whole foods increases the diversity of good bacteria (45, 46, 47). 

Bowl of fermented vegetables

If you haven’t already, grab my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health for a full-list of healthy whole foods. 

And probiotics don’t just need to come in supplement form. You can also experiment with incorporating probiotic foods into your diet. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, natto and pickled cucumbers. The probiotic bacteria in these foods cause their fermentation. If you can tolerate dairy, foods like kefir and yogurt (unsweetened) are also high in nourishing bacteria. 

By eating them, you’re promoting the proliferation of good bacteria in your gut, which will then support your brain. One study suggests that young adults experience less social anxiety if they eat fermented food, and another study shows that yogurt eaters experience positive changes in brain function that cause them to react more calmly to visual stimuli (25, 26).

This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.
— Dr. Emeran Mayer, MD, Psychiatrist at UCLA

Probiotic foods tend to have a broad combination of bacteria too – more than what can be found in typical probiotic supplements. And people have been fermenting food for more than 8,000 years, yet most of us stopped after the invention of the refrigerator, which may explain the decreased diversity of good bacteria in our digestive tracts today. 

Conclusion

Promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria through positive lifestyle choices can make our brains feel great and function optimally. Too much bad bacteria can make you feel mentally weak, tired and ill, and you may even see changes in your personality. I know I did.  

Bacteria have lived inside humans for hundreds of thousands of years and therefore have lots of experience modifying our brains. They are more precise and subtle than pharmaceuticals, meaning means fewer side effects. As a result, changing the composition of our gut bacteria through lifestyle and dietary interventions is emerging as a very effective and practical way to treat anxiety, depression, autism and other mental health disorders (27, 48, 49).

So in conclusion, support and feed the good bacteria with:

And starve and fight off the bad bacteria in your gut by avoiding:

  • Sugar

  • Antibiotics

By taking these steps, your gut, body and brain will become stronger and more resilient over time.

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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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://gutpathogens.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-4749-3-1

(2) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150414083718.htm

(3) http://gutpathogens.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-4749-3-1

(4) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150414083718.htm

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3179073/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25449699

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25862297

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

 (9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16117982

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17692729

(12) http://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/v105/n12/full/ajg2010303a.html

(13) http://www.pnas.org/content/108/Supplement_1/4554.full.pdf#page=1&view=FitH

(14) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/476393a.html

(15) http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v7/n12/full/nrmicro2245.html

(16) http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/3/319.abstract

(17) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19018661

(18) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24228189

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136/

(20) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26476141

(21) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24144322

(22) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858812/

(23) https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/55795/MagnussonKathyBiomedicalSciencesRelationshipsBetweenDietRelatedChanges.pdf?sequence=1

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990543/

(25) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150609092803.htm

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839572/

(27) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415497

(28) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150728110734.htm

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23845749

(30) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24997039

(31) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181531/

(32) http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150728/ncomms8735/full/ncomms8735.html

(33) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988661

(34) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20600016

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683077

(36) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251188

(37) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20696216

(38) http://www.pnas.org/content/108/38/16050

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22968153

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21303428

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22483040

(42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26372511

(43) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897394/

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24315484?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg

(45) http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/1/6/6ra14.long

(46) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v518/n7540_supp/full/518S14a.html

(47) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24939238

(48) http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v13/n10/full/nrn3346.html

(49) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gbb.12109/abstract;jsessionid=F9A259194D111B1544816067055A05B7.f04t02

(50) http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1003726

(51) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432814004768

(52) http://www.pnas.org/content/108/38/16050.long

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(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23686721

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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How to Support Your Mitochondria for Better Brain Health

Picture of several mitochondria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods

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

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

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

Dr. Terry Wahls standing in front of her wheelchair.

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid Certain Foods and Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat More Essential Fats

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

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

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

Exercise

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

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

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

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Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I use these two devices :

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

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

You can learn more about LLLT in this post

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

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

Resveratrol

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

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

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

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

Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting

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

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

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

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

That’s why I intermittent fast instead. 

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

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

Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)

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

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

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

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

LLLT also increases NADH in your mitochondria. 

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Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. 

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

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

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

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

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

Exogenous ketones can help you get into ketosis quickly.

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

B Vitamins

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

Deficiency is more likely if you take certain medications

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

Ribose

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

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

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

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

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, chronic oxidative stress and medications can further deplete CoQ10

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

I took this CoQ10 supplement after coming off psychiatric medication

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

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

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

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can get it here

It's also included in this supplement

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

Magnesium

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

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

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

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Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR) and Alpha Lipoic Acid

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

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

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

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

Scientific representation of brain and brain blood flow.

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

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

Picture of mitochondrion, the energy producer of brain cells.

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

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

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

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD

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