How to Actually Heal and Repair a Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier

Blood-brain barrier leakage means that the brain has lost its protective means, the stability of brain cells is disrupted and the environment in which nerve cells interact becomes ill-conditioned. These mechanisms could eventually lead to dysfunction in the brain.
— Dr. Walter H. Backes, Maastricht University Medical Center
A leaky brain leaking water.

A healthy, properly-functioning blood-brain barrier is absolutely critical for optimal brain and mental health.

The blood-brain barrier is a protective shield that surrounds your brain.

It acts as a gatekeeper and filter, allowing beneficial nutrients to cross over into your brain, and keeping unwanted molecules out of your brain.  

But in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working, Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains that the blood-brain barrier can break down and become “leaky”.

This allows harmful substances to enter your brain, contributing to brain inflammation, which has been shown to cause cognitive problems and mental illness (92, 110-111).

Hyper-permeability of the blood-brain barrier and neuroinflammation have been linked to a number of different brain and mental health problems and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, brain fog, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia (101-109). 

A number of factors contribute to “leaky brain”, including (93-100):

A leaky brain leaking.

Needless to say, these things are very common today, so a lot of people likely have a leaky blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that even though the blood-brain barrier can break down and become leaky, it can also be fixed!

You can repair it if you give it what it needs to heal. 

After living in a moldy home and suffering multiple concussions, my brain and its barrier were in rough shape.

Since then, I’ve searched far and wide for solutions that could strengthen it.

Here are 23 strategies that have been shown to support and repair the blood brain barrier.

Many of them have helped me.

Together, they can help you reduce neuroinflammation, heal your “leaky brain,” and overcome your brain and mental health challenges. 

 

1. Avoid Gluten

Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.

I’m convinced that if you struggle with a chronic brain or mental illness, you should follow a strict gluten-free diet for at least 30 days and see how you feel.

You'll likely feel better.

Man with headache and inflammation in the brain because of gluten.

There’s one main reason I recommend this…

Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.

Zonulin is a protein in your body that increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier and disrupts the blood-brain barrier (48).

Researchers have found that gluten clearly increases zonulin and contributes to “leaky gut” and “leaky brain”, resulting in neuroinflammation and altered cognitive function (49, 50).

Gluten sensitivity can also create visible changes to the white matter in your brain, according to research in The Lancet Neurology (51).

Yet unfortunately, the myth continues to spread that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing food.

That’s simply not true.  

Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain and Brain Maker, explains:

Not only is there increased gut permeability when the gut is exposed to gliadin, a protein found in gluten, but in fact the blood brain barrier also becomes more permeable in response to gliadin exposure.

You should also determine if you have other food sensitivities and remove those foods from your diet as well. A lot of people are sensitive to dairy, along with gluten. I can't tolerate gluten, dairy and egg whites and have to avoid them completely. 

 

2. Heal Your Gut (and Increase the Good Bacteria Within It)

There is a clear connection between your brain and digestive system.

I’ve discussed this before.

Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.

Because of this connection, it’s critical to address gut issues in order to heal a leaky brain.

Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.

“Germ-free” mice means that the mice don’t have any bacteria in their intestines.

And what did the researchers find?

They found that these germ-free mice had very leaky blood-brain barriers (56).

But when these germ-free mice received a fecal transfer, where researchers introduced bacteria into their intestines, the permeability of their blood-brain barriers decreased significantly (57).

So it’s becoming increasing clear that our gut bacteria directly affect the health of our blood-brain barrier.

And manipulating your gut bacteria, and increasing the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system, can help improve the integrity of your blood-brain barrier and heal your leaky brain. 

Given that the microbiome composition and diversity change over time, it is tempting to speculate that the blood-brain barrier integrity also may fluctuate depending on the microbiome.
— Dr. Sven Pettersson, MD, PhD

In my experience, this is true, as my brain functions much better when I take care of my gut. 

Eating more prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, taking a high-quality probiotic, and eating fermented foods on a regular basis can increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut.

I take Optimal Biotics every day.

You should check out my previous article about gut health to learn more.

And if you have depression or anxiety, taking these probiotics can help.

 

3. Drink Coffee

Coffee and caffeine are excellent for brain health. There is lots of research showing they are very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

One possible explanation for this is that caffeine supports the blood-brain barrier.

Studies show that caffeine protects against Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease by keeping the blood-brain barrier intact, and protecting against blood-brain barrier dysfunction and leakage (32).

In one study, researchers found that caffeine blocks the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, concluding that caffeine is “useful in the treatment Alzheimer's disease” (33, 34).

Another study showed that caffeine can protect against Parkinson’s disease and neurodegeneration by stabilizing the blood-brain barrier (35).

I used to not be able to handle any coffee and caffeine at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of this coffee most mornings.

Coffee and 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.

It's also important to note that some people simply can’t tolerate coffee. This is because most coffee contains low levels of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

After living in a moldy home for more than one year, I’m extremely sensitive to mold and mycotoxins. Kicking Horse Kickass coffee and Bulletproof coffee are the only two coffees I have found so far that don’t make me feel sick. I can also tolerate pure caffeine tablets.

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine. But if coffee makes you feel terrible and jittery, it might be the quality of the coffee. Consider trying one of the two coffees above, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee. 

Lastly, there are additional brain health benefits when you consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just coffee or pure caffeine. 

Usually, coffee beans are extracted from the whole coffee fruit for roasting. And then the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

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

And researchers have now discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.

That’s why I included coffee fruit concentrate in the Optimal Brain supplement

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4. Sulforaphane

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cabbages.

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

It’s quite similar to curcumin.

Numerous studies have shown that sulforaphane can prevent the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, reduce permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and improve cognitive function after stroke and traumatic brain injuries (87-91).

You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.

If you decide to take it as a supplement, make sure you get the "myrosinase-activated" form.

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

I once bought a supplement that didn't contain myrosinase and had to return it, and then ended up buying this one instead.

 

5. Avoid Alcohol

Glass of alcohol. Alcohol disrupts the blood-brain barrier.

Not surprisingly, alcohol and acetaldehyde – a byproduct of alcohol metabolism – can weaken and damage the blood-brain barrier, and contribute to leaky brain.  

Researchers have found that the oxidative stress that results from excess alcohol consumption leads to blood-brain barrier dysfunction (58, 59).

And this can then lead to neuro-inflammation (60).

There are ways to protect your brain from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to heal.

Some types of alcohol are better than others. You can learn more about the best types of alcohol here

 

 6. Resveratrol or Pterostilbene

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

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

And scientists are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF and support your mitochondria.

And according to cutting-edge research, it can also protect and support your blood-brain barrier.

In a recent study, researchers gave resveratrol to Alzheimer’s patients and it restored the integrity of their blood-brain barriers.

Because of this, there was a reduction in brain inflammation, which slowed down cognitive decline in the patients (38, 39). 

Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:

  • Significantly reduces the breakage, damage and dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and

  • Improves and maintains the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (36-37, 40-43).

Resveratrol imposes a kind of crowd control at the border of the brain. The agent seems to shut out unwanted immune molecules that can exacerbate brain inflammation and kill neurons.
— Dr. Charbel Moussa, MD, PhD

Because of resveratrol’s ability to stabilize the blood-brain barrier and protect against neuroinflammation, researchers also believe it may reduce the clinical severity of multiple sclerosis (44).

Lastly, resveratrol has been shown to protects against oxidized LDL-induced breakage of the blood–brain barrier (45, 46).

So clearly resveratrol is great for our blood-brain barriers.

If resveratrol was a pharaceutical drug, we would definitely be hearing more about it. But natural compounds cannot be patented, so we don't.  

I regularly supplement with this resveratrol. You can get it here or here

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol.

It’s also been shown to protect the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress, and it’s apparently better absorbed than resveratrol. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as a “better resveratrol” (47).

I tried this pterostilbene and it was beneficial, but I didn’t find it any more helpful than resveratrol, so I’ve decided to just stick with resveratrol considering it has significantly more research to back it up. 

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7. Reduce Stress

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

Research suggests that acute stress damages the blood-brain barrier (52).

And extreme stress has been shown to increase inflammation and increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (53-55).

But normalizing your stress levels can help the blood-brain barrier repair itself.

Person holding stress ball. Reducing stress can help repair the blood-brain barrier.

The most effective way to significantly reduce your stress and anxiety is neurofeedback. It’s advanced, guided meditation and 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 a big fan of the Muse headband. It’s a device that guides you while you meditation. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I wrote an entire review about it here, and you can get the device through Amazon or the Muse website

Regular massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat have helped me a lot as well.

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

Some nutrients and herbs that can help you with stress include zinc, magnesium, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine.

This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress over the years.

 

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. So you need to get them from diet or supplements, as they are absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

Omega-3 fatty acids can support your mitochondria, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can: 

  • Reduce damage to the blood-brain barrier after stoke;

  • Limit blood-brain barrier disruption after traumatic brain injury; and

  • Benefit people with multiple sclerosis by indirectly reducing disruption of their blood-brain barriers (76-78).

Wild fish is the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids, but unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one

Krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a powerful, naturally occurring carotenoid.

Astaxanthin has also been shown to decreases inflammation and protect the blood-brain barrier (118-119).

 

9. Sleep and Melatonin

Deep sleep is necessary for the optimal functioning of your blood-brain barrier.

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

Sleep restriction has been shown to impair the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and increase its permeability (84).

Young child sleeping in bed. Sleep can help fix the blood-brain barrier when it becomes leaky.

So you should really try to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night.

Supplementing with melatonin can also help.

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm).

Adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Research also shows that melatonin can stabilize the blood-brain barrier and prevent damage caused by traumatic brain injury (85, 86).

Besides taking melatonin, here are some other steps you can take to maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:

You can also take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin.

 

10. Berberine

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants. 

It has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and possibly antidepressant effects. It can also improve intestinal health and lower cholesterol.

And several studies have shown that it can decrease the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and reduce brain damage after traumatic brain injury. It does this by suppressing inflammation (23-26). 

I’ve experimented with varying dosages of this berberine. I personally didn’t notice any profound brain and mental health benefits, but I have heard good things about berberine from other people. 

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11. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t even aware that mold is in their home or workplace and affecting their brain function.

In water-damaged buildings, mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold) are released into the air.

If you’re genetically susceptible, they can wreak havoc on your brain, and your cognitive function and mental health can deteriorate for no apparent reason.

One way mold and mycotoxins can disrupt brain function is by causing “leaky brain.”

Researchers have discovered that mycotoxins can clearly reduce the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (62).

They’ve also concluded that exposure to mycotoxins in an indoor environment can cause neurological damage. One way it does this is by breaking down the blood-brain barrier (61).

Moldy roof. Mold can damage the blood-brain barrier and make it permeable and leaky.

Several other studies have found that mycotoxins increase the permeability of blood-brain barrier and disrupt the functioning of the nervous system (63-66).

I lived in a moldy house for more than a year, and my blood-brain barrier likely became significantly leaky during that time, as my brain and mental health deteriorated. I also suffered a terrible concussion while living in that house, making my brain even more permeable. It took a while to get back to normal.

Today I use this air filter in my apartment to protect myself from any mold. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Mycotoxins aren’t just in your environment though. Low amounts of mycotoxins are also often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

If I'm exposed to mold or their toxins, I supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay. Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body.

 

12. B Vitamins

Several B vitamins have been shown to support the blood-brain barrier and help heal leaky brain.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency disrupts the blood-brain barrier, and supplementing with Vitamin B1 restores its integrity (80-81).

Researchers have also found that vitamins B12, B6, and B9 (folate) can restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in adults that have elevated homocysteine levels and mild cognitive impairment. Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound that can contribute to blood-brain barrier breakdown at high levels, and the B vitamins normalize homocysteine levels (82-83).

I take this B complex regularly. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12 and methylfolate.

 

13. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a key role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

It impacts your neurotransmitters and hormones, both of which can significantly impact your mood and brain function.

Magnesium is one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, because most people are deficient nowadays.

Research shows that it can support your mitochondria, protect your brain from alcohol, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

And there is plenty of research showing that it can protect and support your blood-brain barrier as well.

Magnesium and magnesium rich foods. Magnesium can help the blood-brain barrier heal.

Multiple studies have found that magnesium protects the blood-brain barrier, prevents its disruption, and significantly reduces hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier (27, 28, 31).

One study found that it decreases blood-brain barrier permeability by 41% (29).

Magnesium’s protective effect against blood-brain barrier hyperpermeability has also been seen after traumatic brain injury (30).

Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

But supplementation and taking Epsom salt baths is still necessary for most people because magnesium is rapidly used up during times of stress and certain psychiatric drugs can deplete magnesium.

I take this magnesium supplement

 

14. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant produced by your body.

It can also be taken as a supplement.

ALA is fat soluble and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain (1-3).

Human brain and blood flow.

As I’ve discussed before, it can protect your brain from alcohol and support the mitochondria in your brain.

But not only can it cross your blood-brain barrier and support your brain; it can also support your blood-brain barrier itself.

Studies show that ALA has neuroprotective effects, and it maintains the integrity of the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress (4-5)

Researchers also point out that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects can stabilize the blood-brain barrier. This makes it an “attractive therapeutic agent for the treatment” of multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury (6-8).

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

 

15. Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR)

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

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

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

It does so much, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that ALCAR helps repair the blood-brain barrier by reversing mitochondria decay caused by oxidative damage (122).

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

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

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16. Curcumin

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

Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds for the brain. It can lower your cortisol levels and increase your BDNF levels.

Turmeric spice. Curcumin is a compound in turmeric that can reduce inflammation and support the blood-brain barrier.

But it can also:

  • Reduce the disruption and hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and

  • Improve the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (13-18).

Studies have also shown that curcumin can prevent blood-brain barrier damage and reduce the permeability of the blood-brain barrier caused by oxygen and glucose deprivation (20-22).

Researchers believe it can do all of this because it significantly reduces inflammation and oxidative stress (19).

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin

 

17. Vitamin D

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

Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system.

This means your entire body needs it to function properly and a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.

Researchers have found that Vitamin D can prevent the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, mainly by reducing inflammation (72, 73).

In patients with multiple sclerosis, Vitamin D has been shown to protect endothelial cells and reduce blood-brain barrier disruption (74).

And one study found that intranasal administration of vitamin D reduces blood–brain barrier disruption (75).

I personally use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my Vitamin D levels are optimal.

 

18. Citicoline or Alpha GPC

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

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

As I’ve discussed before, it can help you overcome brain fog and addiction.

But it’s also been shown to significantly decrease the disruption and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier after traumatic brain injury (11-12).

And after brain ischemia, Citicoline significantly reduces blood-brain barrier dysfunction (10).

I personally take Citicoline every day.

It helps me a lot because I’ve had multiple concussions. 

Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to support the blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that it improves cognitive function by reversing the changes to the blood-brain barrier after a brain injury (9).

You can find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but both Citicoline and Alpha GPC have much more noticeable and immediate effects.  

Both citicoline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Egg yolks. Egg yolks contain choline, which can help repair a leaky blood-brain barrier.
 

19. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

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

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

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

One way that radiofrequency EMFs may be causing neuropsychiatric effects is by contributing to a "leaky brain".  

Several studies have found that EMFs emitted from cellphones increase the permeability of the brain-blood barrier, and this increased permeability may lead to the accumulation of brain tissue damage and cognitive impairment (112-114). 

I encourage you to check out my other post about EMFs here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20. Lower Homocysteine

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body as a result of methylation.

In healthy people, it’s properly metabolized and normal levels are maintained. 

But when homocysteine isn’t properly metabolized, it can build up inside the body and levels can become too high.

And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy. 

At high levels, homocysteine is inflammatory, and research shows it increases permeability of the blood-brain barrier (115).

If you test and find out your levels are high, check out this article for 16 ways to lower your homocysteine levels.

Normalizing homocysteine not only helps the brain recover from physical damage, but also reduces depression and cognitive decline.

 

21. 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 has found that progesterone supports the normal development of brain cells and protects them from damage

And one study shows that it reduces inflammation and can support the blood-brain barrier after brain injury (120).

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. 

 

22. Increase Brain Blood Flow

Brain blood flow, or cerebral blood flow, refers to the blood supply that reaches your brain during a given period of time. 

Your brain needs almost 20% of the blood supply provided by each heartbeat.

A steady flow of blood brings oxygen, glucose and nutrients to the brain, and carries carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other metabolic waste products away from the brain.

But when blood flow to the brain is impaired, problems can arise, including a leaky blood-brain barrier.

Research shows that lack of brain blood flow increases oxidative stress, damages the blood-brain barrier, and increases blood-brain barrier permeability (116-117).

Be sure to check out this post for 21 ways to increase blood flow to the brain.

 

23. Other Nutrients, Antioxidants and Herbs

Here are several other nutrients, antioxidants and herbs that have been demonstrated to support the blood-brain barrier.

I’ve decided to not write about these in-depth because there isn’t as much research to back them up.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful though. They have still helped me: 

The brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and this includes the barrier that protects it.

The above steps have been proven to help repair and support the blood brain barrier, and I’ve noticed the benefits of implementing them into my own life.

I hope they help you too!

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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References

(1) http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/96legacy/releases.96/14316.html

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11854488

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11854529

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8958163

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19823933

(6) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26240443_The_protective_effect_of_alpha_lipoic_acid_against_traumatic_brain_injury_in_rats

(7) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6898853_Lipoic_Acid_Affects_Cellular_Migration_into_the_Central_Nervous_System_and_Stabilizes_Blood-Brain_Barrier_Integrity

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16888025

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25714975

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10561698

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12691414

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10701532

(13) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022480416303638

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26686249

(15) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307999386_Curcumin_attenuates_blood-brain_barrier_disruption_after_subarachnoid_hemorrhage_in_mice

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23494637

(17) http://www.fasebj.org/content/28/1_Supplement/1120.9

(18) http://search.bvsalud.org/ghl/resource/en/wpro-668812

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26708209

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17303117

(21) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12031-013-9989-4

(22) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23494637

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20976070

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25546475

(25) https://figshare.com/articles/_Post_injury_berberine_treatment_attenuated_brain_edema_blood_brain_barrier_BBB_permeability_matrix_metalloproteinase_MMP_9_enzymatic_activity_neutrophil_infiltration_and_ICAM_expression_after_TBI_/1324009

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22560097

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065104/

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15519365

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17933863

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12657997

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25 Effective Ways to Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain

Man and woman kissing and increasing their oxytocin levels.

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter.

It’s often called the “love hormone" or “cuddle chemical” because it plays a key role in the emotional bond between a mother and her child.

It’s also released by both men and women when they are in love (116-118). 

But it isn’t just involved in loving relationships. 

It can also significantly affect the functioning of your brain and nervous system and impact your emotions day-to-day.

Low levels of oxytocin in the brain are associated with several mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, social phobia, autism, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, tinnitus, anorexia nervosa, and borderline personality disorder (120-135). 

And research suggests that if you increase oxytocin, it can lead to the following benefits:

Oxytocin clearly does a lot. 

Because of this, some doctors have started prescribing intranasal oxytocin spray to their patients to help them treat their symptoms (119). 

But you don’t necessarily need to run to your doctor and ask for a prescription. 

You can follow the 25 steps below and naturally increase your oxytocin levels yourself.

Best Foods, Nutrients, Herbs and Supplements To Naturally Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. It can also be taken as a supplement.

Picture of the sun. The sun produces Vitamin D, which increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.

Research shows that oxytocin is directly activated and controlled by Vitamin D (13-14).

Some researchers also believe that autistic children have low levels of oxytocin likely because they are deficient in Vitamin D (15-16). 

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D naturally from the sun. 

It’s especially important to make sure you get some sunlight in the morning to set your circadian rhythm. 

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, and that’s why I recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement or using a Vitamin D lamp. I personally use this lamp.

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (12). 

Vitamin D also naturally increases dopamine levels in the brain, and being deficient in Vitamin D can make you more anxious and more depressed

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another easy way to optimize and increase your levels of oxytocin. 

Researchers know that Vitamin C is a cofactor in the production of oxytocin, and the synthesis of oxytocin is dependent upon Vitamin C (17-18). 

One study found that Vitamin C stimulates the secretion of oxytocin (19). 

And another study found that supplementing with a high dose of Vitamin C increases the release of oxytocin, which then increases intercourse frequency, improves mood and decreases stress (20). 

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

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take a supplement with at least 500 mg of Vitamin C every day.

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

3. Magnesium

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

Unfortunately, lot of people are deficient in magnesium today (36-38).

A collection of magnesium-rich foods, including avocados, bananas, almonds, dark chocolate, spinach. Magnesium increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity.

Researchers have found that the oxytocin receptor requires magnesium to function properly, and magnesium increases the action of oxytocin at the receptor (39-42).

There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.

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

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

Magnesium supplements are also a good idea if you want to produce more oxytocin

I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain. 

Besides supporting your oxytocin levels, magnesium can also naturally increase dopamine, reduce your anxiety, and help your overcome trauma, withdrawal and addiction

4. Taurine

Taurine is an organic compound found in food, particularly animal products. It has a wide variety of health benefits.

It can cross the blood-brain barrier, improve mood and produces anti-anxiety effects (1-10). 

Researchers believe that one of the ways it improves mood and reduces anxiety is by naturally increasing the release of oxytocin in the brain (11).

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

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5. Caffeine

Researchers have found that caffeine significantly increases the release of oxytocin (21-23). 

Perhaps this is one reason why people love getting together with friends for a coffee.

Coffee usually makes me sick because I’m extremely sensitive to mold and most coffee contains high amounts of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

But this coffee doesn’t. I usually drink one cup of it most mornings. I can also tolerate pure caffeine tablets.

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine. But if coffee makes you feel terrible and jittery, it might be the quality of the coffee. Consider trying Kicking Horse coffee, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee.

Coffee and 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.

Lastly, it's also a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just the coffee bean or pure caffeine. 

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

But that’s a huge problem! 

Because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

And after years of careful clinical research, scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function

Coffee fruit concentrate is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

6. Estrogen

Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system.

Estrogen has been found to increase the synthesis and secretion of oxytocin. It also increases the expression of oxytocin receptors in the brain (30). 

Other studies show that even just a single dose of estradiol can significantly increase circulating oxytocin levels and reduce anxiety (31-32).

I recommend both men and women get their hormone levels checked regularly, and then optimize them with hormone replacement therapy, especially if they want to produce more oxytocin and feel their best.

Not only can replacing estrogen increase your oxytocin levels, but it can also really improve your overall quality of life!

7. Lactobacillus Reuteri

Lactobacillus reuteri is a bacterium with anti-inflammatory effects that scientists first discovered in the 1980s. 

It’s one of the most promising psychobiotics for anxiety.

A woman holds her stomach and makes a heart shape around her belly button.

Research shows that Lactobacillus reuteri significantly increases oxytocin levels in the brain through the vagus nerve (26-29). 

Lactobacillus reuteri is usually found in the human gut. However, not all humans have it, and some people simply have very low levels of it.

Therefore, you may need to supplement with it to introduce and maintain high levels of it, especially if you want to produce more oxytocin.

One study found that the absence of lactobacillus reuteri causes social deficits in animals. By adding it back in to the guts of the animals, the researchers were able to reverse some of their behavioural deficits, which were similar to symptoms of social anxiety and autism in humans (24-25).

Lactobacillus reuteri is included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.

It's also found in breast milk, and some meat and dairy products.

8. Chamomile

You can also increase oxytocin with herbs, such as chamomile.

Chamomile is a medicinal herb that has been traditionally used for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties.

But it can also help you produce more oxytocin.

Animal studies show that chamomile contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain and nervous system as anti-anxiety drugs (47-48). 

Researchers also know that chamomile naturally increases oxytocin and lowers cortisol (49). 

This anti-anxiety supplement includes chamomile, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years.

9. Oleoylethanolamide (OEA)

Oleoylethanolamide (OEA) is a molecule produced in the body. It’s responsible for the feeling of being full after meals and may help with weight loss.

Multiple studies show that OEA naturally stimulates the secretion of oxytocin and increases levels of oxytocin in the brain (50-54). 

I haven’t tried it yet, but there are OEA supplements available on Amazon.

I’m going to try it and report back on how I feel. We’ll see if it helps me produce more oxytocin.  

10. Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. It helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm), and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

More than one study has shown that 500 mcg of melatonin significantly increases secretion of oxytocin (33-35). 

You can get 500 mcg of melatonin here on Amazon.

A baby sleeping. Sleep increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

Or you can take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin.

Besides melatonin and sleep supplements, here are some other actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning.

  • Blue light significantly suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and abnormal functioning of your nervous system. You can read more about the problem with getting too much blue light here. As soon as it’s dark outside, you should avoid sources of blue light. Turn off household lights, get red light bulbs, install Iris on your computer and wear glasses that block out blue light. I wear these glasses. They block out blue light in your environment.

  • Sleep in a dark environment. Completely black out your room with curtains and wear a sleep mask overnight. Sleeping with lights on in your room decreases neurogenesis and impairs cognitive performance (276). If you need to have light in your room (nightlight or alarm clock), it’s better to have red, orange or amber lighting rather than blue.

  • Melatonin secretion can be disrupted by EMF exposure, so turn off cellphones, Wi-Fi and other electrical devices while you sleep.

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11. Fenugreek

Fenugreek is one of the most popular herbal supplements that has been traditionally used to enhance sex drive. 

It also demonstrates antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in animals, and naturally produces more oxytocin in humans (55-57). 

I experimented with this fenugreek supplement and I liked the effects. It felt like I produced more oxytocin when I was taking it, but I no longer take it regularly because all my other lifestyle habits are more than enough.

Fenugreek seeds are another option. They can be eaten whole, brewed into a tea, or even made into flour and baked into a gluten-free bread.

12. Jasmine Oil (Jasminum Officinale)

Jasmine Oil is a popular essential oil derived from the Jasminum Officinale flower. 

It’s been used for hundreds of years in Asia to improve mood, manage emotional stress and anxiety, and improve sex drive and sleep.

There is lots of research that suggests that it has positive affects on the nervous system (59-62). 

And a systematic study found that aromatherapy with Jasmine Oil can increase levels of oxytocin (58). 

After living in a moldy home, I researched and experimented with a number of essential oils. I found they supported my immune system and mood as I recovered. Here is the Jasmine Oil that I took.

It can either be inhaled through the nose or applied directly to the skin. You can also diffuse it in your home using a diffuser

13. Clary Sage Oil (Salvia sclarea)

Clary Sage Oil is a relaxing essential oil derived from the Salvia sclarea plant. 

Clary Sage essential oil increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

It’s been shown to naturally relieve anxiety and depression by reducing cortisol and improving thyroid hormone levels (63-66). 

And just last year, researchers found that inhaling Clary Sage Oil increases oxytocin in women during pregnancy (67-69). 

After living in a moldy home, I researched and experimented with a number of essential oils. I found they supported my immune system and mood as I recovered. Here is the Clary Sage Oil that I took. 

Just like Jasmine Oil, it can either be inhaled through the nose or applied directly to the skin. You can also diffuse it in your home using a diffuser.

Best Lifestyle Habits, Therapies and Practices to Naturally Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain

14. Touch

Not surprisingly, there is a ton of research showing that interpersonal touch quickly increases oxytocin levels in the brain (107). 

This obviously includes kissing, cuddling, and sex. But non-sexual touch such as hugging and shaking hands increases oxytocin as well (105, 108-115).

A 10-second hug every day can help boost your immune system, fight infection, increase dopamine, reduce depression, and lessen fatigue (106). 

But Dr. Paul Zak, author of the Trust Factor, recommends much more than just one hug every day; he recommends eight hugs every day. 

So if you want to produce more oxytocin, get out there and start hugging people… just make sure it’s welcome by the other people. :)

15. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation, or metta, is a meditation practice designed to enhance feelings of kindness and compassion for yourself and others.

While meditating, you repeat positive phrases to yourself, think positively of other people, and direct well-wishes and love towards them.

For example, you could close your eyes, simply think about a friend of family member, and repeat over and over that “they are wonderful”. Simply repeat this thought to yourself over and over, while pushing away any other negative thoughts that arise.

Researchers believe that you give yourself a boost in oxytocin when you do this and may even up-regulate oxytocin receptors (71). 

You can learn how to practice it here or through this video.

Loving-kindness meditation can also help you overcome trauma

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16. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase oxytocin levels (76). 

Research has shown that acupuncture can affect the synthesis, release and action of several neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, including oxytocin (72). 

Animal studies have also demonstrated that acupuncture elevates oxytocin concentration in certain brain regions (73-75). 

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

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

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

Acupuncture also naturally increases dopamine, stimulates the vagus nerve and increases blood flow to the brain.

17. Pets

A cute puppy lying on a couch. Pets increase oxytocin levels in our brains.

Animals have a way of calming us, and it’s because they increase our oxytocin levels. 

Research shows that just touching your pets lowers your blood pressure and increases your oxytocin levels.

One study found that oxytocin levels increased in both humans and dogs after just five minutes of petting. This may explain the emotional bonding between humans and dogs (77). 

Even just staring into your dog’s eyes can trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain and increase your levels (78). 

So if you’re trying to maximize your oxytocin levels, you should try to hang out with animals as much as possible, and consider getting a house pet if you don’t have one.

18. Massage

Research shows that massage can significantly increase oxytocin levels and reduce stress hormones (79, 83). 

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

It’s important to note that one study found that a light massage is more effective at increasing oxytocin than a deep-tissue Swedish massage (80-82). 

So you may want to ask your massage therapist to take it easy and give you a gentle rubdown. 

19. Listen to Music and Sing

Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain by increasing oxytocin levels. 

A woman singing with a microphone. Singing increases oxytocin levels.

In one study, patients who underwent open-heart surgery listened to soothing music for 30 minutes one day after their surgery. And they had significantly higher levels of oxytocin compared to those who were simply told to rest in bed (86).

Slow-tempo music has also been shown to increase both oxytocin and heart-rate variability (88). 

What’s even better is singing along with the music. 

Researchers have found that singing for 30 minutes significantly increases oxytocin levels in both amateur and professional singers, regardless of whether they enjoyed singing the song (87, 91).

Perhaps this explains why mothers often sing lullabies to their newborn babies – it may encourage bonding by increasing the release of oxytocin. 

Lastly, making music together in a group leads to a significant release in oxytocin and reduction in stress (89-90).

So if you play an instrument, put together a band and start jamming. You’ll started producing more oxytocin together! :)

20. Yoga

Yoga is a popular “mind-body” relaxation technique that increases the activity of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

Researchers believe it works because it increases oxytocin levels in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve (85). 

In one study, researchers found that yoga significantly increased oxytocin levels and improved socio-occupational functioning in patients with schizophrenia. The researchers concluded that yoga should be used to manage schizophrenia because of the improvement in oxytocin levels (84). 

If you're interested in yoga, I recommend checking out Kalimukti. They offer tailored online yoga classes taught by qualified practitioners, allowing you to practice whenever and wherever you want. 
 

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21. Socialize

I’ve already discussed how socializing can reduce cortisol and stimulate your vagus nerve

And now I’ve learned that positive social interactions can also increase oxytocin levels (93). 

Researchers have found that your brain releases more oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and this can actually speed up healing from disease (92). 

So if you want to produce more oxytocin, my advice is to talk to people whenever you get the chance, and hang out with your friends and family as much as possible. I should probably be taking my own advice here because I’m an introvert and don’t socialize too much. 

22. Intermittent Drinking

You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting. I’ve discussed it a lot in other articles. 

But you likely haven’t heard of intermittent drinking.

The typical mainstream advice is to drink eight glasses of water every day. 

A blond-haired woman drinking a glass of water. Intermittent drinking increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

I don’t follow that. I simply listen to my body and drink when I’m thirsty. 

And it appears that simply taking breaks from drinking water can increase oxytocin levels. 

Recent research shows that drought, and the “homeostatic disturbances” that lead to the “feeling of thirst”, activate specific oxytocin-producing parts of the brain (94-95). 

Researchers believe that “intermittent bulk drinking” could increase oxytocin signalling, recover human trust, and increase health by reducing stress and inflammation (94-95). 

If you think of it from an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Your ancestors likely consumed as much water as they could when they got the chance, but then went longer periods of time when they couldn’t and didn’t drink any water. 

Just like intermittent fasting, intermittent drinking doesn’t necessarily mean you drink less water throughout the day though.

You can simply drink a lot of water whenever you get thirsty. And then you stop drinking any water until you are thirsty again. 

That’s how all animals and human newborns behave. But we’ve been brainwashed to think we need to be sipping on water all the time. 

Start intermittent drinking, and your oxytocin receptors will thank you.

23. Warm and Cold Temperatures

Exposing yourself to both warm and cold temperatures can also increase oxytocin levels. 

Researchers have found that hot environments, warm temperatures and increased sweating activate specific oxytocin-producing parts of the brain (94-96). 

New research also suggests that cold exposure significantly upregulates oxytocin levels in the brain (97-100). 

So if you want to optimize your oxytocin levels, try pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and expose your body to the acute stress of extreme temperatures.

What I like to do is take a warm shower, but then finish it off with 1-2 minutes of cold. 

Cold showers also stimulate the vagus nerve

24. Eat (Healthy) Food

Eating food also increases oxytocin, and it’s easily accessible by anyone. 

Food activates touch receptors in your mouth, which then stimulates the release of oxytocin (102). 

And then when food reaches your gut, a hormone is released from the intestines that activates the vagus nerve, which then stimulates the release of more oxytocin in the brain (102-104). 

This is why eating makes people feel calm and satisfied, and often opens them up for social interaction, bonding and attachment.

The obvious downside to all of this is that you may be tempted to overeat unhealthy foods to stimulate the release of oxytocin, so that you feel better and less stressed. And oxytocin is one reason why you may have a hard time breaking bad eating habits. 

But don’t worry; just stick to the healthy foods included in my free grocery shopping guide and you won’t have a problem

25. Watch a Movie

Everyone loves a good movie.

And it’s probably because it increases oxytocin.

Research shows that compelling narratives cause the synthesis and release of oxytocin (101). 

And this has the power to affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours (101). 

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/4407108

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(181) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

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

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