13 Powerful Ways to Support Your Thyroid for Better Mental Health

When you know better, you do better.
— Maya Angelou
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Sometimes it may feel as if we have no control over our thoughts and emotions. Our minds can take on a life of their own, with no rhyme or reason as to why we're suddenly sad and anxious.

But there are always underlying causes of these mood swings, and with a better understanding of them, you can learn to manage and overcome them. 

Like I have, you can connect the dots, determine your underlying triggers, learn to control them and even completely eliminate them over time. 

So today I want to talk about thyroid dysfunction. It was one of the underlying issues of my chronic mental illness. 

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple.

It’s one of your most important glands, producing hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) – which impact the health and functioning of your entire body.

In fact, normal metabolism and energy levels depend on these hormones. 

Your thyroid also plays a key role in the optimal health and functioning of your brain. It can impact your cognition, concentration, mood, memory and emotions. 

So when your thyroid hormones are out of balance, you can be too, and brain and mental problems can arise.

Your thyroid can either be overactive and produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), or underactive and produce too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).

Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is much more common, and since I personally struggled with symptoms of hypothyroidism, this post will mostly focus on that.

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Hypothyroidism can also be caused by an autoimmune conditions called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid tissue.

According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working? and Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s. 

Here are some of the common brain and mental health symptoms of low thyroid that I experienced:

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low mood

  • Forgetfulness

  • Weakness

  • Sluggishness

Sounds just like depression, doesn’t it?

You Don't Have Mental Illness, You Have Thyroid Problems

Many studies show that people with cognitive, emotional and behavioural disturbances have lower levels of thyroid hormone than the general population, and their psychiatric symptoms improve when they take thyroid hormone.

The following symptoms and disorders have been linked to thyroid problems (69-86): 

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar disorder, mania and mood swings

  • Irritability and rage

  • Insomnia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis

  • Dementia and confusion

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Borderline personality disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

In fact, many people struggling with these conditions see better improvements when they are treated with thyroid hormone than when they are treated with psychiatric medication (and experience fewer side effects). 

Psychiatric patients with subclinical hypothyroidism - especially those with incomplete responses to psychotropic therapy - should usually be treated with thyroid hormone. In some patients with no clear evidence of a biochemical or clinical thyroid disorder, mood symptoms nevertheless respond to thyroid hormone.
— Thomas D. Geracioti Jr, MD

A number of different medical practitioners and researchers have written books about how thyroid problems can negatively affect brain and contribute to mental illness:

So if you struggle with brain or mental illness, you likely do not need a prescription for antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medication. What you really need is to support your thyroid. Treating the underlying thyroid problem is critical to alleviating the associated psychiatric symptoms.

Luckily, there are easy, natural ways for you to do just that.

Below are 13 main strategies I’ve used to balance my thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function. 

Before implementing all of them, I highly recommend getting a full thyroid panel (like this one) so that you know your starting point. True Health Labs allows you to order their Complete Thyroid Panel even without a doctor. 

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1. Cut Out Gluten

Certain foods can disrupt proper thyroid function and you should avoid them to optimize brain and mental health. 

Gluten-containing grains (barley, wheat, rye, spelt) are the worst offenders.  

Ways-support-increase-improve-your-thyroid-hormone-for-better-mental-health-brain-hashimotos-t3-t4-thyroxine-triiodothyronine-iodine-fluoride-depression-anxiety-hypothyroidism-mycotoxins-mold-underactive-low-lllt-laser-therapy-ray-peat-gluten-pufas-oil-coconut-iodine-selenium-herbs-collagen-gelatin-glutathione-bipolar-function-naturally-hyperthyroidism-supplements-low-underactive-gland-illness-light-therapy-autoimmune-fog-deficiency-stress-mood-disorders-schizophrenia-anger-psychosis-insomnia-dementia-social-borderline-personality-ocd-adhd-gluten-inflammation-celiac-omega- BPA-PFOA-pesticides

The problem with gluten is that it can increase intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome). When this happens, small particles of food can leak into your bloodstream. Your immune system sees these food particles as foreign entities and attacks them, increasing inflammation throughout your body. 

On top of this, the molecular structure of gliadin (the protein found in gluten) resembles that of the thyroid gland. So when gliadin enters your bloodstream, your immune system not only attacks the gliadin, but also your thyroid tissue because of its close resemblance. And this can cause many brain and mental health problems (11-13). 

Research shows that people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance are more likely to have thyroid diseases and mental illnesses, and vice versa (1-10). 

Many people that have hypothyroidism really have gluten sensitivity. Over time, they actually have significant brain degeneration. When people degenerate their brain, one of the first things they get is depression.
— Dr. Datis Kharrazian

Thyroid function, and therefore brain and mental health, will often improve after the elimination of gluten-containing grains. 

2. Eat Enough Calories and Carbohydrates

Making sure you eat enough calories and carbohydrates on a daily basis is critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.  

A landmark paper, known as the Vermont Study, found that thyroid hormone drops when you don’t eat enough calories and carbohydrates (14). 

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Several other studies also show that ketogenic low-carb diets can suppress thyroid function and reduce thyroid hormone. This is because carbohydrates play a key role on the production of thyroid hormone (15-18). 

In previous posts, I have mentioned that fasting and ketogenic dieting can have beneficial effects on your brain. This is still true. However, it's important to note fasting and low-carb diets should be followed intermittently and not consistently over long stretches of time, mainly because of their detrimental effects on the thyroid. I prefer to take Optimal Ketones instead. They immediately increase my mental clarity without having to restrict carbohydrates. 

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains plenty of healthy, nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrate, including:

  • Yams

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Other root vegetables

  • Berries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Raw honey

3. Avoid Vegetable Oils

You should also significantly limit all refined vegetable oils, including soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola. 

These oils are predominantly made up of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are highly unstable and oxidize very easily within your body. 

Unfortunately, like gluten, rancid PUFAs are everywhere and hard to avoid. Most commercially-prepared processed foods include them. 

And your thyroid is particularly vulnerable to their effects.

Dr. Raymond Peat, PhD, says that the sudden increase of fragile and rancid polyunsaturated oils into our food supply after World War II has caused many changes in human health, particularly thyroid function and hormones: 

Their [polyunsaturated oils] best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. By 1950, then, it was established that unsaturated fats suppress the metabolic rate, apparently creating hypothyroidism. The more unsaturated the oils are, the more specifically they suppress tissue response to thyroid hormone, and transport of the hormone on the thyroid transport protein. And in 1980, experimenters demonstrated that young rats fed milk containing soy oil incorporated the oil directly into their brain cells, and had structurally abnormal brain cells as a result.
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4. Eat coconut oil

I’ve discussed the brain and mental health benefits of coconut oil before here

It can help reduce brain fog and enhance your cognitive performance. And it may be accomplishing this by supporting your thyroid. 

According to Dr. Raymond Peat, coconut oil is very beneficial to the brain and thyroid:

Coconut oil has a general pro-thyroid action by diluting and displacing anti-thyroid unsaturated oils. And brain tissue is very rich in complex forms of fats. An experiment in which pregnant mice were given diets containing either coconut oil or unsaturated oil showed that brain development was superior in the young mice whose mothers ate coconut oil. Because coconut oil supports thyroid function, and thyroid governs brain development, including myelination, the result might simply reflect the difference between normal and hypothyroid individuals.

I recommend this coconut oil

And you don’t need to stick with coconut oil. Coconut milk, water and meat are other ways to get the benefits of coconut. 

5. Try Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is probably the best cutting-edge way to support your thyroid. I wrote about it previously here.  

Using it on my thyroid has made a remarkable difference in my energy levels and mental clarity. And this is likely because of an increase in my thyroid hormones. 

Multiple studies show that LLLT can improve the production of thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function in patients with chronic autoimmune thyroid disease. Study participants were able to reduce the dosage of their thyroid medication (36, 37).  

A study from Brazil showed that LLLT not only reduced the need for thyroid medication in all patients, but 9 months later after the study concluded, it also showed that 47% of patients no longer required any thyroid medication at all.  Participants with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis also saw a reduction in their anti-thyroid antibodies by more than 39% (40). 

A Russian study also demonstrated a 97% success rate when treating women with subclinical hypothyroidism. Researchers concluded LLLT should be the “method of choice in the treatment of [subclinical hypothyroidism], especially in the elderly” (40). 

Animal research has found similar results in rats and rabbits (38, 39). 

I shine the Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) device on my thyroid. It includes both red and infrared light. I’m convinced most people would benefit from it. If you decide to get it, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

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

6. Get Enough Vitamin A and D

Fat soluble vitamins A and D are also critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.

Vitamin D is necessary to help transport thyroid hormone into your cells and deficiency is quite common in people with thyroid problems. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with thyroid disease and supplementation has been shown to benefit the thyroid. (22-24). 

I previously discussed the brain health benefits of vitamin D here. I now use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my levels are optimal. 

Vitamin A helps your body produce thyroid hormone and protects the thyroid gland from oxidative stress (which is higher in people with thyroid issues). Research also shows that vitamin A can reduce your risk of hypothyroidism (19-21). 

However, I personally don’t recommend you supplement with vitamin A. It’s better to get it from food. Pastured eggs, grass-fed liver and butter (or ghee if you can't tolerate butter) are ideal sources. 

Cod liver oil is another great option as it contains both vitamin A, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids all together. I take this one every so often.

7. Get Enough Minerals

Your thyroid gland needs specific trace minerals to do its job properly. 

I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement so that you have all the minerals you need to support brain and thyroid health. It includes a small amount of iodine, selenium, magnesium and zinc.

Iodine is the most important, as it’s one of the building blocks used by your thyroid to create hormones. 

However, I don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of iodine separately. Many functional medicine practitioners that I’ve interviewed over the years have told me that high iodine intake through supplements can often do more harm than good. Too much supplemental iodine has been shown to cause further thyroid problems (66-68). 

brazil-nuts-Ways-support-increase-improve-your-thyroid-hormone-for-better-mental-health-brain-hashimotos-t3-t4-thyroxine-triiodothyronine-iodine-fluoride-depression-anxiety-hypothyroidism-mycotoxins-mold-underactive-low-lllt-laser-therapy-ray-peat-gluten-pufas-oil-coconut-iodine-selenium-herbs-collagen-gelatin-glutathione-bipolar-function-naturally-hyperthyroidism-supplements-low-underactive-gland-illness-light-therapy-autoimmune-fog-deficiency-stress-mood-disorders-schizophrenia-anger-psychosis-insomnia-dementia-social-borderline-personality-ocd-adhd-gluten-inflammation-celiac-omega- BPA-PFOA-pesticides

So I think the small amount in a multi-mineral is enough.

And getting some more iodine from whole foods, including seafood and sea vegetables, can also benefit you since they contain other nutrients that can support your thyroid.  

Selenium is another indispensable mineral for your thyroid and brain health.

It helps regulate and recycle your iodine stores, and selenium-based proteins help regulate thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism.

Without it, you’ll likely experience low-thyroid symptoms.

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium. 

Low levels of zinc can also lead to depleted thyroid hormones, and vice versa (34). This is just another reason to supplement with zinc.

As I’ve discussed before, a zinc deficiency can also contribute to stress and anxiety.

And although it isn't mentioned very often, magnesium is also critical for optimal thyroid function. The thyroid gland can't function properly without it (89).

I previously discussed how it can help a lot of people with depression and anxiety here

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8. Reduce Stress and Cortisol

High levels of physical and mental stress can be detrimental to your thyroid function. 

Your adrenal glands –  two walnut-shaped glands that sit atop the kidneys – secrete your stress stress hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. 

Research shows that cortisol inhibits thyroid hormones from getting into your cells, and weakened adrenal glands can lead to hypothyroid symptoms over time (35).

That’s why it’s critical that you manage stress.

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage it. 

The most effective way to significantly and permanently reduce your stress and anxiety is neurofeedback. It’s advanced, guided meditation and I previously wrote about my experience with it here

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

I’m a big fan of the Muse headband . It can guide your meditation. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I wrote an entire review about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

I also find massage, acupuncture, heart-rate variability (HRV) training and this acupressure mat very helpful as well.

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

Supplements that can help with stress include zinc, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine, which have been shown to lower cortisol levels (87, 88). 

This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress over the years (Use the the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount).

Lastly, you should get enough sleep and don’t exercise too much. The stress caused by excessive exercise can wear you’re your body and contribute to thyroid problems. So make sure you get plenty of rest and recover between workout sessions.

9. Take Thyroid-Supporting Herbs

A number of different herbs can assist your thyroid gland. 

Ashwagandha is one of my favourites. Not only can it reduce stress and anxiety, but a number of studies show that it can boost thyroid hormones (25-29).

Bacopa is another adaptogen that has been shown to increase thyroid (T4) hormone levels by 42% (30). 

Forskolin stimulates the release of thyroid hormones (31). 

And one study found that ginseng increases and normalizes thyroid hormone levels (32). 

And last but not least, researchers say that rhodiola can “improve the quality of life of patients with short-term hypothyroidism” (33). 

Rhodiola also has a number of brain and mental health benefits. I explored them previously here

I’ve experimented with all of these herbs and they have improved my brain and mental health.

But it’s good to know they have some beneficial effects on my thyroid as well.

This mental health supplement includes bacopa, forskolin and rhodiola all in one supplement. 

10. Eat “Head to Tail”

Whole plant foods tend to be much healthier when they’re left whole, as they tend to have various nutrients that work together synergistically. 

The same can be said about animal food. 

Muscle meats contain so much tryptophan and cysteine that a pure meat diet can suppress the thyroid. In poor countries, people have generally eaten all parts of the animal, rather than just the muscles – bones, cartilage, skin, organs, and other odd bits. About half of the protein in an animal is collagen, and collagen is deficient in tryptophan and cysteine. This means that, in the whole animal, the amino acid balance is similar to the adult’s requirements.
— Dr. Raymond Peat

In other words, muscle meat (chicken breasts, lean beef) shouldn’t be your only source of animal protein. Our ancestors didn’t eat this way, so neither should we.  

Your body and thyroid prefer and expect to receive a balance of amino acids from different parts of whole animals.

That’s why I recommend “head-to-tail eating” – consuming a wide variety of proteins from the entire animal. 

Along with muscle meat, you should regularly cook and eat organ meats such as liver and bone broth.

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Bone broth contains collagen, gelatin and amino acids such as glycine and proline that help the body better metabolize muscle meat.

Organ meats such as liver have an abundance of beneficial nutrients that aren’t found in muscle meat alone. For example, it’s much higher in vitamin A, which is important for optimal thyroid health (19, 20). 

I previously discussed the benefits of liver in more depth here.

I personally don’t like the taste of liver and bone broth can be inconvenient to make all the time, so I often supplement with these grass-fed beef liver capsules and drink this high-quality pre-made bone broth.

I also take this Multi-Glandular For Men, which contains a number of different organ tissues. There is also one for women

But if you’re actually interested in learning about how to cook and incorporate more whole animal proteins into your diet, I recommend checking out the book “Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal” by Jennifer McLagan.

11. Limit Halogens

Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference between iodine, and other halogens such as bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water. 

So your thyroid soaks them up and uses them like iodine.

By occupying iodine receptors, they worsen iodine deficiency, inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

Studies show that chlorine interferes with proper conversion of thyroid hormone (50, 58-61). 

That’s why I recommend filtering your drinking and shower water. Brita filters aren't enough because they don’t remove fluoride. I use this Berkey water filter to make sure I’m drinking the purest water available. It filters everything out of the water. I also use this filter to remove chlorine from my shower water. 

The research shows that bromide in particular can cause a lot of problems. Bromide is found in pesticides, prescription medication, plastic products and personal care products. PBDE (bromide) fire retardants have been added to mattresses, carpeting, electronics, furniture and car interiors since the 1970s. 

Even small amounts of bromide can be problematic, depleting iodine and weakening the thyroid gland. Bromide levels are 50 times higher in thyroid cancer than normal thyroid tissue, and elevated levels of bromide have been linked to mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia (50-57). 

12. Avoid Environmental and Dietary Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins – toxic metabolites produced by mold – can also disrupt normal thyroid function.

Mycotoxins are released into the air in water-damaged buildings, and you may not realize it’s affecting your brain and thyroid health until you develop certain symptoms. And even then, people frequently won’t make the connection between the mold and their health. 

That’s what happened to me, and my hormonal health went downhill, along with my brain and mental health. Luckily I’ve recovered since then

Mycotoxins are known hormone disruptors that cause inflammation, and a couple of studies mention that there is an increased frequency of “thyroid, immune dysfunction and autoimmune conditions” in people exposed to water-damaged building (41, 42). 

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And one study shows that mold exposure is correlated with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (43). 

Kurt and Lee Ann Billings wrote the book Mold: The War Within after extensive personal bouts with toxic mold exposure. They write extensively about their experience and recovery and describe ongoing problems with thyroid dysfunction. 

After I moved out of the moldy home, I became extremely sensitive to any environmental mold and mycotoxins. 

I now use this air filter in my apartment. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, grains, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

Lastly, if exposed to mold or their toxins, you should supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay.

Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body.

13. Avoid and Remove Other Environmental Toxins

Mold and other halogens aren’t the only endocrine disruptors in your environment that can affect your thyroid metabolism and function.

In the book Thyroid Mind Power, Dr. Karilee Shames reports that “the last 40 years have witnessed a massive increase in the amount of hormone-disrupting synthetic chemicals, finding their way into our air, food and water. The most sensitive and highly susceptible of human tissues turned out to be the thyroid gland.”

Here are some common ones:

Ways-support-increase-improve-your-thyroid-hormone-for-better-mental-health-brain-hashimotos-t3-t4-thyroxine-triiodothyronine-iodine-fluoride-depression-anxiety-hypothyroidism-mycotoxins-mold-underactive-low-lllt-laser-therapy-ray-peat-gluten-pufas-oil-coconut-iodine-selenium-herbs-collagen-gelatin-glutathione-bipolar-function-naturally-hyperthyroidism-supplements-low-underactive-gland-illness-light-therapy-autoimmune-fog-deficiency-stress-mood-disorders-schizophrenia-anger-psychosis-insomnia-dementia-social-borderline-personality-ocd-adhd-gluten-inflammation-celiac-omega- BPA-PFOA-pesticides
  • Bisphenol A – found in plastic bottles and containers. I recommend you only eat and drink out of glass, ceramic and stainless steel. Avoid storing any of your food in plastic too. BPA-free plastic isn’t much better for you and can still disrupt hormonal health.

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – found in common household products including non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics. Researchers have found that people with higher levels of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) have a higher incidence of thyroid disease (44, 45).

  • Other pesticides and chemical additives – You should avoid processed food and eat organic as often as possible, wash all produce thoroughly to minimize your pesticide exposure, and find personal care products that don’t include toxic chemicals.

I also recommend increasing your levels of glutathione – your body’s main antioxidant and master detoxifier – to help your body combat the above substances from your body. I do this by supplementing with this liposomal glutathione on regular basis. 

Or you could take NAC and Vitamin C to help your body produce more of its own glutathione. 

Researchers have found that a decrease in thyroid function could be reversed by NAC supplementation, which increased glutathione. This is because glutathione plays a key role in the production and conversion of your thyroid hormones (46-49). 

Epsom salt baths, infrared saunas, and turmeric can also help your body release and remove environmental toxins. 

Summary and Conclusion

With the right information, you can make simple choices to improve thyroid health.

Here's a summary of everything we've gone over:

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So with that, I want to leave you with a quote from a book I read recently by Sam Harris, called Free Will. It's an excellent book and you can get it through Amazon if you're interested.

I think this quote is appropriate considering the wide variety of factors that underlie brain and mental health problems:

Becoming sensitive to the background causes of one’s thoughts and feelings can - paradoxically - allow for greater creative control over one’s life. It is one thing to bicker with your wife because you are in a bad mood; it is another to realize that your mood and behaviour have been caused by low blood sugar. This understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet, of course, but it also allows you to grab hold of one of your strings: A bite of food may be all your personality requires. Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).

So even though it seems like there are an overwhelming amount of “strings” to pull, realize that you don’t have to pull them all at once.

You just have to start with one, and go from there.

And then over time, you'll start to get a handle on all of them, and you'll heal.

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11280546

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12217453

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11123714

(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10529537

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2111403/

(6) http://www.eje-online.org/content/130/2/137.abstract

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15244201

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9872614

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12919165

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11768252

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12366374

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19014325

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1808742/

(14) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC371281/

(15) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6761185

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3740086

(17) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/35/1/24.full.pdf

(18) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1249190

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6470830

(20) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23378454

(21) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/34/8/1489.abstract

(22) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3921055/

(23) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12919165

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10750047

(25) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19789214

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21432907

(27) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1211/146080800128735782/abstract

(28) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9811169

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10619390

(30) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887410200048X

(31) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6327383

(32) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6327383

(33) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20946017

(34) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746228/

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17002934

(36) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20662037

(37) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22718472

(38) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25265487

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25975382

(40) http://valtsus.blogspot.ca/2015/09/hypothyroidism-could-it-be-treated-with.html

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654247/

(42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15143854

(43) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/430949

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24407430

(45) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866686/

(46) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21540553?dopt=Abstract

(47)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12044880_Effect_of_Glutathione_GSH_Depletion_on_the_Serum_Levels_of_Triiodothyronine_T_3_Thyroxine_T_4_and_T_3_T_4_Ratio_in_Allyl_AlcoholTreated_Male_Rats_and_Possible_Protection_With_Zinc

(48) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7408784

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7052928

(50) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8909694

(51) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15255296

(52) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10999431

(53) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9542578

(54) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9341949

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(58) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890436/

(59) http://www .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1087230

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19318504

(61) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956646/

(62) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9140329

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21001996

(64) www.gulflink.osd.mil/library/randrep/pb_paper/mr1018.2chap10.html

(65) http://www.optimox.com/iodine-study-18

(66) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7477223

(67) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20517655?dopt=AbstractPlus

(68) http://www.eymj.org/Synapse/Data/PDFData/0069YMJ/ymj-44-227.pdf

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15213796

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(73) http://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-244X-4-25

(74) http://cpementalhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1745-0179-1-23

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(77) http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/thyroid-deficiency-and-mental-health

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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A Powerful Protocol Proven to Help Reverse Brain Damage

I’ve been reading a lot about brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in retired NFL football players lately.

While doing so, I came across an interesting study by Dr. Daniel Amen, MD, titled “Reversing brain damage in former NFL players: implications for traumatic brain injury and substance abuse rehabilitation.

In the study, thirty retired NFL players who had brain damage and cognitive dysfunction followed a brain-healthy protocol (which I outline below in this post). 

After following the protocol for six months, the former NFL players had increased blood flow to the brain and significant increases in performance. 

Neuropsychological testing showed that they had significant improvements in attention, memory, reasoning, and information processing. 

The NFL players themselves also self-reported subjective increases in memory, attention, mood, motivation, and sleep.

It just so happens that a lot of the supplements and therapies used in this protocol have also improved my mental health and supported my brain after suffering multiple concussions and living in a moldy home. 

We demonstrated that even if you have been bad to your brain, on the right program you can often reverse the damage and improve your life. It’s one of the most exciting discoveries in medicine today. I hope this message finds anyone who played contact sports like football, hockey, soccer, boxing so they can find help because their degenerative conditions can be reversed.
— Dr. Daniel Amen, MD, psychiatrist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
former-NFL-football-players-concussions-cte-alcohol-alcoholism-chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-disease-from-drugs-injury-recovery-permanent-cure-neurological-retired-dementia-foods-repaired-stroke-depression-stress-heal-use-naturally-rewiring-addiction-opiate-regenerate-traumatic-injury

Why This Research Study Is So Important

It’s well known that brain injuries are common in professional American football players, and they increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment, dementia, depression and CTE (1-2).

A study sponsored by the National Football League (NFL) found that 6.1% of retired NFL players over the age of 50 had been diagnosed with dementia, which is five times the national average of 1.2%.

Even 2% of players aged 30 to 49 have received a dementia-related diagnosis, which is 20 times higher than the rate of the general population within that age group (3). 

And in a study of 100 active and retired NFL players, researchers found reduced brain blood flow and a higher rate of depressionmemory and attention problems compared to the general population (4). 

Brain injuries also increase the risk of drug abuse (5-6). 

Lastly, another study reported that 96% of all former NFL players autopsied had CTE, and that 79% of males who played football at any level also had CTE (10). 

But brain injuries and neurological damage don’t just affect retired professional football players. 

Millions of people, including soldiers, suffer concussions every year.  

In addition, substance abusers also experience high levels of brain damage from drugs and alcohol, and from the increased likelihood of suffering brain injuries during intoxication (7). 

But based on Dr. Amen’s protocol, there is hope. And it’s possible to reverse brain damage.

Below is the protocol that the NFL players followed to reverse brain damage and cognitive impairment, and significantly improve their brain, mental health and quality of life.  

1. Improve Your Diet and Exercise Regularly

Even after taking into account their large body frames, forty-eight percent of players in the study were overweight or obese.

So they were encouraged to eat healthier and exercise regularly in order to lose weight. 

This is because obesity is associated with dementia and smaller brain size (8). 

For exercise, you should find an aerobic activity that you enjoy so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

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This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:

  • Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week

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

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

  • Run for 20-30 minutes before lifting weights

If you’re looking for a bunch of healthy brain-boosting foods that you can eat on a regular basis, check out My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health

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2. Eliminate Alcohol

Not too surprisingly, the NFL players in Dr. Amen’s study were encouraged to completely eliminate alcohol.  

former-NFL-football-players-concussions-cte-alcohol-alcoholism-chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-disease-from-drugs-injury-recovery-permanent-cure-neurological-retired-dementia-foods-repaired-stroke-depression-stress-heal-use-naturally-rewiring-addiction-opiate-regenerate-traumatic-injury

Alcohol is a neurotoxin and wreaks havoc on the brain by raising cortisol levels, disrupting the blood-brain barrier, and increasing inflammation and oxidative stress (11). 

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 from brain damage. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all anymore.

Other than alcohol, the NFL players were also told to eliminate others drugs, including cigarettes.  

3. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough high-quality sleep was another key aspect of Dr. Amen’s therapeutic protocol for the NFL players because it’s so important for brain health. 

Deep sleep has been shown to slow down cognitive decline, reduce cortisol levels, promote the regeneration of myelin, increase the growth of new brain cells, and support the blood-brain barrier

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

I used to have very poor quality sleep and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor mental health.  

Here are some ways I now maximize the quality of my sleep:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time every night

  • Don’t eat anything for 3 hours before bed, other than raw honey, bone broth and MCT oil, which are easy to digest and can actually support sleep.

  • Avoid stimulating movies and TV before bed.

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Most people should completely avoid it after 2 pm. Some may have to cut it out even earlier. I can’t have any after 12 noon, otherwise the quality of my sleep suffers.

  • 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 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/or wear blue blocking glasses. These glasses block out blue light in your environment.

  • Sleep in a dark environment. Completely black out your room with curtains or 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.

  • Reduce stress before bed. I supplement with magnesium and lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed.

  • Avoid alcohol before sleep, as it prevents getting into the deeper stages of sleep, which is when the body and brain heal.

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

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

4. Reduce Brain Inflammation with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Your brain is made up of about 60% fat, so you want to eat high-quality fats so that it can rebuild itself.

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain, and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful ways to reverse brain damage. 

Dr. Amen gave the NFL players 5.6 grams of fish oil each day, containing 1720 mg of EPA and 1160 mg of DHA.

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EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for the optimal functioning of your brain and nervous system. They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (9-10). 

They are also the structural components of synapses, and have been shown to support the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases who have experienced synaptic loss (12). 

It’s important to get enough omega-3s because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself.

They are found primarily in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

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

That’s why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one. I don’t feel as well when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

I previously wrote about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in-depth here

5. Get Enough of These Vitamins and Minerals

Research shows that supplementing with a high-dose vitamin B complex, vitamin C and minerals reduces stress, improves mental health, and increases cognitive performance (13). 

So Dr. Amen got the NFL players in the study to take a high-potency multivitamin every day. 

I don’t usually recommend all-in-one multivitamins because they often contain too many synthetic vitamins that we don’t need, and not enough of the minerals that we do need. 

Instead, I separately take this mineral complex, this B complex, and this supplement with Vitamin C.

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6. Enhance Brain Blood Flow

Dr. Amen also focused on increasing blood flow in the brains of the retired NFL football players. 

He enhanced brain blood flow by giving them Ginkgo Biloba and Vinpocetine.

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

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It’s most commonly used to improve brain health, as it’s been shown to increase cognitive function, memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and can even improve mood and mental energy.

It has these effects primarily by increasing blood flow to the brain (27). 

Ginkgo biloba extract is included in the Optimal brain supplement

Ginkgo biloba extract goes well with Vinpocetine, which is a compound from the Periwinkle plant used for cognitive decline.

Like Ginkgo biloba, it enhances blood flow to the brain, leading to improved reaction time, reduced neuroinflammation. In Eastern Europe, it’s used for memory impairment (28-31). 

Check out this article for 19 other ways to increase blood flow to the brain. 

7. Increase Acetylcholine

The retired football players also supplemented with Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) and Huperzine A to increase levels of acetylcholine in their brain. 

Acetylcholine is considered the “learning” neurotransmitter and plays a key role in the brain’s cognitive processes. 

Huperzine-A is a compound extracted from the herbs of the Huperziceae family.

It has neuroprotective effects and cognitive enhancing properties because it increases acetylcholine. It does this by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Because of this, it’s shown promise as a treatment for fighting cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease (33). 

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It has neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects and helps reverse neurological decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain and supporting mitochondria function (32). 

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It is often used as a brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells. It’s also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood.

ALCAR can be found in the Optimal Brain supplement

8. Increase Antioxidants

Another key aspect of reversing brain damage is optimizing your intake of antioxidants, and Dr. Amen doesn’t ignore this.

Dr. Amen had the NFL football players in his study take Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) and N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) daily. 

NAC is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine, and precursor to glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant

Toxins and oxidative stress deplete the body's reserves of cysteine and glutathione, but supplementing with NAC can increase and normalize cysteine and glutathione levels.

This can combat and reduce oxidative stress in the brain, helping to treat several mental illnesses, including cognitive problems and addiction (23). 

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a fatty acid created in the body, playing a role in mitochondrial energy metabolism. In supplement form, it is a potent antioxidant compound that has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that can contribute to neurological decline. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which is crucial for healthy brain function (24-25). 

Several other studies have found that a combination of antioxidants – including NAC, ALA, Vitamin C and Vitamin E – can improve cognitive functioning and decrease symptoms of cognitive decline. This is likely because oxidative stress plays a major role in the development of cognitive impairment and dementia, and these antioxidant nutrients and plant compounds can counteract this (14-22). 

Antioxidants can also reduce levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone. 

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9. Reduce Cortisol with Phosphatidylserine

Participants in Dr. Amen’s study also supplemented with phosphatidylserine.

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid that supports cognitive function. 

High amounts of phosphatidylserine are in the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention, learning and memory.

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

It’s also been shown to reduce cortisol, which can negatively affect the brain at chronically high levels (26). 

I personally take phosphatidylserine every day. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

10. Optimize Important Health Markers

Important health markers were also monitored and optimized to ensure that the NFL players were in the best health possible to support their brain.

Here are some of the markers Dr. Amen monitored in the NFL players:

Weight measures, such as body mass index and height-to-weight ratio – research shows that as a person's weight goes up, the size of their brain goes down. To reduce this problem, Dr. Amen ran an weight loss class to help the NFL players lose excess weight. 

Fasting blood glucose levels – Having high fasting blood glucose levels increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is associated with depression and dementia

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C-reactive protein – This is a measure of inflammation, which is associated with many chronic illnesses, including depression, dementia and chronic pain. Dr. Amen aims for a measure of less than 1mg/liter. A healthy diet and nutrients help get inflammation under control.

Vitamin D Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including cognitive impairment. Normal levels are between 30 and 100 ng/mL. Dr. Amen prefers his patients’ levels to be between 50 and 100 because optimal vitamin D levels can reduce inflammation and improve mood. To boost vitamin D levels, he encouraged players to get more sunlight or take a Vitamin D3 supplement. I personally use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure I get enough Vitamin D.

Ferritin – Ferritin is a measure of iron stores. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, but too much iron can cause stress and accelerate aging. If the NFL players’ ferritin levels were too low, Dr. Amen gave them iron. If they were too high, he encouraged them to donate blood. I personally prefer beef liver capsules as good source of iron instead of taking iron supplements. 

In addition to the above strategies, Dr. Amen and his team treated other dementia risk factors, such as hypertension, heart disease, gum disease, alcohol and drug abuse, anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, low thyroid and testosterone levels, and sleep apnea.

11. Reduce Homocysteine with SAM-e and Methylated B Vitamins

This step – and the next two – are not a part of the original study.

However, Dr. Amen says he uses these treatments with his patients, including retired football players.

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Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound at high levels., which can lead to the development of mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and other mental health disorders. 

However, certain B vitamins have been shown to normalize homocysteine levels and reduce the rate of cognitive decline.

As a result, Dr. Amen says that he recommends his NFL patients supplement with methyl-B12, methyl-folate, and P-5-P (bioactive B6).

I take this B complex regularly. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12, methyl-folate and P-5-P. 

Trimethylglycine (TMG) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) also lower homocysteine.

I personally prefer SAM-e since it is the most powerful and noticeable. I take this one, which you can get here or here

Here is a full article all about how to lower homocysteine. 

For those players who were depressed or demented, we did more. I acted as the psychiatrist for a number of our players or a consultant to their own physicians. For many, I prescribed natural antidepressants, such as SAMe, because it also helps with pain.
— Dr. Amen
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12. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

A number of our players also opted to do hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which we have seen improve blood flow to the brain. Over the years I have been impressed with HBOT’s ability to increase blood flow to damaged brains.
— Dr. Amen

Again, this wasn’t included in the main protocol of the study, but Dr. Amen often recommends it to NFL players or anyone else with brain damage. 

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that enhances healing in the brain.

Patients inhale 100% oxygen in a total body chamber. 

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

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

Lots of research shows that HBOT improves brain blood supply, reduces inflammation, and enhances neurogenesis, which improves recovery after injury to the central nervous system (34-38). 

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

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

My doctor uses this one at his clinic and recommended it to me. 

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

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

13. Neurofeedback

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Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that shows you your brain activity in real-time and teaches you how to self-regulate it.  

Sensors are placed on your scalp to measure your brain’s activity, and the measurements are displayed using video or sound.

Dr. Amen uses it with his NFL patients.

In our retired NFL players, we often saw excessively high slow wave activity (excessive delta and theta) and too little fast wave activity (too little beta) in the front part of the brain. Many of our athletes thought of neurofeedback like going to the gym for their minds and found it very helpful.

It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner.

But I also like the Muse headband. It’s a good substitute and gives you real-time feedback in your brainwaves while you meditate. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

Conclusion

Researchers used to believe that the brain could not heal, but they now know that’s wrong. 

Brain plasticity is possible, and if you put the brain in a healing environment, it can get better, and brain damage can be reversed. 

But the above protocol isn’t just for retired NFL players. 

It also applies directly to the larger traumatic brain injury and drug abuse communities.

former-NFL-football-players-concussions-cte-alcohol-alcoholism-chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-disease-from-drugs-injury-recovery-permanent-cure-neurological-retired-dementia-foods-repaired-stroke-depression-stress-heal-use-naturally-rewiring-addiction-opiate-regenerate-traumatic-injury

Or simply anyone who is experiencing cognitive decline, depression or other mental health problems. 

The retired NFL players in the study had sustained brain injuries decades previously, but they improved. 

If researchers can improve the brains of retired football players – who have had tens of thousands of hits to their heads – imagine the benefit you can get with a brain healthy program.

You’d don’t have to be held hostage by your bad brain. 

You can recover from brain damage, brain infection, substance abuse and toxic exposure. 

And Dr. Amen isn’t the only doctor showing the brain’s incredible power to heal.

Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD, is reversing cognitive decline and dementia with his own brain rehabilitation program. 

You can read more about his protocol here.

This work is incredibly important for football players, soldiers, firefighters, police, and anyone who has suffered brain trauma and damage.

Please share this post with anyone that you think would benefit from the information within it.

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Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16239884

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17545878

(3) http://ns.umich.edu/Releases/2009/Sep09/FinalReport.pdf

(4) http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/jnp.23.1.jnp98

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18991956

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20414130

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19345341

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19662657

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17574755

(10) http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/09/researchers-find-evidence-of-cte-in-96-of-deceased-nfl-players-they-tested

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17241155

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2344157/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20454891

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984445/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14500988

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9110909/

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10681271/

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16402761

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18042001

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC161361/

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2675154/

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17510979/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18990082

(24) https://examine.com/supplements/alpha-lipoic-acid/

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/20622459/

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2170852

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12905098

(28) https://examine.com/supplements/vinpocetine/

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15760651

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12498034

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12460136

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19720082

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17657601

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3231808/

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20715898

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146131

(37) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2013/512978/

(38) http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/45/6/1807

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20 Effective Ways to Overcome Brain Fog

brain-fog-solutions-fix-ways.jpg

I used to suffer from massive brain fog, especially after I suffered multiple concussions in 2010.

I had to drop out of school temporarily because it was so bad. 

I couldn’t read. I had trouble writing. And my memory was impaired. 

I walked around all day with a cloud over my head. 

But since then, I’ve learned that there are a number of ways to overcome brain fog, and you can implement them so that brain fog doesn’t slow you down and chip away at your quality of life.

Below are 20 steps that will help you clear away brain fog and regain your mental clarity. 

What Is Brain Fog and What Causes It?

brain-fog-solutions-fix-ways-inflammation-hacked-biohacking

Researchers describe brain fog symptoms as “an interaction of physiological, cognitive, and perceptual factors” (1). 

People suffering from brain fog describe it as feeling “forgetful,” “cloudy,” and “difficulty focusing, thinking and communicating” (2). 

Brain fog symptoms are actually quite common, but that doesn’t mean they are normal and you should accept them. They are an important sign that something is wrong.

Brain fog can be caused by a number of things, including medication, poor diet, too much exercise, not enough sleep.

But the underlying mechanism is usually the same – inflammation. 

Datis Kharrazian, author of the book “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?”, says that brain fog is often a sign of underlying brain inflammation and oxidative stress, which slows down neuronal communication. A number of studies also demonstrate this (38, 39).

When you experience brain fog acutely, it’s because your body is experiencing an increase in inflammation and oxidative stress. If you experience persistent brain fog, it’s because your body is chronically inflamed. Chronic inflammation is also linked to a number of mental disorders, including depression and dementia.

So a lot of my recommendations focus on reducing your overall systemic inflammation and oxidative stress.

On top of this, you may also have lower levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) if you struggle with brain fog. NAD is an enzyme that can be found in every cell of your body, and it helps your cells properly utilize the energy you get from food. Without enough of it, your body and brain won't function optimally (6, 7). 

NAD levels decline as you get older, but they can also be depleted from eating foods that cause high blood sugar levels (3-5).

And that leads us to my first recommendation…

1. Limit Refined Carbohydrates

If you want to prevent brain fog, the first thing you should do is avoid processed food that contain refined carbohydrates (particularly flour and sugar) because they increase inflammation and cause blood sugar fluctuations.

refined-carbs-sugar-foods-brain-fog-inflammation-blood-dementia-fix-solutions-ways

Chronically elevated blood glucose leads to insulin resistance and diabetes, which have been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. A lot of researchers and experts are discovering that dementia should actually be called Type 3 diabetes (9-11). 

Following a low-glycemic, low-grain diet will not only help you control your blood sugar, but it will also reduce inflammation that contributes to brain fog. 

You should try your best to avoid refined sugar. Breakfast cereals, fruit juice and sport drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup are your brain’s worst enemies. 

2. Eat Healthy Sources of Carbohydrates Instead

Even though you should avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar, that doesn’t mean you should avoid all carbohydrates. 

Going on a long-term low-carbohydrate diet can backfire and eventually increase your brain fog. 

Aim to get your carbohydrates from starchy vegetables and fruits instead.

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains plenty of healthy options. 

how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways-carbs-sugar-mental-health

I make sure I eat a decent amount of carbs every day, usually from:

  • Yams

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Other root vegetables

  • Berries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

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3. Eat Healthy Fats 

Low-fat diets can be detrimental to brain health and contribute to your brain fog. 

Your brain is mostly made up of fat and requires a steady supply of essentials fatty acids to run properly and smoothly (15). 

how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways-mental-health-healthy-fats

The best sources of fat for your brain are:

And you don’t need to worry about the cholesterol in these traditional foods. You brain depends on cholesterol. Too little of it actually increases your risk of mental illness and Alzheimer’s (62). 

Furthermore, an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can contribute to systemic inflammation. Today, most people get way too many inflammatory omega-6 fats from refined vegetable oils (corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola). And they don’t get enough anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats from fatty fish, which are critical for optimal brain function.

So make sure you avoid vegetable oil, and eat enough wild salmon and grass-fed beef and/or supplement with krill oil. Doing so will reduce overall inflammation and brain fog symptoms over time. 

4. Optimize Your Sleep and Circadian Rhythm

Not surprisingly, lack of high-quality sleep is one of the main causes of brain fog. 

This is because poor sleep lowers your glutathione levels and increases oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain (40-43). 

Disrupting your circadian rhythm also increases inflammation and oxidative stress (53-55). 

Here are a few things I do to maintain my circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of my sleep:

  • Supplement with magnesium and collagen before bed. This pre-made bone broth is a good source of collagen.

  • Lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed

  • Wear blue blocking glasses for 1-2 hours before bed. These block out blue light from your computer and devices, allowing you to more efficiently produce melatonin before bed.

  • Go to bed at the same time every night

  • Don’t eat for 3 hours before bed

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

I will discuss more sleep tips in future posts.

5. Support Methylation

Methylation is one of the most important processes in your body and brain.

It plays a role in the formation of almost all of your neurotransmitters, and methylation abnormalities often lie behind many brain and mental health problems (77). 

Vitamins B6, B12 and folate are critical to the methylation process, and deficiencies can lead to poor methylation. So you can improve your methylation by making sure you get enough of them.

I take this B complex every day. It contains the most bioavailable forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12, methylfolate and P-5-P. And every time I take it, I experience a boost in brain function and clarity. You can get it here.

Trimethylamine and SAM-e are two other critical nutrients in the methylation cycle that you could try to increase energy and mental clarity.  I take them after drinking any alcohol.

6. B Vitamins

Besides supporting methylation, a number of the B vitamins have been shown to help combat brain fog.  

b-vitamins-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways-methylation

Vitamin B1 (benfotiamine) helps turn glucose, the fuel for your brain, into energy. So brain fog and fatigue are often the first symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency. Research shows that low levels of B1 are correlated with poor cognitive function in young adults, and even without a deficiency, supplementation with B1 leads to faster reaction times and reports of feeling more clear-headed (16, 17). 

Vitamin B3 (niacin) is used by your body to form NAD, which I mentioned earlier is lower in people who struggle with brain fog. 

Lastly, in my experience, vitamin B5 (pantethine) does a remarkably good job at clearing mental fogginess.

This supplement includes B1, B3 and B5. 

It's also important to note that a number of psychiatric drugs have been shown to deplete B vitamins, and brain fog is a common side effect of these drugs. I've discussed this before. You can learn more here

7. Increase Acetylcholine (Citicoline) and Dopamine (Tyrosine)

Another way to overcome your brain fog is by increasing production of acetylcholine and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that are critical for optimal brain function. 

Acetylcholine is important for memory and learning, and dopamine increases mood, motivation and focus.

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective nutrient that enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine and dopamine, and increases the number of acetylcholine and dopamine receptors in your brain. It also increases blood flow and mental energy in the frontal cortex of the brain, which is often compromised in people who suffer from chronic brain fog (80-85). 

If that’s not enough, Citicoline has also been shown to improve cognitive speed and attention in young adults, stoke patients and elderly individuals with dementia (86-88). 

Citicoline is the most bioavailable form of choline, an essential nutrient that most people don’t consume enough of because very few foods in the Western diet contain it. That’s why I recommend supplementing with it. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks. That's why I'm a big fan of eating these foods regularly. 

Unfortunately, many prescription drugs are anticholinergic, meaning they reduce acetylcholine in the brain.

The commonly-prescribed antidepressant Wellbutrin is anticholinergic, meaning it inhibits the physiological action of acetylcholine. I took it for multiple years, and I experience gradual cognitive decline during that time. 

Once I got off Wellbutrin, I started supplementing with Citicoline and noticed a remarkable improvement in cognitive function since it increased my levels of acetylcholine and dopamine. I still take it today to help clear brain fog.

Tyrosine also increases the production of dopamine.

It is an amino acid and precursor to dopamine

Coffee and stimulants increase dopamine in the brain. So if you rely on them to get through the day, you likely have low dopamine, and increasing your natural production by supplementing with tyrosine may help you overcome brain fog.

Check out this article for other ways to increase dopamine. 

I don’t take it regularly anymore, but this tyrosine gives my brain a huge boost when I need it. I still use it sometimes, particularly if I don’t get enough sleep. It's also helpful for depression. You can get it here.

You should take tyrosine with vitamin B6 and vitamin C, as they are also cofactors in the production of dopamine

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8. Limit Pharmaceutical and Recreational Drugs 

A number of different pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs cause brain fog and forgetfulness as side effects, including:

medication-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways-anticholinergics

Benzodiazepines are probably the worst for brain fog, as they’ve been linked to cognitive impairment and the development of dementia (79). I regret ever taking them for anxiety and sleep. Along with antidepressants, they caused me serious brain fog and cognitive impairment. Withdrawal from these medications can also cause brain fog. 

Anticholinergic medications block acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for learning and memory. There are more than 100 drugs that fall into the anticholinergic category. So if you’re taking an anticholinergic drug, make sure to take a choline supplement. The Optimal brain supplement includes two high-quality sources of choline (78). 

But it’s not just pharmaceutical drugs that can be a problem. 

Not surprisingly, alcohol is also known to increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, and also lower NAD levels, so you should avoid it as much as possible to prevent brain fog (56-60). 

9. Hydrate with Clean Water

Your brain is 75% water by volume, so it makes sense that dehydration could cause brain fog (72). 

Being dehydrated by just 2% has been shown to impair performance in tasks that require attention, psychomotor, and immediate memory skills (73). 

But you also want to make sure you’re drinking the purest water possible. Otherwise, the water itself could be contributing to your brain fog.

Tap water contains fluoride and copper that could be contributing to your inflammation and brain fog. 

There are also hundreds of other compounds in tap water, including trace amounts of pharmaceutical medication, which can affect your brain function. 

I use this Berkey water filter to make sure I’m drinking the purest water available. It filters everything out of the water. 

10. Elimination Diet

A study published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry showed that food allergies and sensitivities could trigger a number of mental symptoms, including severe mental blankness and loss of motivation. Wheat, milk and eggs produced the most severe mental reactions (37). 

If you struggle from brain fog (or any mental illness), you should eliminate the most common food allergens from your diet for at least two weeks, and then add them back in one by one and see how you feel:

  • Wheat, spelt, rye, barley, oats (gluten)

  • All dairy (casein, lactose)

  • Eggs

  • Soy

  • Corn

  • Nightshade vegetables

  • Nuts

  • Yeast

  • Shellfish

If cutting out all those foods seems overwhelming, start by eliminating all flour and gluten grains, including bread, cereal and pasta, and see how you feel. Don’t eat gluten-free junk food instead, as they are full of sugar and just as bad for brain fog.

gluten-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways-wheat-allergy

Dr. Kenneth Fine, a pioneer in gluten intolerance research, has demonstrated that 1 in 3 Americans are gluten intolerant, and that 8 in 10 have the genes that predispose them to developing gluten intolerance. And research has also shown that gluten can contribute to ADHD, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s (74-76). 

Unfortunately, when you are gluten intolerant, you will often “cross-react” with other proteins similar to gluten. Plus, there are many other proteins in wheat other than gluten that can cause brain fog. 

A lot of people who suffer from brain and mental health problems are also allergic or sensitive to lactose or milk protein (casein), which cause inflammation in the body and brain. So you should avoid all milk, cheese and yogurt, especially when you're trying to overcome brain fog. 

I will never eat wheat and dairy again in my life. It’s just not worth it because my mood, energy and mental clarity are remarkably more consistent when I avoid them. I’m also intolerant to egg whites. I have to throw them away and only eat the yolks.

11. Forskolin

Forskolin is an active compound found in the roots of the Indian coleus (Coleus forskohlii).

It has been used by traditional cultures to treat various conditions and diseases (67). 

I notice it increases mental energy and clarity for me.

This is because forskolin increases cyclic AMP (cAMP), which lowers inflammation (61). 

Forskolin is included in this supplement

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12. Get Sun and Vitamin D3

I’ve discussed Vitamin D many times before, so I won’t belabor the point too much here. 

But Vitamin D significantly affects your brain function, and turns on genes that support the production and release of dopamine and serotonin.

Yet most people are deficient (an estimated one billion people worldwide), and being low in Vitamin D can lead to chronic brain fog, low energy, poor memory, and depression (19).

It’s worth getting your levels checked and supplementing with it if you’re low. 

Vitamin D levels above 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) reduce the risk of cognitive impairment, and low vitamin D levels are linked to higher risk of dementia (20).

Most people need to take at least 2000IU every day. I take 5000IU of this supplemental source of Vitamin D every day. 

Using a Vitamin D lamp and getting enough sunlight can also help you with brain fog as they decrease inflammation (52). 

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)

Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is a neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing amino acid.

It is often used as a brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells. It’s also been shown to be very effective at alleviating neurological decline and chronic fatigue (68-71). 

I personally find ALCAR gives me a huge boost in brain energy and clarity. That's why it's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

And as I discussed previously, it can protect your brain from alcohol.

14. Exercise Properly 

I’ve already discussed how exercise increases your brain’s growth hormone (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). 

exercise-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways

But it also reduces foggy thinking by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, improving blood flow to the brain, controlling blood sugar, and raising NAD levels (12). 

But it’s important to note that chronic endurance exercise can actually increase inflammation, so be careful (13, 14). 

That’s why I'm convinced that walking, weightlifting and sprinting are the best forms of exercise. 

Overtraining and lack of rest will lead to hormonal imbalances and brain fatigue. 

So when you engage in endurance cardio, make sure you don’t overexert yourself and always take long enough breaks between workouts to recover. Otherwise, you can physically and mentally exhaust yourself.

15. Increase Good Gut Bacteria

I’ve discussed this before, so I won’t go too in-depth here. 

But there are approximately 100 trillion microorganisms and 500 known bacterial species living inside of you. Your digestive tract holds a lot of these bacteria, and cutting-edge research suggests there is a connection between your brain and your gut. Therefore, the makeup of these bacteria in your gut can affect how you feel mentally (50-52).

gut-bacteria-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways

Unfortunately, a lot of people today have out-of-balance and dysregulated gut bacteria, which can increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the gut and brain, leading to brain fog and other mental symptoms.

Not surprisingly, research has shown that people with irritable bowel syndrome often have chronic fatigue syndrome. This is because both conditions often result from bacterial imbalances and gut inflammation (48).

Here are some steps I recommend to improve the composition of your gut bacteria, which can help eliminate symptoms of brain fog:

Overall, you need a healthy gut for a healthy brain. You can read my previous article “5 Ways to Increase Your Good Gut Bacteria for a Healthier Brain” for more tips and information.

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16. Take Adaptogens (Rhodiola, Ginseng)

Adaptogenic herbs help normalize the body and help you reach a state of mental balance (21, 22, 23).

I’ve weaned off psychiatric medications more than once. The very last time I did, I used two adaptogens – rhodiola and ginseng – and I noticed they reduced withdrawal symptoms, including brain fog.  

Many studies show that rhodiola can clear brain fog and improve mental function by increasing cognitive energy and improving connections and communication between brain cells. It’s also been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, which is linked to brain fog (24-29). 

I wrote about rhodiola before if you’re interested in learning more. 

I still use both rhodiola and ginseng regularly, especially if I’m dealing with brain fog for some reason. 

I take this rhodiola.

17. Intermittent Fasting and Ketosis

Short-term fasting and ketogenic dieting are great ways to enhance your mental clarity and reduce brain fog. 

I fast for at least 12 hours every day, and sometimes follow a ketogenic diet to improve my cognition. 

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. When there is limited access to carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy, your body enters ketosis – a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and ketones. Ketones are an alternative source of fuel, which can quickly recharge your brain cells and improve cognitive function. (33). 

ketogenic-diet-mct-oil-intermittent-fasting-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways

This advice clearly contradicts my earlier advice that you should be eating plenty of healthy carbohydrates. 

But some people notice their brain fog completely disappears and their cognition is very sharp if they fast or follow a low-carb ketogenic diet. But it’s not for everyone. Others feel much worse and need to eat enough carbs to feel mentally well. So I suggest you experiment with both and see what works for you. 

You can get into ketosis more quickly by taking Optimal Ketones, which are exogenous ketones that are easily digested by the body. They readily cross the blood-brain barrier, and provide instant energy to brain cells, helping you quickly overcome brain fog (30, 31).

If I'm struggling with brain fog, I take Optimal Ketones and they immediately increase my mental clarity. This happens even when I eat plenty of carbs. 

18. Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is about as cutting-edge as it gets. It’s even more unconventional that neurofeedback. And it works. 

Low-level laser therapy, or photobiomodulation, 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 (63). 

low-level-laser-therapy-lllt-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways

LLLT increases blood flow to the brain and appears to have an effect on damaged brain cells, which can produce clearer, sharper thinking. It's important to note that the brain and mental effects of LLLT are limited to a specified set of wavelengths (18, 64, 65). 

Most doctors are clueless about LLLT; but not every doctor. 

Dr. Norman Doige, a physician who teaches at the University of Toronto here in Canada, discusses the amazing healing effects of LLLT in his book “The Brain’s Way of Healing.” I highly recommend the book.

I first tried LLLT with a practitioner here in Ottawa. I noticed a boost in cognitive energy, brain function and mental clarity.

I now use these devices at home:

  • 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.

In my experience, applying the light directly to your forehead (prefrontal cortex) will help with brain fog.

This may seem strange and dangerous, but don’t worry – LLLT is very safe (66).

You can read about my experience with LLLT here

19. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold is a silent killer, as most people aren’t aware that it’s in their home and workplace and affecting their brain function. If you’re genetically susceptible, it can wreak havoc on your brain, and your cognitive abilities and mental health can deteriorate for no apparent reason.

After I lived in a moldy home, I became extremely sensitive to any environmental mold and mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

mold-mycotoxins-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways

I now use this air filter in my apartment. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.  

Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, coffee and chocolate. So if you’re sensitive to mycotoxins like I am, you’ll likely experience brain fog and fatigue after eating low-quality versions of these foods. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

Lastly, if 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.

I take activated charcoal every time I eat something bad for my brain and mental health (mycotoxins, gluten, dairy), as it binds to problematic proteins and drags them out of my body. I notice I don’t feel as sick when I do this, and recover much more quickly than without it. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to toxic mold. I’ll be writing more about it soon, but I recommend this website if you suspect you live in a moldy home. 

20. Increase Testosterone

This one applies to men only. 

Low testosterone levels can contribute to your brain fog. 

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

testosterone-how-to-fix-brain-fog-ways-overcome

No conventional doctor tested my testosterone because they assumed every 20-year-old man would have healthy levels. 

But they were wrong. 

Eventually I saw an integrative physical and he found out that I had the testosterone levels of an old man.

I was put on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) for almost one year to get my levels back to normal. And over that time, I saw a huge increase in my mental sharpness. I’m now off TRT and my testosterone remains at optimal levels because of my healthy lifestyle. 

I recommend getting your levels checked and then consider TRT if necessary, especially when you’re older.

I will also discuss how to increase testosterone naturally in an upcoming article. 

 

Conclusion

Clearly, there are a lot of causes and solutions to brain fog. 

You don’t need to accept it as “normal.”

You may need to try a combination of these methods, and it may take some time to finally get to the bottom of it. But it can be done. And you can experience mental clarity again. 

Do you struggle with brain fog? What helps you manage it? Have you overcome it for good? 

Let me know in the comments, as your personal experiences could help someone. 

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Jordan Fallis

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(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23576989

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23999934

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22848760

(4) http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/53/11/2931.full

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11939620

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18493620

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18165311

(8) http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56589

(9) https://pubs.acs.org/cen/science/87/8720sci1.html

(10) http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2013/10/23/01.wnl.0000435561.00234.ee.short

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769828/

(12) http://jcb.rupress.org/content/199/2/205.full

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

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13 Proven Ways Saunas Can Improve Your Mental Health

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

Using a sauna regularly is one of them.

Infrared saunas in particular are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. 

They have a number of brain and mental health benefits, as discussed in the book Sauna Therapy by Dr. Lawrence Wilson.

However, you don’t necessarily need an infrared sauna to experience health benefits. Even traditional saunas – available at most public gyms, spas and health centres – have a number of beneficial cognitive and psychological effects. 

Once you start using a sauna, you should listen to your body to determine how much time you should spend in it. Start out slowly and increase the length of your sessions over time. Also make sure to drink lots of water before and after each session, and never consume alcohol in combination.

Read on to learn about the 13 ways traditional and infrared saunas can improve your brain and mental health.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

1. Saunas Improve Mood and Reduce Depression

Saunas can really help people that struggle with depression.

Lots of research shows that they can make you feel euphoric. Saunas are somewhat stressful on the body, so your brain produces and releases more euphoric hormones to deal with it (53-55).

And these changes appear to be semi-permanent (56). 

So if you use a sauna regularly, you'll end up being consistently happy. 

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, has completed two studies in which he had people with major depression sit in an infrared sauna.

improve-mood-reduce-depression-13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

In his first study, the participants had just one infrared sauna treatment and it reduced their symptoms by about 50%.

In his follow-up study, he found that a single session caused a rapid and powerful antidepressant effect, and the benefits continued for six weeks, which was unexpected. 

He concluded that whole-body hyperthermia holds promise as a safe, rapid-acting, antidepressant treatment with a prolonged therapeutic benefit (57-58). 

Other researchers have looked at the effects of infrared sauna therapy on mildly depressed patients with fatigue, appetite loss, and mental complaints. They found that sauna treatment significantly increased their appetite and reduced their mental complaints (59). 

Whole-body heat therapy has also been shown to reduce depression in cancer patients (60-61).

And other research shows that sweating increases mental satisfaction and energy (62). 

2. Saunas Reduce Anxiety and Stress

Not surprisingly, saunas can also reduce stress and anxiety.

Several studies have shown that regular sauna use lowers levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone (49-52). 

In one study, researchers found that using a sauna can reduce both state and trait anxiety (48).

And other research shows that sweating increases relaxation, and reduces feelings of frustration and anxiety (62). 

Here are 21 other ways to reduce cortisol and increase your resilience to stress.

3. Saunas Increase Beta-Endorphins, Relieve Pain and Help Treat Fibromyalgia

Beta-endorphins are pain-relieving compounds that originate within your body. 

Your brain produces and releases these natural painkillers during times of strenuous exercise, emotional stress and pain.

Since saunas are a stressor, the release of endorphins are increased when you spend time in one.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Several studies have shown that heat stress and heat exposure in a dry sauna cause a significant increase in beta-endorphin levels (28-32). 

This may explain why research shows that sauna therapy can lessen the pain experienced by patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic syndrome characterized by widespread pain with tenderness in specific areas.

In one study, people with fibromyalgia experienced a 33 to 77 per cent reduction in pain after using an infrared sauna regularly. Six months after the study was done, the participants still reported a 28 to 66 per cent reduction in pain (35). 

Other researchers have found the same thing and concluded that infrared sauna therapy is effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia (33-34). 

Another way to relieve pain is by taking DL-Phenylalanine. It’s an amino acid that inhibits the breakdown of endorphins. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it here.

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4. Saunas Increase Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a naturally-occurring protein in the brain that lowers your risk of mental disease and improves your mood. It does this by protecting and repairing your brain cells and increasing the growth of new brain cells. Many researchers consider it a natural antidepressant because it can reduce anxiety and depression (5-13, 15).

Research suggests that if you struggle with mental illness, you likely have reduced levels of BDNF. But luckily, there are ways to boost it.

Using a sauna is one of the ways. 

Research shows that heat exposure increases the expression of BDNF (14). 

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

5. Saunas Increase Norepinephrine Levels and May Help Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter in the brain that can help with focus and attention.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Numerous studies have found that sauna use significantly increases norepinepherine levels (39-42). 

In one study, women spent 20 minutes in a sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed an 86% increase in norepinephrine (43). 

In another study, men that stayed in a sauna until exhaustion increased their norepinephrine levels by 310% (44-45). 

Besides increasing norepinephrine, heat stress also increases your body’s ability to store norepinephrine for later release (46). 

Medications that increase the reuptake norepinephrine are often prescribed to people with ADHD, so researchers believe that sauna therapy should be considered as an alternative treatment (47). 

6. Saunas Encourage the Growth of Myelin

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

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

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Heat stress increases prolactin, a hormone that promotes the production of myelin (16-19). 

In one study, researchers had healthy young men stay in a sauna until they were exhausted, and they reported a 10-fold increase in prolactin (20-11). 

In another study, women spent 20 minutes sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed a 510% increase in prolactin (22). 

I previously provided 25 other ways to promote the growth of myelin in this post

Other than using a sauna, my favourite way to increase myelin is by taking this lion’s mane mushroom supplement. It’s helped me a lot. You can get it here or here

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7. Saunas Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Dementia is obviously a major concern today. 

It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer, and by 2050, it’s estimated that 13 million Americans and 160 million people globally will be affected by the disease (63).

There is currently a lack of effective treatment options, so simple tools to help with prevention are crucial.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

It turns out that sauna therapy may be one of these tools.

Researchers tracked the health of more than 2,300 men in Finland for about 20 years. The men who used a sauna four to seven times each week had a 66 percent lower chance of developing dementia than men who used a sauna just once a week (64-68). 

We have taken into account other lifestyle factors, like physical activity and socioeconomic factors. There is an independent effect of sauna.
— Dr. Jari Laukkanen, Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Eastern Finland

I previously provided some other ways to reverse cognitive decline and dementia in this post

Intranasal insulin can also help. 

8. Saunas Reduce Psychological Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa, or simply known as anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction.

Researchers have examined the effects of sweating on anorexia and reported positive effects on hyperactivity, depression, and stress levels (27). 

9. Saunas Reduce Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex, incapacitating illness. It affects millions of people around the world and may affect up to 4 million people in the United States alone. 

People struggling with this disorder not only have unrelenting fatigue lasting for 6 months or more, but also memory and concentration deficits, sleep disturbances, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and gastrointestinal and immune system dysfunction.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

One study found that infrared sauna sessions significantly reduce fatigue in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. It also significantly reduced their anxiety and depression (23). 

I've had some clients with chronic fatigue say that their doctor recommended they stay out of the sun and avoid exposing themselves to too much heat. But the above study didn't find any negative effects in chronic fatigue patients from regular infrared sauna sessions (23). 

Another study found that daily infrared sauna sessions dramatically improved symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, including fatigue, pain and sleep disturbances. The patients in the study didn’t improve with prednisolone, a steroid medication, but did improve with sauna therapy (24).

So if you struggle with chronic fatigue, infrared sauna therapy is definitely worth looking into. 

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10. Saunas Reduce Tension Headaches

"Chronic tension-type headache" is a syndrome characterized by frequent headaches that occur more than 15 days every month. 

The intensity and duration of the headaches can be very distressing and disabling and affect a person's well-being.

But research shows that regular sauna use is a simple, self-directed treatment that is effective for reducing headache pain intensity (26). 

11. Saunas Help Eliminate Heavy Metals

Some of the benefits of sauna usage occur because of increased sweating. 

Many people don’t sweat very much, and this can cause problems because your skin acts as an important route of detoxification and helps you excrete heavy metals that are so prevalent in your modern environment. Common heavy metals in our environment include cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury (36, 37). 

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Lack of sweating may actually result in increased toxic load over time, which can negatively affect your brain and mental health.

Research shows that mercury poisoning from dental amalgam affects the mind and emotions and plays a role in the development of mental illness (1). 

But by sweating frequently in a sauna, you can enhance your detoxification pathways and help your body remove mercury (2, 4). 

In fact, studies show that high mercury levels can be reduced to normal levels by using a sauna repeatedly (3). 

Researchers have concluded that “sweat-inducing sauna use can provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals and should be the initial and preferred treatment of patients with elevated mercury levels” (38). 

Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body.
— Researchers writing in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health

12. Saunas Increase Deep Sleep

Getting high-quality deep sleep is critical for optimal brain function and mental health. 

And using a sauna regularly is one way to improve it. 

Researchers in Finland report that sauna use is one of the factors that can result in deeper, more restful sleep (25). 

Some other ways to promote sleep include blocking out blue light before bed, taking this sleep supplement, lying on an acupressure mat, supplementing with magnesium, collagen and melatonin if necessary, and blacking  out your room with curtains or wearing a sleep mask.

13. Saunas Support Thyroid Function

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple, and lots of research shows that thyroid dysfunction can contribute to mental health problems

One of the main threats to the health of your thyroid is non-biological halogens. These include bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference these halogens and iodine, a trace mineral necessary for proper thyroid function.

Your thyroid soaks up the halogens and uses them like iodine. By occupying iodine receptors, they inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones, and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

But don’t worry – sauna use can help your body excrete halogens (69). 

The more you can excrete the halogens, the more your body will be able to use iodine to produce thyroid hormones.

I also recommend reducing your exposure by filtering your drinking and shower water. Brita filters aren't enough because they don’t remove fluoride. I use this Berkey water filter to make sure I’m drinking the purest water available. It filters everything out of the water. I also use this filter to remove chlorine from my shower water. 

Check out this post for more ways to support your thyroid. 

Conclusion

As you can see, saunas have a number of beneficial effects on the brain and can help you manage and overcome your mental health challenges. 

I’ve been doing a lot of research into saunas recently and have concluded that infrared saunas have additional benefits and are much more gentle and effective than the traditional “hot rock” saunas.

Unfortunately, most infrared saunas emit unsafe levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

However, I did find a company that has a patent on low-EMF infrared saunas. Their saunas are also very well built and have a lifetime warranty. So I'm going to go with one of their saunas. You can get one here

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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(65) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161216114143.htm

(66) http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/01/20/sweating-in-sauna-might-help-keep-brain-healthy-finnish-study.html

(67) http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/studies-show-saunas-can-protect-against-heart-brain-diseases-1.3232765

(68) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201612/frequent-sauna-use-may-reduce-risk-dementia-study-finds

(69) http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2016/09/09/sauna-bathing.aspx

(70) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/04/detoxification-program.aspx

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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