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

Blood-brain barrier leakage means that the brain has lost its protective means, the stability of brain cells is disrupted and the environment in which nerve cells interact becomes ill-conditioned. These mechanisms could eventually lead to dysfunction in the brain.
— Dr. Walter H. Backes, Maastricht University Medical Center
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A healthy, properly-functioning blood-brain barrier is absolutely critical for optimal brain and mental health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of them have helped me.

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

 

1. Avoid Gluten

Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.

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

You'll likely feel better.

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There’s one main reason I recommend this…

Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.

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

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

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

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

That’s simply not true.  

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

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

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

 

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

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

I’ve discussed this before.

Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.

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

Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.

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

And what did the researchers find?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take Optimal Biotics every day.

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

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

 

3. Drink Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Sulforaphane

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

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

It’s quite similar to curcumin.

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

You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.

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

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

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

 

5. Avoid Alcohol

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

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

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

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

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

 

 6. Resveratrol or Pterostilbene

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

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

And scientists are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF and support your mitochondria.

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

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

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

Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:

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

  • Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7. Reduce Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

9. Sleep and Melatonin

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

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

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

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

Supplementing with melatonin can also help.

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

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

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

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

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

 

10. Berberine

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants. 

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

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

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

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11. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

12. B Vitamins

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

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

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

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

 

13. Magnesium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take this magnesium supplement

 

14. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

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

It can also be taken as a supplement.

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

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

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

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

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

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

 

15. Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16. Curcumin

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

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

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But it can also:

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

  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and

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

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

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

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

 

17. Vitamin D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

18. Citicoline or Alpha GPC

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

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

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

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

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

I personally take Citicoline every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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19. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20. Lower Homocysteine

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

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

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

And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy. 

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

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

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

 

21. Progesterone

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

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

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

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

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

 

22. Increase Brain Blood Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

23. Other Nutrients, Antioxidants and Herbs

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

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

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

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

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

I hope they help you too!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(53) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22906518

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

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20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s not a defect in your personality. 

As I’m sure you know, it’s often caused by physiological changes in your body and brain.

So you need to think of it like any other illness. 

If you have a broken bone, you need to wear a cast to stabilize the bone while it heals. 

And if you have depression, you need to be kind to yourself, as you seek and address the underlying root causes. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless. 

I used to think that I’d be depressed forever.

That my depression was simply genetic, and I couldn’t do anything about it. 

In fact, I accepted that notion for a while.

I felt defeated and hopeless, and thought I'd feel that way for my entire life.

I told myself I’d simply have to rely on drugs to survive because that’s just “how I’m wired”. 

But then one day, I changed my mind and decided that I’d had enough. 

And I was actually going to get to the bottom of it instead of just accepting it.

I took action and searched far and wide for safer and healthier solutions to deal with my depression.

I came across research that wasn’t even considered by my psychiatrist.

Therapies that they said wouldn’t work.

But then they did.

And I overcome my depression for good. 

One of my most important discoveries was that nutrient deficiencies can make your depression worse. 

And they could even be the root cause of it. 

It made so much sense.

But why hadn’t my doctors ever brought it up?

I delved deeper into the scientific literature, and I found MANY nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to depression.

I started increasing my intake of them.

And I got better.

Much better.

This new post includes 20 nutrient deficiencies that could be making you feel depressed.

It boggles my mind that many conventional psychiatrists ignore this research.

But that doesn’t mean you need to. 

Read on to learn more. 

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1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to fight depression.

Several studies have shown that depressive patients have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (1-3).

Researchers even conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies, and they found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids were significantly lower in people with depression (4). 

They concluded that having a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is a “contributing factor to mood disorders” (5). 

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

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including:

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpeg
  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

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

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

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

I take this one.

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

This isn’t surprising because plenty of research shows that omega-3 supplements are effective at treating clinical depression – just as effective as antidepressants drugs – because they lower inflammation in the brain (6-10). 

2. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.

And even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency. 

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency.

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today.

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (16-22). 

And B12 levels tend to be significantly lower in people who are depressed (13). 

In one study, subjects with Vitamin B12 deficiency were 2 times as likely to be severely depressed as non-deficient subjects (15). 

Even a mild decrease in B12 levels is associated with mood disturbances (14). 

Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re not deficient. 

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is an excellent source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver.

You may also want to supplement with Vitamin B12 because studies show that B12 supplementation significantly lowers homocysteine levels and reduces depressive symptoms (23-24). 

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12). 

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active.

I take this B complex supplement regularly, and it includes methyl-B12.

3. Vitamin D (and Vitamin K2)

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your 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 depression.

Researchers have found a very strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression (27-28). 

The lower your Vitamin D levels, the more symptoms of depression you are likely to have (35). 

Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (25). 

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpeg

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (26). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight.

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

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.

That’s why I recommend using a Vitamin D lamp. I use this one.

Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement

I now prefer sunlight and the lamp to get my Vitamin D, but research does show that taking a Vitamin D3 supplement is effective at reducing symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (29-31). 

This is likely because Vitamin D increases the production of numerous neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (32-34). 

Lastly, if you decide to supplement with Vitamin D3, you should consider taking it with Vitamin K2

A recent study found that Vitamin K2 reduces depression in animals (36). 

And Vitamin K2 is known to improve brain function in humans (37-38). 

4. Magnesium

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

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium today.  

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

Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including depression (42). 

In fact, researchers have found that people with depression have lower magnesium levels than healthy people (49). 

They’ve also found a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression (43). 

On top of this, animal research shows that removing magnesium from their diet results in depressive-like symptoms (50). 

So if you’re struggling with depression, it’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium so that you don’t have a deficiency.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

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

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

I also highly recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement

A number of studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce depressive symptoms in humans – sometimes within 7 days (44-48). 

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

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

5. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health.

Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning.

Mounting evidence suggests a link between zinc deficiency and the development and severity of depression (66-68, 76).  

Depressed patients tend to have lower levels of zinc. And as their zinc levels drop, their depressive symptoms get worse (81-84). 

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (63-65). 

So, if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient, and you’ll definitely want to optimize your zinc levels. 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include:

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

However, if you’re deficient like I was, I recommend taking a high-quality zinc supplement, at least for a short period of time. 

A meta-analysis and several studies have concluded that zinc supplementation has antidepressant effects and significantly reduces symptoms of depression. One way it improves mood is by significantly increasing BDNF levels (69-75, 77-80).

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal. 

Check out my previous post all about zinc if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels.

Click here to subscribe

6. Folate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (55-56). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens

  • Asparagus

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Strawberries

  • Avocado

  • Beef liver

  • Poultry

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

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (54).

And supplementation is often needed. 

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (51-53). 

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.

And the research backs up the use of methylfolate.

In one study, patients with depression took methylfolate for 6 months, and they witnessed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms (57). 

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (58). 

Methylfolate can be effective at treating depression because it helps lower homocysteine levels, helps produce serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain (59-62). 

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. Or you can take it separately if you’d like. 

7. Vitamin B6

Having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can also contribute to your depression.

It’s a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.

It can boost your mood because it plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and dopamine. It also lowers homocysteine

Research shows that people with depressive symptoms tend to have low levels of Vitamin B6 (85-87). 

A Vitamin B6 deficiency also contributes to chronic inflammation, which is one of the main underlying root causes of depression (88). 

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

Fortunately, consuming more Vitamin B6 can help. 

One study found that women that eat more foods containing Vitamin B6 have a lower risk of depression (89). 

Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken. 

But supplementation is often necessary to see quick improvements. 

One study found that supplementing with Vitamin B6 can reduce depressive symptoms by lowering homocysteine levels (90). 

When I took antidepressants for depression, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with Vitamin B6.

This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing depression in the long run. 

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Vitamin C

Having low levels of Vitamin C can also make you feel depressed.

Researchers have found that poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression (105). 

Animal research also shows that a Vitamin C deficiency can lead to low levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which causes mice to act depressed (106-107). 

As you probably know, Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 1 gram of this Vitamin C every day. 

I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily, and it definitely improved my mood and reduced my stress levels, especially when I was coming off antidepressants

Research backs this up, showing that supplementing with Vitamin C can actually improve mood in both unhealthy and healthy individuals (95, 102-103). 

Various other studies show that Vitamin C supplements reduce stress and anxiety and decrease the severity of depression (96-101, 104).

Studies even show that Vitamin C can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants (108-109). 

9. Thiamine

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

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

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system (167). 

Research shows that lower levels of Vitamin B1 are associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (168).

Vitamin B1 deficiency is also known to lead to irritability and symptoms of depression (170). 

Some doctors and researchers believe that postpartum depression is sometimes simply a Vitamin B1 deficiency (169). 

Luckily, consuming more Vitamin B1 can help.

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A randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Vitamin B1 supplementation reduces symptoms of depression within 6 weeks (171). 

And another concluded that Vitamin B1 supplementation improves mood, reduces brain fog, and speeds up reaction time (172).

In fact, researchers have even found that subjects’ mood improves if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood increases, and that the opposite occurs if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood decreases (173). 

Benfotiamine is the best supplemental form of Vitamin B1. It’s included in this B complex that I take. 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs. 

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

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is an amino acid found in nearly every cell of the body. It plays a vital role in the production of energy.

Researchers have found significantly lower levels of carnitine in patients with depression. And their low carnitine levels are associated with the severity of their depression (11-12, 174-175). 

Carnitine is mainly found in meat, fish and poultry.

But you can also supplement with it. 

I recommend Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), an acetylated form of carnitine. It’s best supplemental form of carnitine. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.

But it’s also been shown to be very effective at quickly improving mood and treating depression (179-182). 

Six randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that ALCAR is better at treating depression than placebo (177). 

And two other studies found that ALCAR improved depressive symptoms in patients with chronic depression, and it was just as effective as antidepressant medications, but with less side effects (176, 178). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Click here to subscribe

11. Iron

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.

It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale, irritable and foggy

Sounds like depression doesn’t it?

Several studies show that iron deficiency increases the risk of developing depression and increases the severity of depression (184-186, 188-190). 

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

Researchers have also conducted a meta-analysis and found that high iron intake reduces the chance of developing depression (183). 

In one study, iron supplementation resulted in a 25% improvement in depressive symptoms (187). 

Despite this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron though because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems.

It’s definitely preferable to get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.

Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I go with the capsules. You can get them here or here.

Other good sources of iron include:

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

12. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health.

Researchers have found that depression is associated with low levels of selenium (191). 

But supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase selenium levels and improve symptoms of depression (192). 

Other research shows that selenium intake is associated with a general elevation of mood (193). 

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured chicken and eggs, and grass-fed meat.

I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.

13. Riboflavin

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.  

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

As a result, a Vitamin B2 deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and depression.

In fact, lower levels of Vitamin B2 have been found in people with depression (91). 

Researchers have also found that Vitamin B2 consumption decreases risk of postpartum depression (92). 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B2 include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds

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

If you’d like, you can also supplement with Vitamin B2.

Studies show that supplementing with Vitamin B2 helps lower homocysteine and reduces depressive symptoms (93-94). 

Vitamin B2 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement. 

14. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a coenzyme and antioxidant located primarily in the mitochondria. It has numerous known health benefits and plays a critical role in producing energy for the body.

CoQ10 is produced within the body, but it’s also found within food and can be supplied to the body through food or supplementation. It resembles a fat-soluble vitamin.

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10 (110). 

Research shows that CoQ10 levels are reduced in people with depression and chronic fatigue (111). 

One study also found that CoQ10 regulates serotonin levels and depressive symptoms in fibromyalgia patients (117). 

CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to improve fatigue and reduce depression symptom severity (112-114). 

It also displays antidepressant-like activity in animals (115-116). 

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. It can be used if you have a CoQ10 deficiency. I took CoQ10 when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

15. Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA) is an uncommon fatty acid.

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

It’s made in the body by the elongation of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).

But small amounts can also be found in animal products (118). 

Last year, researchers found that people with depression are more likely to have low levels of DGLA levels (121). 

And increasing DGLA levels may lower the risk of developing depression (122). 

DGLA also has anti-inflammatory effects in the body (119). 

So it makes sense that levels would be low in depressed individuals because an increasing amount of evidence suggests that depression is a chronic inflammatory disease. 

DGLA can be increased by supplementing with dietary GLA (120). 

GLA can be found in Borage Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Blackcurrant Seed Oil (123). 

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16. Inositol

Inositol is a naturally-occurring molecule found in nearly all plants and animals. It plays a key role in various biological processes.

The brain has the highest concentration of inositol, where it plays an important role making neurotransmitters (124). 

Inositol can be found in many foods, particularly fruit, especially cantaloupe and oranges (125). 

It used to be considered a B Vitamin, called Vitamin B8. But it currently is no longer considered an essential nutrient because your body can produce inositol from glucose (126). 

But I’m including it in this list anyway because individuals with depression have very low levels of inositol in their brains (127-129). 

And inositol supplementation has been shown to increase inositol levels and help treat depression (130, 132). 

It can also reduce symptoms of depression in women with premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (131, 133). 

It’s even been shown to help patients who have discontinued their antidepressant medication (134). 

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

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex.

Check out my full post about inositol to learn more about the benefits. 

Fun fact: Inositol is also used as a stand-in for cocaine in television shows and movies. 

17. Manganese

Manganese is an important trace mineral for human health. It acts as a cofactor, helping many enzymes carry out their functions in the body.

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.jpg

Research shows that having low levels of manganese can contribute to the development of depression (135). 

One study found that depressed patients had significantly lower levels of “manganese superoxide dismutase”, which is a manganese-dependent enzyme (136). 

Researchers have also found that women with higher manganese intake had a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms (137). 

Hazelnuts and macadamia nuts contain high levels of manganese, while leafy green vegetables, tea, chocolate and some fruits contain moderate levels (139). 

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t consume too much manganese.

In excess, manganese is neurotoxic and can lead to manganism, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes dopaminergic neuronal death and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease (138). 

So I definitely don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of manganese. 

The small amount of manganese in Optimal Antiox is fine though. It’s what I take. 

18. Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, suggesting that it’s very important.

It’s also one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier.

Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning the body can usually produce sufficient amounts of it. But sometimes the body uses up so much glutamine that it becomes necessary to obtain it from the diet or supplements, particularly during periods of illness, stress, inflammation and injuries (156-157). 

Researchers have found that depressed adults have reduced levels of glutamine (158). 

And glutamine deficiency has been shown to increase depressive-like behaviour in animals (159). 

But glutamine supplementation has “clear anti-depressive properties” and has been shown to improve mood (160-161). 

High levels of glutamine can be found in protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, fish and eggs. Beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, brussel sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso also contain some glutamine.

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

Glutamine is also available in supplement form. 

Glutamine was one of the main supplements that helped me heal my leaky gut, but I no longer need to take it regularly. 

19. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. It must be consumed through diet or by taking supplements. 

Some healthy foods that contain tryptophan include bananas, chicken, turkey and dark chocolate (140). 

nutrient-nutritional-deficiencies-make-you-depressed-cause-vitamins-minerals-link-associated-related-between-diet-nutrition-depression-what-supplements-should-i-take-for-low-levels-food-plan-list-mental-health-wellness-importance-best-treating-cure-help-reduce-fight-beat-healthy-good-managing-against-improve-study-eating-combat-can-natural-best-mood-antidepressant-otc-postpartum.png

Tryptophan helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in the brain, which then produces serotonin (141-142). 

Researchers have found that depressed patients have significantly lower levels of tryptophan in their blood than healthy control subjects (143-144). 

Studies also show that depressed patients have a decreased ratio of tryptophan to neutral amino acids in their blood. This suggests that tryptophan availability to the brain is likely reduced in depressed patients (145-146). 

Personally, supplementing with tryptophan never helped me. In fact, it always seemed to make me worse. It gave me asthma and acne and increased my depression.  

This is because depressed patients sometimes have problems creating serotonin from tryptophan. Instead, they create other metabolites from tryptophan, such as quinolinic acid, which can be toxic. For depressed patients like me, tryptophan supplementation won’t help, and may actually make their depression worse (150-151). 

However, some people do see their mood improve when they increase their intake of tryptophan. So it shouldn’t be completely disregarded. 

There are studies that show that consuming a high tryptophan diet and consuming additional dietary tryptophan can increase mood and lead to significantly less depressive symptoms (152-154). 

So supplementing with tryptophan is worth a shot if you’re struggling with depression and haven’t tried it yet. Just be aware of possible side effects. 

If you want, you can also try supplementing with 5-HTP instead of tryptophan. 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin. 

5-HTP is included in this supplement

20. Glutathione

Glutathione is a small peptide made up of 3 important amino acids – glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine – each of which have several important roles in the human body.

Glutathione is found in the food supply and within the human body, where it acts as an antioxidant. It is used by every cell in the body.

It’s technically not an “essential nutrient” because the body can create it.

However, it’s still very important, and a glutathione deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in a number of diseases, including depression.

Studies show that patients with depression have significantly lower levels of glutathione. And the lower a person’s glutathione levels, the more depressed they are likely to be (162-164). 

Some practitioners and researchers have found that increasing glutathione intake and levels can successfully treat depression (165). 

Glutathione is also able to prevent behavioural depression in animals (166). 

It’s important to note that standard glutathione supplements are not very effective at increasing glutathione levels because they are not well absorbed by the body.

But I have found that high-quality liposomal glutathione supplements are effective. 

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is another tried-and-true way of increasing glutathione levels because it’s the direct precursor to glutathione

Garlic, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, can also help boost glutathione levels, but liposomal glutathione and NAC supplements are more powerful. 

Other supplements that have been shown to help increase and maintain optimal glutathione levels include Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and S-adenosyl-methionine (Sam-E)

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

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Jordan Fallis

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(189) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29307706

(190) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22286844

(191) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18463429

(192) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18463429

(193) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1873372

(194) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16184071

(195) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16184071

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

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27 Powerful Ways to Increase Your IGF-1 Levels

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a hormone in your body that’s absolutely critical for optimal physical and mental performance.  

It’s produced by the liver.

And once it’s released into the bloodstream, it stimulates growth, regenerates cells, and helps your body recover and repair itself.  

It’s known to play an important role in childhood growth and development, and helps you build and maintain muscle throughout your entire adult life.  

But it doesn’t just affect your muscles… 

It also powerfully supports your brain. 

Unfortunately, your IGF-1 levels drastically decrease as you get older, contributing to cognitive decline

Your levels can even drop when you’re young, especially if you’ve had a brain injury or developed a chronic health issue. 

Luckily, there are many different ways to optimize and increase IGF-1 levels. 

Researchers have found that IGF-1 levels can be manipulated to improve quality of life and delay the deteriorating effects of brain aging

It doesn’t matter if you’re old, run down, or chronically ill... 

The 25 strategies in this article can naturally boost IGF-1 production and amplify your cognitive performance.  

I’ve divided this article into four main sections:

  • The benefits of IGF-1

  • Food and nutrients that increase IGF-1

  • Supplements and herbs that increase IGF-1

  • Lifestyle habits and therapies that increase IGF-1

Continue reading to learn more and discover how to increase IGF-1.  

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The Benefits of Increasing Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1) and How It Affects Your Brain 

IGF-1 is a very important blood marker to monitor. 

Yet many doctors don’t check it. 

This is a shame because it plays a crucial role in healing and brain health.  

Research suggests that IGF-1 levels tend to be low in people struggling with chronic illness and systemic inflammation (87-88, 103).  

Studies also show that IGF-1 crosses the blood–brain barrier and affects the brain and cognitive function (113, 116, 129-131).  

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are associated with lower IGF-1 levels, and increasing IGF-1 can help prevent the accumulation of amyloid plaque in the brain (104-108).  

Other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease, are also associated with lower IGF-1 levels, and increasing IGF-1 can help lower your risk of developing these diseases (109-112).  

Researchers have also found that IGF-1 and higher levels of IGF-1 can lead to the following cognitive and neurological health benefits: 

But it doesn’t stop there... 

Many people who have had brain injuries also end up having low levels of IGF-1. 

This is because your brain signals to your liver to produce IGF-1. And when your brain gets injured, it can stop doing this efficiently (122-126).  

Research clearly shows that IGF-1 levels often drop after traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which worsens cognitive dysfunction. This even happens in people who have had mild TBIs. But strategies to increase IGF-1 can increase brain cell survival, repair the brain, and improve cognition after TBIs (117-121).  

I personally had low IGF-1 levels after multiple head injuries.  

But I had no idea for the longest time.  

I eventually found a doctor who actually listened to me, we checked my levels, and I found out they were low.  

I then implemented many of the strategies below to increase and normalize my IGF-1 levels, and I felt better.

It’s important to test and monitor your IGF-1 levels like I did because you don’t want your IGF-1 levels getting too high either. 

 

Best Foods and Nutrients to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally

 

1. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for brain health. 

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical zinc deficiency impairs brain function (5-7).  

That’s a problem because a zinc deficiency decreases IGF-1 levels in humans (8).  

In one animal study, feeding a zinc-depleted diet to rats for 14 days resulted in a 28% decrease in IGF-1 compared with rats fed a zinc-adequate diet (9).  

Luckily, zinc supplementation can help.  

Researchers have found that supplementing with zinc significantly increases circulating IGF-1 levels, and increases the synthesis and action of IGF-1 in the body (10-13).  

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc and IGF-1 levels are optimal. I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best zinc supplement so that they can experience superior results. I have found that many zinc supplements on the market fall short.  Optimal Zinc includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc. 

Besides supplementing, you should also eat plenty of healthy, whole foods that contain zinc.  

Some of the best foods to optimize your zinc levels include:  

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

Check out my previous post all about zinc for more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels. 

2. Protein

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Eating enough high-quality protein is critical if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels.  

Research shows that low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1 (69).  

Meanwhile, high-protein diets can increase IGF-1 levels (66-67, 71-72).  

Animal protein and red meat in particular has been shown to increase IGF-1 concentrations (68, 70).  

It's important to keep in mind that 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 prefers and expects 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

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. 

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. 

3. Vitamin C

Taking extra Vitamin C is another way to increase IGF-1.  

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

Researchers have found that higher dietary intake of citrus fruits and Vitamin C is associated with higher concentrations of IGF-1 (1).  

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day, just so I know I’m getting enough. 

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

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4. Blueberries

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

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

Researchers have found that blueberries improve memory by increasing IGF-1 (2).  

Besides that, blueberries also improve brain health by increasing BDNF and improving brain blood flow

I buy wild blueberries every time I go grocery shopping.  

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

Alternatively, you can take a blueberry extract.  

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

In fact, most researchers often use concentrated blueberry extracts instead of actual blueberries when they study the beneficial health effects of blueberries. 

5. Magnesium

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

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for optimal brain function. 

Research shows that magnesium levels are strongly and independently associated with total IGF-1 levels (14).  

And researchers believe that magnesium deficiency worsens the age-related decline in IGF-1 levels (15).  

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

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

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

You should also make sure you’re eating enough magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:  

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

Magnesium also supports the blood-brain barrier, increases BDNF, and helps with the formation of new brain synapses

6. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health. 

Studies show that there is a significant association between selenium and IGF-1 levels (16).  

Animal research has found that a selenium deficiency is linked to lower IGF-1 levels (17).  

And supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase IGF-1 in elderly individuals (18-19).  

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured chicken and eggs, and grass-fed meat.  

I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium

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7. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a tasty spice that has a number of health benefits.  

It has anti-inflammatory effects, it’s loaded with antioxidants, and it's even been shown to have beneficial effects on neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease (46-49).  

Researchers have also found that cinnamon extract significantly activates IGF-1 signaling (50-51).  

Not all cinnamon is created equal though. 

You’ll have to find and consume Ceylon, which is considered “true cinnamon”. It has the most health benefits.  

Most cinnamon in grocery stores is cheap and not actually Ceylon

You can usually find Ceylon in health food stores.  

It’s also available through Amazon

8. Vitamin D

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

Unfortunately, researchers estimate that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.  

This is a huge problem because every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences. 

Research shows that Vitamin D significantly increases circulating IGF-1 levels in adults (25).  

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sun.  

I try to get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months.  

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.  

During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I use this Vitamin D sunlamp.

I also take this Vitamin D supplement as needed, depending on my blood test levels.  

Vitamin D is so critical for optimal brain health, so make sure to check your levels regularly.  

9. Thiamine

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

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

Researchers have found that Vitamin B1 plays a key role in the IGF-1 system, and a deficiency leads to a significant drop in IGF-1 levels (27).  

Benfotiamine is the best supplemental form of Vitamin B1. It’s included in this B complex that I take. 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs.  

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

 

Best Supplements and Herbs to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally 

 

10. Probiotics

The beneficial bacteria in your gut are known to convert the food you eat into short-chain fatty acids.  

These probiotic bacteria - and the short-chain fatty acids that they produce - play a critical role in the synthesis of IGF-1 in your body and brain.  

Research clearly shows that the following probiotics stimulate the IGF-1 system and increase IGF-1 concentrations (33-40).  

All four of these probiotics are included in the Optimal Biotics supplement

Meanwhile, antibiotics have been shown to decrease IGF-1 (41).  

Check out this older article for several other ways to increase your good gut bacteria.  

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 9 probiotic strains that can help. 

11. Dehydroepiandrosterone

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

It's also available as a supplement

DHEA has been shown to have neuroprotective effects, and it’s also known to improve memory and cognition. 

In one study, a 100 mg daily dose of DHEA for six months elevated IGF-1 levels in both men and women (3).  

You can get DHEA here.  

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

12. Taurine

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

Taken as a supplement, it can improve your mood and reduce your anxiety because it can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase oxytocin, dopamine and BDNF in the brain. 

It turns out that it can also increase IGF-1 levels and increase the synthesis of IGF-1 (42-43).  

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

13. Resveratrol

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

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

And researchers are starting to understand why. 

In one study, resveratrol was shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the production of IGF-1 in the brain (4).  

It’s also been shown to increase BDNF, synaptogenesis, autophagy and blood flow in the brain. 

To consume enough resveratrol to increase IGF-1, you’ll need to supplement with it.  

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain.  

I don't take it every day, just every so often.  

You can get it here or here

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14. Leucine

Leucine is one of three branched chain amino acids (BCAA).  

It's an essential amino acid, meaning you’ll need to get it from food or supplements.  

Athletes and bodybuilders often take it as a supplement because it helps increase energy, improve strength and build muscle.  

Researchers have found that leucine significantly increases IGF-1 and IGF binding protein (52).  

You can get leucine from protein-rich foods, such as fish, chicken and turkey.  

But you may want to supplement with it if your goal is to increase IGF-1.  

I take this BCAA supplement when I lift weights regularly. 

15. Astragalus

astragalus-best-ways-to-increase-igf-1-insulin-like-growth-factor-hormone-levels-naturally-foods-supplements-herbs-benefits-how-to-boost-production-results-blood-diet-brain-function-in-the-body-that-what-which-things-improve-raise-eat.jpg

Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to support the immune system and reduce inflammation.  

There are more than 2,000 species of Astragalus, but usually Astragalus supplements simply contain Astragalus membranaceus.  

Astragalus membranaceus extract has been shown to significantly increase IGF-1 levels in humans and animals (53-57).  

It's available in many forms, including liquid extracts, capsules, powders and teas

 

16. Colostrum

Colostrum is a special kind of milk, also known as “first milk”. 

It’s naturally produced by the mammary glands of mammals immediately following the delivery of a newborn. 

It contains a number of different nutrients and growth factors, including IGF-1, that support the health and development of a newborn baby (58). 

Colostrum from cows (bovine colostrum) can be taken as a supplement by humans for its health benefits.  

Research shows that colostrum supplementation significantly increases circulating levels of IGF-1 (59-60).  

I take this bovine colostrum powder regularly. I would say it's probably the most important supplement I've taken to optimize my IGF-1 levels. 

17. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

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

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

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

It does so much, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that ALCAR increases IGF-1 levels in humans (20).  

Animal studies also show that it increases IGF-1 levels in rats (21-22).  

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

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

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18. Creatine

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

Creatine is also available as a supplement. Athletes, bodybuilders, wrestlers, sprinters often take extra creatine to gain more muscle mass. It’s an incredibly well-researched supplement and safe to take regularly. 

Supplementing with creatine can also support the brain. It's been shown to have neuroprotective effects and it rapidly produces energy to support brain cell function (23).  

In one study, healthy individuals took creatine every day for 5 days, and researchers witnessed a 30 per cent increase in IGF expression (24).  

When I’m lifting weights regularly, I take this creatine powder every day on an empty stomach. 

19. Ursolic Acid

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Ursolic Acid is a natural compound found in a variety of plants and herbs, such as apple peels, rosemary, thyme and holy basil. Apple peels contain the largest amount. 

In one study, supplementing with 100 mg of Ursolic Acid, three times daily, increased IGF-1 levels in humans by 22.8 per cent (62).  

Animal research also shows that it increases IGF-1 signaling and enhances IGF-1 receptors (61, 63).  

You can get pure Ursolic Acid through Amazon.

Or you can supplement with the herb Holy Basil, which contains some Ursolic Acid. But it may not be as effective as taking pure Ursolic Acid.  

20. Hydroxy Methyl Butyrate

Hydroxy Methyl Butyrate (HMB) is a metabolite of leucine. 

It's also a dietary supplement used by athletes and bodybuilders to increase muscle strength and development. 

Studies show that HMB supplementation increases the expression and levels of IGF-1 (64-65).  

You can get HMB through Amazon.  

21. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a coenzyme and antioxidant located primarily in the mitochondria. It has numerous known health benefits and plays a critical role in producing energy for the body.  

CoQ10 is produced within the body, but it’s also found within food and can be supplied to the body through food or supplementation. It resembles a fat-soluble vitamin. 

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10.  

Research shows that supplementing with CoQ10 significantly increases IGF-1 levels (26).  

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. I took this one when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

 

Best Lifestyle Habits, Therapies and Practices to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally

 

22. Low-Level Laser Therapy

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

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

Several studies show that LLLT increases the expression, production and release of IGF-1 (28-32).  

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

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

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

Before trying LLLT, I highly recommend reading my full article about it first.

23. Exercise

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Exercise is probably the best way to boost IGF-1 levels, as it also appears to “push” IGF-1 to the brain to improve its function.  

There are two main forms of exercise that you need to engage in if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels – high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training.  

Research shows that resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training) significantly increases IGF-1 and increases the bioavailability of IGF-1 (73).  

Intense and strenuous HIIT workouts cause a significant increase in circulating levels of IGF-1 (74).  

Besides increasing IGF-1, exercise can also induce autophagy in the brain, increase dopamine and BDNF, and increase blood flow to the brain

That’s why many doctors and researchers recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.  

24. Deep Sleep

Getting enough high-quality, deep sleep is very important if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels and improve your brain and mental health. 

I used to have very poor sleep and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my low IGF-1 levels and poor cognitive function. 

Sleep deprivation is known to suppress IGF-1 in humans and animals (75, 78-79).  

Meanwhile, sleep extension significantly increases IGF-I concentrations (76).  

In one study, researchers found that increased deep sleep is associated with higher levels of IGF-1 in healthy older men (77).  

And in another study, improving the sleep quality of military personnel led to a significant increase in their IGF-1 levels, and a significant reduction in their symptoms of depression and PTSD (80).  

So, it’s not just the length of your sleep that matters. 

It’s also the depth and quality of your sleep.  

If you’re having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote deeper and more restful sleep.  

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25. Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards increasing your IGF-1 levels naturally. 

Research clearly shows that proinflammatory cytokines inhibit and impair IGF-1 bioactivity, and induce a state of IGF resistance (81-85).  

There are many causes of chronic inflammation, including infections, mold, brain injuries, and leaky brain.  

But one of the most common causes – and the one you have the most control over – is your diet.  

That’s why I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods such as gluten and dairy that can trigger inflammation in the gut and brain.  

You should also remove processed food from your diet, and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed beef and organic chicken.  

Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health for a full list of anti-inflammatory foods.  

Other steps you can take to reduce inflammation include reducing stress, exercising, improving gut health, treating infections and getting enough sleep. 

26. Avoid or Limit Alcohol

best-ways-to-increase-igf-1-insulin-like-growth-factor-hormone-levels-naturally-foods-supplements-herbs-benefits-how-to-boost-production-results-blood-diet-brain-function-in-the-body-that-what-which-things-improve-raise-eat.jpg

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

It also lowers your IGF-1 levels. 

Researchers have found that high alcohol intake inhibits IGF-1 (86).  

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. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all anymore.  

If you do decide to drink it, this post explains that some types of alcohol are better than others. 

27. Sauna Sessions

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

Using a sauna regularly is one of them. 

Research suggests that daily sauna sessions can significantly increase the production of growth hormone and IGF-1 (44-45).  

This sauna is the best low-EMF, infrared sauna on the market.  

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.  

Check out this post to learn more about saunas and the 13 ways they can improve your brain and mental health.  

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/6/1518.full 

(2) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10284150400020482 

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9876338 

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21295960  

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22664333  

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939673  

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673824 

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068/ 

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068/ 

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068/ 

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11712076 

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8532589 

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7845370 

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068  

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068 

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068  

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068 

(180 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469470/  

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20416996 

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10413658  

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3631133/ 

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23497226  

(23) https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/ 

(24) https://ast-ss.com/boost-igf-1-levels-by-30-new-research-shows-you-how/  

(25) https://eje.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/eje/169/6/767.xml  

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469470/  

(27) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0955286396000113  

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22714676  

(29) http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0365-05962011000500013&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en  

(30) https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/effects-and-action-mechanism-of-low-level-laser-therapy-lllt-applications-in-periodontology-2161-1122-1000514-104623.html  

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(34) https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/lactobacillus-acidophilus-modulates-inflammatory-activity-by-regulating-the-tlr4-and-nfb-expression-in-porcine-peripheral-blood-mononuclear-cells-after-lipopolysaccharide-challenge/E12E96E37FEDC02336B7A10ED302628C/core-reader 

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6131626/ 

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(38) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27596801  

(39) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307885332_Supplementation_with_Lactobacillus_rhamnosus_SP1_normalises_skin_expression_of_genes_implicated_in_insulin_signalling_and_improves_adult_acne  

(40) http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/pdf/10.4141/A00-037  

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(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25963419 

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(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/999213 

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(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19433898 

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(51) https://thescipub.com/PDF/ajbbsp.2010.204.212.pdf  

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25909895  

(53) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267390251_Astragalus_Membranaceus_Supplement_Increased_the_Concentration_of_IGF-1_for_Damaging_Muscle_in_Human 

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(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28164139  

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(62) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25352765  

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(64) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21237681  

(65) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537867/  

(66) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16900085?dopt=Abstract  

(67) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4148/f158df7d4264f91de7266cd3c0b9696358ed.pdf  

(68) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4148/f158df7d4264f91de7266cd3c0b9696358ed.pdf  

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24606898  

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(74) https://www.ijmrhs.com/medical-research/effects-of-high-intensity-interval-training-on-plasma-levels-of-gh-and-igfi.pdf 

(75) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27560704  

(76) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27560704  

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(78) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14871886  

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(82) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10422792 

(83) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20009360 

(84) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8218594/ 

(85) https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/10/4184 

(86) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448087/  

(87) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1909610/ 

(88) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978663/ 

(89) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11720784/ 

(90) https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-lookup/doi/10.1210/jcem.84.2.5455 

(91) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14568359 

(92) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677055/  

(93) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3348499/ 

(94) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14598295/ 

(95) https://www.nature.com/mp/journal/v12/n12/full/4002076a.html 

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10022403  

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10751445  

(98) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8418780 

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(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492581/ 

(104) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013812/ 

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(106) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12415260 

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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The 25 Best Natural Supplements Proven to Reduce Depression

Eight years ago, I was prescribed an antidepressant and started taking it every day. 

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. 

It helped a little bit. 

But then some serious side effects kicked in over time... 

Weight gain, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, emotional numbness, drowsiness, personality changes, and even cognitive decline

So if I could go back in time, I would rely on natural supplements first before jumping on pharmaceuticals.  

That’s not to say prescription antidepressants don’t help people.  

They do. 

They can save lives. 

But for some people (like me), they can end up doing more harm than good.  

So in this post, I want to share with you my favourite natural supplements for relieving depression.  

Research shows that there are many natural antidepressants that are just as effective as prescription antidepressants, but without adverse effects. 

After I came off medication, I relied on many of them to reduce depression and improve my mood and energy.  

Depression is complex, and there are often numerous underlying root causes.  

But these natural options will support you and prop you up while you seek and resolve the root causes of your depression.  

I’ve tried hundreds of natural supplements over the years, and these are the most effective ones for depression.  

They’ve really helped me, and I’ve seen other people get better with them as well. 

Read on to discover the best evidence-based supplements for treating depression. 

best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg
 

1. Probiotics

As you probably already know, the health of your gut (and the bacteria within it) significantly influence your brain and mental health.  

In fact, people who have been diagnosed with gut diseases are more likely to be diagnosed with depression (1).  

But luckily, there’s a solution. 

High-quality research shows that probiotic supplements can significantly reduce depressive symptoms in both healthy and depressed individuals (2-4).  

Studies also show that the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the gut.  

By taking a probiotic supplement, you can enhance the diversity of the bacteria in your gut, create a better environment for the synthesis of serotonin, and therefore increase serotonin levels and activity in your brain (5).  

Probiotics also reduce inflammation, which tends to be elevated in people with depression (6).  

The best probiotics for depression are Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus casei. 

All five of them are included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.  

Check out this post for five other ways to increase the good bacteria in your gut.  

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 9 probiotic strains that can help. 

 

2. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as golden root or arctic root, is a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb.  

It’s one of the most popular adaptogens used to increase physical and mental stamina. 

It can also reduce depression (9).  

In one study, rhodiola significantly reduced symptoms of depression and emotional instability in people with mild and moderate depression (7).  

Another study found that it was almost as effective as Zoloft, a commonly prescribed antidepressant, but it was better tolerated and it didn’t cause nearly as many side effects (8).  

Plenty of animal research also shows that rhodiola has antidepressant effects by lowering cortisol, and restoring serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine (10-16).  

I personally take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I need a boost in mood and energy.  You can get it here or here.  

Be sure to check out this post to learn more about the benefits of rhodiola, above and beyond just reducing depression. 

 

3. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and supports brain cells.  

Researchers have found that ALCAR is quite effective at alleviating chronic fatigue, improving mood and treating depression (17-18).  

In one study, supplementing with ALCAR for 1 to 2 months reduced depression in elderly individuals (19). 

And another study showed that ALCAR can reduce depression in people with chronic depression. Twelve weeks of supplementation reduced their depressive symptoms just as effectively as an antidepressant (20).  

It works because it supports mitochondrial function, and increases BDNF levels and serotonin levels in the brain (21-22).  

I find that ALCAR personally gives me a big boost in mood, motivation, mental energy and resilience. 

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

 

4. Theanine

green-tea-best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

Theanine is a unique amino acid found in tea. It has a number of mental health benefits. 

I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It definitely improves my mood. It also helps me focus and cancels out the jitters of caffeine. 

In one study, theanine supplementation reduced depressive symptoms and anxiety, and improved sleep and cognitive function in patients with major depression (23).  

Animal research also shows that theanine can alleviate depression in mice that are exposed to chronic stress (24).  

This mental health supplement contains theanine, along with several natural compounds that have helped me manage depression and anxiety over the years. 

Theanine can also be found in green tea, which has also been shown to help reduce depression (25). 

 

5. Magnesium

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

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium.  

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

Research clearly shows there are links between low magnesium intake, magnesium deficiency, and depression and suicide (26-28, 34-35).  

Several studies also show that magnesium supplementation improves depressive symptoms in people with depression, including people with postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome (29-32).  

Sometimes even just one week of supplementing with magnesium can improve mood and reverse symptoms of depression (33).  

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

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

You should also make sure you’re eating enough magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including: 

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

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6. Vitamin D

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

Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and has become a major global health problem. Researchers estimate that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency

This is a huge concern because every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including depression. 

Research shows that there is a strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression and suicide (36-37).  

Thankfully, several studies shown that Vitamin D3 supplementation reduces depressive symptoms, treats seasonal affective disorder, and lowers suicide risk (38-40).  

Vitamin D helps fight depression because it plays a key role in the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, and protects against the depletion of dopamine and serotonin in the brain (41).  

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sun.  

I try to get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months.  

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.  

During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I use this Vitamin D sunlamp.

I also take this Vitamin D supplement as needed, depending on my blood test levels.  

Vitamin D is so critical for optimal brain health, so make sure to check your levels regularly. You can order a test here.  

If you decide to take a Vitamin D3 supplement, it’s a good idea to take it along with Vitamin K2. They are synergistic and mix well together. 

 

7. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health, as it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning. 

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical zinc deficiency impairs brain function (42-44). 

Researchers have also found that a zinc deficiency increases the likelihood of developing depression, as well as increasing the severity of depression (45).  

But zinc supplementation can definitely help.  

A meta-analysis concluded that taking a zinc supplement is an effective treatment for depression (46).  

In one study, 50 people took 30 mg of zinc for 12 weeks, and their mood significantly improved, and their BDNF levels increased as well (47-49).  

So if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible you’re deficient, and you’ll want to consider taking a zinc supplement to optimize your levels. 

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal. I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best zinc supplement so that they can experience superior results. I have found that many zinc supplements on the market fall short. Optimal Zinc includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc. 

Some of the best foods you should eat to optimize your zinc levels include: 

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

Check out my previous post all about zinc for more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels. 

 

8. DL-Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body cannot create it, and you must obtain it from your diet. 

It plays a key role in the production of dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter that can improve your mood (50).  

People struggling with depression have been shown to have low levels of phenylalanine in their blood and urine (55).  

You can find phenylalanine in from protein-rich foods, such as: 

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

But I find that supplementing with DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA), a special supplemental form of phenylalanine, is much more effective than simply eating foods with phenylalanine. 

In one study, 23 depressed patients took DLPA every day for 15 days. At the end of the 15 days, 17 of them had completely overcame their depression, and they didn't experience adverse side effects (51).  

Another 3-week study found very similar results (52).  

Researchers have even concluded that DLPA is just as effective as prescription antidepressants. And people who don’t respond to pharmaceutical antidepressants often get significantly better when they take DLPA (53-54).  

Even if you take medication, research shows that combining DLPA with antidepressants leads to greater increases in mood than simply taking an antidepressant alone (56).  

Yet unlike antidepressants, you can feel the effects of DLPA quickly (within a few hours) and in some cases, it can “terminate depression within 2 to 3 days” (57). 

Not surprisingly, I absolutely love DL-Phenylalanine. It was probably the most important supplement that I took while I transitioned off of antidepressants

If you’d like to learn more about DLPA, read this post

 

9. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)

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

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

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

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

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

In one study, 149 people with moderate depression were given NAC or placebo for eight weeks. The individuals who received NAC experienced a significant reduction in their depression, as well as improvements in their overall functioning and quality of life (58).  

In another six-month study, NAC significantly reduced symptoms of depression in patients with bipolar disorder. It also significantly improved their social and occupational functioning. The researchers concluded that NAC is a safe and effective strategy for depressive symptoms (59).  

Several other studies have examined the effects of NAC on bipolar disorder and found that taking NAC daily can significantly improve and even cause a full remission of depressive symptoms (60-62).  

 

10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to promote the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system. 

They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce brain inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease

Researchers have also found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids are significantly lower in individuals with depression (63-64).  

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

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including: 

  • Salmon  

  • Black cod  

  • Sablefish  

  • Sardines  

  • Herring 

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

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

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

I take this krill oil supplement.  

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference. 

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acid supplements are effective at treating clinical depression. They also improve mood in people who haven’t been diagnosed with depression, but have depressive symptoms (65-66. 68-69).  

One way they work is by reducing inflammation in the brain, which is strongly linked to depression (67).

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11. Ginseng

Ginseng is known for its anti-stress effects. 

But it also has antidepressant effects (70).  

More than one study has shown that ginseng reduces depression and increases quality of life (71-72).  

Ginseng has been shown to work because it reduces inflammation and increases dopamine, serotonin and BDNF in the brain (73-76).  

Ginseng is one of my favourite herbal supplements for brain function and depression.

 

12. S-adenosyl-L-methionine

S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound that naturally occurs in the body.  

It’s also available as a supplement.  

It’s most commonly used for treating depression because lowered SAM-e levels are associated with depression. 

Researchers have concluded that SAM-e is an effective and safe option for the treatment of depression. It has beneficial effects similar to conventional antidepressants (77-78, 82-83).  

In one study, people who hadn't responded to SSRI antidepressants took SAM-e for six weeks, and it significantly reduced their symptoms of depression (79).  

In another study, 20 healthy individuals received infusions of SAM-e or a placebo for seven days. The researchers scanned and studied the brains of the participants during the study. And it was confirmed that SAM-e is an antidepressant because it targets and supports brain regions involved in depression (81).  

It has also been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine activity in the brain, and inhibit the reuptake of norepinephrine (80).  

The great thing about SAM-e is that it works fairly quickly, as people usually notice benefits within the first few days of taking it, and it doesn’t cause severe side effects like pharmaceutical antidepressants (83).  

I took this SAM-e supplement after coming off psychiatric medication and it significantly helped me by improving my mood and energy.

 

13. Curcumin

best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

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

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

Researchers have repeatedly found that curcumin reduces depressive symptoms in patients with major depression (84-86). 

In one study, curcumin reduced depression in more than 100 people after six weeks of supplementation (87).   

It also reduces inflammatory markers and cortisol levels, and increases BDNF levels, all of which are involved in depression (87). 

 

14. Methylfolate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.  

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (88).  

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens  

  • Asparagus  

  • Broccoli  

  • Cauliflower  

  • Strawberries  

  • Avocado  

  • Beef liver  

  • Poultry

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

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people don't get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (103). 

People with depression often need to supplement with methylfolate to get the full benefits.  

In one study, six months of methylfolate supplementation reduced symptoms of depression in patients with clinical depression and schizophrenia (92).  

Research also shows that taking methylfolate alongside an antidepressant makes the antidepressant more effective (93).  

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (104). 

Methylfolate works because it lowers homocysteine levels, stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain, and plays a key role in the production of dopamine (94-102).  

Whatever you do, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you need to take the biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (89-91).  

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.  

I take this B vitamin complex, and it includes methylfolate. Or you can take methylfolate separately at a higher dose.  

 

15. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.  

Even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency.  

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today. 

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (136-142). 

But supplementation can help. 

Research shows that supplementing with Vitamin B12 for six weeks can reduce depressive symptoms in depressed patients (143).  

In one study, Vitamin B12 supplementation lowered homocysteine levels and reduced depression in more than 200 people (144).  

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12).  

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active. 

Besides methyl-B12 and methylfolate, you should also consider supplementing with the rest of the B vitamins. 

There is evidence to suggest that many people with depression are also deficient in Vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B6, and supplementing with them can help reduce, prevent and lower the risk of depression (145-151).  

I take this B complex supplement, which includes all the bioactive forms of the B vitamins, including B9, B12, B2 and B6.  

Vitamin B12 is also found in animal foods, and beef liver is a really good source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver. 

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16. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a natural medicinal herb with antidepressant effects. It's often prescribed for depression in European countries.  

Researchers have concluded that it’s as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants for treating depression but has fewer adverse effects (105-107). 

A double-blind, randomized control trial showed that St John’s Wort can prevent depression from developing, and delay relapses in depression (108).  

It's been found to work by increasing dopamine signaling and increasing serotonin receptors (109-111). 

I took this St. John’s Wort supplement years ago for my depression. It helped me, but I eventually stopped taking it and working on fixing the true, underlying causes of my depression instead. 

In my experience, it’s best for people who are struggling with mild or moderate depression.  

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t take St. John’s Wort if you’re already taking antidepressant medication. They don’t mix well.  

 

17. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. You can also take it as a supplement.  

It helps control your circadian rhythm, and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night. 

Researchers have found that people with depression often have low levels of melatonin and a compromised circadian rhythm (257-259). 

Studies also show that supplementing with melatonin at bedtime can lower symptoms of depression. It can also improve the circadian rhythm of various neurotransmitters that are disturbed in people with depression (260-261).  

You can get melatonin here.  

Or you can take this sleep supplement. It 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. 

 

18. Uridine

beer-uridine-best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

Uridine is a natural compound commonly found in beer.  

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

Uridine supplementation has been shown to reduce depression in young people with bipolar disorder (113).  

Animal studies also show that uridine supplements alleviate depression and increases dopamine in the brains of rats (114-115).  

It’s important to note that uridine in food is not bioavailable, and no food has been shown to increase blood levels of uridine (112). 

So you’ll need to supplement with it.

 

19. Sarcosine

Sarcosine is an amino acid derivative that is naturally found in egg yolks, turkey, ham, vegetables and legumes. 

Supplementing with sarcosine has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression without side effects (116, 119).  

In one study, sarcosine was found to be significantly more effective at treating major depression than citalopram (a common SSRI antidepressant). 

Patients who received sarcosine were much more likely to improve, improved much more quickly, and were less likely to drop out of the study than patients that received citalopram (117).  

Animal research also shows that sarcosine has antidepressant effects (118).  

You’ll have to supplement with sarcosine for it to improve your mood. The amount of sarcosine in food is too small to have a beneficial effect. 

I take this sarcosine powder.  

It has impressive antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, but without any of the nasty side effects that are common with pharmaceutical antidepressants and benzodiazepines.  

 

20. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid that is known to support cognitive function.  

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

But researchers have also found that phosphatidylserine can also reduce depression. 

In one study, supplementing with phosphatidylserine induced consistent improvement of depressive symptoms, memory and behaviour in elderly individuals with depression (121).  

Animal research also shows that phosphatidylserine has antidepressant effects. In fact, the antidepressant effects are more prominent in rats than the cognitive-enhancing effects (122).  

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

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21. Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Hericium Erinaceus – better known as lion’s mane mushroom – is an edible mushroom with numerous health benefits.  

It’s another one of my favourite supplements for brain health because it reduces inflammation and has antioxidant effects

One study found that it reduced depression in 30 women after 4 weeks of supplementation (120).  

This lion’s mane mushroom supplement is the highest-quality that I could find. I spent a lot of time researching and looking into different sources because not all lion's mane supplements are high-quality and effective, and I settled on this one.  

You can get it here or here

 

22. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. 

It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany. 

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it increases brain blood flow and improves memory, mental energy and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

But researchers have also found that Ginkgo Biloba reduces depression in elderly individuals (123-127).  

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

 

23. Saffron

saffron-best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

Saffron is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus plant.  

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

Researchers have found that saffron is effective at reducing depression in people with mild to moderate depression (127-128).  

More than one study shows that saffron works just as well as SSRI antidepressants, reducing depression without side effects (129-131).  

Saffron has also been shown to inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, similar to pharmaceutical antidepressants (132). 

 

24. Pregnenolone

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

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

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

But researchers have found that it can also reduce depression.  

Depressed patients often have low pregnenolone levels, but replenishing pregnenolone levels with supplementation significantly reduces symptoms of depression (133-135).  

Whenever I take pregnenolone, it gives me a big boost in brain function and mental energy. It definitely has an effect. But it doesn’t really improve my mood. In fact, if I take it every day, it starts to make me irritable. So I save it and only take it when I need it.   

Plenty of other people have excellent, consistent results with it though. 

If you want to try it, you can get it here

 

25. Dehydroepiandrosterone

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

It's also available as a supplement

Research shows that low DHEA levels are significantly associated with increased depressive symptoms, and low DHEA levels are often found in depressed patients (270-271).  

And in multiple studies, supplementing with DHEA has been shown to improve mood and reduce depression (272-273).  

Researchers have found that it works because it impacts the activity of several neurotransmitters involved in depression, including dopamine, serotonin and GABA (274).  

 

26. BONUS: Other Natural Supplements That Can Reduce Depression

Natural_Supplements_For_Depression.jpg

Here are numerous other natural supplements that have also been shown to reduce depression and improve mood in humans.

I didn’t include them in the main list because they aren’t my favourite “go-to” solutions for depression.

Plus, they can be “hit-and-miss” and don’t always work for everyone in every situation.

But research still shows they can be quite effective, so they’re worth considering and giving a shot.  

 

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

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