13 Important Blood Tests to Get Done If You Have Depression

Isn't it weird that when you go to a psychiatrist for depression, they don't even run any blood tests?

Some do. 

But many don’t. 

Blood in 4 test tubes.

They simply talk to you for a bit, then give you a prescription and send you on your way. 

Hell, they don't even scan and look at your brain, the very thing they are trying to treat. 

You'd think that they would actually try to find something wrong with you and show that to you. 

You know, like actually demonstrate that you have a "chemical imbalance" before trying to balance you out chemically. 

But they don't. 

They just throw pills at you and cross their fingers they will help. 

Weird isn't it? 

Some days I wake up and wonder how conventional psychiatry is even taken seriously. 

It claims to be "science-based medicine" but it sure seems like quackery to me. 

And even the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is catching on. 

The NIMH no longer funds research based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, which is the primary tool used by psychiatrists to diagnose people with psychiatric disorders. 


Because they say the manual doesn't provide any data or evidence about the cause of mental illnesses, including depression (96). 

The weakness of the manual is its lack of validity. Unlike our definition of Lymphoma or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measures. Patients with mental disorders deserve better.
— Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of NIMH

Exactly – you deserve better. 

The current state of psychiatry is essentially a bunch of doctors making diagnoses based on symptoms without actually testing to determine root cause.

It’s insane. 

You're not. 

And it’s time for a paradigm shift. 

The mainstream medical literature is full of peer-reviewed studies that look at the underlying factors contributing to depression and other mental health symptoms.

Yet conventional psychiatry doesn’t pay attention to the findings of its own literature, or the literature of the other medical disciplines.

Psychiatrists simply ignore it.

But that doesn't mean you have to. 

Funny comic strip: “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

Why You Should Demand Blood Tests from Your Psychiatrist

Unless you test, you’ve guessed.
— Dr. Charles Gant, MD

I'll admit - when I originally started trying to figure out my depression, I also did a lot of guessing and not enough testing.

That made things much more difficult, and I ended up making a lot of mistakes along the way. 

That's why I recommend you test more, and guess less. 

Otherwise, it’s hard to know for sure what steps you should take to correctly treat and overcome your depression.

The underlying issues that contribute to depression are different for everyone.

But blood testing can show you the inner functioning of your body, highlight your physiological abnormalities, and help you identify the underlying root causes of your depression so that you can address them using nutrition, supplements, therapies and other lifestyle factors.

Below are 13 important blood tests that you should get done if you struggle with depression

These blood tests shine light on some of the real, underlying root causes of depression, and will give you helpful information to act upon.

When something is outside the optimal range, you can then do something about it!

They put the power back into your hands, and give you a much better idea of where you should begin, so that you can get better faster, and overcome your depression sooner rather than later. 

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1. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP)

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a substance produced by the liver. It increases in the presence of inflammation in the body, and a high level of CRP in the blood is a marker of systemic inflammation.

It’s obviously very important to test for CRP because an increasing amount of research suggests that depression is an inflammatory disease and many depressive symptoms may simply be a “side effect” of chronic, low-grade inflammation in the body and brain (93).

On top of this, numerous studies and a meta-analysis have found that elevated CRP is significantly associated with depression (94-95). 

Illustration or brain and brain blood flow.

Yet how many psychiatrists test for CRP?

Not many.

But you don’t have to wait around for them to check your levels. 

You can order your own high-sensitivity CRP test

If your levels come back high, you’ll need to take steps to fight back against the inflammation and dampen it.  

My first recommended step would be to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. 

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health is full of anti-inflammatory foods that you eat freely, and doesn’t include foods that are likely to increase your inflammation.

My favourite way to reduce brain inflammation is by taking a bioavailable (Longvida) curcumin supplement. You can get the one I take here.

In fact, curcumin has been shown to be as effective as Prozac in treating depression, likely because of its anti-inflammatory effects.

Omega-3 fatty acids can also reduce inflammation. I personally take this krill oil supplement to make sure my brain gets enough. 

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

2. Vitamin D - 25(OH)D

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 evaluated the effects of Vitamin D on mental health and found those with the lowest levels of Vitamin D were 11 times more likely to be depressed than people with healthy levels (3). 

In fact, one study found that 60 percent of the suicidal patients were deficient in Vitamin D. The patients also had higher inflammatory markers in their blood, suggesting that low levels of Vitamin D could be a cause of the inflammation (5). 

The sun shining through the clouds. The sun provides Vitamin D, which is often low in people with depression.

Unfortunately, reports from across the world indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (1).

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (2). 

That’s why it’s so important to get your levels checked regularly (at least once each year). 

If you have low levels, optimizing your Vitamin D levels can then reduce inflammation and improve your mood.

Research shows that improvement in 25(OH)D was significantly associated with improvement in depression scores in people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (4). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight, but some people can’t get enough, especially during the winter.

That’s why I recommend using a Vitamin D lamp if you're low. I use this one.

Vitamin D can also help with addiction and withdrawal, support the blood-brain barrier and reduce brain fog

3. Thyroid Panel

There’s a very tight correlation between hypothyroidism and depression. Unfortunately, patients are misdiagnosed with depression when really they have low thyroid. There are well designed clinical trials to show you that your active thyroid hormone is essential to a happy mood. Correcting and nourishing the thyroid gland is absolutely imperative in order to improve mood.

– Suzy Cohen, Pharmacist, Author of Thyroid Healthy: Lose Weight, Look Beautiful and Live the Life You Imagine

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

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

Lots of research shows that thyroid dysfunction and low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) can contribute to depression

One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid tissue.

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

Here are some of the symptoms of low thyroid that I’ve personally experienced:

An illustration of the the thyroid gland. People with depression are often hypothyroid.

Sounds just like depression, doesn’t it? 

Many people are diagnosed with depression and given antidepressants when in reality they have an underlying thyroid issue that is making them feel depressed.

That’s why I highly recommend getting done a complete thyroid panel

A high-quality thyroid panel should measure Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Free Triiodothyroine (fT3), Free Serum Thyroxine (fT4), Reverse T3 (rT3), and Thyroid Antibodies. 

Some doctors will only test for TSH, but that is definitely not enough. Others will test for TSH, T3, and T4 but not assess the autoimmune status of the thyroid gland.

This lab test checks everything. It will show you if your thyroid is functioning optimally. No more guessing.

If you have low thyroid levels, treating the underlying hypothyroidism is critical to alleviating the depressive symptoms. Thyroid hormone replacement can often make people feel remarkably better and lift their depression completely.

Nutrition and lifestyle factors are also necessary steps in treating hypothyroidism. 

Check out this post for the 13 ways that I’ve supported my thyroid and increased the production of my thyroid hormones over the years.

My favourite ways are low-level laser therapy and using an infrared sauna regularly. 

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4. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.

– Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist, Author of Breakthrough Depression Solution: Mastering Your Mood with Nutrition, Diet & Supplementation

Getting your Vitamin B12 levels checked is another very important step to take if you want to manage and overcome depression

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for your brain to work properly. 

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

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

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause B12 deficiency.

Research shows that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of B12 circulating in your blood, and people with low levels of B12 are also at greater risk of developing depression (6-7). 

Supplement bottle and supplement pills in the shape of B12.

Yet, instead of looking at B12 levels in the blood, psychiatrists often prescribe antidepressants that have been shown to further deplete B12.

This happened to me. My levels were never tested. I was simply given medications, which further depleted my Vitamin B12 levels.  

You can easily test your levels yourself by ordering this lab test

Other symptoms of B12 deficiency include memory loss, fatigue, irritability, apathy, personality changes, etc. The list goes on and on. 

If your levels are low, you will need to supplement with the methylated form of Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin, or methyl-B12).

I’ve benefited from taking this methyl-B12 supplement before. If you decide to supplement, you should avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin). Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active.

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

You can also get B12 from food, primarily animals. Beef liver is a really good source. I also take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver. 

Optimizing your B12 levels is also important if you want to promote the regeneration of myelin, lower your homocysteine levels, and reverse brain damage and cognitive decline

5. Estradiol

Estradiol is an estrogen and the primary female sex hormone, responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system.

It plays a significant role in the mental health of women. 

There is a strong link between estradiol, mood and wellbeing. In fact, depression is correlated with sudden drops or fluctuations in estradiol, and long periods of sustained low levels of estrogen (8). 

And research shows that stabilizing or restoring estrogen levels can help women recover from depression (postpartum, perimenopause, and postmenopause) (9). 

Estradiol has also been shown to increase the brain’s secretion of oxytocin, which is powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Low levels are linked to depression (10-12). 

You can check your levels here

6. Testosterone (Free and Total)

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

Conventional doctors didn’t test my testosterone because they assumed every a man in his 20s would have healthy levels.

Mustache? You mean visible testosterone? Testosterone levels should be checked if you’re a male and have depression.

But they were wrong. 

Eventually I saw a functional medicine practitioner and he found out that I had the testosterone levels of an old man.

I was put on testosterone replacement therapy for almost one year to get my levels back to normal. And over that time, I saw a huge reduction in my depression.

This is because there is plenty of research showing that low testosterone levels can lead to symptoms of depression in men (14). 

And a systematic review and meta-analysis found that testosterone replacement has antidepressant effects in depressed patients (13). 

Your doctor will  test your total testosterone levels. But it’s just as important to also check you free testosterone levels.

You can test your total levels here, and you free levels here

If your levels are low, it would be wise to try testosterone replacement therapy, at least for a little while, until you find out why you have low testosterone.  

Testosterone can also promote the regeneration of myelin and reduce brain fog

7. Magnesium (Red Blood Cell)

The possibility that magnesium deficiency is the cause of most major depression and related mental health problems including IQ loss and addiction is enormously important to public health and is recommended for immediate further study
— Dr. George Eby, PhD
Magnesium-rich foods, including avocados, bananas, almonds, dark chocolate, spinach, etc. Magnesium levels should be checked if you have depression because depressed individuals often are deficient.

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. This includes neurotransmitter and hormonal activity, all of which can have a huge effect on your mood.

Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including depression

In fact, case studies have shown that patients with major depression who have attempted suicide had significantly lower levels of magnesium in their cerebrospinal fluid (15). 

That’s why it’s so important to test your levels. You can order a lab test to check your levels here.  

If you have low levels, no worries; there are a number of ways to replete them.

You can eat more foods that contain magnesium, such as spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

But supplementation or taking Epsom salt baths is still necessary for most people.

I take this magnesium supplement

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

Stress depletes magnesium, and unfortunately, certain antidepressants drugs can actually further deplete magnesium as well!

On the flip side, magnesium has been shown to cause antidepressant effects by significantly increasing BDNF.

And research shows recovery from major depression in less than 7 days using 125 to 300 mg of magnesium (as glycinate and taurinate) with each meal and at bedtime (16-18). 

That’s why I think doctors should be testing magnesium levels and prescribing magnesium supplements – which would be something that actually gets to the root cause of depression – rather than giving out antidepressants that cover up symptoms and actually make the underlying condition worse. 

Normalizing magnesium levels can also support the blood-brain barrier and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal

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8. Homocysteine

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body as a by-product 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 a lot of research shows that it is linked to depression (35-42). 

Studies have found that people with high levels of homocysteine have lower levels of serotonin and SAMe, a nutrient involved in the production of many neurotransmitters that improve mood (33-34).

You can check your homocysteine levels by ordering this blood test

If your levels are high, read this post for 16 ways to lower your homocysteine levels. 

The most effective way to lower and normalize homocysteine is by supplementing with Vitamin B12 and folate. I take this B complex, which includes both.

Normalizing homocysteine can also help repair the blood-brain barrier and reduce your risk of developing dementia

9. Zinc

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

So not surprisingly, having a deficiency can contribute to symptoms of depression.

Unfortunately, six different studies have found that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults, and it’s actually estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc (19-22).

So, if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient.  

Mounting evidence suggests a link between low zinc levels and the development of major depression (27, 30-31). 

However, too much zinc isn't healthy either. That’s why it’s best to test instead of guess.

You can check your zinc levels by ordering this zinc blood test

Zinc-rich foods including salmon, beef, almonds. Zinc deficiency is common in people with depression.

Another way to find out if you’re deficient in zinc is by doing the zinc assay taste test. This is how it works:

This is how I originally found out that I was deficient in zinc. During my initial test, the liquid tasted like water. After taking a zinc supplement for a while, I did the test again, and I had a very metallic taste in my mouth the second time around. It’s not as accurate as testing your actual levels, but it can still give you a good idea of where you stand. 

If your levels are low, make sure to eat foods high in zinc. Some of the best food sources include oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms and spinach.

However, if you’re deficient, I recommend at least short-term supplementation. 

Several studies have shown that zinc supplementation has antidepressant effects and significantly reduces symptoms of depression. One way it does this is by significantly increasing BDNF levels (23-26, 28-29, 32).

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

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

Zinc can also stimulate the vagus nerve.

10. Celiac Disease Panel

A grain-free diet, although difficult to maintain, especially for those that need it the most, could improve the mental health of many and be a complete cure for others.
— Dr. Paola Bressan

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that occurs in genetically predisposed people. 

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, spelt, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks and damages their small intestine. 

It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide, but celiac disease actually goes undiagnosed in 90% of cases, leaving them at risk for long-term health complications, including depression (46).

In fact, many people with celiac disease often struggle with depression.

One study found that major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and adjustment disorders were more common in a group of celiac disease patients compared to controls (61). 

And this was supported by follow-up studies (62-63). 

Other researchers have found that celiac disease patients are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, but their depressive symptoms improve after following a gluten-free diet (64-65). 

That’s why it’s so important to test for the disease if you struggle with depression

Yet many doctors never do.  

Luckily, you can order your own blood test to check to see if you celiac disease, called the Celiac Disease Test Panel

Even if you don’t have celiac disease, I highly recommend cutting out all gluten-containing grains from your diet for 30 days and see how you feel. 

Bread, bagels and other wheat products. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease can trigger inflammation and contribute to depression.

Dr. Kenneth Fine, a pioneer in gluten intolerance research, has demonstrated that 1 in 3 Americans are gluten intolerant, and that 8 in 10 have the genes that predispose them to developing gluten intolerance (47-49).

And for more than sixty years, reports in the scientific literature have linked wheat and gluten sensitivity to depression (50-57). 

Following a gluten-free diet significantly improves my mood (even though I didn’t have celiac disease or any digestive issues).

I completely cut it out seven years ago, and within a few weeks, I felt so much better mentally. 

I also lost a bunch of weight and my asthma disappeared. 

I haven't touched it again since.

In one study, depressed patients who didn’t have digestive issues (like me) followed a gluten-free diet, and within 2-3 months, they experienced a reversal of their depressive symptoms (58). 

Researchers have also found that a gluten-free diet improves depression by increasing levels of l-tryptophan – the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin (59). 

Another study found a significant increase in serotonin and dopamine because of the removal of gluten (60).

Clearly, there is more to gluten than celiac disease, and cutting out wheat is one of the first dietary steps I recommend to people who are striving to overcome depression.

Try it out. You’ll like feel better. 

And when you’re done, here are two other foods I recommend avoiding if you have depression

The bacteria in our guts can determine the degree to which we are sensitive to foods such as gluten, so you should also try to increase the good bacteria in your gut

11. MTHFR DNA Analysis

MTHFR gene mutation.

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

The methylation cycle plays a key role in the synthesis of melatonin, coenzyme Q10, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is one enzyme that plays a very important role in the methylation cycle.

Most importantly, the MTHFR enzyme helps produce l-methylfolate in the body.

But some people have genetic mutations in the MTHFR enzyme, and it can lead to a number of chronic illnesses, including depression

In fact, numerous studies have shown that MTHFR mutations are significantly associated with depression. And more than one meta-analysis has found that people with MTHFR mutations have an elevated incidence of depression (68-77). 

There is also a decrease in serotonin synthesis in patients with MTHFR mutations (71-72). 

You can check to see if you have mutated copies of the MTHFR gene here

Why is this so important and what should you do about it?

If you have a mutation, it means you have a reduced ability to process folate in food and convert it into the biologically active form of folate (l-methylfolate) used by your brain. 

Therefore, you require higher levels of folate and should supplement with l-methylfolate, the activated form of folate.

You can get l-methylfolate here.

This will give your brain the form of folate that it needs to function properly. You’ll essentially skip the enzymatic/genetic problem.

Methylfolate is a co-enzyme in the production of neurotransmitters. So by supplementing with it, you should see a reduction in your depression.

Methylfolate also helps produce SAM-e in the body, which can help fight depression and improve your mood.

Whatever you do, don’t supplement with folic acid. It’s a waste and will cause more harm if you have a mutation.

Testing your homocysteine levels will also let you know if your methylation pathway is working properly.

I’d recommend checking homocysteine first, and if your levels are high, then get the MTHFR test done to see if you have mutations. 

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12. Lyme

In my database, depression is the most common psychiatric syndrome associated with late stage Lyme disease.
— Dr. Robert Bransfield, psychiatrist who specializes in treating tick-borne disease infections

Lyme disease is an infectious illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread by ticks (78). 

Lyme disease can lead to psychiatric symptoms, including severe depression and suicidal thoughts (79-80, 83-84). 

Depressive states among patients with late Lyme disease are fairly common, ranging from 26% to 66% in studies (82, 85).

Researchers have even concluded that depression in patients with Lyme encephalopathy is caused by central nervous system dysfunction and cannot be explained as a psychological response to chronic illness (81). 

That’s why it’s critical to rule out Lyme disease if you’re feeling depressed. 

It can sometimes be hard to ask for your doctor to test for it.

But you can check yourself by ordering this blood test

13. Fasting Glucose, Insulin and Hemoglobin A1C

If you’re struggling with depression, it’s also important to check your blood sugar control. 

Unstable blood sugar can contribute to a number of different mental health problems, including depression.

Researchers have found that impaired fasting blood sugar is a significant predictor of depression (86). 

One study found that men with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes had nearly double the odds of major depression (90). 

And other studies have found that patients with depression have higher fasting glucose and HbA1c levels, and these levels correlated significantly with the severity of their depression (88-89). 

Blood sugar.

A fasting glucose blood test can provide a snapshot of how much sugar is present when your body isn’t processing food. You can order the test here.

A fasting insulin blood test is also important, as it tells you how your pancreas is working when you’re not eating anything. 

Research shows that depressive symptoms are associated with fasting insulin resistance (91). 

You can order a fasting insulin test here.

Lastly, Hemoglobin A1C may be the most important test, as it gives you the average of your blood sugar levels over the past three months. 

And researchers have found that variability in blood sugar control is significantly associated with more depressive symptoms (92). 

You can order the Hemoglobin A1C test here

Making dietary changes to control blood sugar is critical. 

Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health for the best foods to eat in order to manage your blood sugar and improve your mood. 

How to Order These Tests Yourself (If Your Doctor Doesn’t)

Overall, optimizing your mental health and overcoming your depression really relies on having accurate data about your specific biochemistry.

And the above lab tests are a great way to learn about your body so that you can correct the underlying problems that are contributing to your depression

You can go to your doctor and ask for them, but don’t be surprised if your doctor tells you they aren’t necessary and won’t order them for you. 

You may have to put up a fight. 

I’ve had to do that many times when I’ve requested different blood tests. 

But if you’re not feeling well, it’s worth advocating for yourself. 

Tell your doctor that you want a baseline assessment before taking medication

Push back. 

Remember, your doctor should be working for you. 

If you get fed up, just “fire” your doctor and find a new one – one that will actually work with you and for you. 

If all else fails and you can't find a doctor to run these tests, you can always just skip doctors completely and order the blood tests yourself, which can actually end up saving you a lot of time and hassle.

True Health Labs is a reliable and trustworthy way to do this online. 

They provide direct access to blood tests from certified laboratories in the US, Canada, Europe and internationally. All blood tests are “direct-to-consumer”, meaning they allow you to pick and choose the blood tests you’d like, no doctor required.

Doctors shouldn’t have exclusive rights to information about your body anyway.

No one has a greater right to your blood test results than you do, and you should be able to access blood test results directly from the company you pay to run the labs.

Overall, there is no doubt that having direct access to blood testing, and direct access to your results, is an invaluable way for you to take control of your brain and mental health.

Great treatment starts with great testing, providing you with the information you need to put your health back into your own hands.

In summary, here are all the blood tests I recommend you test for:

Once you order the tests and get the results, True Health Labs also offers a one-on-one results review with one of their functional medicine doctors. They can help you accurately interpret your blood test results and determine the diet and lifestyle modifications that will effectively bring the results back into an optimal range.

Alternatively, you can book a consultation with me or find a naturopath, integrative or functional medical practitioner in your area.

And if you live in the United States, I've also heard good things about WellnessFX. They also provide direct-to-consumer access to many of the blood tests above, as well as phone consultations with health practitioners. You can learn about the different blood test packages they offer here

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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The 9 Most Promising Psychobiotics for Anxiety

I used to walk around ruminating, struggling with inner turmoil and nervousness all the time. 

It never went away.

It was impossible to shake. 

It wore me down and ruined the quality of my life. 

There’s no doubt that fear and vigilance are helpful when you’re faced with an actual threat. 

But an unnecessarily high state of worry and arousal when there is nothing threatening you? That's a nightmare. 

It doesn’t have to be that way though. 

If you have chronic anxiety, there are ways to manage and reverse it, like I have.

And psychobiotics are one way to do that.

Psychobiotics are probiotics and prebiotics that can improve your mental health by changing the mixture of bacteria in your gut (46-47). 

It is estimated that 100 trillion bacteria, and 500 to 1,000 species of bacteria, live in the human gut. These gut bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome, help with digestion. But an increasing amount of research suggests that they also communicate with your brain through the microbiome-gut-brain axis, affecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviour (48-49). 

Gut is playing chess with Brain. Gut says “Gutsy move for a brain…”.

A dysfunctional gut microbiome has been linked to a number of mental health problems and psychiatric conditions, including anxiety.

In fact, anxiety and gut health are very tightly linked. 

Research shows that people who have digestive disorders are more likely to have anxiety, and those with anxiety have higher rates of gastrointestinal disease (50-52).

And studies show that when digestive disorders improve, anxiety improves as well (53). 

Unfortunately, a lot of people have poor gut health today because of the widespread use of antibiotics, medications, herbicides, stress, infections, poor diet, etc. 

But don’t worry. You can improve your gut health and anxiety at the same time with the use of psychobiotics. 

Studies show that psychobiotics can improve anxiety by (54-55):

Here are the nine best psychobiotics that have been shown in human and animal studies to decrease stress and help treat anxiety disorders. 

They are truly the best probiotics for anxiety.

The word psychobiotic.

1. Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a bacterium found in the human gut. It is one of the most popular probiotic species found in supplements.

Preliminary research suggests that supplementing with lactobacillus rhamnosus can lower anxiety in humans (3). 

GABA is the main inhibitory and relaxing neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and studies suggest that lactobacillus rhamnosus may reduce anxiety by changing the expression of GABA receptors (1-2, 4). 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice, and it reduced their anxiety-like behaviours. But when researchers removed part of their vagus nerve, lactobacillus rhamnosus did not reduce their anxiety, suggesting that psychobiotics communicate with the brain and improve mental health through the vagus nerve (1-2). 

The mice [given lactobacillus rhamnosus] were more chilled out.
— Dr. John Cryan, researcher and pharmacologist with the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center at University College Cork, Ireland

Other studies have found that lactobacillus rhamnosus decreases stress-induced anxiety-like behaviour, and researchers have concluded that it can protect against anxiety (5, 7). 

Lactobacillus rhamnosus has also been shown to reduce obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)-like behaviour in mice. In fact, researchers found it was just as effective as fluoxetine, an SSRI antidepressant commonly used to treat OCD (6). 

So if you struggle with OCD or obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it’s worth trying this psychobiotic.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus can be found in some yogurt and dairy products, such as fermented and unpasteurized milk and semi-hard cheese. But I typically don’t recommend eating these foods unless you’re sure you can tolerate them.

2. Bifidobacterium longum

Bifidobacterium longum is another bacterium present in the human gut. It is often added to food as it can help prevent the growth of pathogenic organisms.

I previously wrote about how it’s been proven to help treat depression.

Bacteria. Bacteria can affect the mind through the gut-brain axis.

But it can also reduce anxiety. 

Researchers have concluded that bifidobacterium longum can reduce cortisol and alleviate psychological distress in humans (including obsessions, compulsions, paranoia, anxiety) (28-30). 

Lots of animal research also shows that bifidobacterium longum can significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviour (31-34). 

One study found that a chronic infection in mice increased inflammation and caused anxiety-like behaviour, but bifidobacterium longum reduced anxiety and normalized behaviour (35-36). 

Researchers have even figured out that it works by acting through the vagus nerve (27). 

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3. Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus plantarum is another probiotic species that can reduce anxiety. 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus plantarum to patients with irritable bowel syndrome and it significantly reduced their anxiety and improved their quality of life (8). 

Animal studies also show that lactobacillus plantarum can cause positive changes in emotional behaviours and significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviours. It does this by increasing dopamine and serotonin, lowering stress hormone levels, and reducing inflammation (9-11). 

As a result, researchers have concluded that lactobacillus plantarum has psychotropic properties without physical side effects, and has great potential for treating neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety (9-11). 

Lactobacillus plantarum is also commonly found in many fermented vegetables including sauerkraut, pickles, brined olives, kimchi.

4. Lactobacillus helveticus

Lactobacillus helveticus is a probiotic strain that has been shown to reduce cortisol and have anti-anxiety effects in humans (37, 39, 44).

One study found that it can even reduce paranoid and obsessive-compulsive thoughts (38). 

Blue bacteria. Bacteria can influence our anxiety levels.

Animal research shows that a Western-style diet can negatively change the gut microbiome, increase brain inflammation, and contribute to anxiety. But lactobacillus helveticus can protect against this, reducing both neuroinflammation and anxiety (40-42).

One study even found that lactobacillus helveticus works better than citalopram, a common SSRI antidepressant, at reducing anxiety-like behaviour in rats. It also reduced their stress hormone levels and increased their serotonin levels (43). 

Lactobacillus helveticus is also commonly found in American Swiss cheese and Emmental cheese, and sometimes other cheeses, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Romano, provolone, and mozzarella.

I’m very sensitive to dairy so I can’t eat cheese regularly. But if you’re not and can tolerate them, you could try adding some of these cheeses into your diet. 

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5. Lactobacillus reuteri

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

It is usually found in the human gut. However, not all humans have it, and some people simply have very low levels of it. Therefore, you may need to supplement with it to introduce and maintain high levels of it.

Research shows that Lactobacillus reuteri can reduce anxiety-like behaviours in animals by reducing stress hormone levels and altering the expression of GABA receptors (13-14).

And one study found that the absence of lactobacillus reuteri causes social deficits in animals.

We found that treatment with this single bacterial strain was able to rescue their social behavior.
— Shelly Buffington, neuroscience researcher at Baylor College of Medicine

By adding it back in to the guts of the animals, the researchers were able to reverse some of their behavioural deficits, which were similar to symptoms of social anxiety and autism in humans (15-16). 

Therefore, lactobacillus reuteri is definitely the psychobiotic strain worth trying if you struggle with social anxiety or symptoms of autism.

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

6. Lactobacillus casei

Lactobacillus casei is another bacterium found in the human gut. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and digestive problems took Lactobacillus casei as a daily supplement for two months. At the end of the study, they had a significant decrease in their anxiety symptoms (17-19). 

So this is a good psychobiotic to try if you struggle with a mixture of fatigue, digestive problems and anxiety.

Lactobacillus casei is the dominant species in naturally fermented Sicilian green olives, and can also be found in other fermented vegetables and dairy products. 

7. Lactobacillus fermentum

Lactobacillus fermentum is another species that is part of the human microbiome and commonly found in fermented vegetables.

It hasn’t been studied as much as other lactobacillus probiotic species.

Bacteria. Psychobiotics are bacteria that affect our psychological state of mind.

But there still is some evidence that is may be able to help treat anxiety, especially if you have a long history of antibiotic treatment. 

Research shows that antibiotics can trigger anxiety in animals by disturbing the microbiome.

But by giving animals lactobacillus fermentum, researchers can reduce the inflammation and reverse the psychological problems brought on by antibiotics, including anxiety-like behaviour (12).

So if you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics over the years, or noticed that your anxiety got worse after taking a course of antibiotics, taking a psychobiotic supplement with lactobacillus fermentum is worth a try. 

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8. Bifidobacterium breve

Bifidobacterium breve is a beneficial bacterium found in human breast milk and the human gut. The amount in your gut declines as you get older (20). 

Research shows that bifidobacterium breve can reduce anxiety-like behaviour in animals (21). 

Anxious animals also perform better on cognitive tests after being given it (22). 

This makes bifidobacterium breve a great psychobiotic option if your anxiety impairs your cognition and interferes with your ability to complete tasks. 

Bifidobacterium breve can be found naturally in some fermented foods.

9. Galacto-oligosaccharides

Not all psychobiotics are simply probiotics.

Psychobiotics can also include “prebiotics,” which are non-digestible soluble fibres that stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria, and therefore improve mental health and reduce anxiety.

Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are a type of prebiotic that have been shown to do just that. 

Picture of intestines. Our intestinal health can significantly affect our mental health.

In one study, GOS significantly decreased the secretion of cortisol, and participants paid more attention to positive information rather than negative information (23).

People who are anxious tend to have high levels of cortisol and often get caught up in negative thinking. So this study suggests that GOS has anti-anxiety effects. 

Other research has demonstrated that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often have anxiety because of the lack of microbial diversity in their gut. However, when IBS sufferers supplement with a prebiotic mixture containing GOS, it significantly reduces their anxiety and improves the quality of their life (24-26). 

You can get GOS here.

What Psychobiotic Should You Take?

Ideally, you should buy and try one probiotic strain at a time to figure out how you respond to each one.

That's what I did over the span of several years. 

I would buy and try one probiotic species and strain, take it for at least one month, and then monitor how I felt during that time.

Sometimes I would stop taking it if I felt worse.

I was my own guinea pig and tested and experimented with so many different probiotic supplements to find the ones that helped. 

I usually recommend people follow the same process because many people like myself often experience a bad reaction to one strain, but a good reaction to another. 

But I understand doing that can be time-consuming and tedious. Plus, clinical studies often demonstrate that probiotic mixtures with multiple strains are better at improving the diversity of gut bacteria than single strains (45). 

So, to make it easier for you, I’ve now created my own psychobiotic supplement, called Optimal Biotics.

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

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

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

I also recommend adding fermented foods into your diet and see how that goes. Fermented foods contain many strains of bacteria that have not been documented in the scientific literature.  That said, the downside is that the bacteria in fermented foods will vary depending on the batch, and there is sometimes the risk of them containing pathogenic bacteria.

Here are some other steps you can take to increase the good bacteria in your gut. 

And this anti-anxiety supplement also includes several other natural compounds that have helped me manage my anxiety over the years. It can help reduce stress and anxiety while you work to improve your gut health. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.


The microbiome and psychobiotics are at the cutting-edge of neuroscience and mental health research and treatment. It hasn’t been that long since researchers first discovered that there is a gut-brain connection. 

Cartoon image of bacteria and psychobiotics.

When I first found out about it several years ago, I started consuming psychobiotics, and they have definitely helped me recover from chronic anxiety. 

But it’s important to point out that psychobiotics alone were never enough.

I also had to make changes to my diet, take key supplements, improve thyroid health, and overcome trauma. There really is no quick fix or magic bullet. 

Yet for some people, psychobiotics can be life changing, especially if you have digestive issues alongside your anxiety and worry. 

Overall, I think they are absolutely worth a try. 

I hope this article helps you, and please share it with anyone you think might benefit from it. 

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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(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370913/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25879690

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5225647/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24257436

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4200314/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25024629

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26620542

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26522841

(11) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161121160038.htm

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25869281

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3754198/

(14) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x/full#b28

(15) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616140723.htm

(16) http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(16)30730-9

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664325/

(18) https://gutpathogens.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-4749-1-6

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19338686/

(20) http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmicb.2016.01204/full

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251188

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25794930

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136/

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370913/

(25) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03911.x/abstract

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19053980

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3413724/

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015/

(29) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4161/gmic.2.4.16108

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21983070

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683077

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251188

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25794930

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20600016

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988661

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015/

(38) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4161/gmic.2.4.16108

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23566632

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26408987

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24554471

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26408987

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23181058

(45) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906699/

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23759244

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102282/

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4228144/

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4937966/

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=18819774

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21908055

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21908055

(53) http://www.ashdin.com/journals/JEM/235910/

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27632908

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27841940

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

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21 Proven Ways to Increase Brain Blood Flow

Without a doubt, healthy blood flow is absolutely essential for optimal brain function and mental health.

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 hindered, cognitive problems can arise.

Poor brain blood flow and circulation are linked to a number of brain and mental illnesses, including:

Increasing blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s.
— Dr. Robert Vassar

Some of the major causes of poor brain blood flow include abnormal blood pressure, poor circulation, low thyroid, infections, and stress (126-130). 

Besides addressing these major causes, there are a number of ways to directly increase the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain.

Researchers use neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to measure cerebral blood flow.

And they have found that the following 21 methods increase brain blood flow and circulation in humans. 

After suffering multiple concussions, I had severe depression and brain fog, and had no choice but to focus on optimizing brain blood flow and circulation.

A lot of these methods have been significantly helpful to me.

If you want to naturally increase blood flow to your brain, continue reading to learn more.

An illustration of a person’s head, their brain, and blood flowing through the brain.

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best and most accessible ways to increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that moderate exercise increases blood flow to the brain by as much as 15% (1). 

And you don’t even need to work out intensely to increase blood flow to your brain.

Simply walking for 30 minutes at a brisk pace, three or four times each week, is good enough to get more blood and oxygen to your brain and reap the benefits (2). 

In fact, the foot’s impact on the ground while walking sends pressure waves through the arteries, which sends more blood and oxygen to the brain (3). 

There are many studies that suggest that exercise improves brain function in older adults, but we don’t know exactly why the brain improves. Our study indicates it might be tied to an improvement in the supply of blood flow to the brain.
— Dr. Rong Zhang

Exercise has also been shown to protect against cognitive decline and dementia, promote neurogenesis, help reverse brain damage, and promote the regeneration of myelin.

So not surprisingly, exercise is recommended by many brain health experts and it’s often their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

My usual advice is to find a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

2. Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to cold can also help you get more blood flowing to your brain. 

Research shows that putting your hand in ice water for one minute can significantly increase the speed of blood flow to the brain (6-8). 

A tough looking guy with a mustache with his fists up in the air ready to fight. It says over the image “Have a cold shower? You mean a shower?”

Researchers have also found that cooling the skin during upright tilting maintains the speed of blood flow to the brain (5). 

Animal studies also show that cold exposure significantly increases cerebral blood flow (4). 

I take a cold shower every day, and often go outside with minimal clothing in the winter to increase my brain blood flow and circulation. 

You don’t have to do that right away though.

You can start out by finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water.

See how you feel, and then work your way up to longer.

It can be a bit painful, but you get used to it and the beneficial effects are worth it.

Another way to ease yourself into it is by sticking your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.

Cold exposure also stimulates the vagus nerve and supports the endocannabinoid system

3. Sunlight

A picture of the sun shining through the clouds around it. Sunlight can increase blood flow to the brain.

Research also shows that light stimulates brain blood flow and circulation.

Positron emission technology (PET) measures blood flow to specific areas of the brain.

In one study, researchers used PET scans to monitor cerebral blood flow in patients with season affective disorder (SAD) – before and after light therapy

Before light therapy, the scans show that patients had reduced blood flow to the cerebral cortex, the “executive” part of the brain.

But after just a few days of light therapy, this part of the brain started to light up, indicating greater activity and increased blood flow (9).

And this doesn’t just happen in depressed individuals.

Another study found that 10 minutes of light exposure can increase brain blood flow in healthy people (10). 

Light therapy even increases brain blood flow in pre-term infants (11). 

I personally get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months to support my brain health. It’s a simple way for me to increase blood flow to the brain every day.

Researchers have also found a positive correlation between Vitamin D levels and brain blood flow (94).

So I use this Vitamin D lamp during the winter months when there isn't enough sun.

4. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems.

Today, it’s one of the most popular herbal supplements in the world.

Doctors even prescribe it in Germany!

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health.

Researchers have found that it increases cognitive function, and improves memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (15). 

It has these positive effects mainly by significantly increasing blood flow to the brain and increasing blood circulation in the brain (12-14). 

Gingko biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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5. Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that uses red and infrared light to support brain function.

The treatment involved either low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit red and infrared light.

This red and infrared light is applied to the brain, and it stimulates brain cells, helping them helping them function better.

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

A man wears on LLLT helmet and uses the Vielight intranasal device. LLLT can increase brain blood circulation and increase blood flow to the brain.

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

One way LLLT can help the brain is by increasing brain blood flow and circulation. 

One study found that applying near infrared light to the forehead can help treat depression and anxiety without side effects by increasing frontal regional cerebral blood flow (49).

Another study showed improvement in brain blood flow in healthy elderly women (50). 

Animal research has also found that light can be used to locally increase brain blood circulation (93). 

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

I use the Platinum LED Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) and shine the red and infrared light directly on my forehead. It’s a simple way for me to quickly and naturally increase blood flow to the brain. If you decide to buy and try this device yourself, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

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

LLLT can also support thyroid function and mitochondria function and help with brain fog

6. Vinpocetine

Vinpocetine is a compound from the Periwinkle plant. 

It’s commonly used in Europe to treat cognitive decline, memory impairments, stroke recovery, and epilepsy.

Researchers have found that it increases brain blood flow in both healthy people and stroke victims.

The increase in brain blood flow leads to increased brain oxygen levels and energy production, reduced brain inflammation and improved reaction time (16-25). 

I took this vinpocetine supplement after my last concussion to increase blood flow to the brain and speed up my recovery. 

7. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite relaxation technique and it's linked to increased blood flow in the brain.

In one study, 14 people with memory problems followed a simple 8-week meditation program, and researchers found a significant increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (31). 

Logical memory and verbal fluency also improved after training (31). 

Another study showed that just five days of meditation (30 minutes each day) significantly enhanced brain blood flow (32). 

I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. That way, you know how well you are meditating. It makes meditating much more enjoyable.

I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website.

8. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.

Many people know that it’s found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

A glass of red wine and red grapes. Red wine and red grapes contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that can increase blood flow to the brain.

Resveratrol is known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF, help restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, and support your mitochondria.

But it can also quickly help you get more blood and oxygen flowing to your brain. 

In one study, after taking either 250 or 500 milligrams of resveratrol, study participants experienced a dose-dependent increase in brain blood flow (26). 

Even just 75 mg has been shown to increase brain circulation and cognition (27, 29). 

And a new study published just this year found that chronic resveratrol supplementation increases brain blood circulation in post-menopausal women, improving their cognition and mood (28, 30). 

9. Dark Chocolate

Most people love chocolate, and your brain loves it too. 

Dark chocolate contains cocoa, which is known to improve blood flow. 

It's one of my favourite foods. 

Research suggests that the flavonoids found in cocoa beans increase blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours after eating them. And this leads to an improvement in cognitive performance and general alertness (33, 35). 

Certain food components like cocoa flavanols may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function among older adults or for others in situations where they may be cognitively impaired, such as fatigue or sleep deprivation.
— Dr. Ian A. Macdonald, PhD, from the University of Nottingham Medical School in the United Kingdom

One study found that flavanol-rich cocoa significant increases the speed of brain blood flow in healthy elderly people (34). 

Another study showed that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day for 30 days was linked to improved blood flow to the brain and better memory (36). 

Dark chocolate also increases BDNF and reduces cortisol.

It’s important to choose a type of dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.

Here is one of my favourite high-quality dark chocolates

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10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain.

They are essential, meaning your body cannot create them and you have to get them from food or supplements.

Making sure you get more omega-3s is one of the most important actions you can take to support 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.

But they also naturally increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that higher omega-3 levels are significantly correlated with higher regional cerebral blood flow (37). 

This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia.
— Dr. Daniel G. Amen, MD, Amen Clinics

And one study found that omega-3 supplementation, in comparison with placebo, significantly increases brain blood flow (38). 

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough of these foods.

So supplementing with krill oil should be considered. Krill oil is a special kind of fish oil that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. I’ve tried tons of fish oil supplements, and I recommend krill oil over all the others.

I take this krill oil supplement. I feel slightly depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

11. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase brain blood flow and circulation.

In a randomized controlled trial, 17 post-stroke patients did acupuncture or sham acupuncture for 20 minutes.

The researchers found that the speed of blood flow to both hemispheres of the brain significantly increased during and after acupuncture treatment (39, 42). 

Research has also shown that acupuncture can significantly improve cerebral blood flow and circulation in animals (40-41, 43). 

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture, which is when the needles are inserted into ear.

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

I’d recommend trying to find a acupuncturist in your area who provides ear acupuncture.

Ear acupuncture really helped me the first time I weened off antidepressants. I was surprised.

At the end of each appointment, my practitioner would secure these small black seeds on my ear. 

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

Acupuncture also stimulates the vagus nerve

12. Chewing Gum

Research reveals that chewing increases brain blood flow (44). 

As a result, chewing can improve cognitive performance and brain function, including working and spatial memory, and increases the level of arousal and alertness during a cognitive task (45). 

If you chew gum, make sure it’s aspartame-free, like this one.

Chewing gum also reduces cortisol

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) 

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

It’s known to help reverse neurological decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain.

It’s often used as a brain booster by people of all ages because it support brain cells and increases alertness.

It’s also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood by supporting mitochondrial function.

Considering it does all this, it’s not surprising that researchers found that it can enhance brain blood flow in people who have had a stroke (46-47). 

I personally find ALCAR improves my mental energy and enhances my cognitive function.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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14. Nitrates

Nitrates are both naturally-occurring compounds found in soil and plants.

High levels of nitrates are found in foods such as beets, celery, cabbage, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.

Research shows that a nitrate-rich diet can increase blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, improving cognitive function and protecting against cognitive decline (51-52). 

Beet juice is a particularly rich source of nitrates, and studies have found that it can help widen blood vessels and increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain (53-54, 56). 

A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial even found that beet juice can improve cognitive performance by increasing brain blood flow (55). 

There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain. There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that’s believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition.
— Dr. Daniel Kim-Shapiro, PhD

I don’t really enjoy the taste, but every so often I do drink beet juice during cognitively-demanding tasks. 

Here is a good organic beet juice

15. Drink Less Coffee (Or Take Theanine)

Coffee is generally excellent for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

However, studies also show that if you want to get more blood flowing to your brain and within you brain, you’re better off avoiding or limiting caffeine

A cup of coffee on a plate with a spoon. Coffee and caffeine reduce blood flow to the brain. So you should try to limit your intake of them. Or take it with theanine instead.

Researchers have found that caffeine significantly reduces brain blood flow by 20 to 30% depending on the study and dosage (74-77). 

The good news is that taking the amino acid theanine can reduce the negative brain blood flow effects of caffeine (78-79). 

That’s why I take this theanine supplement with my morning coffee

I also sometimes take breaks from drinking coffee to normalize brain blood flow and circulation. 

Taking the herb rhodiola can make quitting caffeine much easier because it helps reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Lastly, you could also try supplementing with the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee bean is usually separated from the coffee fruit for roasting. When this happens, the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

That’s a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

In fact, scientists have discovered that ingesting coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. 

That’s why it’s included in Optimal Brain.

16. Piracetam

Piracetam is a “nootropic”, which means it’s a supplement that enhances cognition.

It provides a mild boost in brain function, and it’s regularly used in Europe, Asia and South America to treat cognitive impairment. 

A meta-analysis found that piracetam improves general cognition when supplemented by people in a state of cognitive decline (84). 

Research also shows that it can increase brain blood flow in humans and animals (85-91). 

Here is a good piracetam supplement. I used to take it every day but I don’t need it at all anymore.

Phenylpiracetam is an advanced version of piracetam and I found it to be even better because it improves mood and reduces anxiety. It’s also been shown to reverse the depressant effects of benzodiazepines (81-83).

You can get it here

Both piracetam and phenylpiracetam work best if you take them with a source of choline, such as CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC (80). 

17. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate diet.

To follow it correctly, you need to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

This means you need to avoid all carbohydrate-rich foods, including grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit.

When you restrict carbs this much, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose.

Researchers have found that ketones are a therapeutic option in traumatic brain injury because they can increase brain blood flow by 39% (100). 

Studies have also shown that ketones increase cerebral blood flow by 65% in animals (103-104). 

And caloric restriction also increases ketones, which preserves cerebral blood flow in aging rats (102). 

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often, but not for long stretches of time due to resulting hormone problems.

I do take Optimal Ketones every day, which are exogenous ketones that get your body into a state of ketosis very quickly. They immediately increase my mental clarity, without having to restrict carbs.

Ketones can also support mitochondria health, promote the regeneration of myelin, and increase the growth of new brain cells

18. Citicoline

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

You need to get choline from food, but most people do not get enough because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

That’s why supplementation is often necessary.

Citicoline is a supplemental form of choline that has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

It enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine and dopamine (two neurotransmitters that are critical for optimal brain function) and increases the number of acetylcholine and dopamine receptors in your brain (105-110). 

It’s also been shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the rate of brain blood flow (114-116). 

A double-blind placebo-controlled study concluded that Citicoline improves cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease by increasing brain blood flow (113). 

Citicoline significantly improves my focus and mental energy. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in foods such as beef liver and egg yolks, but the effects of Citicoline are much more noticeable and immediate because it quickly passes the blood-brain barrier and supports your brain.  

Citicoline also promote the regeneration of myelin, support the blood-brain barrier, and help reverse brain damage.

19. Blueberry Juice

Drinking blueberry juice improves cognitive function in the elderly, according to research published this year (123-125). 

One way it improved brain health was by increasing oxygen levels and increasing blood flow to the brain.

The participants had improvements in working memory while doing cognitive testing.

In this study we have shown that with just 12 weeks of consuming 30ml of concentrated blueberry juice every day, brain blood flow, brain activation and some aspects of working memory were improved in this group of healthy older adults.
— Dr. Joanna Bowtell

The amount of juice in the study was equivalent to 230g of blueberries.

The researchers believe that the flavonoids in blueberries were responsible for the positive effects.  


20. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods that can improve cognitive function.

Researchers have found that supplementing with PQQ can increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (117-118). 

One study found that PQQ can prevent the reduction of brain function in elderly people, especially in attention and working memory, by increasing brain blood flow (119). 

I take this BioPQQ supplement every so often.

21. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is one of the hormones that significantly affects brain function.

It's been shown to pass the blood-brain barrier and act on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

An elderly man sprays insulin up his nose. Intranasal insulin has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.

In a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support brain and mental health.

Intranasal insulin has been reported to significantly enhance memory, increase mental energy, reduce brain fog, improve mood, and lower anxiety and stress levels.

One possible mechanism is by increasing brain blood flow and circulation.

Research shows that intranasal insulin increases regional cerebral blood flow in the insular cortex (120, 122). 

And in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, intranasal insulin improved brain blood flow in older adults (121).  

If you’re interested in learning more, I previously wrote a full article about intranasal insulin.

22. BONUS: Other Promising Nutrients and Herbs

Researchers have found that the following compounds can increase cerebral blood flow in animals, but I couldn’t find any research showing that it will do the same in humans. However, they are worth experimenting with as many of them have supported my brain and mental health over the years.

A picture of the brain and nervous system.

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

Connect with me


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

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