25 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Endocannabinoid System

The endogenous cannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, is perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.
— Dr. Dustin Sulak

It’s becoming increasingly clear that stimulating and supporting your endocannabinoid system is another way to improve your brain and mental health. 

But you don’t need to smoke marijuana to do this. 

There are a number of other options, and this articles explore them.

Marijuana leaf and the endocannabinoid system.

But first, what exactly is your endocannabinoid system? 

Well, your body actually creates its own cannabinoids, similar to those found in cannabis. 

And these naturally-occurring cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors within your body and brain.

You can think of these receptors like little “locks”, and your body’s cannabinoids fit naturally into these locks like “keys”. Together, they make up your endocannabinoid system, which can influence your appetite, pain, inflammation, sleep, stress responses, mood, memory, motivation, reward, etc. (91-92). 

There are two main cannabinoid receptors – cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2). 

An illustration of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body and brain.

CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain and impact a number of neurotransmitters, including GABA, glutamate, dopamine and serotonin. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are mostly found within the immune system and blood cells (93-99).

However, it’s important to note that some CB1 receptors are still located outside the brain, and some CB2 receptors can be found within the brain. So, there is some overlap. 

According to Martin Lee, author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, cannabinoid receptors are more abundant in the brain than any other type of neurotransmitter receptor.

There are two different types of cannabinoids that can activate these receptors in your body:

  • Phytocannabinoids – plant-derived cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) found in marijuana

  • Endocannabinoids – as mentioned before, these cannabinoids are produced naturally within the body. Anandamide is the main endocannabinoid in your body. It can be found in humans, but also many other animals and plants. It binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors and has similar effects as THC. 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is another critical endocannabinoid in your body that also binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Its effects are similar to CBD (100-107).

What Are the Benefits of Stimulating and Supporting Your Endocannabinoid System?

Modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system has turned out to hold therapeutic promise in a wide range of disparate diseases and pathological conditions, ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis, to name just a few.
— Dr. Pal Pacher, M.D., Ph.D

There is an increasing amount of research linking a number of illnesses and symptoms to low endocannabinoids levels, including:

Some researchers are convinced that when your body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG), you’re more likely to develop these diseases.

They’ve even coined the term “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency” to describe the problem (108). 

But if you have one of the above conditions, don’t worry!

You can stimulate and support your endocannabinoid system naturally, which can lead to a number of brain and mental health benefits:

CDB receptor synapses.

So without further ado, here are 25 ways to stimulate and support your endocannabinoid system naturally.

1. Cold Exposure

Cold exposure has been shown to increase endocannabinoid levels (1). 

Researchers have also found that cold exposure significantly increases the density of CB1 neurons (2). 

A man sitting outside in the freezing cold. Cold exposure stimulates the endocannabinoid system.

To support my endocannabinoid system, I take a cold shower every day, and often go outside with minimal clothing in the winter.

Try finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water and see how you feel.

Then work your way up to longer periods of time.

It's painful to do, but the lingering effects are worth it.

You can also ease yourself into it by simply sticking your face in ice cold water.

Cold exposure also stimulates the vagus nerve.

2. Sex Hormones

Male and female sex hormones also stimulate and support the endocannabinoid system.

Both testosterone and estradiol have been shown to upregulate CB1 receptors (3-4). 

Estradiol also increases the synthesis and release of the endocannabinoids (anandamide), which activates CB1 receptors (5-6). 

And the plasma levels of anandamide correlate nicely with the levels of estrogen during the menstrual cycle in women (7). 

I recommend both men and women get their hormones checked regularly. I had low testosterone and testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) really improved my brain and mental health. I no longer need TRT though. 

3. Coffee

Drinking coffee is another way to stimulate and support your endocannabinoid system. 

Researchers believe that the cannabinoid system is involved in the psychoactive properties of caffeine (10). 

Regular caffeine consumption has been shown to enhance the activation of CB1 receptors by endocannabinoids (8). 

CB1 receptors are also downregulated after “social defeat stress”, but caffeine counteracts this effect (9). 

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 a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just the coffee bean or pure caffeine. 

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

But that’s a huge problem! 

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

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

Coffee fruit concentrate is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil has numerous health benefits, particularly because of its strong anti-inflammatory effects.

It’s also been shown to upregulate CB1 receptors (11).

I add olive oil to my salads and sometimes even just take a tablespoon of it straight.

Be careful though. A lot of cheap extra virgin olive oil in grocery stores are not actually “extra virgin.”

Investigations have found that there is a lot of fraud within the olive oil industry and many so-called extra virgin olive oils contains other cheaper, refined vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn and canola. 

This is discussed more in the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.

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5. Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active cannabinoids in cannabis. It is not psychoactive but has a wide range of medical applications.

Research shows that CBD enhances the expression of CB1 receptors in the brain (12-13). 

It also increases levels of 2-AG by preventing it from breaking down (14-15). 

In Canada, CBD oil is illegal. But a “friend of mine” managed to buy and take this CBD oil for a while and he recommends it. 

He said it reduced his stress, made him really sleepy and knocked him out before bed. He eventually stopped taking it because it was making him too drowsy during the day and he doesn’t need to take it any more for anxiety. If you decide to get the same CBD oil, you can use the coupon code 10off406 for a 10% discount.

In the United States, federal and state laws regarding the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids are confusing. Many states allow cannabis products high in CBD and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be sold for medical use. Check the laws in your area before ordering.

6. Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a diverse group of plant compounds found in almost all fruits and vegetables.

Chocolate, tea, wine, and some beans, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds also contain them. Overall, the more colorful a food is, the richer it is in flavonoids.

Fruits and vegetables that are rich in flavinoids, which are known to stimulate the endocannabinoid system.

The following flavonoids inhibit fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which is the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of the endocannabinoids (anandamide) (16):

  • Genistein

  • Kaempferol

  • 7-hydroxyflavone

  • 3,7-dihydroxyflavone

I try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible on a daily basis so that I’m consuming plenty of flavonoids. It’s best to consume fruits and vegetables in their raw forms to receive the highest number of flavonoids, as cooked fruits and vegetables have less.

Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health for a bunch of flavonoid-rich foods. 

7. Tea

Tea contains catechins, which are antioxidant compounds that have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

Researchers have found that catechins in tea target and bind to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system (25-26).

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the most well known catechin. It’s found in green tea. I take a concentrated green tea extract with EGCG to support my endocannabinoid system. 

Drinking tea can also lower cortisol, and green tea increases BDNF

8. Kava

Kava is a plant located in the western Pacific. The root of the plant is used medicinally to treat anxiety and sleep disorders because it causes relaxation without impacting cognitive performance. Some people say it feels like drinking alcohol (30-31). 

Researchers have evaluated commercially available kava supplements to see whether they bind to cannabinoid receptors. They found that yangonin, a compound in kava, binds to the CB1 receptor, and concluded that kava’s anti-anxiety effects may be because it stimulates the endocannabinoid system (32). 

I searched for kava supplements that include yangonin and found this one. I personally don’t take kava anymore because I get a weird reaction and my functional medical practitioner confirmed I’m allergic to the plant. 

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9. Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a healing modality that emphasizes the treatment of disease by manipulating and massaging the bones, joints, and muscles. 

One study found that endocannabinoid levels increased by 168% on average after osteopathic treatment. (33). 

Practitioners of osteopathy are referred to as osteopaths. I saw an osteopath in Ottawa soon after my concussions in 2010. I had been suffering from constant dizziness, and his therapy completely reversed the dizziness. And it was permanent. The dizziness never came back. I was amazed and very grateful. 

I recommend finding an osteopath in your area if you’ve ever suffered a traumatic brain injury. If you happen to be in the Ottawa area, go to this one

10. Probiotics

Research suggests that some probiotics can stimulate and support the endocannabinoid system. 

In one study, researchers found that a specific strain of probiotic, lactobacillus acidophilus, increases the expression of CB2 receptors (53). 

Lactobacillus acidophilus is included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.

Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and help with depression

And here are five other ways to increase the good bacteria in your gut. 

11. Dark Chocolate

Most people know dark chocolate is rich in multiple antioxidants, such as flavonols and polyphenols, which reduce oxidative stress.

But interestingly, it also contains the endocannabinoid anandamide (54). 

And it includes other compounds that slow down the breakdown of anandamide, increasing the amount of anandamide that stimulates your endocannabinoid system (55-56). 

This is likely why eating chocolate makes people feel so good.

Dark chocolate also increases BDNF and reduces cortisol.  

Here is my favourite high-quality dark chocolate

This one is also very good. 

12. Reduce Stress

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage your stress because emotional stress has been shown to downregulate CB1 receptors (57-58). 

High cortisol levels for prolonged periods of time, such as those caused by chronically stressful circumstances, also reduces CB1 receptors and significantly reduces cannabinoid binding to CB1 receptors (59-62). 

On top of this, chronic psychological stress reduces endocannabinoid levels in the brain (63-66). 

A hand squeezing a stress ball. Reducing stress can support your endocannabinoid system.

Overall, researchers say there is strong evidence that the endocannabinoid system as a whole is required in order to properly deal with stress (67). 

My favourite ways to reduce stress include neurofeedback, meditation (using the Muse headband), massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat

Some supplements that can help you reduce stress include zinc, magnesium, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine.

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

And here is an article with 20 other ways to lower your stress hormone, cortisol. 

13. Magnolia Officinalis

Magnolia Officinalis is a plant that has neuroprotective properties and relaxing effects.

It’s used in Chinese traditional medicine for the treatment of anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders. 

Researchers have found that Magnolia officinalis extract and its main bioactive constituents, magnolol and honokiol, can activate cannabinoid receptors (17). 

Here is a good extract

Alternatively, you can drink Magnolia tea. 

Both the tea and extract should be taken with a meal consuming fat because the active ingredients are fat soluble. 

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14. Exercise

Exercise is another great way to stimulate and support your endocannabinoid system.

Medium and high-intensity exercise has been shown to activate the endocannabinoid system (73). 

Research also shows that exercise significantly upregulates CB1 receptors and enhances CB1 receptor sensitivity, which is why exercise can protect against the consequences of stress (68, 72, 74). 

Exercise-related improvements in memory are also due to activation of the CB1 receptor. Blocking this receptor seems to prevent the memory benefits of exercise (69, 72). 

Several studies also show that exercise increases levels of anandamide and activates cannabinoid signaling (70-71). 

Illustration of people running. Exercise stimulates the endocannabinoid system.

And researchers now believe that endocannabinoids may actually be responsible for the “runner’s high” (euphoria) during exercise, and not endorphins (76-77). 

However, you shouldn’t force yourself to exercise. Forced exercise is seen by the endocannabinoid system as a type of stress, and therefore doesn’t increase endocannabinoid levels and can actually decrease CB1 signaling (75). 

So, you should find an aerobic activity that you enjoy so that it’s not a burden.

This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:

  • Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week

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

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

  • Run for 20-30 minutes before lifting weights

Many brain health experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health. 

15. Palmitoylethanolamide

Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is a natural compound that has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects, and low levels of PEA can contribute to chronic brain inflammation and pain (20). 

Research shows that PEA can alleviate pain and increase mood by enhancing endocannabinoid activity (18-19, 21-24).

PEA is naturally found within the body, but it’s also available as a supplement. It's even used for medical purposes in Italy and Spain. 

You can get it here.

16. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. They are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system.

Research shows that they increase the synthesis of endocannabinoids and upregulate both CB1 and CB2 receptors (78-79). 

There is also a connection between low omega-3 fatty acid intake, poor endocannabinoid function and mood changes (80). 

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

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

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

I take this one

You can also get very high-quality seafood and krill oil supplements here.

And you can read more about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids here

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17. Agmatine

Agmatine is a metabolite of the amino acid arginine. It can help reduce pain, treat drug addiction, and protect the brain from toxins (27-28). 

It has been shown to enhance the painkilling effects of cannabinoids. It does this by increasing cannabinoid action and signalling through the CB1 receptor (29). 

My personal experience with agmatine is that it made me agitated, so I stopped taking it. But I don’t have any symptoms of pain. If you do, I think it’s worth trying.

You can get it here.

18. Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is a compound found in many plants and essential oils, including clove, rosemary, basil, oregano, lavender, and hops. It also contributes to the spiciness of black pepper (34). 

Caryophyllene has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antidepressant, anti-anxiety and anti-alcoholism effects (35, 40-41). 

These effects are likely because it binds to the cannabinoid receptors (36-37, 39, 42-43). 

It can also help reduce neuropathic pain through the CB2 receptor (38). 

19. Echinacea

Echinacea is a Native American medicinal plant and one of the most popular medicinal herbs.

People often use it to reduce flu symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold. It is sometimes used to reduce anxiety and relieve fatigue as well.

Compounds in Echinacea, called alkylamides, have been shown to reduce inflammation by binding to the CB2 receptor (44, 46-47). 

Researchers have also found that alkylamides increase the effect of endocannabinoids (45). 

There are a large variety of Echinacea supplements available through Amazon.

20. Black Truffle

Tuber melanosporum, also called the black truffle, is an edible mushroom native to Southern Europe.

Researchers have found the endocannabinoid anandamide within black truffles (49). 

Black truffle peelings are available here. They can be added meals and go particularly well with mashed potatoes. 

21. Diindolylmethane (DIM)

Diindolylmethane (DIM) is an anti-carcinogenic compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale.

DIM is one of the reasons why these foods are considered so healthy. 

Studies show that DIM reduces inflammation because it binds to CB2 receptors (50-51). 

It's also available in supplement form here.

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22. Ruta Graveolens

Ruta graveolens, commonly known as rue, is a medicinal herb.

Researchers have found that a compound within it binds to the cannabinoid receptors (52). 

Rue can be taken as an extract. You can get it here.

23. Acmella Oleracea

Acmella Oleracea, also known as Electric Daisy, is a medicinal herb originating from the Amazon region. 

It contains phytocannabinoids and other compounds that can reduce pain and inflammation (81-82). 

It’s available as an extract.

24. Helichrysum Umbraculigerum

Helichrysum Umbraculigerum is a plant with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, originating from South Africa.

It’s been used medicinally for thousands of years, especially in countries like Italy, Spain, and Portugal. 

It’s been shown to have antidepressant effects likely because it contains cannabigerol, a phytocannabinoid that stimulates the endocannabinoid system (83-85). 

A number of different essential oils are available through Amazon

25. Radula Marginata

Radula Marginata is a plant commonly found in New Zealand.

It contains cannabinoids and cannabinoid-like compounds that bind to CB1 receptors, activating the endocannabinoid system (86-90). 

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many different ways to stimulate your endocannabinoid system besides smoking cannabis. 

And supporting this important system can lead to a number of brain and mental health benefits. 

I hope you implement some of these strategies into your regular routine and notice you feel better and live more optimally over time. 

If you think you know someone who might benefit from this article, please share it with them.

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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(107) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9285589

(108) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18404144

(109) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(110) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(111) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(112) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(113) http://thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60935-X/fulltext

(114) http://www.nel.edu/pdf_/25_12/NEL251204R02_Russo_.pdf

(115) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(116) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(117) http://www.leafscience.com/2013/11/04/study-memory-benefits-exercise-tied-cannabinoid-system/

(118) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16224541

(120) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16037095

(121) http://www.jci.org/articles/view/25509

(122) http://www.leafscience.com/2013/11/04/study-memory-benefits-exercise-tied-cannabinoid-system/

(123) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15044630

(124) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21480865

(125) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10716447

(126) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11156943

(127) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8569415

(128) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9813364

(129) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(130) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(131) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(132) http://www.nel.edu/pdf_/25_12/NEL251204R02_Russo_.pdf

(133) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(134) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(135) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22265864

(136) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(137) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(138) http://thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60935-X/fulltext

(139) http://www.nel.edu/pdf_/25_12/NEL251204R02_Russo_.pdf

(140) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(141) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(142) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(143) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817535/

(144) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(145) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15044630

(146) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21480865

(147) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10716447

(148) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11156943

(149) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(150) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8569415

(151) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9813364

(152) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685476/

(153) http://www.nel.edu/pdf_/25_12/NEL251204R02_Russo_.pdf

(154) http://www.nel.edu/pdf_/25_12/NEL251204R02_Russo_.pdf

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

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The Best Amino Acid for Depression, Anxiety and Pain

An illustration of a woman worrying and ruminating.

Today I want to talk to you about one of the best amino acids that has really helped me manage feelings of depression, anxiety and trauma.

I write about many different helpful nutrients and supplements, and I know it can be overwhelming. 

So I want to dedicate this post to one amino acid, because I feel like it’s helped me more than any other (even more than n-acetyl-cysteine). 

As soon as I realize I'm running low and have just a few capsules left, I order it immediately because it gives me so many benefits.

Even though I can live without it, I’d rather not.

A man sitting on the edge of a cliff, depressed and worrying. Clouds are above him and raining down on him.

Taking it every so often helps my mood and significantly improves the quality of my life. 

A subtle sense of “impending doom” starts to creep in when I’ve gone too long without it. 

If you struggle with chronic anxiety and depression, you probably know what I’m talking about.

This feeling used to be a lot worse for me. 

It felt like a dark cloud was following me around all day, and I just couldn’t shake it.

It’s now gone.

And thankfully, I know exactly how to keep it away.

But life can be tough at times, and things happen.

And that’s why I’m glad I have access to DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA) whenever I need it.

It helps me get through stressful times.

It can get me out of a deep hole like nothing else.

And if you struggle with feelings of trauma, anxiety and depression on a regular basis, it may help you too. 

What is DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA) and How Does It Work?

I first learned about phenylalanine in the book The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. 

It’s an essential amino acid that plays a key role in the proper functioning of your nervous system.

If you're deficient in phenylalanine, you can have the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue

  • Confusion

  • Memory problems

  • Decreased alertness

  • Loss of appetite

DL-Phenylalanine, or DLPA for short, is a combination of two different forms of phenylalanine – D-Phenylalanine and L- Phenylalanine.

The D and L forms of phenylalanine have different beneficial effects on your body and brain. 

L-Phenylalanine is used as a building block by your body to create a number of important proteins, hormones and neurotransmitters. 

This includes dopamine, norepinephrine and thyroid hormone – all of which are necessary for optimal brain and mental function.

Dopamine in particular is very important as it’s the main neurotransmitter that supports your attention and motivation, and plays a key role in the “reward system” of your brain.

D-Phenylalanine, on the other hand, inhibits the breakdown of endorphins.

Endorphins are pain-relieving compounds that originate within your body. 

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

But D-Phenylalanine has been shown to slow the action of enzymes that destroy these morphine-like substances. By doing this, it can prolong the activity of your endorphins within your nervous system, allowing you feel better for longer (1-6). 

How It Can Help You

Together, D and L-Phenylalanine can support your brain and mental health by increasing both dopamine and endorphins levels.

My research and personal experience suggest it can help treat a number of different conditions, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and arthritis

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Drug withdrawal, including alcohol, opiates and psychiatric medication (antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics). If you struggle with any sort of addiction and cravings, I recommend the book End Your Addiction Now by Dr. Charles Gant, MD.

Personally, it helped me the most with depression and anxiety, and there are several studies that show it can improve your mood.

In one study, 20 depressed patients took 200 mg of DLPA everyday. At the end of the 3-week study, 12 patients no longer had depression, and 4 patients experienced mild to moderate improvements in their mood (8). 

This makes sense considering that researchers have found that people struggling with depression often have low levels of phenylalanine, and supplementation significantly elevates their mood (9). 

In fact, one study found that DLPA is just as effective as standard antidepressants (but without side effects), and another found that people who don’t respond to common antidepressants often get significantly better when they take DLPA (10, 11). 

And even if you take medication, research shows that combining DLPA with antidepressants leads to greater increases in mood than simply taking an antidepressant alone (12).

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” (13).

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My Experience

By building up your natural endorphin production, DLPA doesn’t just help reduce physical pain – but mental pain as well.

I'm currently taking this DLPA.

I'm currently taking this DLPA.

When I first started taking DLPA, it was such a relief. I was so glad I had found it. 

I notice it makes me:

  • More comfortable, happy and satisfied with my life;

  • More relaxed and calmer every time I take it;

  • Less moody and irritable;

  • Less likely to take things so seriously; and

  • Less reactive to negative events and situations.

Overall, it lifts my mood and reduces emotional sensitivity. Life becomes less intense. I’m not as sensitive to the world around me. I would definitely recommend it to others who also have “sensory processing sensitivity”. 

And eventually, DLPA helped me successfully wean off multiple psychiatric medications. Along with some other supplements, it played a critical role in making the withdrawal process as smooth as possible. 

I used to take 500 mg every day. Currently, I only need 500 mg once or twice each week, mainly because neurofeedback, low-level laser therapy and EMDR have helped me so much.

Other Success Stories

I understand that you might be thinking that perhaps DLPA won’t help you like it helped me.

And I can't guarantee that it will. 

But I did some digging and found a number of other people online who say that DLPA has also helped them manage or overcome their mental health issues. 

I’ve gathered their comments below and bolded anything that I can personally relate to or I have experienced while taking it:

  • “Suffering from severe post-traumatic stress, I've tried any number of natural products as the chemical cocktails handed out by conventional medicine are simply not acceptable to me. After my first dose of 1000mg DLPA, my depression lifted and trauma reactions (flashbacks and hyperviligence) significantly reduced. I've been taking this for a couple months now and there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. It has almost completely reversed my suicidal tendencies which were increasing regularly; they are now practically nonexistent. This product has truly saved my life.”

  • “My brain finally feels at rest and the anxiety has greatly decreased, and I can get on with my life. DLPA is my lifesaver. I will be taking this for as long as I need to.”

  • DLPA has been a huge help to me. I have type 1 bipolar and this has helped me more than anything I have ever tried. I will buy more and I also take more than 1. I take 2 to 3 a day and it calms my mind like nothing else ever has.”

  • “My husband is mildly bipolar. We've decided to try to treat him naturally and phenylalanine is one of the treatments. He only takes this on an "as needed" basis, which turns out to be at least two days per week. He has other regular supplements he takes daily. This is only for "extra support" on bad days. And it really works.”

  • DLPA is a key factor in improving my anxiety, depression and ADHD more than any of the several medications I have taken over the last 10 years.”

  • “I take DLPA first thing in the morning and it literally helps me get out of bed, get focused and get the day going with a positive attitude.”

  • “I honestly felt a difference right away. I was suddenly happy and smiling non-stop. I truly had a sparkle in my eye and I felt talkative and social. After a few hours the feeling wore off but I still felt an inner sense of content. It has helped with feelings of anxiety as well which is a plus.”

  • “Wow, what a difference! I have been so relieved from all those false moods that I can honestly say I am happy, alive and free.”

  • “I use this daily for the treatment of mild depression. I do notice a difference while on it. I went off of it briefly and felt as if someone had let some air out of my balloon, just kind of deflated.”

  • “I have suffered with extreme depression and anxiety since I was 13 (I’m now 42). I have gone through many different prescription/herbal/clinical therapies, and this product has been life-changing in a very short time. This has given me energy and focus I never had, a zest for life, an ability to handle stresses. I tell my husband (who keeps mentioning what a huge difference he has noticed) that this must be how "normal" people live.”

It absolutely blows my mind that more people aren’t aware of DLPA’s incredible and diverse benefits.

Clearly, it should be a first-line treatment for depression and anxiety. 

Yet I was never told about it, and it took me years to finally discover it.

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Where to Get It and How to Take It

I currently take this DL-Phenylalanine

I've also taken this one at one point.

I've also taken this DLPA and it works. It's currently less expensive than others through Amazon.

I've also taken this DLPA and it works. It's currently less expensive than others through Amazon.

Both work very well in my experience.

There are a number of other brands with good reviews, but I personally can’t vouch for them.

Make sure you get a combination of both D and L-Phenylalanine. I tried L-Phenylalanine alone once and it didn’t help me as much. 

In theory, it’s also a good idea to take it alongside Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C because they help with the conversion of phenylalanine to dopamine.

You should start with 500-750 mg each day and monitor how you feel. You will have to experiment and figure out your ideal DLPA dosage. The DLPA dosage for depression, pain or anxiety can vary. You may even need up to 1,500 mg daily.

But the benefits seem to increase over the time. The more you take it, the more you can feel it’s effects. 

Also, make sure you take it on an empty stomach. Do not take it with high-protein foods. Other amino acids (such as tryptophan) can compete with phenylalanine, and reduce its absorption and transportation across the blood-brain barrier.

Lastly, this anti-anxiety supplement includes several other natural compounds and amino acids that have helped me manage my anxiety over the years. It can also help reduce stress and anxiety, along with DL-Phenylalanine

Conclusion

Antidepressants and benzodiazepines are not your only options for depression and anxiety. 

Unfortunately, much of the so-called “science” behind mainstream psychiatric drugs is untrustworthy and fraudulent, and other safe and effective treatment options are often ignored by conventional medicine. 

A person’s hand and it says “I am stronger than depression.”

DL-Phenylalanine is one of these other options.

I can’t promise it will work for everyone, but since it’s easily accessible through Amazon, it’s worth a try if you suffer from depression and anxiety. Experiment with it and listen to how you feel. 

And like I have, I encourage you to use as many tools as you can to help yourself, including nutrition, supplements, exercise, neurofeedback, light therapy, etc. The list goes on and on. 

None of them have to work completely.

But all together, they can make a huge difference and change the course of your life like they have mine.

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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16 Powerful Ways to Effectively Lower Homocysteine

Lowering and normalizing homocysteine levels is another key way to improve the health of your brain and manage your mental health. 

In fact, keeping homocysteine levels within normal range is good for overall health in general. 

But what exactly is 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 neurotoxic, and increases oxidative stress and free radical damage in the brain by reducing levels of cysteine and glutathione (89-95, 138-139). 

Homocysteine and it’s chemical symbol.

It’s also been shown to contribute to mitochondrial damage and reduce energy production in the brain (96-98). 

Researchers have found that high levels of homocysteine disrupt the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, which allows substances that are normally kept out of the brain to cross over and contribute to neurological problems (99-102). 

And 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 (103-104). 

Considering all this, it’s not too surprising that high levels of homocysteine have been linked to many chronic neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases, including:

  • Depression (105-111)

  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive impairment/dysfunction/decline (119-133, 143)

  • Headaches and migraines (112-118, 148)

  • Hearing loss (136-137)

  • Brain atrophy (134, 144, 151)

  • Parkinson’s disease (145)

  • Stroke (154-155)

  • Postpartum depression (135)

  • Postmenopausal mental decline (146)

  • Schizophrenia and other affective disorders (147, 153, 156)

  • Alcoholism (149)

  • Brain damage and neurotoxicity (152)

  • Obsessive–compulsive disorder (157)

  • Multiple sclerosis (158-161)

People with nutritional deficiencies and MTHFR gene mutation are at an increased risk of high homocysteine levels. Homocysteine levels gradually increase as you age, and men are more likely than women to have high levels of homocysteine (140-142). 

Thankfully, there are a number of ways to lower homocysteine.

Here are 16 ways to keep your homocysteine levels in check. 

1. Trimethylglycine

Trimethylglycine (also known as betaine) is an amino acid derivative that can be found in plants such as beets and spinach. 

Trimethylglycine plays an important role in methylation, a process that is involved in the synthesis of melatonin, coenzyme Q10, and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. 

An image of beets. Beets contain betaine, which has been shown to lower homocysteine levels.

Several studies show that supplementing with trimethylglycine can significantly lower homocysteine levels (1-5). 

One study found that the more trimethyglycine a person consumes, the lower their homocysteine levels (6).

According to the research, it appears that you need to supplement with at least three grams of trimethyglycine daily to significantly reduce homocysteine. Doing so will reduce homocysteine levels by 10% in persons with normal levels or by 20 to 40% in persons with elevated homocysteine levels (7-9).

However, even 500mg seems to lower homocysteine slightly (10). 

I took this trimethylglycine supplement after coming off psychiatric medication and noticed an improvement in mood and energy. 

2. Folate

The best way to lower homocysteine is by making sure you consume enough B vitamins on a regular basis.

Folate is one of the most important B vitamins because it helps metabolize homocysteine into methionine (51). 

When your body doesn’t have enough folate, elevated levels of homocysteine are the result (52). 

A pile of green, leafy vegetables. They contain folate, a key nutrient involved in lowering and normalizing homocysteine levels.

Good dietary sources of natural folate include leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, avocado, beef liver and poultry. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

However, folate-rich foods may not be enough to lower homocysteine. In fact, many people do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (57). 

That’s why I recommend supplementation. 

Supplementing with 800 mcg of folate has been shown to lower homocysteine by at least 28%. Even supplementing with just 113 mcg daily lowers homocysteine by about 15% (53-56, 58, 62). 

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). 

5-MTHF is the most effective supplemental form of folate. 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.

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels and lowering homocysteine levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (59-61). 

5-MTHF is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. 

3. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that plays a role in methylation. It's also a necessary cofactor in the metabolism of homocysteine (75-77). 

Research shows that Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to rising homocysteine levels (78-80, 83-84). 

But in those with elevated homocysteine, supplementing with 1,000 mg of B12 per day can significantly lower and normalize blood levels of homocysteine (81-82).

Ordinary B12 supplements don’t always cut it though.

If you decide to supplement, you should avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and take the methylated form (methyl-B12) instead, which is better absorbed and more biologically active.

Methyl-B12 is included in this supplement. Or you can take it separately

Vitamin B12 is also found primarily 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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4. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is another homocysteine-reducing nutrient that boosts mood, deepens sleep, and supports your entire nervous system. 

It accomplishes this by playing a key role in the production of many neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin, GABA and dopamine.

Vitamin B6 is also a necessary cofactor in the metabolism of homocysteine, and having a deficiency can cause homocysteine levels to increase (14).

In fact, low blood levels of B6 are common, especially in people with higher homocysteine levels (15). 

Thankfully, supplementation has been shown to help lower and normalize homocysteine levels (11-13). 

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of B6. Vitamin B6 has been shown to lower homocysteine levels.

However, it’s important to point out that it’s best to supplement B6 along with both folate and B12 if you want to dramatically lower homocysteine levels. 

Supplementing with B6, B12 and folate has been shown to significantly lower homocysteine levels and reduce symptoms of depression (87). 

One study found that within three weeks, homocysteine levels could be reduced by 17% using folate alone, 19% using B12 alone, 57% using folate and B12, and 60% using folate, B12 and B6 (86). 

Another study found that combining B6 and folate reduces homocysteine 32% within five weeks (85).

That’s why I highly recommend supplementing with a high-quality B complex that contains all three B vitamins. 

I take this B complex.

Symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency include weakness, mental confusion, depression, insomnia and severe PMS symptoms.

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

5. Taurine

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

It can cross the blood-brain barrier and produces anti-anxiety effects, and acts as an antioxidant in the brain, protecting it from various substances including lead and cadmium (16-25). 

It’s also been shown to lower homocysteine. 

Research shows that taurine supplementation significantly reduces plasma homocysteine levels (26-28).

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

6. Creatine

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

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

A scoop of creatine powder next to weights. Creatine lowers homocysteine levels.

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 (29). 

Research shows that creatine supplementation can also lower homocysteine in humans (32, 34). 

Animal studies show the same (30-31, 33).

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

7. Green Coffee Extract

Green coffee extract is a supplement that is derived from green coffee beans. 

Green coffee beans are similar to regular coffee beans. However, they contain much more chlorogenic acid in them.

Chlorogenic acid is a phytochemical with cognitive health benefits

One study found that 140 mg of chlorogenic acid, which is 28% of the content of green coffee extract, can significantly lower homocysteine (39). 

Here is a good green coffee extract

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8. Reduce Stress

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage your stress because psychological stress has been shown to significantly increase homocysteine levels (70-71). 

A woman meditating on the beach near the water. Reducing stress can help you to lower your homocysteine levels.

My favourite ways to reduce stress include neurofeedback, meditation (using the Muse headband), massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat

Some supplements that can help you reduce stress include zinc, magnesium, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine.

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

And here is an article with 20 other ways to lower your stress hormone, cortisol.

9. Estrogen

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

Research shows that higher estrogen levels are associated with lower homocysteine levels, independent of nutritional status and muscle mass (72). 

And individuals on estrogen replacement therapy have significantly lower homocysteine levels (72-73). 

I recommend both men and women get their hormone levels checked regularly and optimize them because it can really improve your quality of life. 

10. Choline

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

Research shows that high homocysteine levels can be lowered with choline (40-42). 

Deviled eggs. Eggs contain choline, a nutrient that can lower homocysteine levels.

One study found that increased intake of choline led to lower levels of circulating homocysteine (43). 

And other studies have shown that choline deficiency in mice and humans is associated with increased homocysteine levels (44). 

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is my favourite source of choline for the brain. 

Citicoline also supports the blood-brain barrier and promotes the regeneration of myelin

Another good source of choline for brain health is Alpha GPC.

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

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but Citicoline and Alpha GPC have more noticeable effects on cognition. 

11. N-Acetyl-Cysteine

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.

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

And it turns out that it can also help lower homocysteine levels. 

Research shows NAC supplementation can cause a “rapid and significant decrease” in homocysteine levels (49). 

Studies have found that NAC can decrease homocysteine anywhere from 25 to 45 per cent (47-48, 50).

Researchers believe NAC displaces homocysteine from its protein carrier in the blood, which lowers homocysteine and promotes the formation of glutathione (45-46). 

12. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Is there anything omega-3 fatty acids can’t do?

They can promote the regeneration of myelin, stimulate the vagus nerve, help reverse brain damage, and support the endocannabinoid system

And now it appears they can also lower homocysteine levels. 

A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial found that consuming three grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily for 2 months significantly decreases levels of homocysteine (63). 

Other researchers have reported that omega-3s can lower homocysteine by 36 to 48% (64-65). 

Salmon and walnuts. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower homocysteine levels.

And studies have also found that people using B vitamins to lower homocysteine should also have enough omega-3s to improve brain function. In fact, some clinical trials using B vitamins to improve brain function show benefits only in people with higher omega-3 levels (143-144). 

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

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

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

That’s why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains omega-3s. 

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

You can also order very high-quality seafood and krill oil supplements here

And you can read more about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids here.

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13. Probiotics

Research suggests that probiotics may also be able to lower homocysteine.

Bacteria. Probiotic bacteria can lower homocysteine levels.

In one interesting study, researchers gave the probiotic VSL#3 to subjects with high homocysteine.

The researchers found that the probiotic increased the number of good bacteria in the gut, which then naturally increased Vitamin B12 and folate production in the gut. As a result, homocysteine levels dropped (66). 

You can get the VSL#3 probiotic used in the above study here.

I personally created and take the Optimal Biotics supplement to support my brain and mental health. 

Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and help with depression

And here are five other ways to increase the good bacteria in your gut. 

14. Avoid Alcohol

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 (67).

It also increases homocysteine. 

One study found that alcohol significantly reduces Vitamin B12 and folate levels and increased homocysteine levels (68). 

And another study found that alcohol consumption increased homocysteine levels regardless of Vitamin B levels (69). 

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

15. Eat “Head to Tail”

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

The same can be said about animal food.

Muscle 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.

One of the main reasons I recommend this is because lean muscle meat is high in methionine.

Methionine is an essential amino acid, but too much methionine increases homocysteine levels and increases your need for Vitamin B6, B12, folate and choline (74, 88, 162). 

But bone broth contains collagen, gelatin, and amino acids such as glycine and proline, which balance out the methionine in muscle meat, and helps your body better metabolize it. 

Bone broth can be inconvenient to make all the time, so I drink this pre-made, organic chicken bone broth

And 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.

16. Limit Medications and Compounds That Increase Homocysteine

A number of prescription drugs and natural compounds have been shown to increase homocysteine by interfering with folate absorption, or metabolism of homocysteine, including (35-38):

Various natural health supplements on table.
  • Cholestyramine

  • Colestipol

  • Fenofibrate

  • Levadopa

  • Metformin

  • Methotrexate

  • Niacin

  • Nitrous oxide

  • Pemetrexed

  • Phenytoin

  • Pyrimethamine

  • Sulfasalazine

Conclusion

High levels of homocysteine can be problematic and increase your risk of many brain and mental health disorders.

But fortunately, you can do something about it!

Implementing the above 16 strategies can provide powerful protection against homocysteine’s negative effects and improve your quality life. 

I’ve found great benefit in lowering my homocysteine levels, and I hope you experience the same. 

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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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.  

Image of brain cell connections.

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

Protein-rich foods, including eggs, salmon, red meat and nuts. Eating enough protein will ensure you increase your IGF-1 levels.

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

Magnesium. Magnesium increases IGF-1 levels. Most people are deficient nowadays.

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

Vitamin D capsules in a clear bowl. Vitamin D supplements can increase IGF-1 levels, especially if you’re deficient.

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

Click here to subscribe

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

Illustration of the astragalus plant. Astragalus can increase IGF-1 levels.

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

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

An apple partially peeled. Apple peels contain ursolic acid, a natural compound that can increase IGF-1 levels.

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

A cartoon woman lifting weights over her head. Exercise powerfully increases IGF-1 levels.

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.  

Click here to subscribe

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

A glass of alcohol. Alcohol should be avoided if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels.

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

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