31 Powerful Ways to Induce Autophagy in the Brain

Autophagy is an absolutely essential biological process that plays a key role in the normal functioning and survival of your brain cells.

The word autophagy is derived from the Greek words auto and phagein.

Auto translates to “self”.

And phagein translates to “devouring”.

So autophagy essentially means “self-devouring”, or “to eat oneself”.  

That may sound scary and something that you would want to avoid…

But it’s actually something you want to embrace and induce yourself.

Because autophagy is a self-cleaning mechanism within our cells, which helps your brain detoxify, repair and regenerate itself.

It destroys the old, damaged, and malfunctioning components of your cells – and rebuilds new and healthier ones instead!

It’s sort of like spring cleaning or replacing old parts of your car.

By inducing autophagy, we are clearing out worn-out and faulty cellular parts within our brain cells.

Our brain cells need to last a lifetime, so autophagy is our body’s unique way of naturally rejuvenating them and defending them from disease.

Autophagy.

How Does Autophagy Affect Your Brain and Mental Health?

What we’ve discovered is that autophagy protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and certain forms of dementia. If you switch on autophagy, you remove proteins rapidly, as well as protect against excessive inflammation. By learning how to influence this process, we are able to affect the progression of these diseases.
— Dr. David Rubinsztein, professor of molecular neurogenetics at the University of Cambridge and UK Dementia Research Institute

Research shows that autophagy supports the central nervous system, improves brain function and reduces neurological cellular breakdown (136-138).

And studies suggest that autophagy is a built-in defense mechanism that detoxifies and clears the central nervous system (139).

But the autophagy process becomes less efficient as we get older.

And over time, our brain cells accumulate a variety of damaged organelles, abnormal and pathogenic proteins, and oxidized particles (141-142).

This clogs up the brain, accelerates cognitive aging, and even contributes to the development of dementia (140).

But autophagy doesn’t just decline in older individuals.

Even younger people with depression and schizophrenia have been shown to have deficiencies in autophagy pathways (162-163).

In fact, researchers have found a link between autophagy dysfunction and many neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, including (143-161):

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Huntington’s disease

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Frontotemporal dementia

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

  • Autism spectrum disorders

  • Fragile X syndrome

  • Mood disorders

  • Psychotic symptoms

  • Behavioural change

The good news is that you can do something about this.

You have the power to activate autophagy.

There are several reliable and natural ways to increase it.

And by doing so, you can reduce neuroinflammation, protect the nervous system, improve cognitive function, encourage the growth of brain cells, and even fight depression and Alzheimer’s disease (164-174).

Read on to learn more about how you can induce autophagy.  

Lifestyle Habits and Therapies That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to boost autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that aerobic exercise induces neuronal autophagy (1).

They believe the reason why exercise improves cognitive function is perhaps because it increases autophagy in the brain (2).

Exercise is a stressor on the body, and the body induces autophagy so that your cells can recover from the stress. All it takes is 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to activate autophagy in the brain (3).

As a result, exercise increases neurogenesis and reduces neurodegeneration.

Many doctors and researchers recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

You should find a sport or aerobic exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

2. Intermittent Fasting

One of the major benefits of fasting is a dramatic increase in autophagy, followed by a massive boost in stem cell production.
— Dr. Rhonda Patrick, PhD

Fasting is another biological stressor that promotes autophagy.

When you’re fasting, your body isn’t receiving nutrients, so it stresses out and triggers autophagy.

Researchers have found that fasting activates “profound autophagy” in the brain (24-26).

As a result, it can help treat neurological conditions and lowers the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (27-28).

So how long do you have to fast to trigger autophagy in the brain?

Research suggests 24 to 48-hour fasts are ideal and have the strongest effects (29).

But long fasts are not very realistic and practical.

Luckily, even shorter fasts have been shown to significantly promote neuronal autophagy (30-31).

That’s why I personally eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the other 16 hours of the day.

You don’t need to go that long, but you should try to fast for at least 12 hours at a time.

The best way to get started is simply by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day.

That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.

3. A Ketogenic Diet

Ketogenesis is like an autophagy hack. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting.
— Dr. Colin Champ, MD

A ketogenic diet is a very high-fat, low-carb diet.

To follow the diet, you need to get most of your calories from healthy fats, and no more than 10 percent of calories from carbs (less than 50 grams of carbs per day).

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods – such as grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit – your body enters “ketosis”, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose.

And this be very beneficial and increase autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that ketosis is neuroprotective and reduces neurodegeneration by promoting autophagy in the brain (4-6).

Autophagy reduces amyloid beta, the main component of amyloid plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (8-9).

An animal study also shows that ketosis reduces brain injury (during and after seizures) by activating autophagy (10).

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often.

Some of the best foods to eat if you follow a ketogenic diet include coconut oil, olive oil, pastured eggs, ghee, grass-fed meat, avocado, nuts and seeds.

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

I also take Optimal Ketones every day, which are exogenous ketones that get my body into a state of ketosis very quickly. That way I get the mental clarity of ketosis without having to follow a ketogenic diet all of the time.

Research shows that the ketone bodies in Optimal Ketones stimulates autophagy (7).

4. Circadian Rhythm, Melatonin and Deep Sleep

A baby sleeping. Sleep induces autophagy in the brain.

Getting enough high-quality sleep is very important if you want to increase autophagy.

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

Research shows that not getting enough sleep, and waking up intermittently throughout the night, negatively alters autophagy in the brain (11-12).

So it’s the length and quality of your sleep that matters.

That’s why I highly recommend getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.

What can you do to improve your sleep?

  • Maintain a proper circadian rhythm

  • Promote the production and release of melatonin at night

Researchers have found that our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) controls autophagy and plays a role in cognitive decline (13-14).

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain.

It helps control your circadian rhythm, and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Melatonin has been shown to induce autophagy in the brain, and it reduces the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders (66-68).

Even mild changes in our external environment (i.e. blue lighting at night) can affect our circadian rhythm and reduce melatonin production, negatively altering autophagy and our cognition the next day (13-14).

Knowing this, here is what you can do to support melatonin production, maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning. This sets your circadium rhythm.

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

  • Blue light significantly suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and abnormal functioning of your nervous system. As soon as it’s dark outside, you should avoid sources of blue light. Turn off household lights or install red light bulbs, install Iris on your computer and/or wear blue blocking glasses. These glasses block out blue light in your environment.

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

  • Avoid stimulating movies and TV before bed.

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re still having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin.

5. Hot and Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to both hot and cold temperatures can stress your cells and promote autophagy.

Several researchers have found that “heat stress” triggers autophagy and stimulates the autophagic process (15-18).

Autophagy and the heat-shock response are also tightly linked (19-20).

Researchers have found that cold exposure induces neuronal autophagy, and they believe it can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases (21-22).

Research also shows that switching back and forth between cold and hot can induce autophagy (23).

So how does this translate into every day life?

Try switching back and forth between hot and cold in the shower.

Or spend time in a sauna or steam room, and then take a cold shower.

I personally like to go outside with minimal clothing in the winter, and then eventually come back inside and take a hot shower.

Cold plunges, cold baths and cryotherapy are some other ways to expose yourself to cold.

6. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that enhances healing and recovery after injury to the central nervous system.

Patients inhale 100% oxygen in a total body chamber.

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

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

Several studies have shown that HBOT elevates and enhances autophagy in the central nervous system (41-44).

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

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

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

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

7. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to induce autophagy in the brain (69).

One study found that acupuncture improved learning and memory, and protected brain cells, by upregulating the autophagy pathway (70).

Another found that acupuncture promoted the “autophagic clearance” of proteins from the brain that contribute to Parkinson’s disease (71).

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

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture.

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

Foods That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

8. Coffee and Caffeine

A cup of coffee on a plate with a spoon. Coffee induces autophagy in the brain.

Drinking coffee is another great way to induce autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that both regular and decaffeinated coffee rapidly trigger autophagy (32).

The polyphenols in coffee are also good for your brain health because they stimulate autophagy (32).

And other studies show that caffeine protects brain cells and lowers the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases by inducing autophagy in the brain (33-35).

I drink one cup of this high-quality coffee every morning.

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 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.

9. Green Tea

Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG) is the main polyphenol found in green tea.

It’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

Researchers have found that EGCG stimulates autophagy in the brain, protects against brain cell toxicity and may help treat neurodegenerative disorders (36-38, 40).

It also improves learning and memory after chronic stress by restoring autophagic flux in the brain (39).

I personally drink organic green tea regularly, usually in place of coffee on days when I’m relaxing.

I also take Optimal Antiox, a supplement that includes green tea extract and EGCG.

10. Coconut Oil and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

Coconut oil is one of the best foods for your brain.

It’s especially important if you want to support your thyroid.

But it can also stimulate autophagy in the brain by increasing ketone levels (45-46).

I eat one or two tablespoons of this coconut oil almost every day now, along with Optimal Ketones, to boost ketones and induce autophagy in my brain.

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) within coconut oil are responsible for the ketone-increasing effects of coconut oil

If you don’t like coconut oil, you can supplement with pure MCT oil instead.

11. Ginger

Ginger is one of the healthiest spices.

It contains lots of nutrients and bioactive compounds that have powerful, protective benefits for your brain (47-49).

6-shagol, one of the active compounds within ginger, induces autophagy (50-55).

12. Reishi Mushroom

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a powerful fungus with hundreds of bioactive compounds.

It has been used for thousands of years by Chinese medicine practitioners to support the immune system, regulate inflammation, lower anxiety and support brain function.

Research shows that reishi mushroom can induce autophagy (56).

It also protects the brain from oxidative stress by regulating autophagy (57-58).

I’ve supplemented with this reishi mushroom tincture in the past to support my immune system.

13. Turmeric (Curcumin)

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

It’s one of my favourite natural compounds for the brain.

One reason is because it protects brain cells from damage by activating autophagy (59-61).

Curcumin is included in the Optimal Energy supplement.

14. Broccoli Sprouts (Sulforaphane)

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, similar to curcumin.

Studies have shown that sulforaphane increases autophagy within brain cells (62-63).

As a result, researchers believe it can be a therapeutic tool in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (63).

Broccoli sprouts are the best source of sulforaphane.

You can also take sulforaphane in supplement form.

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

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

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

15. Galangal

Galangal is a spice.

It’s known as “Thai ginger” or “Siamese ginger” because it looks very similar to ginger.

But it’s actually a different spice altogether.

It's commonly found in Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian cooking.

Galangin, a compound within galangal, has been shown to induce autophagy and protect dopaminergic neurons in the brain (64-65).

16. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Oleuropein)

Olive oil on a picnic table. The antioxidants in olive oil can induce autophagy in the brain.

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

Oleuropein, a polyphenol found in olive oil, has been shown to induce autophagy and reduce cognitive impairment (92).

As a result, researchers propose that a diet with extra virgin olive oil might have potential benefits for Alzheimer’s patients because of its induction of autophagy (72).

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.

You don’t just have to eat olive oil to get the benefits of oleuropein though.

Oleuropein can also be found in olive leaf extract and argon oil.

17. Berries

Blueberries, strawberries, acai berries are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain.

And for good reason.

All three berries have been shown to significantly activate autophagy in the brain (74-74).

The polyphenols within them also protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation and improve cognitive function.

I try to eat one cup of berries every day to support my brain health.

18. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce brain inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers have also demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids can increase BDNF signaling and enhance autophagy in the brain (108-112).

So increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to support your brain.

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

  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

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

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

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

I feel off when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

Some researchers believe that the beneficial effects of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may simply be due to their ability to activate autophagy (107).

Natural Supplements That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

19. Probiotics

Research suggests that certain probiotics can stimulate autophagy in the brain.

In one study, researchers gave the SLAB51 probiotic formulation to mice, and it partially restored autophagy in the brains of the mice (75).

The researchers also found that the SLAB51 probiotic reduced brain damage and decreased cognitive decline in the mice (75).

I tried to find the SLAB51 probiotic formulation online, but it doesn’t appear to be commercially available yet.

I personally take the Optimal Biotics supplement every day to support my gut and brain health.

I also like to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods regularly.

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.

20. American Ginseng

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a powerful herb that enhances brain function.

Researchers have found that it induces autophagy, which then protects the brain from neurotoxicity and reduces mitochondrial dysfunction (76-78).

Because of this, researchers believe it can help treat neurodegenerative disorders (77, 79).

American ginseng is included in the Optimal Ketones supplement. I find it increases my mental clarity and energy.

21. Ginkgo Biloba

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

It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it increases brain blood flow and improves memory, mood, mental energy and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have also discovered it helps treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by activating and increasing autophagy in the brain (80-82).

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

22. 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. It’s been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood.

Researchers have also found that it helps reverse cognitive decline and supports mitochondrial function by inducing autophagy in the brain (83-86).

I find that it personally gives me a big boost in mental energy and resilience.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

23. Vitamin D (and K2)

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, and activation of the Vitamin D receptor, induces autophagy (89-91, 93).

Vitamin D supplementation in mice also increases levels of autophagy (92).

One study found that Vitamin D can reduce neurological deficits caused by traumatic brain injury by restoring autophagy in the brain (95).

And some researchers have pointed out that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many diseases that involve defective autophagy (94).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is also some evidence that Vitamin K2 stimulates autophagy as well (87-88).

24. Lithium

Lithium is predominantly known as a medication given to bipolar patients to manage their symptoms.

However, it’s also an essential mineral.

Bipolar patients are often given high doses of lithium carbonate.

But low doses of lithium orotate can be safely supplemented to improve your brain health and increase the formation of myelin.

Research shows that lithium induces autophagy in the brain and enhances the breakdown and clearance of proteins that contribute to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

Therefore, it may help treat Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's disease, and dementia (96-97).

I used to take this lithium orotate. I don’t take it anymore because I don’t need it, but I remember it making me feel calm and stable.

25. Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active cannabinoids found in marijuana.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD isn’t psychoactive and doesn’t make you “high”.

But it can help treat a number of diseases because it reduces inflammation.

Researchers have found that CBD activates and enhances autophagy pathways in the brain (98-100).

I took this CBD oil for a while and I recommend it. It significantly reduced my stress, made me sleepy and knocked me out before bed.

I only took it in the evening because it made me too drowsy during the day, and I don’t need to take it anymore.

If you decide to get the same CBD oil as me, I found out you can use the coupon code 10off406 for a 10% discount.

26. Rhodiola

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

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

One study found that rhodiola can reduce neurodegeneration by inducing autophagy in the brain (101).

Other studies have found that the herb significantly upregulates autophagy (102-103).

I take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I need a cognitive boost. You can get it here or here.

Check out this post all about rhodiola to learn more about this amazing herb.

27. Berberine

A bowl of berberine. Berberine induces autophagy in the brain.

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants.

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

Researchers have also found that berberine reduces inflammation and protects the brain from damage by boosting autophagy in the brain (104-105).

One study even found it reduces neurological deficits and promotes neurogenesis by stimulating autophagy (106).

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

28. Nicotinamide

Nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide or nicotinic acid amide, is the water-soluble, active form of Vitamin B3.

It has been shown to reduce cognitive decline and halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by improving autophagy function in the brain (113-114).

It also improves cognitive performance and preserves mitochondrial integrity (113).

Nicotinamide is included in this supplement.

29. Schisandra

Schisandra is a berry commonly used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.

The seeds of the berry contain lignans, which have health-promoting properties.

It’s considered an adaptogen and traditionally used to treat depression, stress and menopause.

But lots of research shows that Schisandra can also benefit people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (115-116).

This is because it reduces neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment by enhancing autophagy (117-120).

Besides promoting autophagy, it also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects upon brain cells (116).

You can also get Schisandra as dried whole berries or as juice.

But it usually isn’t used as a food.

Rather, it’s more commonly used as a supplement. It’s available in multiple forms, including dried powder and pills.

30. Spermidine

Spermidine is a polyamine compound with various metabolic functions.

It’s found in living tissues and within a wide range of foods, including aged cheese, fermented soy, chicken, mushrooms, pears and potatoes.

It can also be taken as a supplement.

Researchers have found that it’s neuroprotective and reduces synapse aging by enhancing autophagy in the brain (121-127).

As a result, it counteracts neurodegeneration, reduces memory impairment, and protects neurons from demyelination (121).

31. Resveratrol and Pterostilbene

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

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

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Several studies have shown that resveratrol induces autophagy in the brain (128-132).

In two of the studies, it protected brain cells and helped brain cells recover after injury by enhancing autophagy (131-132).

Researchers propose it could even be used to help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s Disease due to its autophagy-enhancing effects (130).

To consume enough resveratrol to promote autophagy, you’ll need to supplement with it.

Resveratrol is included in the Optimal Energy supplement.

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol, and it has also been shown to induce autophagy (133-135).

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

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Jordan Fallis

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

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How to Overcome Trauma & PTSD without Medication

The subjective experience of trauma is unique and varies according to the individual and the type of trauma. What does not vary is the fact that trauma often results in a devastating intrusion into a wished-for life of peace, calm, and well-being, along with a corresponding unexpected and undesired fragmented sense of self and of life in general.
— Dr. Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.

Eating healthy and supplementing with specific nutrients was never enough for me to overcome my chronic mental health problems.

A broken heart.

I had to work hard at overcoming emotionally traumatic experiences as well. 

Trauma isn’t just something that happens to you in the past.

It’s not just a story or a memory.

Emotional trauma can actually change your brain, and how you see yourself in the world, leading to profoundly disturbing physical sensations and emotions in the present moment. 

It can occur because of one single event, or build up gradually due to a threatening or lonely environment.

These traumatic events and experiences, in both childhood and adulthood, can linger inside you and make you feel depressed, anxious and fearful for years. 

This is commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it’s a heavy burden to carry.

We’re made to believe that talk therapy and psychiatric drugs are the best way to overcome it.

But that is simply not true.

You can overcome psychological and emotional trauma without having to resort to life-long therapy and medication.

It’s not necessarily easy. 

It can take some time and effort.

But it can definitely be done.

I’m living proof. 

So today I’m going to share with you the therapies and treatments that have changed the course of my life by allowing me to permanently overcome emotional trauma and PTSD. 
 

Why Talk Therapy and Drugs Aren’t the Best Treatment Options

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, a psychiatrist at the Boston University School of Medicine and one the world’s leading experts on trauma, is convinced that talk therapy isn’t that effective, and psychiatric drugs don’t get to the root of traumatic issues:

The study of trauma shows that you cannot “knock sense” into people by talking to them. Trauma is not an issue of cognition. It’s an issue of disordered biological systems.

Based on my experience, I agree with Bessel van der Kolk, and I highly recommend you check out his book The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma if you’re interested in learning more. 

The book talks about how the brain is shaped by traumatic experiences, how traumatic stress is experienced by the entire body, and how this knowledge needs to be integrated into conventional treatment. 

Because of trauma, I used to struggle with chronic hyper-vigilance – a heightened state of awareness and over-activation of my "fight-or-flight" response. 

In other words, my brain was irrationally on constant alert.

This is because trauma impacts the “unconscious, emotional, reptilian" part of our brains, causing us to become chronically frightened and interpret the world as dangerous.

You know you shouldn’t feel that way, but you do.

And then that makes you feel even more defective and ashamed.

You cannot reason your way out of that.

Talk therapy can be helpful in acknowledging what has happened to you and how it has affected you.

But talking about it doesn’t put it behind you.

It simply does not go deep enough and affect the emotional, reptilian part of your brain. 

Your body can actually hold onto trauma, and it wasn’t until I tapped into the reptilian part of my brain with the following 12 treatments and therapies that I was able to permanently let it go and move on with my life. 

And even if you don't think you've experienced anything too traumatic, you'll probably benefit from these steps. 

1. Neurofeedback

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

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

In this powerful video, a captain with multiple deployments in Iraq shares his experiences in dealing with PTSD, and how neurofeedback treatment aided in his recovery.

Personally, neurofeedback was the most impactful action I took to overcome trauma. I previously wrote about my experience with it here

It works at a deep subconscious level, breaking the cycle of trauma and post-traumatic symptoms.

It allows you to move past traumatic events without actually having to talk about them and relive them, and shifts you into a natural, healthier state of mind.

And research shows that it works. 
 
Just last year, individuals with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder completed 40 sessions of neurofeedback, and researchers found it significantly reduced their PTSD symptoms (3). 

In my 38 years of practice, I have never seen any treatment that comes close to producing the results that Neurofeedback offers. I have seen results achieved in days and weeks that previously took months and years to achieve, using the best methods available to us.
— Dr. Jack Woodward, MD, Board Certified Psychiatrist

In another study, victims of torture who had not responded to conventional treatment did 20 sessions of neurofeedback and demonstrated a “substantial recovery” (5). 

Researchers have also concluded that neurofeedback is “helpful in the shedding of substance dependencies that are common in treatment-resistant PTSD” (4). 

If you’re interested in digging more into the research, here is a list of studies looking at neurofeedback for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. 

It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner.

But I also like the Muse headband. It’s a good substitute and gives you real-time feedback in your brainwaves while you meditate.

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

Click here to subscribe

2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body and part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

Stimulating your vagus nerve allows you to more effectively respond to emotional trauma and overcome it. 

Research shows that vagus nerve stimulation can help treat a number of treatment-resistant anxiety disorders. This includes patients with PTSD that haven’t responded to medication (34-35). 

Vagus nerve stimulation has also been shown to enhance the “extinction of conditioned fear”, making it useful for severe anxiety and PTSD (36-38). 

So how do you stimulate your vagus nerve naturally?

I previously provided 13 ways to activate your vagus nerve in this post.

I recommend reading that post alongside this one because many of the mind-body practices and nutrients discussed – such as yoga, acupuncture, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids – have also been shown to directly help people overcome emotional trauma. 

3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

The cure for the pain is the pain.
— Rumi

I mentioned above that neurofeedback lets you move past traumatic events without actually having to talk about them and re-live them.

But sometimes that isn’t enough.

Sometimes you have to relive your trauma to actually move past it. 

That’s where Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) comes in.  

EMDR is a fairly new, non-traditional type of psychotherapy, but it’s growing in popularity, particularly for treating emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During a session, your therapist will move his or her fingers back and forth in front of your face. You’ll then follow the hand motions with your eyes while thinking of a disturbing event from your past. 

As you do this, your brain will start to reprocess the traumatic memory until it no longer bothers you. It allows you to come to peaceful terms with previously-disturbing events and, surprisingly, leads to increased insight about yourself. 

In my experience, it is one of the most impactful actions you can take for your mental health. 

This is a very good video about EMDR and trauma. More people should see it. 

I did 4 sessions of EMDR and it really helped me come to terms with certain traumatic experiences from my past. I didn’t know it at the time, but these previously traumatic events were wearing me down, and life is now lighter and brighter since finishing the treatments.  

According to Dr. Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain’s Way of Healing, EMDR is the most promising treatment for trauma and PTSD.

More than 30 controlled clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR therapy for overcoming emotional trauma and PTSD (15, 25-33). 

Several studies have found that 84 to 100% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after just three 90-minute EMDR sessions (16). 

Other studies have found that 77% of multiple trauma victims were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after only six sessions, and 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions (17, 18). 

And EMDR has also been shown to be effective in children who have experienced emotional trauma (19). 

As a result of this, researchers and multiple health organizations have concluded that EMDR should be a first-line treatment for acute and chronic PTSD, and must be considered before medication because it’s been shown to be more effective than SSRI antidepressants (20-24). 

Although the research continues to pile up in support of EMDR, it remains controversial among some health care professionals. This is likely because it does not rely on life-long talk therapy or medication, and therefore puts a lot of people out of business.

It’s best to work with a qualified EMDR therapist first so that you understand how EMDR works.

Once you experience the treatment and understand it, you can actually self-administer EMDR

4. Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta)

I recently found out about loving-kindness meditation in Tim Ferriss’ new book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, and have been practicing it since.

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

A cartoon Buddhist monk meditating. Loving-Kindness Meditation can help you overcome trauma and PTSD without medication.

You repeat positive phrases to yourself and direct well-wishes towards other people.

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

In one study, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) practiced loving-kindness meditation for 12 weeks. 

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers reported increased levels of mindfulness and self-compassion in the veterans. 

And three months later, the veterans had reduced symptoms of trauma and depression because of their enhanced feelings of compassion (1). 

Another study found increased positive emotions and self-acceptance in veterans who practiced loving-kindness meditation (2). 

Click here to subscribe

5. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”, is a form of therapy based on ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. 

A woman tapping and using EFT. EFT can help you overcome trauma and PTSD without medication.

It involves tapping a series of acupressure points while thinking about a traumatic event and stating positive affirmations.

It’s best to do EFT alongside a therapist, but you can also practice it yourself.

If you’re interested in learning how to do it yourself, check out The Tapping World Summit, and the book, The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living

I’ve never done EFT with a therapist but I use the technique myself on a regular basis to reduce stress.

I previously discussed how it can lower your stress hormone here

Research also shows that it can also help you manage and overcome emotional trauma. 

Last year, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of all high-quality EFT studies and concluded that 4 to 10 sessions of EFT can effectively treat post-traumatic stress disorder without side effects. They determined that it’s just as effective as EMDR and cognitive behavior therapy (6). 
    
Researchers have stated that even though the approach has been controversial, there’s no doubt that EFT “is unusually effective in its speed and power because deactivating signals are sent directly to the [fear centre of the brain]” (12).

Tapping on selected acupoints during imaginal psychological exposure quickly and permanently reduces maladaptive fear responses to traumatic memories and related cues.
— Dr. David Feinstein

Several individual studies have also found that it quickly and permanently reduces PTSD symptoms in military veterans, disaster survivors, and other traumatized individuals (7-11).

With veterans, studies have found that EFT significantly reduces their psychological distress, and 90% participants no longer score positive for PTSD after just six treatment sessions. These improvements remained one year later (13-14). 

The film Operation: Emotional Freedom also documents a number of veterans and their families as they go through EFT therapy.

6. Forgiveness

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
— Nelson Mandela

Research shows that difficulty forgiving oneself and difficulty forgiving others is associated with increased symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (51). 

One study found that a when a victim of emotional trauma forgives the person at fault, there is a significant reduction in their PTSD symptoms (52). 

Two people holding hands. Forgiving one another can help us overcome trauma and PTSD.

And emotionally-abused women that did forgiveness therapy experienced significantly greater improvements in their PTSD symptoms than women who received an alternative treatment (53). 

So if you’ve experienced emotional trauma, you need to focus on letting go. 

Easier said than done, I know. Luckily, a lot of the therapies above – particularly EMDR – make it easier to forgive. 

I started using “forgiveness affirmations” several years ago after reading The Success Principles:  How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield.

Below is the main forgiveness affirmation from the book, and I recommend reading the full book for more tips on forgiveness.

I release myself from all the demands and judgments that have kept me limited. I allow myself to go free – to live in joy and love and peace. I allow myself to create fulfilling relationships, to have success in my life, to experience pleasure, to know that I am worthy and deserve to have what I want. I now go free. In that process I release all others from any demands and expectations I have placed on them. I choose to be free. I allow others to be free. I forgive myself and I forgive them. And so it is.

7. Brain Stimulation

There are several forms of brain stimulation, but two stand out for the treatment of emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The first is cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), which I have personal experience with. 

CES involves the application of a low intensity micro-current (less than 2 mA) to the brain. This current stimulates the brain via electrodes placed on the earlobes, and affects emotional regulation by influencing neurotransmission in the brain – including serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin – which play a role in depression, anxiety and sleep (42-44). 

I know it sounds dangerous but it is very safe and has been widely used in Europe since 1950 and in the US since the 1960s (39). 

It’s also been cleared by Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of depression, anxiety, addiction and insomnia (41). 

Research has found that CES treatment (20 to 60 minutes daily, 3 to 5 days each week for 4 weeks) decreases the frequency of PTSD symptoms in veterans (40). 

In an online survey of 145 veterans and military personnel, 60% of individuals used CES to treat their PTSD, and the majority of participants reported at least a 50% reduction in their PTSD symptoms when using their CES device for at least 20 minutes, once or twice daily. The results shows that individuals who were not taking any prescription medication rated CES more effective than veterans who were also taking medication (45, 46). 

Unlike all other brain stimulation modalities, it’s relatively inexpensive and you don’t need to go see a professional to take advantage of it. 

I use it based on the presentation of the client – do they have difficulty falling asleep? Are they anxious or depressed? Do they have chronic pain? These symptoms respond well to CES. It is a non-addictive alternative to medication; a gentler solution.
— Dr. Jonathan Douglas

I personally use the cranial electrical stimulation that comes with the David Delight Pro device. You can get it here or through Amazon.

I find it really helpful when I’m stuck in an “anxious rut.” It snaps me out of it. It also calms my nervous system and makes me sleepy before bed. I often combine it with this acupressure mat.

I've also heard that the Fischer Wallace CES device helps a lot of people but haven’t used it personally. 

The other form of brain stimulation that can help you overcome emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder is called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) 

TMS is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.

Studies have found that TMS can significantly reduce depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms including hyperarousal, intrusive thoughts, vigilance, withdrawal and emotional numbness. The effects are persistent and remained significant 3 months after treatment (47-49). 

However, unlike CES, you cannot do TMS at home. You need to find a practitioner who provides the treatment. 

8. Gratitude

Gratitude is the tendency to appreciate positive occurrences or being thankful for receiving certain benefits in your life.

A piece of paper that says “I am grateful for…”. Gratitude can help you overcome trauma and PTSD without medication.

Studies have shown that gratitude is associated with increased resilience to emotional trauma, and individuals with PTSD have significantly lower dispositional gratitude (54-55, 58).

But luckily, this can be changed through practice. 

Research shows that over time, daily gratitude promotes positive outcomes after trauma and reduces symptoms of PTSD (56-57). 

My recommendation is to write down five things that you’re grateful for every day. I try to do this regularly.

They don’t have to be big things. Anything will do. It could be as simple as being grateful for the apple that you ate today.

And if you do this every day, you’ll start to gather a pretty big list of things that you can look over whenever you’re feeling ungrateful. 

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9. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Biofeedback

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats.

It’s a reliable psycho-physiological marker for the functioning of your nervous system and accurately reflects your ability to cope with stress.

People with good HRV tend to be more optimistic, take initiative and are stress resistant.

People with low HRV tend to be depressed or anxious and have trouble learning.

Several studies show that higher HRV is associated with less anxiety and fear, and individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder display lower levels of HRV (63, 65-66, 69-72). 

Our results don’t necessarily suggest that lower HRV causes PTSD, rather that it’s a harbinger or a signal that the body’s stress response system is not functioning optimally and that may put the individual at greater risk of developing PTSD once he or she has been exposed to a trauma.
— Dr. Arpi Minassian, Ph.D

In one study, marines whose HRV was low before they were deployed were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD after deployment (73, 74). 

Luckily you can increase your HRV

Researchers have found that HRV biofeedback significantly reduces symptoms of PTSD, improves cognition for those suffering from PTSD, and improves the efficacy of other therapies that treat emotional trauma (64, 67-68, 75). 

I increase my HRV by using the EmWave2 biofeedback device

You can get it through Amazon or the HeartMath website, and I previously wrote about the benefits of using it here.

It’s been shown to increases HRV coherence in combat veterans with PTSD (76-77). 

And it’s important to note that when your HRV is high, your vagal tone is also high. They are correlated with each other (78-80). 

So stimulating your vagus nerve will also increase your HRV. Check out this post for 13 ways to do it. 

10. Curcumin

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

It’s one of my favourite compounds for the brain

As I discussed before, it can lower your stress hormone, increase your brain’s growth hormone, and strengthen the integrity of your blood-brain barrier

It may also be able to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder. 

PTSD is characterized by unusually strong and persistently reactivated “fear memories", and researchers have found that curcumin impairs the reconsolidation of fear memories in animals, and concluded that it could be used to treat PTSD (50). 

In other words, supplementing with curcumin may help your brain forget about previously traumatic experiences. 

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. The “Longvida” form is my favourite. You can get it here.

11. Magnesium

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

It’s one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, as most people are deficient.

As I’ve discussed before, it can help you overcome addiction and withdrawal and support your brain's mitochondria.

Studies reveal that magnesium enhances this process so that events which previously caused an emotional response no longer trigger fear. Magnesium L-threonate helps the prefrontal region of the brain block the return of old fear memories.
— Dr. Michael Smith

It can also help you overcome emotional trauma. 

Studies have found that supplementing with magnesium threonate increases levels of magnesium in the brain and enhances the extinction of conditioned fear responses to traumatic memories. The researchers concluded that it may be used to enhance PTSD therapy (59, 60). 

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

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

12. Melatonin

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

A disrupted circadian rhythm is linked to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and researchers have concluded that supplementing with melatonin is a “promising treatment strategy in the management of PTSD” (61). 

Animal research has also shown that melatonin reduces PTSD-induced anxiety-like behaviors in rats (62). 

You can get melatonin here.

Or you can take this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and a number of natural compounds that increase the production of melatonin naturally. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount. 

Other than supplementing with melatonin or taking a sleep supplement, here are some others actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin and improve the quality of your sleep:

Conclusion

You don’t have to live with emotional trauma for the rest of your life. 

You can overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and live a happy, fulfilling life

An illustration of a solider or war veteran with a broken brain and PTSD.

And medication and life-long talk therapy are not your only solutions, despite what many so-called experts say.

There is a much better way.

Remember, traumatic stress has very little to do with cognition. Instead, it stems from the emotional part of the brain that is rewired to constantly send out messages of danger.

These therapies and treatments have helped me come out on the other side of emotionally traumatizing experiences and post-traumatic stress disorder, and have allowed me to live more fully in the present moment:

I hope you get the chance to try them and they help you too. :)

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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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