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

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14. Leucine

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take this BCAA supplement when I lift weights regularly. 

15. Astragalus

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.  

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25. Reduce Inflammation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. Avoid or Limit Alcohol

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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25 Effective Ways to Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain

Man and woman kissing and increasing their oxytocin levels.

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter.

It’s often called the “love hormone" or “cuddle chemical” because it plays a key role in the emotional bond between a mother and her child.

It’s also released by both men and women when they are in love (116-118). 

But it isn’t just involved in loving relationships. 

It can also significantly affect the functioning of your brain and nervous system and impact your emotions day-to-day.

Low levels of oxytocin in the brain are associated with several mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, social phobia, autism, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, tinnitus, anorexia nervosa, and borderline personality disorder (120-135). 

And research suggests that if you increase oxytocin, it can lead to the following benefits:

Oxytocin clearly does a lot. 

Because of this, some doctors have started prescribing intranasal oxytocin spray to their patients to help them treat their symptoms (119). 

But you don’t necessarily need to run to your doctor and ask for a prescription. 

You can follow the 25 steps below and naturally increase your oxytocin levels yourself.

Best Foods, Nutrients, Herbs and Supplements To Naturally Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. It can also be taken as a supplement.

Picture of the sun. The sun produces Vitamin D, which increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

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 oxytocin is directly activated and controlled by Vitamin D (13-14).

Some researchers also believe that autistic children have low levels of oxytocin likely because they are deficient in Vitamin D (15-16). 

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D naturally from the sun. 

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

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, and that’s why I recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement or using a Vitamin D lamp. I personally use this lamp.

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (12). 

Vitamin D also naturally increases dopamine levels in the brain, and being deficient in Vitamin D can make you more anxious and more depressed

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another easy way to optimize and increase your levels of oxytocin. 

Researchers know that Vitamin C is a cofactor in the production of oxytocin, and the synthesis of oxytocin is dependent upon Vitamin C (17-18). 

One study found that Vitamin C stimulates the secretion of oxytocin (19). 

And another study found that supplementing with a high dose of Vitamin C increases the release of oxytocin, which then increases intercourse frequency, improves mood and decreases stress (20). 

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.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take a supplement with at least 500 mg of Vitamin C every day.

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

3. Magnesium

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

Unfortunately, lot of people are deficient in magnesium today (36-38).

A collection of magnesium-rich foods, including avocados, bananas, almonds, dark chocolate, spinach. Magnesium increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

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

Researchers have found that the oxytocin receptor requires magnesium to function properly, and magnesium increases the action of oxytocin at the receptor (39-42).

There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich sources of food on a regular basis, including spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

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

Magnesium supplements are also a good idea if you want to produce more oxytocin

Besides supporting your oxytocin levels, magnesium can also naturally increase dopamine, reduce your anxiety, and help your overcome trauma, withdrawal and addiction

4. Taurine

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

It can cross the blood-brain barrier, improve mood and produces anti-anxiety effects (1-10). 

Researchers believe that one of the ways it improves mood and reduces anxiety is by naturally increasing the release of oxytocin in the brain (11).

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

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5. Caffeine

Researchers have found that caffeine significantly increases the release of oxytocin (21-23). 

Perhaps this is one reason why people love getting together with friends for a coffee.

Coffee usually makes me sick because I’m extremely sensitive to mold and most coffee contains high amounts of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

But this coffee doesn’t. I usually drink one cup of it most mornings. I can also tolerate pure caffeine tablets.

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

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.

Lastly, 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

6. Estrogen

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

Estrogen has been found to increase the synthesis and secretion of oxytocin. It also increases the expression of oxytocin receptors in the brain (30). 

Other studies show that even just a single dose of estradiol can significantly increase circulating oxytocin levels and reduce anxiety (31-32).

I recommend both men and women get their hormone levels checked regularly, and then optimize them with hormone replacement therapy, especially if they want to produce more oxytocin and feel their best.

Not only can replacing estrogen increase your oxytocin levels, but it can also really improve your overall quality of life!

7. Lactobacillus Reuteri

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

It’s one of the most promising psychobiotics for anxiety.

A woman holds her stomach and makes a heart shape around her belly button.

Research shows that Lactobacillus reuteri significantly increases oxytocin levels in the brain through the vagus nerve (26-29). 

Lactobacillus reuteri is usually found in the human gut. However, not all humans have it, and some people simply have very low levels of it.

Therefore, you may need to supplement with it to introduce and maintain high levels of it, especially if you want to produce more oxytocin.

One study found that the absence of lactobacillus reuteri causes social deficits in animals. By adding it back in to the guts of the animals, the researchers were able to reverse some of their behavioural deficits, which were similar to symptoms of social anxiety and autism in humans (24-25).

Lactobacillus reuteri is included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.

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

8. Chamomile

You can also increase oxytocin with herbs, such as chamomile.

Chamomile is a medicinal herb that has been traditionally used for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties.

But it can also help you produce more oxytocin.

Animal studies show that chamomile contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain and nervous system as anti-anxiety drugs (47-48). 

Researchers also know that chamomile naturally increases oxytocin and lowers cortisol (49). 

This anti-anxiety supplement includes chamomile, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years.

9. Oleoylethanolamide (OEA)

Oleoylethanolamide (OEA) is a molecule produced in the body. It’s responsible for the feeling of being full after meals and may help with weight loss.

Multiple studies show that OEA naturally stimulates the secretion of oxytocin and increases levels of oxytocin in the brain (50-54). 

I haven’t tried it yet, but there are OEA supplements available on Amazon.

I’m going to try it and report back on how I feel. We’ll see if it helps me produce more oxytocin.  

10. Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural 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.

More than one study has shown that 500 mcg of melatonin significantly increases secretion of oxytocin (33-35). 

You can get 500 mcg of melatonin here on Amazon.

A baby sleeping. Sleep increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

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

Besides melatonin and sleep supplements, here are some other actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning.

  • Blue light significantly suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and abnormal functioning of your nervous system. You can read more about the problem with getting too much blue light here. As soon as it’s dark outside, you should avoid sources of blue light. Turn off household lights, get red light bulbs, install Iris on your computer and wear glasses that block out blue light. I wear these glasses. They block out blue light in your environment.

  • Sleep in a dark environment. Completely black out your room with curtains and wear a sleep mask overnight. Sleeping with lights on in your room decreases neurogenesis and impairs cognitive performance (276). If you need to have light in your room (nightlight or alarm clock), it’s better to have red, orange or amber lighting rather than blue.

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

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11. Fenugreek

Fenugreek is one of the most popular herbal supplements that has been traditionally used to enhance sex drive. 

It also demonstrates antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in animals, and naturally produces more oxytocin in humans (55-57). 

I experimented with this fenugreek supplement and I liked the effects. It felt like I produced more oxytocin when I was taking it, but I no longer take it regularly because all my other lifestyle habits are more than enough.

Fenugreek seeds are another option. They can be eaten whole, brewed into a tea, or even made into flour and baked into a gluten-free bread.

12. Jasmine Oil (Jasminum Officinale)

Jasmine Oil is a popular essential oil derived from the Jasminum Officinale flower. 

It’s been used for hundreds of years in Asia to improve mood, manage emotional stress and anxiety, and improve sex drive and sleep.

There is lots of research that suggests that it has positive affects on the nervous system (59-62). 

And a systematic study found that aromatherapy with Jasmine Oil can increase levels of oxytocin (58). 

After living in a moldy home, I researched and experimented with a number of essential oils. I found they supported my immune system and mood as I recovered. Here is the Jasmine Oil that I took.

It can either be inhaled through the nose or applied directly to the skin. You can also diffuse it in your home using a diffuser

13. Clary Sage Oil (Salvia sclarea)

Clary Sage Oil is a relaxing essential oil derived from the Salvia sclarea plant. 

Clary Sage essential oil increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

It’s been shown to naturally relieve anxiety and depression by reducing cortisol and improving thyroid hormone levels (63-66). 

And just last year, researchers found that inhaling Clary Sage Oil increases oxytocin in women during pregnancy (67-69). 

After living in a moldy home, I researched and experimented with a number of essential oils. I found they supported my immune system and mood as I recovered. Here is the Clary Sage Oil that I took. 

Just like Jasmine Oil, it can either be inhaled through the nose or applied directly to the skin. You can also diffuse it in your home using a diffuser.

Best Lifestyle Habits, Therapies and Practices to Naturally Increase Oxytocin Levels in the Brain

14. Touch

Not surprisingly, there is a ton of research showing that interpersonal touch quickly increases oxytocin levels in the brain (107). 

This obviously includes kissing, cuddling, and sex. But non-sexual touch such as hugging and shaking hands increases oxytocin as well (105, 108-115).

A 10-second hug every day can help boost your immune system, fight infection, increase dopamine, reduce depression, and lessen fatigue (106). 

But Dr. Paul Zak, author of the Trust Factor, recommends much more than just one hug every day; he recommends eight hugs every day. 

So if you want to produce more oxytocin, get out there and start hugging people… just make sure it’s welcome by the other people. :)

15. Loving-Kindness Meditation

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

While meditating, you repeat positive phrases to yourself, think positively of other people, and direct well-wishes and love towards them.

For example, you could close your eyes, simply think about a friend of family member, and repeat over and over that “they are wonderful”. Simply repeat this thought to yourself over and over, while pushing away any other negative thoughts that arise.

Researchers believe that you give yourself a boost in oxytocin when you do this and may even up-regulate oxytocin receptors (71). 

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

Loving-kindness meditation can also help you overcome trauma

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16. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase oxytocin levels (76). 

Research has shown that acupuncture can affect the synthesis, release and action of several neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, including oxytocin (72). 

Animal studies have also demonstrated that acupuncture elevates oxytocin concentration in certain brain regions (73-75). 

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture for producing more oxytocin. 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’m not sure why. I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

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

Acupuncture also naturally increases dopamine, stimulates the vagus nerve and increases blood flow to the brain.

17. Pets

A cute puppy lying on a couch. Pets increase oxytocin levels in our brains.

Animals have a way of calming us, and it’s because they increase our oxytocin levels. 

Research shows that just touching your pets lowers your blood pressure and increases your oxytocin levels.

One study found that oxytocin levels increased in both humans and dogs after just five minutes of petting. This may explain the emotional bonding between humans and dogs (77). 

Even just staring into your dog’s eyes can trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain and increase your levels (78). 

So if you’re trying to maximize your oxytocin levels, you should try to hang out with animals as much as possible, and consider getting a house pet if you don’t have one.

18. Massage

Research shows that massage can significantly increase oxytocin levels and reduce stress hormones (79, 83). 

This is why I personally get a massage from a registered massage therapist every couple of months. 

It’s important to note that one study found that a light massage is more effective at increasing oxytocin than a deep-tissue Swedish massage (80-82). 

So you may want to ask your massage therapist to take it easy and give you a gentle rubdown. 

19. Listen to Music and Sing

Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain by increasing oxytocin levels. 

A woman singing with a microphone. Singing increases oxytocin levels.

In one study, patients who underwent open-heart surgery listened to soothing music for 30 minutes one day after their surgery. And they had significantly higher levels of oxytocin compared to those who were simply told to rest in bed (86).

Slow-tempo music has also been shown to increase both oxytocin and heart-rate variability (88). 

What’s even better is singing along with the music. 

Researchers have found that singing for 30 minutes significantly increases oxytocin levels in both amateur and professional singers, regardless of whether they enjoyed singing the song (87, 91).

Perhaps this explains why mothers often sing lullabies to their newborn babies – it may encourage bonding by increasing the release of oxytocin. 

Lastly, making music together in a group leads to a significant release in oxytocin and reduction in stress (89-90).

So if you play an instrument, put together a band and start jamming. You’ll started producing more oxytocin together! :)

20. Yoga

Yoga is a popular “mind-body” relaxation technique that increases the activity of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

Researchers believe it works because it increases oxytocin levels in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve (85). 

In one study, researchers found that yoga significantly increased oxytocin levels and improved socio-occupational functioning in patients with schizophrenia. The researchers concluded that yoga should be used to manage schizophrenia because of the improvement in oxytocin levels (84). 

If you're interested in yoga, I recommend checking out Kalimukti. They offer tailored online yoga classes taught by qualified practitioners, allowing you to practice whenever and wherever you want. 
 

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21. Socialize

I’ve already discussed how socializing can reduce cortisol and stimulate your vagus nerve

And now I’ve learned that positive social interactions can also increase oxytocin levels (93). 

Researchers have found that your brain releases more oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and this can actually speed up healing from disease (92). 

So if you want to produce more oxytocin, my advice is to talk to people whenever you get the chance, and hang out with your friends and family as much as possible. I should probably be taking my own advice here because I’m an introvert and don’t socialize too much. 

22. Intermittent Drinking

You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting. I’ve discussed it a lot in other articles. 

But you likely haven’t heard of intermittent drinking.

The typical mainstream advice is to drink eight glasses of water every day. 

A blond-haired woman drinking a glass of water. Intermittent drinking increases oxytocin levels in the brain.

I don’t follow that. I simply listen to my body and drink when I’m thirsty. 

And it appears that simply taking breaks from drinking water can increase oxytocin levels. 

Recent research shows that drought, and the “homeostatic disturbances” that lead to the “feeling of thirst”, activate specific oxytocin-producing parts of the brain (94-95). 

Researchers believe that “intermittent bulk drinking” could increase oxytocin signalling, recover human trust, and increase health by reducing stress and inflammation (94-95). 

If you think of it from an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Your ancestors likely consumed as much water as they could when they got the chance, but then went longer periods of time when they couldn’t and didn’t drink any water. 

Just like intermittent fasting, intermittent drinking doesn’t necessarily mean you drink less water throughout the day though.

You can simply drink a lot of water whenever you get thirsty. And then you stop drinking any water until you are thirsty again. 

That’s how all animals and human newborns behave. But we’ve been brainwashed to think we need to be sipping on water all the time. 

Start intermittent drinking, and your oxytocin receptors will thank you.

23. Warm and Cold Temperatures

Exposing yourself to both warm and cold temperatures can also increase oxytocin levels. 

Researchers have found that hot environments, warm temperatures and increased sweating activate specific oxytocin-producing parts of the brain (94-96). 

New research also suggests that cold exposure significantly upregulates oxytocin levels in the brain (97-100). 

So if you want to optimize your oxytocin levels, try pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and expose your body to the acute stress of extreme temperatures.

What I like to do is take a warm shower, but then finish it off with 1-2 minutes of cold. 

Cold showers also stimulate the vagus nerve

24. Eat (Healthy) Food

Eating food also increases oxytocin, and it’s easily accessible by anyone. 

Food activates touch receptors in your mouth, which then stimulates the release of oxytocin (102). 

And then when food reaches your gut, a hormone is released from the intestines that activates the vagus nerve, which then stimulates the release of more oxytocin in the brain (102-104). 

This is why eating makes people feel calm and satisfied, and often opens them up for social interaction, bonding and attachment.

The obvious downside to all of this is that you may be tempted to overeat unhealthy foods to stimulate the release of oxytocin, so that you feel better and less stressed. And oxytocin is one reason why you may have a hard time breaking bad eating habits. 

But don’t worry; just stick to the healthy foods included in my free grocery shopping guide and you won’t have a problem

25. Watch a Movie

Everyone loves a good movie.

And it’s probably because it increases oxytocin.

Research shows that compelling narratives cause the synthesis and release of oxytocin (101). 

And this has the power to affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours (101). 

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4407108

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8915375

(3) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00210-003-0776-6

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1846756

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

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21 Proven Ways to Increase Brain Blood Flow

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

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

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

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

But when blood flow to the brain is hindered, cognitive problems can arise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Cold Exposure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Sunlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this doesn’t just happen in depressed individuals.

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

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

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

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

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

4. Ginkgo Biloba

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

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

Doctors even prescribe it in Germany!

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health.

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

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

Gingko biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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5. Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Vinpocetine

Vinpocetine is a compound from the Periwinkle plant. 

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

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

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

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

7. Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.

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

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

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

And researchers are starting to understand why.

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

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

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

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

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

9. Dark Chocolate

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

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

It's one of my favourite foods. 

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

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

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

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

Dark chocolate also increases BDNF and reduces cortisol.

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

Here is one of my favourite high-quality dark chocolates

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10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

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

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

But they also naturally increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Acupuncture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acupuncture also stimulates the vagus nerve

12. Chewing Gum

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

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

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

Chewing gum also reduces cortisol

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Click here to subscribe

14. Nitrates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a good organic beet juice

15. Drink Less Coffee (Or Take Theanine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16. Piracetam

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can get it here

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

17. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate diet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. Citicoline

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

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

That’s why supplementation is often necessary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19. Blueberry Juice

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

20. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)

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

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

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

I take this BioPQQ supplement every so often.

21. Intranasal Insulin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. BONUS: Other Promising Nutrients and Herbs

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

A picture of the brain and nervous system.
 

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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

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20 Proven Ways to Quickly Lower Your Cortisol Levels

A man looking depressed and stressed, hoping to lower his cortisol levels.

Chronic stress is killer. 

It broke me down over the years and led me to deep depression.

Getting a handle on it has been critical to my recovery. 

But it took me a while to figure out what works.

And I’d rather not see other people struggle and frantically look for solutions.

So I’ve gathered some of my favourite ways to quickly lower levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone.

But before we get to them, let’s quickly discuss cortisol and how chronically high levels of cortisol can negatively affect your brain and mental health. 

How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”.

It’s a naturally-occurring steroid hormone that’s produced by your adrenal glands and released when you’re under physical or mental stress. Essentially, it triggers our fight-or-flight response in stressful situations.

But it’s also absolutely necessary for our health, as it plays a key role in many different bodily processes. 

Cortisol levels are generally highest in the morning and lowest at night. But problems can arise when they are elevated for prolonged periods of time (134). 

Chronically high cortisol levels can:

  • Change the size, structure and functioning of your brain;

  • Shrink and kill brain cells;

  • Cause premature aging in the brain;

  • Contribute to memory loss and lack of concentration;

  • Slow down our ability to grow new brain cells; and

  • Increase inflammation in the brain (135-140).

Watch this TED-Ed video, How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain,” to learn more: 

Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol also increase activity in the amygdala, the fear centre of the brain. This can create a vicious cycle in which the brain is more likely be get stuck in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

When I did neurofeedback, my practitioner discovered my amygdala was overactive. She trained it back down to normal levels, and my chronic anxiety dissipated.

Anxiety isn’t the only mental condition linked to an abnormal stress response. Here are some others:

Luckily, there are a number of ways to manage and overcome chronic stress, lower cortisol levels, reverse damage done to the brain, and improve your sense of wellbeing. 

This article includes the best foods, nutrients, herbs and supplements that reduce cortisol; as well as the best lifestyle habits, therapies and practices that reduce cortisol.

Let’s go through them.  

The Best Foods, Nutrients, Herbs and Supplements To Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

1. Eat Dark Chocolate

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

But it also reduces cortisol. 

This may explain why people love to eat chocolate and experience relaxation when they do. 

Dark chocolate can protect your brain by boosting BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone

You should always try to get raw dark chocolate with the least amount of sugar like this one.

 

2. Drink Tea

Several different types of tea have beneficial effects on cortisol levels. 

Green tea has been shown to inhibit the synthesis of cortisol (18). 

And a study found that individuals who drank 4 cups of black tea daily for six weeks had lower cortisol levels in comparison to others who didn’t drink black tea (2). 

Researchers couldn’t confirm what caused this reduction in cortisol, but they suspected it had something to do with the high content of theanine, an amino acid found in both black and green tea.

A follow-up study published this year confirmed that theanine can reduce cortisol (13).

Theanine produces a calming effect on the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing the production of both GABA and dopamine in the brain (12). 

I personally can’t drink most teas because they tend to contain mycotoxins (mold toxins) and I’m very sensitive to them after living in a moldy home.

If you’ve lived in a moldy home or have found out that you’re genetically susceptible to mycotoxins, you can supplement with straight theanine like I do. 

This supplement includes theanine. 

And if you do decide to drink black tea, you can lower cortisol even more by getting decaffeinated black tea.

Lastly, chamomile tea is another type of tea that can decrease cortisol. It’s been used for centuries as a sleep aid. It contains flavonoids, essential oils, coumarin and other compounds that can help you relax.

Several studies show it can block the precursor hormone of cortisol and improve sleep quality (14, 15). 

This anti-anxiety supplement includes both theanine and chamomile, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

 

3. Eat Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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

It also contains a compound called oleuropein, which can reduce cortisol levels (37). 

I add it to my salads and sometimes even 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

 

4. Take Cortisol-Reducing Nutrients and Herbs

There are a number of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and adaptogenic herbs that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol levels. 

I’ll go over some of my favourites here.

Phosphatidylserine is probably the best option for reducing stress hormone levels. 

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid compound that plays a key role in optimal cognitive function. High amounts of phosphatidylserine can be found within the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention and memory, especially in the elderly (114-116). 

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

On top of all this, phosphatidylserine powerfully lowers cortisol (117-119). 

People who supplement with phosphatidylserine have been shown to have lower average levels of cortisol (120).

I take phosphatidylserine every day. It's part of the Optimal Brain supplement

Ashwagandha is another great cortisol-reducing supplement. It’s a popular Indian herb commonly used to prevent anxiety. Its anti-anxiety effect is synergistic with alcohol.

Its stress-reducing effects are likely because it lowers cortisol levels. 

Multiple studies have concluded that it is a potent stress reliever that can reduce cortisol by anywhere from 14 to 32% (121-123). 

Another adaptogenic herb that can lower cortisol is rhodiola

I’ve discussed rhodiola before. It can really help with symptoms of depression. 

Research has found that it may be doing this by significantly reducing stress hormone levels in the body (124-126). 

Lastly, a number of minerals have been shown to reduce cortisol, including zinc, magnesium and selenium (96, 97, 127-133).

That’s why I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement every day. 

Overall, ashwagandha, rhodiola, phosphatidylserine and minerals are my favourite ways to keep stress levels low, but there are plenty of other supplements that have been shown to positively affect cortisol levels, including:

 

5. Consume Enough Food, Protein and Water

Eating enough protein and calories, and drinking enough clean, filtered water is also critical to keeping stress hormone levels low.  

Studies show that severely restricting calories elevates cortisol levels (108, 109). 

Restricting protein and depriving yourself of the amino acid leucine can also stimulate the stress response and increase stress hormones (110). 

That’s why I eat plenty of food each day and supplement with creatine and BCAA protein powder throughout the day when I don’t have access to a source of high-quality protein. 

Lastly, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.

Properly-hydrated runners have noticeably lower cortisol levels than dehydrated runners (81).

I use this Berkey system to filter my water so that it’s as pure as possible. You can get it here or here.

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6. Consume More Omega-3s and Less Omega-6s

As I’ve discussed before, omega-3s are dietary fats that are needed for the proper functioning of your brain and nervous system. They improve learning and memory, and protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (4-7). 

Researchers have also found that when individuals supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, there is a significant reduction in the release of cortisol (1, 10).

Omega-3 fatty acids also significantly reduce stress hormones in animals (3). 

Krill oil is my favourite source of omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one everyday.

I also eat wild salmon and grass-fed beef on a regular basis. 

On the other hand, consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to increased inflammation and cortisol levels (8, 9, 11).

So make sure to avoid refined vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola oil.

 

7. Get Enough Antioxidants

Not only do antioxidants counteract oxidative stress within the body; they can also help reduce cortisol (19, 25). 

Most of the research has been done in athletes, but supplementation with antioxidants – such as berry powders, greens powders, vitamin C, glutathione and CoQ10 – leads to fairly significant reductions in cortisol and other measures of stress (20-23). 

Dark berries in particular contain antochyanins, which have been shown to lower cortisol (24). 

Acai berries are my favourite, as they are loaded with antochyanins and vitamin C.

Regarding vitamin C, the research is mixed on whether it can consistently lower cortisol levels.

However, in my experience, high doses of vitamin C definitely reduce stress.

One study found that a high dose of vitamin C decreases anxiety and improves mood (29). 

After exercise, it’s also been shown to rapidly reduce cortisol (26, 27). 

And multiple other studies have found that both vitamin C and vitamin E reduce cortisol and anxiety (30-32). 

It’s also well known that chronic stress and high cortisol can deplete vitamin C and other antioxidant enzymes (28). 

In addition to getting vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day. I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily (2 gram doses throughout the day) and it helped me manage stress, but it’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you. 

 

8. Take Curcumin

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

Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds for the brain and mental health.

Thousands of high-quality scientific studies have been published, showing that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and can increase BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone. 

Research shows that curcumin inhibits the increase in cortisol caused by stress (33, 34). 

And animal studies have found that curcumin may reverse elevated cortisol levels after chronic stress (35, 36). 

Unfortunately, curcumin is very inefficient at absorbing into the bloodstream and reaching the brain (54, 55).

Luckily, science and technology has been able to concentrate significant amounts of curcumin into supplement form and increase its bioavailability. 

There are several different patented forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. 

My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin, as I noticed a significant effect from it. You can get it through Amazon. It is one of my favourite supplements and since it is a fat soluble, I take it every day with a fatty meal.

 

9. Eat Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotics are substances in food that humans can't digest, so they pass through our gastrointestinal tract and promote the growth of many different strains of good bacteria in our lower bowel.

They are essentially food for the probiotics in our intestines.

Dr. Phil Burnet, a neurobiologist at Oxford University, published a paper in 2015 showing that people who ingested prebiotics have lower levels of cortisol.

The people who ingested prebiotics also focused more on positive feedback and less on negative stimuli.

Dr. Burnet said the results were very similar to when people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but without the side effects (87).

That’s why I eat prebiotic-rich foods regularly, including sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus and squash. These foods are included in my free grocery shopping guide for optimal brain health. 

Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake. A convenient way to incorporate more of it into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. Other high-quality resistant starches include banana flour, plantain flour and waxy maize. Cooked and cooled white rice and potatoes also contain some resistant starch. 

I previously discussed prebiotics and resistant starch here.

I also created and take Optimal Biotics, which is a premium probiotic supplement that reduces stress and support my mental health. 

 

10. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine have been shown to increase stress hormones, so their consumption should be limited. 

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

However, it can also disrupt sleep and make people anxious. I used to not be able to handle any coffee at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of Kicking Horse coffee most mornings.  

But if you’re struggling with high cortisol and chronic stress, I wouldn’t recommend high doses of caffeine.

It’s been shown to directly stimulate the adrenal cortex, release cortisol into the bloodstream and increase stress hormone levels (74-76).

One study found that caffeine increased cortisol by 30% in just one hour, and regular consumption can double your cortisol levels (88, 89). 

So limit it as much as possible.

An alternative solution is to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee fruit doesn’t contain caffeine, but it does contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

Scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. Coffee fruit concentrate can be found in the Optimal Brain supplement

Lastly, excess alcohol consumption over an extended period of time has also been shown to raise cortisol levels. Having a couple drinks here and there likely isn’t a problem though, and you can protect yourself from it by following these steps (90, 91). 

Certain types of alcohol are better to drink than others.

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The Best Lifestyle Habits and Practices to Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

11. Laugh

In the book The Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins explains how he cured himself of ankylosing spondylitis by laughing along with Marx Brothers movies.

I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.
— Norman Cousins

It sounds farfetched, but more and more research is showing that laughter has a powerful effect on our health. 

Researchers have found that laughing and having fun significantly reduces stress hormone levels (65, 66). 

In one study, laughter improved the short-term memory of older adults, and simply anticipating humour decreased their cortisol levels by nearly 50% (64). 

So, next time you’re stressed, try watching a funny TV show or YouTube video

 

12. Play with Animals

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

Petting your own dog or another person’s dog has been shown to significantly decrease stress hormone levels and increase oxytocin, endorphins, and other healing hormones (71, 73). 

Researchers have also compared 20 minutes of quiet rest to 20 minutes of interaction with a dog, and they found that hanging out with dog contributed to a much more significant decrease in cortisol. This is often why therapy dogs show up on college campuses during exams (71). 

So you should try to hang out with animals as much as possible, and consider getting a house pet if you don’t have one. I have a cat named Puddy. 

Spending time in nature has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels. So you can kill two birds with one stone by taking your pet for a walk in the park (77). 

Hmm perhaps “kill two birds with one stone” wasn’t the best idiom to use in this section, but you get my point. 

 

13. Listen to Music and Dance

Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain. 

Numerous studies show that music can relax you, especially before a stressful event, by significantly lowering stress hormones. It can also reduce the spike in cortisol during the stressful situation (50-54). 

Music can be even more relaxing when combined with non-strenuous dancing.

Regular dancing has also been shown to greatly decrease cortisol levels (55). 

 

14. Practice Relaxation Techniques and Therapies

Not too surprisingly, simply taking time each day to relax can lower cortisol.  

My favourite relaxation technique is meditation. 

Countless studies show that meditating daily for just 15 minutes can significantly lower stress hormone levels and blunt cortisol spikes (38-43). 

I use the Muse headband to meditate. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback on your brainwaves. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

Yoga has also been shown to lower cortisol. 

In one study, people with depression practiced yoga regularly for 3 months. By the end of the study, their cortisol levels dropped significantly and they experienced relief from their depression (44). 

Massage is another excellent option, as it’s been shown in many studies to significant decrease in cortisol and anxiety (45, 46). 

I get a massage every couple of months. 

Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”, is another tool I use to manage stress

Tapping is based on ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. You can learn how to practice it here

I know it seems hokey, but it works. 

It’s been shown to significantly decrease cortisol levels (47). 

The book The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living goes in more depth about the practice. 

Lastly, deep breathing exercises can help you manage your stress hormone levels. 

Diaphragmatic breathing – consciously breathing from your diaphragm – has been shown to encourage the body’s natural relaxation response and reduce cortisol (48, 49). 

I use the EmWave2 device every day to reduce stress and make sure I’m breathing optimally. I wrote about it before here.

 

15. Exercise (But Not Too Much)

Exercise is definitely good for you. It can balance hormones and reduce stress by releasing endorphins. However, overtraining can actually backfire and increase stress hormone levels (112). 

That’s why I don’t really recommend chronic endurance exercise and prefer weightlifting and high-intensity sprinting over cardio. 

Research shows that prolonged aerobic exercise can increase cortisol levels, and marathon runners have higher levels of cortisol (111, 113). 

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16. Get More Deep Sleep

This might be the most important step. 

Getting enough high-quality sleep is critical for your brain and mental health. 

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

Let me explain.

Normally, cortisol increases in the morning and then drops very low at night prior to bed. But if you have chronic stress and high cortisol, you can end up feeling wired and anxious at night, making it more difficult to sleep. 

Unfortunately, staying up late when your body expects to be asleep further increases your stress hormone levels even more. And lack of sleep and interrupted sleep have been shown to significantly increase cortisol throughout the next day and contribute to cognitive problems down the road (56-61, 63). 

So it’s clearly a vicious cycle where high cortisol causes sleep problems, and poor sleep increases stress.  

That’s why it’s so important go to bed at the same time every night and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Without doing that, you can end up with dysregulated daytime cortisol production.

And it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of sleep. In fact, the quality of your sleep is more important than the length of your sleep.

So I would try doing everything you can to maximize the quality of your sleep. 

Here are some things that I do:

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

And if you don’t get enough sleep one night, try to take a nap sometime the next day. Daytime napping after a night of sleep loss has been shown to cause beneficial changes in cortisol levels (62).

 

17. Chew Aspartame-Free Gum

Next time you’re stressed, try chewing a piece of gum

It’s an easy way to lower your stress hormone levels. 

According to one study, chewing gum while under moderate stress reduces mental stress and decreases cortisol by 12 per cent. Previous studies have also shown that chewing can increase alertness, neural activity and blood flow to the brain (82). 

I prefer if the gum is aspartame-free, like this one.

 

18. Stand Tall

Changing your body language can have a powerful effect on your biology. 

Standing tall for just two minutes can lower your cortisol by 25 per cent, according to a famous study led by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy (83). 

Cuddy’s research found that if you switch from low-power body language (arms crossed, hunched over, closed up, slumped shoulders, nervous) to high-power body language (opened up, tall, relaxed, confident), your hormones will change to match your new posture (84). 

So try your best to maintain high-power body language as much as possible as it can reduce stress hormones and increase confidence. You could even try holding a dominant pose for 2 minutes every day. You’ll likely find yourself feeling calmer and more mentally powerful.

And if you haven’t already, check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”.

I also recommend her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

19. Socialize

Social connectivity and positive social interactions also significantly reduce stress hormone levels.

Research shows that the more social support a person has, the lower their cortisol levels will be (67). 

This is likely because you release the hormone oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and oxytocin has been proven to decrease anxiety and block increases in cortisol (68). 

One study states that “the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness during stress” (69). 

Animal studies have also discovered that social isolation leads to higher cortisol and mental health problems (70). 

Make sure to check out my full article about oxytocin to learn more about this powerful neurotransmitter.

 

20. Other Cutting-Edge Therapies

Here are some other therapies that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol:

  • Bright Light Therapy (85, 86) – I recommend this device.

  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (78)

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (79, 80)

  • Acupuncture (92) – I use this acupressure mat.

 

Conclusion

It’s important to take control of your stress before it takes control over you.

Thankfully, there are so many ways to manage your stress and lower cortisol levels without having to resort to a prescription

Here’s a summary of everything we’ve gone over to reduce stress hormone levels:

A person is squeezing a stress ball. The stress ball looks like and is in the shape of a brain.

I remember when I first discovered all of these tools and strategies, it gave me so much hope that I could get better and overcome my depression and anxiety.

And I thankfully I did.

And you can too. 

Let me know what you think in the comments. Have you ever had high cortisol? Do you have any other tips that have helped you reduce cortisol?

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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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