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

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

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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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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(95) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27241263

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9924739 \

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768886/

(98) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29375393

(99) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20536333

(100) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24002032

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(102) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290532/

(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12113268/

(104) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7938364/

(105) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

(106) https://goo.gl/B98Sbu

(107) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9924739

(108) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8135652/

(109) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3782434/

(110) https://goo.gl/2noghs

(111) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9949283

(112) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8586300

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3654918

(114) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12697037

(115) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740822

(116) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606117/

(117) https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795.php

(118) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

(119) http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/03/oxytocin.aspx

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(121) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4120070/

(122) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25025656

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(124) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19777562

(125) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5400019/

(126) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3402118/

(127) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25262417

(128) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23007624

(129) https://www.nature.com/articles/4001911

(130) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29049935

(131) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924933817301761

(132) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24115458

(133) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28983279

(134) https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795.php

(135) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413107000691%20

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(138) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15821089

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(141) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14675803

(142) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25262417

(143) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325657/

(144) http://aim.bmj.com/content/acupmed/20/2-3/109.full.pdf

(145) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15219651

(146) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

(147) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17617382

(148) https://goo.gl/pF8mSP

(149) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413107000691

(150) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606117/

(151) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23007624

(152) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25025656

(153) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1621060/

(154) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14675803

(155) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25262417

(156) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573542/

(157) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

(158) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

(159) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3223304

(160) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325657/

(161) http://aim.bmj.com/content/acupmed/20/2-3/109.full.pdf

(162) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin

(163) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235228951530031X

(164) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15219651

(165) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235228951530031X

(166) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2888874/

(167) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15219651

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(169) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26267407

(170) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0044014

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

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The 36 Best Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

Dopamine makes you happier, smarter, more productive, more creative, more focused, and more social.

Who doesn't want that? 

There are many ways to increase dopamine naturally.

But what are the VERY BEST ways to do it?

This article gives you the answer. 

It includes the 36 very best ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain.

It starts off with my 10 personal favourites.

And then offers 26 other great options. 

Not only do they work, but many of them work very quickly.

Read on to learn more. 

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

What Is Dopamine and What Does It Do in the Brain?

Dopamine may be the secret to what makes us human – meaning awfully bright, able to plan ahead, and resist impulses when necessary.
— Dr. Emily Deans

Dopamine influences almost every aspect of your life.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, meaning it’s a chemical messenger released by neurons (nerve cells) to “communicate” with other neurons (236). 

Like all neurotransmitters, dopamine shuttles between cells and binds to receptors.

In the media and popular culture, dopamine is often promoted as the main pleasure neurotransmitter.   

But dopamine actually appears to increase desire and motivation more than pleasure.

In fact, it’s often called the “motivation molecule”. 

The brain includes several dopamine pathways, and they play a key role in reward, motivation, memory and attention (233-235). 

So not surprisingly, dopamine significantly impacts human behaviour.

And research shows that naturally increasing dopamine levels can lead to numerous benefits, including:

Conditions and Symptoms Associated with Low Levels of Dopamine in the Brain

Low levels of dopamine make people less likely to work for things.
— Dr. John Salamone

Research shows that low dopamine levels are associated with a number of brain and mental health conditions and symptoms, including:

Perhaps you struggle with one of these conditions or symptoms. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless.

You can naturally increase your dopamine levels and recapture your zest for life.

All you need to do is implement some of the natural strategies below.   

They can significantly improve your motivation, focus and mood.

They have helped me, and they can help you too. 

Let’s jump into them.

The chemical symbol for dopamine with smiley faces at the end of them.

My Top 10 Favourite Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

1. Sunlight and Vitamin D

Exposing yourself to sunshine is one of the best natural ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain. 

And it’s my personal favourite.

Research shows that sunlight increases dopamine release (4-5).

Woman looking towards the sun. Sunlight can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

I personally get sunlight every single day during the spring and summer months to increase dopamine. 

It’s important to get the sunlight in your eyes to trigger the release of dopamine. 

So make sure you don’t wear contacts, glasses or sunglasses when you go outside. This way, you’ll get a bigger dopamine boost. 

It’s especially important to do this in the morning because it sets your circadian rhythm (3). 

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

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

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun.

Researchers believe that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (6).

Having a deficiency in Vitamin D leads to lower dopamine levels, but treatment with Vitamin D3 enhances dopamine release (1-2). 

So at the very least, you should take a Vitamin D supplement if you’re deficient. 

2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

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

Research shows that chronic impairment of vagus nerve function leads to the inhibition of dopamine in the brain (7). 

But vagus nerve stimulation reverses a dysregulated dopamine system (8).

Read this article for 13 ways to stimulate your vagus nerve. 

Deep breathing with the EmWave2 device is my favourite way. 

3. Low-Level Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that can improve your brain function and support your dopamine levels.

LLLT involves the use of low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit red and infrared light.

You can shine this light on your head, it penetrates the skull and stimulates your brain cells.

This helps your brain function much 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.

A man uses an LLLT helmet and intranasal Vielight device. LLLT can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Research shows that LLLT significantly increases the secretion of dopamine in the brain (12).

Several studies also show that LLLT is neuroprotective and protects dopaminergic brain cells from degeneration (13-21).

Because of this, researchers say LLLT is a promising therapeutic strategy for dopamine-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (12).

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

I use this device and shine the red and infrared light 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 any of the Vielight devices, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount).

You can learn about how I use these devices in my LLLT article. I highly recommend reading it if you want to try this.

4. Rhodiola

Rhodiola is one of the most popular herbs in the world used to increase physical and mental performance.

It’s a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb, and it’s also sometimes called golden root or arctic root.

I previously wrote about rhodiola here

Researchers have found that rhodiola stimulates dopamine receptors and inhibits the enzymes that break down dopamine in the brain (22). 

It also increases the amount of dopamine precursors that can pass the blood brain barrier (23). 

I take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I want to boost my energy and cognitive function.

You can get it here or here

Click here to subscribe

5. Coffee

Drinking coffee is another great way to boost dopamine levels.

Research shows that caffeine increases the release of dopamine in the brain (26-27). 

Other studies have found that it also enhances dopamine signaling and increases dopamine receptors (24-25). 

I usually drink one cup of this coffee most mornings. I also sometimes take pure caffeine tablets before a workout.

A cup of coffee on a small plate. Coffee and caffeine increases dopamine levels in the brain.

Sometimes people find that coffee makes them feel terrible and jittery.

This might be due to the quality of the coffee. 

I find that low-quality, non-organic coffee makes me feel terrible.

In fact, cheap coffee feels like it lowers my dopamine.

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine.

But if it makes you feel sick, consider trying Kicking Horse coffee, which I can tolerate just fine, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You may feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee.

Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it in the evening close to bed. Some people like me are really sensitive and have to stop drinking it very early in the day so that it doesn’t disrupt their sleep.

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 and don't feel great the next day.

Lastly, it's also a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just coffee or pure caffeine

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

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

And researchers have found that consuming whole coffee fruit concentrate can significantly enhance cognitive functioning.  

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

6. Uridine

Uridine is a natural compound commonly found in beer.

I definitely don’t recommend drinking beer, but supplementing with pure uridine can protect the brain, enhance cognition, and increase mood and motivation.

Research shows that uridine significantly increases the release of dopamine and elevates dopamine levels (29-32).

It’s important to note that uridine in food is not bioavailable, and there isn’t any foods that have been shown to increase plasma levels of uridine unfortunately (28). 

So I take this uridine supplement sublingually, usually before bed. You can get it here or here.

7. Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to cold can also increase your dopamine levels naturally.

A man sitting outside in the freezing cold. Cold exposure can increase dopamine levels in your brain.

Researchers have found that cold water immersion increases dopamine by 250% (43-44). 

I take a cold shower every day.

During the winter, I’ll also go outside for short periods of time with hardly any clothes. It boosts my dopamine and increases my motivation.

You don’t have to be that extreme though.

You can start by finishing your next shower with one minutes of cold water.

See how it feels, and then over time, increase the amount of time you turn off the hot.

I can be a bit painful.

But the beneficial effects end up being worth it.

Another way is to stick your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.

Or you can try cold plunges, cold baths and even cryotherapy if you want!

Find what works best for you and do it regularly.

8. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite daily activity.

And research shows that it's linked to increases in dopamine (46-48). 

In one study, researchers used brain scan imaging to confirm that meditation naturally increases dopamine release by 65% (45).

It likely has these effects by stimulating the vagus nerve

I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. It makes meditation a lot more fun and tolerable.

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

9. Ginseng

There are two types of ginseng that increase dopamine – American Ginseng and Siberian Ginseng.

American Ginseng has been shown to improve attention and cognitive processing by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain (93-94). 

Researchers have also found that Siberian Ginseng has antidepressant effects by significantly elevating dopamine levels in the brain (95). 

10. Citicoline and Alpha GPC

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

Choline is an essential nutrient for optimal brain health, but unfortunately that most people don’t consume enough of it.

Why?

Because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

Citicoline has been shown to enhance the synthesis of dopamine, increase the release of dopamine, and increase the density of dopamine receptors in the brain (136-142). 

It also protects brain cells that release dopamine, which then prevents a reduction in dopamine (143). 

Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (144). 

Citicoline and Alpha GPC significantly improve my focus and mental energy. That’s why they are both included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but it’s better to take Citicoline and Alpha GPC because you get noticeable and immediate benefits.

Click here to subscribe

Other Effective Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

11. Take Dopamine Precursors

You can also increase your dopamine levels by giving your body the raw materials to create dopamine. 

It’s first important to understand that dopamine is created within the body from the amino acid Phenylalanine (149). 

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body cannot create it, and you must obtain it from your diet. 

Phenylalanine is converted into Tyrosine, which is converted into L-Dopa, which is then finally converted into dopamine (150). 

Vitamin B6 and iron are two nutrients that are needed for this conversion to take place.   

An image showing how phenylalanine is converted tyrosine and then to dopamine. Supplementing with phenylalanine and/or tyrosine can increase dopamine.

Both phenylalanine and tyrosine can be obtained from protein-rich foods.

Here are some healthy sources: 

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

You can also supplement directly with Phenylalanine, Tyrosine and/or L-Dopa, along with P-5-P and iron

Research shows that supplementing with these dopamine precursors can enhance cognitive performance by increasing dopamine levels in the brain (151-155). 

Mucuna Pruriens, a tropical plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, is good source of L-DOPA and has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (156-161). 

In my experience, Tyrosine and Mucuna Pruriens can sometimes be too stimulating and increase anxiety in some people.

So I prefer supplementing with DL-Phenylalanine because it has other mental health benefits besides increasing dopamine, and can actually reduce anxiety.  

12. Probiotics

Research suggests that certain probiotics can also increase dopamine.

One study found that the probiotic species Lactobacillus plantarum significantly increases dopamine.

An image of different cartoon bacteria.

Researchers concluded that daily intake of Lactobacillus plantarum may be able to help treat neuropsychiatric disorders (36). 

Another study found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus increases dopamine in the frontal cortex (37). 

I created and take the Optimal Biotics supplement to support my dopamine levels and mental health.

You can also read this older article for 4 other ways to increase your good gut bacteria. 

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 7 other probiotic strains that can help. 

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is a special form of the amino acid carnitine that helps reverse neurological decline and supports mitochondria function in the brain.

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

It’s also been shown to help reduce chronic fatigue and improve mood.

It does a lot.

So not surprisingly, researchers have also found that it increases dopamine output in the brain (42). 

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

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

14. Acupuncture

A woman’s ear with acupuncture needles in it.

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Researchers have found that acupuncture increases the production of dopamine in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve (9). 

Other studies show that acupuncture enhances the availability of dopamine in the brain and normalizes the release of dopamine during withdrawal (10-11). 

I really like auricular acupuncture.

Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear.

It really helped me when I came off psychiatric medication. So I recommend finding a practitioner that provides it if you’re trying to get off medication as well.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I don’t really know why, I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

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

15. Ginkgo Biloba

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

It’s one of the most popular natural supplements in the world, and it’s even prescribed by doctors in Germany.

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

Researchers have also discovered that it significantly increases dopamine levels in the brain (33-34). 

It increases the number of dopaminergic neurons in the brain as well (35). 

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

16. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a hormone naturally produced by the body.

But it can also be taken as a supplement.

It helps form almost all other steroid hormones in the body, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.

So it’s very important.

And since hormones affect brain health so much, it’s been shown to enhance memory and reduce stress-induced fatigue.

Research shows that it also increases dopamine release in the brain (38). 

Whenever I take pregnenolone, it gives me a big boost in energy and supports brain function. It definitely works. But if I take it everyday, it starts to make me angry and irritable for some reason. So I only take it every so often.

If you want to try it, you can get it here.

Click here to subscribe

17. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that significantly affects brain function. 

Researchers have found that it passes the blood-brain barrier and acts on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

Unfortunately, many people today develop insulin resistance within the brain.

When this happens, there is a reduction in dopamine.

Research shows that insulin resistance within the brain alters normal dopamine functioning, leading to depression and anxiety (40). 

So in a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is being prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support the 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 dopamine levels.

One study found that insulin enhances dopamine release in the brain (39). 

Another study found that intranasal insulin is neuroprotective and protects dopaminergic brain cells from damage (41). 

If you’re interested in learning more about intranasal insulin, I previously wrote a full article about it. You can read that here.

18. Forskolin

Forskolin is a natural herb historically used in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s been used for hundreds of years to treat various conditions and diseases.

The herb comes from the roots of the Indian coleus, which is a tropical plant. 

Researchers have found that it stimulates the conversion of tyrosine to dopamine and enhances the release of dopamine (49, 51). 

Other studies show that it can upregulate dopamine receptors (50, 52-56). 

I don’t take it anymore because I prefer Rhodiola and Ginseng. But when I did take it, I noticed an increase in mental energy and clarity.

The one I took isn't available anymore but there are many options available on Amazon

19. Standing

One of the best hacks for your brain is simply standing more often.

Researchers have found that prolonged, uninterrupted sitting leads to fatigue and lower dopamine levels (57). 

I have this standing desk so that I’m not sitting all the time while working.  

20. Iron

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

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

Research shows that iron plays a key role in the regulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission, and iron deficiency can lead to lower dopamine levels (58). 

I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems (59). 

It’s definitely much better to just get your iron from food. 

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

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

Other good sources of iron include:

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

21. Salt

A spoonful of sea salt. Salt can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Salt is another tasty, natural way to boost your brain’s dopamine levels.

Researchers have found that dietary salt intake increases dopamine levels (60). 

Keep in mind that processed salt should be avoided or limited. 

Stick to sea salt and pink Himalayan salt.

I add this Celtic sea salt to most of my meals. 

22. Theacrine

Theacrine is a natural compound that can increase energy, focus and mental clarity, and improve mood and motivation.

It’s a small alkaloid molecule found in certain fruits and plants. It’s most commonly found in a Chinese tea known as kucha.

Theacrine’s chemical structure is similar to caffeine. In fact, it’s considered a “new alternative” to caffeine because it activates similar pathways in the brain.

Researchers have found that theacrine acts through the dopamine system to provide a stimulant effect (66). 

It activates dopamine receptors, which increases motivation and wakefulness (67). 

In my experience, theacrine is a good replacement for coffee. It works and feels similar to caffeine, but it has a longer half life and less of a tolerance. It’s also less likely to disrupt sleep (61-63). 

I sometimes take this theacrine supplement when I feel like taking a break from coffee and caffeine. You can get it here or here

You can also take them together for even better results. Research shows that theacrine and caffeine are more effective when taken together because caffeine increases the bioavailability and positive effects of theacrine (64-65). 

Click here to subscribe

23. Exercise

Not surprisingly, exercise is another natural way to increase dopamine levels in your brain. 

Plenty of research shows that daily exercise leads to increased dopamine neurotransmission, including increased dopamine release and increased dopamine receptor expression and binding (70-73). 

Exercise also slows the break down of dopamine and prevents the loss of dopaminergic brain cells (71). 

Besides boosting dopamine levels, exercise can also stimulate the vagus nerve, promote neurogenesis and increase blood flow to the brain.

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

Exercise can be a big chore for a lot of people, so I recommend finding some sort of sport or aerobic activity that you enjoy. That way you won’t get sick of it and you’ll exercise regularly.

24. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

Eating more of them is one of the greatest steps you can take to promote optimal brain and nervous system functioning, and boost your dopamine levels.

In one study, researchers fed animals omega-3 fatty acids, and they found that the animals had 40 per cent higher levels of dopamine in the brain than animals that didn’t receive omega-3 fatty acids (69). 

The researchers also noted a reduction in the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, and greater binding of dopamine to the dopamine receptors (69). 

Research also shows that omega-3 fatty acids can help restore normal dopamine release after traumatic brain injury (68). 

A piece of cooked salmon on a plate and a fork. Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids that increase dopamine in the brain.

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

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

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

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

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

I take this one.

I actually feel more depressed when I stop taking it. It makes a difference.

25. Touch and Massage

Interpersonal touch is another natural way to increase your dopamine levels.

Researchers have discovered that touch significantly increases dopamine release in the brain (74-76).

This can include kissing, cuddling, stroking, tickling, hugging and sex. 

But it can also include massage therapy. 

Studies have shown that massage therapy increases dopamine by 31% on average (77). 

This is one reason why I regularly get a massage from a registered massage therapist. 

Massage also reduces cortisol, increases oxytocin, and stimulates the vagus nerve

26. Tea and Theanine

A cup of green tea on a table. And a spoonful of green tea leaves. Green tea can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Tea has also been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

This includes both green tea and black tea (79-83). 

Both green tea and black tea contain theanine, an amino acid.

Theanine has also been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and significantly increase the release of dopamine in the brain (78, 84-85). 

I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It’s calming and cancels out the jitters of caffeine. 

This anti-anxiety supplement contains theanine. 

27. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break and triggers the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, including dopamine.

Researchers have found that intermittent fasting leads to higher levels of dopamine by increasing dopamine release and enhancing dopamine action (86-89). 

It also reduces age-related loss of dopamine receptors (90). 

I often eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the rest of the day. 

The best way to start fasting is by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day. That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.

28. Taurine

Taurine is an organic compound found in food, particularly meat and seafood. It has a wide variety of health benefits.

It can cross the blood-brain barrier and elevate dopamine levels in the brain (91). 

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.  

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29. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient.

This is a shame because it plays a role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, and it’s absolutely necessary for optimal neurotransmitter activity.

Magnesium has antidepressant effects, and one reason for this is because it increases dopamine activity in the brain (92). 

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 foods on a regular basis, including:

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

You can also increase your body’s intake of magnesium by taking epsom salt baths.

Supplementation is also a good idea for most people. I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

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

30. Folate

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

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

One reason for this is because folate is absolutely necessary for the production and synthesis of dopamine in the brain (99-100). 

When you have low folate levels, you will also have lower dopamine levels because your body can’t produce dopamine efficiently, and this contributes to depression (101). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

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

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

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (96-98). 

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

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex

Folate also lowers homocysteine levels

31. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a natural medicinal herb with antidepressant effects.

A 2015 meta-analysis concluded that it is as effective as standard antidepressant pharmaceuticals for treating depression and has fewer adverse effects (105). 

An image of the St. John’s Wort plant.

A number of studies have also shown that it significantly increases the release of dopamine and increases dopamine levels in the brain (106-110).

One study shows that it increases dopamine in the prefrontal cortex by 40% after one hour (106). 

I took this St. John’s Wort supplement years ago for my depression. It helped me, but I eventually stopped taking it and fixed the true, underlying causes of my depression instead. 

In my experience, it’s best for people who are struggling with mild or moderate depression

It’s important to note that St. John’s Wort shouldn’t be taken if you’re already taking antidepressant medication

32. SAM-e

S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound that naturally occurs in the body. 

It’s also available as a supplement

It’s most commonly used for treating depression because lowered SAM-e levels are associated with depression.

Research shows that SAM-e improves mood by producing dopamine and increasing dopamine levels in the brain (102-104). 

I took this SAM-e supplement after coming off psychiatric medication and it significantly helped me by improving my mood and energy. 

33. Curcumin

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

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

It’s been shown to help treat both depression and Parkinson’s disease (111-112). 

Several researchers have found that curcumin increases dopamine levels by reducing the break down of dopamine in the brain (113-120). 

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

34. Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards increasing your dopamine levels naturally. 

Lots of research shows that chronic inflammation reduces dopamine synthesis and dopamine release in the brain, which then leads to a lack of motivation, fatigue and depression (121-124). 

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. 

35. Music

Previously, I talked about how music can naturally reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin.

But it also increases dopamine. 

Researchers have found that listening to your favourite music significantly increases the release of dopamine in your brain (125-126, 129-132).

Even the anticipation of good music leads to the release of dopamine (127). 

We are really excited about our study’s results because they suggest that even a non-pharmacological intervention such as music can regulate mood and emotional responses at both the behavioural and neuronal level.
— Dr. Elvira Brattico

And several brain imaging studies show that listening to music activates the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are rich with dopamine receptors (133-134). 

Want to take it a step further?

Start making music. 

Research shows that creating and performing music boosts dopamine levels, even more than simply listening to music (128). 

Because of this, researchers believe music therapy may be an effective therapy for the treatment of disorders caused by low dopamine (130). 

Music has even been shown to help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their fine motor control (135). 

36. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is very important if you want to increase dopamine and naturally optimize your dopamine levels. 

I used to have sleep problems and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my poor mental health.

Research shows that lack of sleep downregulates dopamine receptors, and reduces dopamine receptor availability and sensitivity in the brain (145, 147-148). 

When people are forced to pull an “all-nighter”, the availability of dopamine receptors in their brain is significantly reduced the next morning (146). 

So try your best to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night. 

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.  

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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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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(230) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00415-017-8431-1

(231) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2806224/

(232) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28775682

(233) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15701239

(234) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24259638

(235) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18320725

(236) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9457173

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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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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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). 

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. It’s good to know it naturally increase blood flow in the brain as well. You can get the resveratrol I take here or here

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 cycle this BioPQQ supplement with my other mitochondrial-support supplements

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.
 

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Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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