You may be doubtful that reversing cognitive decline and dementia is even possible.
I used to be too.
But I want to point you to an amazing study published in the Aging Journal.Read More
A healthy, properly-functioning blood-brain barrier is absolutely critical for optimal brain and mental health.
The blood-brain barrier is a protective shield that surrounds your brain.
It acts as a gatekeeper and filter, allowing beneficial nutrients to cross over into your brain, and keeping unwanted molecules out of your brain.
But in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working, Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains that the blood-brain barrier can break down and become “leaky”.
This allows harmful substances to enter your brain, contributing to brain inflammation, which has been shown to cause cognitive problems and mental illness (92, 110-111).
Hyper-permeability of the blood-brain barrier and neuroinflammation have been linked to a number of different brain and mental health problems and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, brain fog, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia (101-109).
A number of factors contribute to “leaky brain”, including (93-100):
Chronic psychological stress
Poor diet and food additives
Disrupted circadian rhythm
Intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome)
Excess alcohol consumption
Environmental toxins and heavy metals
High blood sugar
Poor brain blood flow
Needless to say, these things are very common today, so a lot of people likely have a leaky blood-brain barrier.
The good news is that even though the blood-brain barrier can break down and become leaky, it can also be fixed!
You can repair it if you give it what it needs to heal.
After living in a moldy home and suffering multiple concussions, my brain and its barrier were in rough shape.
Since then, I’ve searched far and wide for solutions that could strengthen it.
Here are 23 strategies that have been shown to support and repair the blood brain barrier.
Many of them have helped me.
Together, they can help you reduce neuroinflammation, heal your “leaky brain,” and overcome your brain and mental health challenges.
Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.
I’m convinced that if you struggle with a chronic brain or mental illness, you should follow a strict gluten-free diet for at least 30 days and see how you feel.
There’s one main reason I recommend this…
Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.
Zonulin is a protein in your body that increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier and disrupts the blood-brain barrier (48).
Researchers have found that gluten clearly increases zonulin and contributes to “leaky gut” and “leaky brain”, resulting in neuroinflammation and altered cognitive function (49, 50).
Gluten sensitivity can also create visible changes to the white matter in your brain, according to research in The Lancet Neurology (51).
Yet unfortunately, the myth continues to spread that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing food.
There is a clear connection between your brain and digestive system.
Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.
Because of this connection, it’s critical to address gut issues in order to heal a leaky brain.
Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.
“Germ-free” mice means that the mice don’t have any bacteria in their intestines.
And what did the researchers find?
They found that these germ-free mice had very leaky blood-brain barriers (56).
But when these germ-free mice received a fecal transfer, where researchers introduced bacteria into their intestines, the permeability of their blood-brain barriers decreased significantly (57).
So it’s becoming increasing clear that our gut bacteria directly affect the health of our blood-brain barrier.
And manipulating your gut bacteria, and increasing the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system, can help improve the integrity of your blood-brain barrier and heal your leaky brain.
In my experience, this is true, as my brain functions much better when I take care of my gut.
I take Optimal Biotics every day.
You should check out my previous article about gut health to learn more.
And if you have depression or anxiety, taking these probiotics can help.
One possible explanation for this is that caffeine supports the blood-brain barrier.
Studies show that caffeine protects against Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease by keeping the blood-brain barrier intact, and protecting against blood-brain barrier dysfunction and leakage (32).
In one study, researchers found that caffeine blocks the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, concluding that caffeine is “useful in the treatment Alzheimer's disease” (33, 34).
Another study showed that caffeine can protect against Parkinson’s disease and neurodegeneration by stabilizing the blood-brain barrier (35).
I used to not be able to handle any coffee and caffeine at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of this coffee most mornings.
Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it later in the day. I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep.
It's also important to note that some people simply can’t tolerate coffee. This is because most coffee contains low levels of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold).
After living in a moldy home for more than one year, I’m extremely sensitive to mold and mycotoxins. Kicking Horse Kickass coffee and Bulletproof coffee are the only two coffees I have found so far that don’t make me feel sick. 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 one of the two coffees above, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee.
Lastly, there are additional brain health benefits when you consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just coffee or pure caffeine.
Usually, coffee beans are extracted from the whole coffee fruit for roasting. And then the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away.
But this is a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.
And researchers have now discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.
That’s why I included coffee fruit concentrate in the Optimal Brain supplement.
It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
It’s quite similar to curcumin.
Numerous studies have shown that sulforaphane can prevent the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, reduce permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and improve cognitive function after stroke and traumatic brain injuries (87-91).
You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.
If you decide to take it as a supplement, make sure you get the "myrosinase-activated" form.
Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.
I once bought a supplement that didn't contain myrosinase and had to return it, and then ended up buying this one instead.
Not surprisingly, alcohol and acetaldehyde – a byproduct of alcohol metabolism – can weaken and damage the blood-brain barrier, and contribute to leaky brain.
Researchers have found that the oxidative stress that results from excess alcohol consumption leads to blood-brain barrier dysfunction (58, 59).
And this can then lead to neuro-inflammation (60).
There are ways to protect your brain from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to heal.
It’s known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
And scientists are starting to understand why.
And according to cutting-edge research, it can also protect and support your blood-brain barrier.
Because of this, there was a reduction in brain inflammation, which slowed down cognitive decline in the patients (38, 39).
Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:
Significantly reduces the breakage, damage and dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier;
Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and
Improves and maintains the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (36-37, 40-43).
Because of resveratrol’s ability to stabilize the blood-brain barrier and protect against neuroinflammation, researchers also believe it may reduce the clinical severity of multiple sclerosis (44).
Lastly, resveratrol has been shown to protects against oxidized LDL-induced breakage of the blood–brain barrier (45, 46).
So clearly resveratrol is great for our blood-brain barriers.
If resveratrol was a pharaceutical drug, we would definitely be hearing more about it. But natural compounds cannot be patented, so we don't.
Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol.
It’s also been shown to protect the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress, and it’s apparently better absorbed than resveratrol. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as a “better resveratrol” (47).
I tried this pterostilbene and it was beneficial, but I didn’t find it any more helpful than resveratrol, so I’ve decided to just stick with resveratrol considering it has significantly more research to back it up.
I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage and reduce your stress.
Research suggests that acute stress damages the blood-brain barrier (52).
And extreme stress has been shown to increase inflammation and increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (53-55).
But normalizing your stress levels can help the blood-brain barrier repair itself.
If you can’t access neurofeedback, taking up a daily meditation practice is an excellent idea.
I’m a big fan of the Muse headband. It’s a device that guides you while you meditation. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I wrote an entire review about it here, and you can get the device through Amazon or the Muse website.
Regular massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat have helped me a lot as well.
This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress over the years.
But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.
Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can:
Reduce damage to the blood-brain barrier after stoke;
Limit blood-brain barrier disruption after traumatic brain injury; and
Benefit people with multiple sclerosis by indirectly reducing disruption of their blood-brain barriers (76-78).
Wild fish is the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids, but unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.
Krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a powerful, naturally occurring carotenoid.
Astaxanthin has also been shown to decreases inflammation and protect the blood-brain barrier (118-119).
Deep sleep is necessary for the optimal functioning of your blood-brain barrier.
My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor brain and mental health. And then my poor brain and mental health would make my sleep worse. So it was a vicious cycle.
Sleep restriction has been shown to impair the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and increase its permeability (84).
So you should really try to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night.
Supplementing with melatonin can also help.
Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm).
Adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.
Research also shows that melatonin can stabilize the blood-brain barrier and prevent damage caused by traumatic brain injury (85, 86).
Besides taking melatonin, here are some other steps you can take to maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:
Lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed.
Turn off household lights, install Iris on your computer and wear blue blocking glasses for at least 2 hours before bed. These glasses block out blue light from your environment. Blue light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin. You can learn more about the problem with blue light here.
Go to bed at the same time every night.
Don’t eat for 3 hours before bed.
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.
Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants.
It has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and possibly antidepressant effects. It can also improve intestinal health and lower cholesterol.
And several studies have shown that it can decrease the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and reduce brain damage after traumatic brain injury. It does this by suppressing inflammation (23-26).
I’ve experimented with varying dosages of this berberine. I personally didn’t notice any profound brain and mental health benefits, but I have heard good things about berberine from other people.
Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.
Unfortunately, most people aren’t even aware that mold is in their home or workplace and affecting their brain function.
In water-damaged buildings, mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold) are released into the air.
If you’re genetically susceptible, they can wreak havoc on your brain, and your cognitive function and mental health can deteriorate for no apparent reason.
One way mold and mycotoxins can disrupt brain function is by causing “leaky brain.”
Researchers have discovered that mycotoxins can clearly reduce the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (62).
They’ve also concluded that exposure to mycotoxins in an indoor environment can cause neurological damage. One way it does this is by breaking down the blood-brain barrier (61).
Several other studies have found that mycotoxins increase the permeability of blood-brain barrier and disrupt the functioning of the nervous system (63-66).
I lived in a moldy house for more than a year, and my blood-brain barrier likely became significantly leaky during that time, as my brain and mental health deteriorated. I also suffered a terrible concussion while living in that house, making my brain even more permeable. It took a while to get back to normal.
Today I use this air filter in my apartment to protect myself from any mold. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.
Mycotoxins aren’t just in your environment though. Low amounts of mycotoxins are also often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.
If I'm exposed to mold or their toxins, I supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay. Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body.
Several B vitamins have been shown to support the blood-brain barrier and help heal leaky brain.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency disrupts the blood-brain barrier, and supplementing with Vitamin B1 restores its integrity (80-81).
Researchers have also found that vitamins B12, B6, and B9 (folate) can restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in adults that have elevated homocysteine levels and mild cognitive impairment. Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound that can contribute to blood-brain barrier breakdown at high levels, and the B vitamins normalize homocysteine levels (82-83).
I take this B complex regularly. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12 and methylfolate.
Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a key role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.
It impacts your neurotransmitters and hormones, both of which can significantly impact your mood and brain function.
Magnesium is one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, because most people are deficient nowadays.
And there is plenty of research showing that it can protect and support your blood-brain barrier as well.
Multiple studies have found that magnesium protects the blood-brain barrier, prevents its disruption, and significantly reduces hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier (27, 28, 31).
One study found that it decreases blood-brain barrier permeability by 41% (29).
Magnesium’s protective effect against blood-brain barrier hyperpermeability has also been seen after traumatic brain injury (30).
Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.
I take this magnesium supplement.
But not only can it cross your blood-brain barrier and support your brain; it can also support your blood-brain barrier itself.
Studies show that ALA has neuroprotective effects, and it maintains the integrity of the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress (4-5)
Researchers also point out that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects can stabilize the blood-brain barrier. This makes it an “attractive therapeutic agent for the treatment” of multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury (6-8).
ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.
It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects. It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.
I find that ALCAR personally gives me a big boost in mental energy and cognitive function.
That’s why it’s included in the Optimal Brain supplement.
But it can also:
Reduce the disruption and hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier;
Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and
Improve the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (13-18).
Studies have also shown that curcumin can prevent blood-brain barrier damage and reduce the permeability of the blood-brain barrier caused by oxygen and glucose deprivation (20-22).
Researchers believe it can do all of this because it significantly reduces inflammation and oxidative stress (19).
There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin.
Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system.
This means your entire body needs it to function properly and a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.
Researchers have found that Vitamin D can prevent the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, mainly by reducing inflammation (72, 73).
In patients with multiple sclerosis, Vitamin D has been shown to protect endothelial cells and reduce blood-brain barrier disruption (74).
And one study found that intranasal administration of vitamin D reduces blood–brain barrier disruption (75).
I personally use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my Vitamin D levels are optimal.
Choline is an essential nutrient that most people don’t consume enough of because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.
Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is the most bioavailable supplemental form of choline.
But it’s also been shown to significantly decrease the disruption and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier after traumatic brain injury (11-12).
And after brain ischemia, Citicoline significantly reduces blood-brain barrier dysfunction (10).
I personally take Citicoline every day.
It helps me a lot because I’ve had multiple concussions.
Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to support the blood-brain barrier.
Researchers have found that it improves cognitive function by reversing the changes to the blood-brain barrier after a brain injury (9).
Both citicoline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement.
“I have no doubt in my mind that, at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the Earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields.” - Dr. Robert Becker, Nobel Prize nominee and author of The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life
An increasing amount of research is showing that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted from Wi-Fi, laptops, and cellphones can negatively affect the brain and produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression.
It’s an inconvenient truth that needs to be talked about, rather than downplayed, ignored and dismissed.
One way that radiofrequency EMFs may be causing neuropsychiatric effects is by contributing to a "leaky brain".
Several studies have found that EMFs emitted from cellphones increase the permeability of the brain-blood barrier, and this increased permeability may lead to the accumulation of brain tissue damage and cognitive impairment (112-114).
I encourage you to check out my other post about EMFs here.
I'm still learning about how to manage and combat them, but here are some initial steps you can take:
Get an EMF meter to determine your exposure. I use the Cornet ED88T. It's the best option that is currently available. It measures electric, magnetic and radiofrequency fields. It's like having three meters in one. You can get it here.
Put your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it and/or use a radiation-blocking phone case such as Safe Sleeve. I did a lot of research into radiation-blocking cases and Safe Sleeve is the best on the market. They are manufactured with materials that have been 3rd-party tested to block 99.9% of radiation coming off a cell phone.
Turn off Wi-Fi at night while you’re sleeping.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other steps you can take, and I plan on writing more about this soon because it isn’t discussed enough.
This may seem like “woo-woo” but it’s a real issue. And I suspect it will eventually become one of the biggest issues of our time.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body as a result of methylation.
In healthy people, it’s properly metabolized and normal levels are maintained.
But when homocysteine isn’t properly metabolized, it can build up inside the body and levels can become too high.
And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy.
At high levels, homocysteine is inflammatory, and research shows it increases permeability of the blood-brain barrier (115).
If you test and find out your levels are high, check out this article for 16 ways to lower your homocysteine levels.
Progesterone is a natural steroid and sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
It has a variety of important functions in the body, and even plays an important role in brain function.
And one study shows that it reduces inflammation and can support the blood-brain barrier after brain injury (120).
In addition to its role as a natural hormone, progesterone can be taken as a medication, usually by women during menopause as part of their hormone replacement therapy.
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.
But when blood flow to the brain is impaired, problems can arise, including a leaky blood-brain barrier.
Research shows that lack of brain blood flow increases oxidative stress, damages the blood-brain barrier, and increases blood-brain barrier permeability (116-117).
Be sure to check out this post for 21 ways to increase blood flow to the brain.
I’ve decided to not write about these in-depth because there isn’t as much research to back them up.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful though. They have still helped me:
High dose Vitamin C (67)
Iodine (68) – I take it as part of this multi-mineral
Vitamin E (69)
Ursolic Acid (121)
The brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and this includes the barrier that protects it.
The above steps have been proven to help repair and support the blood brain barrier, and I’ve noticed the benefits of implementing them into my own life.
I hope they help you too!
Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC
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.
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:
Cognitive dysfunction and brain fog (131-132)
Chronic fatigue syndrome (140)
Parkinson’s Disease (134)
Alzheimer’s disease (135, 143)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (137-139)
Panic disorder (139)
Traumatic brain injury (141-142)
Lyme disease (144)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And researchers are starting to understand why.
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.
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).
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).
It’s important to choose a type of dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.
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.
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).
And one study found that omega-3 supplementation, in comparison with placebo, significantly increases brain blood flow (38).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
I don’t really enjoy the taste, but every so often I do drink beet juice during cognitively-demanding tasks.
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.
Researchers have found that caffeine significantly reduces brain blood flow by 20 to 30% depending on the study and dosage (74-77).
I also sometimes take breaks from drinking coffee to normalize brain blood flow and circulation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vitamin E (61-64)
Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC
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.
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:
Borderline personality disorder;
Dementia and cognitive impairment (135-150).
Let’s go through them.
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.
Several different types of tea have beneficial effects on cortisol levels.
Green tea has been shown to inhibit the synthesis of cortisol (18).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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:
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).
Lastly, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
Properly-hydrated runners have noticeably lower cortisol levels than dehydrated runners (81).
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).
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.
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.
After exercise, it’s also been shown to rapidly reduce cortisol (26, 27).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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:
Lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed
Turn off household lights, install Iris on your computer and wear blue blocking glasses for at least 2 hours before bed. These glasses block out blue light from your environment. Blue light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.
Don’t eat for 3 hours before bed
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
Here are some other therapies that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol:
Drink black, green and chamomile tea, or supplement with theanine
Eat dark chocolate :-)
Eat turmeric and/or supplement with bioavailable curcumin
Add extra virgin olive oil to meals
Listen to music and dance
Watch comedy and laugh
Play with animals
Chew aspartame-free gum
Stand tall with powerful body language
Limit alcohol and caffeine
Eat prebiotic foods, including resistant starch
Eat enough food and protein
Drink enough filtered-water
Exercise, but not too much
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?
(83) http://www.people.hbs.edu/acuddy/in press, carney, cuddy, & yap, psych science.pdf
Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC