27 Proven Ways to Promote the Regeneration of Myelin

Myelin is critical for optimal brain function and mental health.

What is myelin?

Myelin sheath.

Myelin is a fatty, white substance that wraps around the end of many nerve cells. It forms an electrically insulating sheath that increases nerve condition speeds.

In other words, it allows your brain to send information faster and more efficiently, making it absolutely essential for the optimal functioning of your nervous system (39, 40). 

So not surprisingly, myelin sheath plays a key role in determining intelligence and improving cognitive performance (41, 42). 

The production of myelin throughout the nervous system is called myelination or myelinogenesis.

But demyelination can also happen. 

This happens when the myelin that insulates your nerves is destroyed or deteriorates, leading to mental health symptoms and neurodegenerative diseases (44). 

Multiple sclerosis is one of the more common demyelinating condition, but a number of neurological and psychiatric illnesses have been linked to demyelination, including (45):

Myelin sheath.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • Depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Dyslexia

  • Language disorders

  • Stuttering

  • Autism

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Cognitive decline

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Tourette’s syndrome

  • Schizophrenia

  • Tone deafness

  • Pathological lying

If you have one of these conditions and suspect you might have symptoms of demyelination, don’t worry.

There are dietary and lifestyle modifications that can help your body repair and re-manufacture myelin. Studies show that oligodendrocyte cells are responsible for the formation of new myelin in both the injured and normal adult brains (43).

Here are 26 holistic ways to increase oligodendrocyte cells, promote myelin production and myelin sheath repair, and increase the regeneration of myelin. 

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1. Deep Sleep and Melatonin

Research has found that sleep increases myelination and increases the production of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs).

One study found that production of OPCs doubled in mice while they slept. The mice that were forced to stay awake had higher levels of stress hormones and higher rates of brain cell death (1-2). 

Researchers believe this means that sleep loss can aggravate symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Baby sleeping. Sleep and melatonin help regenerate myelin.

That’s why getting at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep is so critical. 

But it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of your sleep. 

The researchers found that the production of the myelin-forming cells increased the most during deep, rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. 

Melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone, has also been shown to promote myelination and increase myelin production by significantly reducing inflammation in the brain (46).

Here are some actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin, maximize the quality of your sleep, and make sure you get deeper sleep:

Deep sleep can also improve your brain’s growth hormone, lower your stress hormone, and slow down the onset of dementia

2. Iodine and Thyroid Hormones

Iodine is a key mineral that is required to produce thyroid hormones. Without enough iodine, you may end up with symptoms of hypothyroidism

Research shows that a deficiency in iodine and lack of thyroid hormones can impair myelination (7).

The process of myelination is known to depend on the thyroid hormone. The myelinating cells are the oligodendroglia which appear to stop functioning in MS (and sometimes to a milder degree in Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions). The cells’ absorption of thyroid hormone is influenced by dietary factors.
— Ray Peat

Other studies show that thyroid hormones stimulate the expression of myelin protein genes, and promote remyelination in the brain by enhancing oligodendrocyte maturation (8, 9). 

So supporting your thyroid and getting enough iodine are key steps towards increasing myelin and optimizing the formation of new myelin. 

I make sure I get enough iodine by taking this multimineral

And you can read more about how to support your thyroid and enhance the production of thyroid hormones here.  

3. Vitamin C

Oranges. The Vitamin C in oranges help regenerate myelin.

Vitamin C is known to participate in myelin formation (10, 11). 

Collagen synthesis, which is dependent on Vitamin C, has also been linked to the formation of myelin sheath (12, 13). 

Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. 

You can also take it in supplement form
 

4. Zinc

As I’ve discussed before, zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates several hundred enzymatic reactions, including neurotransmission.

It’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and six different studies show that subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (14-16).

Oysters. The zinc in oysters help regenerate myelin.

So, if you struggle with a brain or mental health disorder, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient.  

Zinc also affects myelination.

The mineral is needed for myelin proteins to work properly, and research shows that a deficiency in zinc leads to a reduction in myelin formation and myelin recovery (17). 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms and spinach.

But I still recommend at least short-term supplementation to ensure you get enough to increase myelination.

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement

Check out my previous post about zinc and copper if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels. You can also check your levels here

5. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.

Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D.

And it’s an indispensable component of myelin. 

Butter. The cholesterol in butter helps regenerate myelin.

Without it, myelin membrane growth is “severely perturbed” (18). 

So just like you shouldn’t be afraid of saturated fat, you shouldn’t be afraid of eating cholesterol-rich foods.

Some of the best sources of cholesterol include grass-fed butter or ghee, beef liver and pastured egg yolks.

I take these beef liver capsules and eat at least 3 egg yolks every day, as recommended in the Perfect Health Diet by Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet.

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6. Lithium 

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

However, it’s also an essential mineral.

Bipolar patients are often given high doses of lithium carbonate.

But low doses of lithium orotate can be safely supplemented to support the brain and improve mental health. I’ve taken this one before. 

Research shows that lithium stimulates the expression of myelin genes, restores the myelin structure, and promotes remyelination (19). 

As I discussed before, lithium orotate can also increase your brain’s growth hormone (BDNF)

So it’s definitely something you want to consider taking if you want to increase myelin in the brain.

You can get lithium here.

7. Oxygen Therapy

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

Patients inhale 100% oxygen in a total body chamber. 

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

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

Researchers have found that HBOT can cause "significant remyelination" (83-84). 

Other studies show that it can alleviate myelin damage (85). 

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

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

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

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

8. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet – less than 50 grams of carbs per day.

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

Foods incorporated in a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet and ketones can help repair myelin.

Ketones are an alternative source of energy for your brain cells. And several studies show that when you increase the production of ketones, you improve myelination and increase myelin production (3-6). 

So if you’re trying to rebuild myelin sheath, you should consider a cyclic ketogenic diet. 

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often.

I also take Optimal Ketones

Optimal Ketones are exogenous ketones that help my body get into a state of ketosis more quickly. They immediately increase my mental clarity.

As I’ve discussed before, ketones can also increase your brain’s growth hormone, help you overcome brain fog, support your brain’s mitochondria, and slow down cognitive decline

9. Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that is present in all cells and plays a role in several vital functions, including oxygen consumption and ATP production.

It’s also important for myelin production.

Studies show that low iron levels lead to a reduction in myelination, and normal iron levels support the formation of myelin and increase myelin (20). 

In most cases, I don’t recommend supplementing with iron. Instead, get it from food.

Beef liver is the best source. I take these beef liver capsules
 

10. Low Level Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that uses low-level (low-power) lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to stimulate brain cells, helping them function better.

Most doctors don't know 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.

Researchers have found that LLLT can increase myelination and increase the total number of myelinated axons (79-81). 

LLLT has also been shown to restore normal levels of myelin in animals (81-82). 

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

I use this device and shine the infrared light directly on my forehead. 

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

LLLT also supports mitochondria function, reduces brain fog, promotes synaptogenesis, and increases blood flow to the brain

I encourage you to check out my full article about it for more information.

11. Phosphatidylserine

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 (21-23).

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

Researchers have also concluded that phosphatidylserine is required for healthy nerve cell membranes and myelin in the brain (24). 

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

12. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a steroidal hormone manufactured by the body, but it can also be taken as a supplement.

Picture of a human brain.

It’s been shown to enhance memory and reduce stress-induced fatigue.

It’s the precursor to almost all other steroid hormones, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.

Pregnenolone and other steroid hormones regulate, repair, rebuild, and increase the production of myelin (25-28). 

I personally tried this pregnenolone. It did give me a boost in brain function and mental energy. However, it also made me angry and irritable so I stopped taking it. This happens to some people, but a lot of people don't experience this. It's worth trying to see how you react. You can get it here.
 

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13. Uridine 

Uridine is a nucleotide base found in beer.

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

It’s been proven to help treat “myelin sheath lesion” in several experimental and clinical studies (29, 30). 

I take this uridine. You can get it here or here

It’s synergistic with krill oil and citicoline

14. Herbs That Increase Myelin

Ashwagandha helps regenerate myelin.

Ashwagandha is a popular Indian herb commonly used to prevent anxiety.

“Withanoside IV” is one of the main therapeutic compounds in ashwagandha and research shows that it can increase myelin levels in the nervous system (31).

I take this ashwagandha during periods of high stress.

Ginkgo Biloba is another common herb, which is taken for cognitive enhancement or to alleviate cognitive decline.

It’s beneficial effects of cognition may be because it significantly increases the number of myelinated axons (34).  

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

15. Inositol

Inositol is a small molecule structurally similar to glucose that is involved in cellular signalling. 

At high doses, it reduces anxiety. 

Research shows that animals treated with inositol have significantly fewer demyelinating lesions (32). 

I took high doses of this inositol powder when weening off psychiatric medication.

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex

I previously wrote a full article about inositol here

16. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane mushroom helps regenerate myelin.

Hericium Erinaceus – better known as Lion’s mane mushroom – might be my favourite way to regenerate myelin. 

Research shows that lion’s mane increases the rate of myelination production, and the process of myelination begins earlier in the presence of the mushroom (33). 

I take this lion’s mane mushroom. It’s one of the highest-quality lion’s mane mushroom supplements that I could find from a reputable brand. I spent a lot of time researching and looking into different sources because not all lion's mane supplements are high-quality and effective, and I settled on this one. You can get it here or here

17. Consume Flavonoids

There are several flavonoids, a diverse group of phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables, that have been demonstrated to promote myelination. 

Research shows that the flavonoids luteolin, quercetin and fisetin significantly decrease myelin phagocytosis and may be able to limit the demyelination process during multiple sclerosis (35). 

Quercetin, one plant flavonoid in particular with potent antioxidant action, has been shown to increase the number of oligodendrocyte precursor cells and myelin basic protein cells (36). 

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18. Learn or Experience Something New

You can also generate new myelin by learning something new and exposing yourself to novel life experiences.

Guitar. Learning the guitar can help you form new myelin.

For example, one report showed that learning a new instrument leads to increased myelin in areas of the brain involved with musical performance. 

The researchers explain that myelin increased proportionately to the number of hours each person had practiced the instrument (38).

So the more you practice and try to learn something, the more myelin you generate.

19. Exercise

I’ve already discussed how exercise increases your brain’s growth hormone, supports your brain’s mitochondria, helps reverse cognitive decline, and stimulates your vagus nerve.

It clearly does so much good, so it’s not too surprising that it also supports myelin formation. 

Woman lifting weights. Exercise can help with the regeneration of myelin.

Research shows that long-term exercise improves memory by increasing and restoring myelin (47). 

Running has also been shown to increase myelination and delay the progression of demyelination, and therefore delays the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (48). 

Lastly, researchers have found that exercise increases mitochondrial activity, which then increases myelination in the brain (49). 

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

This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:

  • Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week

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

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

  • Walking, weightlifting and sprinting are the best forms of exercise, but you should choose a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently

20. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF, is a naturally-occurring hormone in the brain that improves brain function and lowers your risk of mental disease. 

It also regulates the myelination process. 

Research shows that BDNF produces a long-term increase in both the rate and extent of myelination, and enhances and accelerates myelin formation (50). 

I previously provided 21 ways to boost BDNF in this post.  

21. Testosterone

When I lived in a moldy home, suffered multiple concussions and was placed on antidepressants, my testosterone plummeted. 

Very muscular man looking angry. Testosterone can increase myelin formation.

No conventional doctor tested my testosterone because they assumed every a man in his 20s would have healthy levels. 

But they were wrong. 

Eventually I saw a functional medicine doctor and he found out that I had the testosterone levels of an old man.

I was put on testosterone replacement therapy for almost one year to get my levels back to normal. And over that time, I saw a huge increase in my brain and mental health.

This may be because testosterone has been shown to stimulate the formation of new myelin and reverse myelin damage (51). 

Researchers have also concluded that hormone replacement should be a considered treatment for males who have multiple sclerosis, as it can stall (and perhaps even reverse) the neurodegeneration associated with MS (52). 

That's why it's so important to test. Make sure you check both total testosterone and free testosterone

22. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

Cooked piece of salmon. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon can help with the regeneration of myelin.

They appear in most of my posts because they are so critical for brain and mental health and affect so many aspects of wellness.

They’ve been shown to help people overcome addiction, repair the blood-brain barrier, stimulate the vagus nerve, and even reverse cognitive decline.

And now researchers have found that they also increase myelin production, helping your body produce more myelin (53, 54). 

According to Judy Graham, author of the book Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally: A Self-Help Guide to Living with MS, myelin cell membranes that contain omega-3 fatty acids are more fluid, which improves the efficiency of nerve impulse conduction. 

She also points out in her book that rates of multiple sclerosis are lower in areas of high fish consumption. 

I eat lots of wild salmon and supplement with this krill oil daily. You can get it here or here

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23. Vitamin D and Vitamin K2

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

Sun shining through the clouds. Vitamin D from the sun can help repair myelin.

Research shows that the Vitamin D receptor boosts the regeneration of myelin (55). 

Vitamin D also significantly increases myelination in rats (56). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D from sunlight, but most people can’t get enough, especially during the winter. 

That’s why I use this Vitamin D lamp.

If you do decide to supplement, it’s a good idea to take Vitamin K2 along with Vitamin D3, as it has also been shown to support myelin (57). 

I also highly recommend checking your Vitamin D levels. It's one of the most important tests you can take for your health.

24. Choline

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

It’s also a component of myelin and supports myelin production.

Research shows that the choline pathway promotes remyelination, and enhances the repairing and rebuilding of myelin sheath (64). 

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

One study found that citicoline enhances myelin regeneration and increases remyelination in the central nervous system. The researchers concluded that citicoline could become a promising substance for patients with multiple sclerosis because of its regenerative action combined with its excellent safety profile (63). 

That’s why I recommend supplementing with it. It’s one of my favourite supplements for optimal brain and mental health. I personally take citicoline every day now, and I find it improves my focus and mental energy. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but citicoline is more impactful. 

And as I’ve discussed before, citicoline can also help you overcome brain fog and support the blood brain-barrier.

25. Reduce Inflammation 

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards protecting and regenerating myelin. 

Man experiencing inflammation in the brain. Reducing inflammation can increase myelin formation.

Researchers have found that inflammatory cytokines reduce myelination, and high levels of inflammation are often found in people with multiple sclerosis (65). 

The best way to reduce inflammation is by following an anti-inflammatory diet.

You should strive to eliminate all gluten, refined carbohydrates (particularly flour), and processed food from your diet, and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed beef and pastured chicken.

My free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains a bunch of healthy low-inflammatory foods that you can eat on a regular basis. 

Taking curcumin and krill oil supplements can also significantly reduce inflammation in the body and brain. 

I also recommend testing for C-Reactive Protein, which is a general marker of inflammation. That way you'll know if it's one of your problems. 

26. B Vitamins and Methylation

A number of different B vitamins can increase myelin and help your body regenerate myelin. 

Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the generation and function of myelin.

Researchers have found that low vitamin B12 levels are significantly associated with myelin degeneration (66, 68). 

Other studies have also shown that people with multiple sclerosis often have abnormally low levels of vitamin B12, and vitamin B12 injections significantly improve their symptoms (67). 

The B Vitamins, including B1, B2, B5, B6 and B12. B Vitamins can help the body form new myelin sheath.

According to Dr. Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker and Grain Brain, vitamin B12 deficiency enhances the destruction of myelin and compromises the ability of the body to repair and rebuild damaged myelin sheath. 

Folate is another B vitamin that plays an important role in the maintenance of myelin. Studies have shown that a deficiency can lead to reduced levels of myelin (69-70). 

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) isn’t a B vitamin, but along with folate and B12, it is involved with methylation, and has been shown to increase the development of myelin (71). 

One amazing study found that biotin (Vitamin B7) activates enzymes involved in myelin synthesis and 91% of patients with multiple sclerosis improved with high doses of biotin. Two multi-centric double-blind placebo-controlled trials are currently underway (72). 

Lastly, pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) can indirectly help with myelin formation because it helps with the synthesis of fatty acids and myelin is mostly made up of fat. Myelin has been shown to degenerate in chickens that are deficient in B5 (73). 

I used to experiment and supplement with individual B vitamins but I’ve now settled on taking just one B complex as needed. I take this one. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins. 

27. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

“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

You won't hear many people talk about this but it needs to be acknowledged.

An increasing amount of research is showing that electromagnetic frequencies emitted from Wi-Fi, laptops, and cellphones can negatively affect the brain and produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression (59). 

It’s an inconvenient truth that needs to be talked about, rather than downplayed, ignored and dismissed.

Image of EMFs surrounding a home. EMFs can reduce myelin formation, so you are best to avoid them or limit your exposure to them.

Some people are more sensitive to them than others. I’m one of them. 

Two environmental doctors have told me that I’m sensitive to environmental radiation, and some of my symptoms can be traced back to EMF hypersensitivity. It's likely why I benefited so much from neurofeedback, as EMFs can affect brainwaves (74-78). 

I suspect a lot of people are dealing with the same problem. 

This research paper explains that there is an association between EMF exposure and myelin deterioration, which may account for many of the symptoms that people with EMF hypersensitivity experience (58).

So if you’re trying to rebuild myelin, it’s a good idea to limit your exposure to EMFs.

How do you that?

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. 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.

  • If you have a laptop, don’t touch it. Use a wired keyboard and wired mouse instead.

  • Supplement with the herb Rhodiola. It has radioprotective effects (60-62). I take this one. You can get it here or here. I previously wrote about Rhodiola here.

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.

Conclusion

You don’t have to let your brain deteriorate over time. 

You have the power to maintain it and rebuild the myelin within it. 

Overall, the above 25 steps can help your body regenerate myelin. They have really helped me.

I hope you implement some of them into your daily life and you notice your brain functions more optimally. 

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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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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(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24634831

(53) http://wurtmanlab.mit.edu/static/pdf/1037.pdf

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772061

(55) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151207095956.htm

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25261104

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2891353/

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25205214/

(59) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891061815000599

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(61) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3148626/

(62) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16013456

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25524711

(64) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4625486/

(65) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9482240

(66) http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/early/2008/10/31/jnnp.2008.149286

(67) http://www.lifeextension.com/protocols/neurological/multiple-sclerosis/Page-02

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(71) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24607226

(72) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211034815000061

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(81) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5642176/

(82) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20976807

(83) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4029808/

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD

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5 Ways to Increase Your Good Gut Bacteria For A Healthier Brain

Picture of Hippocrates with his quote “All Disease Begins in the Gut!”

My brain totally broke in 2010 and I felt like I had developed ADHD, depression, and dementia all at once. By scouring the literature, interviewing and consulting with doctors and researchers, and experimenting with my own body and mind, I finally came to understand that it wasn’t just one thing that had caused my brain and body to break, but the accumulation of many things. 

One of my main problems: I had an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in my digestive system. 

There are approximately 100 trillion microorganisms and 500 known bacterial species living in our guts. That means there is 10 times more bacteria cells in our bodies than human cells and over 90% of our cells are non-human. Simply put, we are more bacterial than we are human (1, 2).

Gut bacteria affect our nervous, hormonal and immune systems and play a key role in countless bodily functions, including the digestion of food and production of vitamins. So not surprisingly, the makeup of these bacteria in our system can affect how we feel physically and mentally. 

But our modern lifestyle isn’t good for our gut bacteria. Stress, bad diet and medications can reduce probiotic (good) bacteria and increase bad bacteria in our digestive tract. A lot of people today have out-of-balance and dysregulated gut bacteria. So if we want to regain optimal brain health, it’s critical to restore and support the “good germs” in our gut.

In this post, I’ll show you how to increase your good bacteria and reduce your bad bacteria like I did, so that you’ll improve the health of your brain and experience more mental resilience. 

Image of the gut and the brain - Can this influence this?

What the Cutting-Edge Research Says: You Need Healthy Gut Bacteria to Have a Healthy Brain

Impressive new research shows that there is a connection between our brain and our digestive tract, and that the bacteria in our gut can have a profound influence on our behaviour, thoughts and mood.

There’s evidence that healthy gut bacteria produce and regulate the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain (such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA), which can affect mood, pain and cognition (50-52). 

Dr. Stephen Collins, a gastroenterology researcher at McMaster University, has done a lot of research in the field and discovered that unhealthy gut bacteria play a key role in causing abnormal behaviour (including anxiety and depression), while certain strains of good bacteria can reduce stress hormones and anxious behavior. 

In one study, Collins took the gut bacteria of mice that were prone to anxious behaviour and transplanted it into calm mice. After the transplant, the calm mice started acting nervously. He has also seen the same results with humans (28 – 35). 

It’s increasingly clear that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, can communicate with the human brain.
— Dr. Kathy Magnusson, PhD, Oregan State University

Studies by Dr. John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and microbiome expert at the University College Cork, shows that gut bacteria can alter brain chemistry.  

He found that after eliminating their good bacteria, mice act in ways that mimic human anxiety, depression and autism. And in one of his studies, two strains of bacteria were more effective than an antidepressant at treating anxiety and depression (36 – 42). 

Lastly, research has found that mice with autistic-like behaviour have much lower levels of a common type of bacteria called “Bacteroides Fragilis” than normal mice. They were stressed, antisocial, and had the same digestive problems often found in autism. And when they were fed “Bacteroides Fragilis”, there was a reversal in their autistic symptoms. They became less anxious, communicated more effectively, and showed less repetitive behavior (43, 44). 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A growing number of scientists and practitioners around the world are researching and speaking out about this, explaining that the gut-brain connection can be hacked to treat psychiatric disorders. 

So without further ado, here are five powerful ways to nurture your good bacteria and eliminate the bad bacteria in your gut. By following these steps, you’ll feel stronger both mentally and physically.  

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1. Take A High-Quality Probiotic

Simply increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut through probiotic supplementation might be one of the most powerful things you can do for your brain and mental health. 

Probiotic supplements add good germs to your digestive system, and providing your body with a diverse array of friendly bacteria can significantly reduce your susceptibility to the negative effects of stress. Researchers have found that mice are less anxious when they are fed probiotics, and numerous studies have shown that humans experience less stress, anxiety, rumination, hostility, depression and aggression when supplementing with probiotics (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). 

Researchers are starting to uncover how probiotics work to support the brain. One study showed that probiotics can help you naturally produce more GABA, a relaxing amino acid and neurotransmitter. Amazingly, this same study showed that probiotics not only help your body produce more GABA, but they enhance the sensitivity of the GABA receptors in your brain, making you more susceptible to calming effects of your natural GABA production (8, 53). On the other hand, if you go to the doctor for anxiety, you’ll likely receive anti-anxiety medication, which works by activating GABA receptors in the brain. 

Other species of probiotics have demonstrated an ability to reduce stress hormones and increase tryptophan, serotonin and omega-3 fatty acids in the brain, all of which play a role in proper mood and cognition (54, 55). So it’s critical to keep your insides flourishing with a healthy colony of good bacteria.

These bacteria could eventually be used the way we now use Prozac or Valium. I think these microbes will have a real effect on how we treat these disorders. This is a whole new way to modulate brain function.
— Dr. John F. Cryan, PhD, University College Cork

I’ve tried a number of different probiotics over the years. Some have helped me somewhat, while others haven’t helped me at all and even made me feel worse.

I’ve now created my own probiotic supplement, called Optimal Biotics.

I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best probiotic supplement so that they can experience superior results.

I have found that many probiotic supplements on the market fall short and even cause side effects.

But Optimal Biotics doesn't, and it contains the 8 most well-researched and beneficial probiotic strains.

2. Avoid antibiotics (unless absolutely necessary)

Seven years ago, I went to the doctor because my asthma was getting significantly worse. A lot of inflammation and phlegm was building up in my lungs. It felt like I was breathing through a straw all of the time. 

The doctor incorrectly assumed I had a bacterial infection (I actually had gluten and dairy allergies), so he gave me a course of antibiotics. And then another course. And then another. They did anything. 

Broad-spectrum antibiotics don’t differentiate between good and bad bacteria. These drugs not only kill bad bacteria, but they destroy good bacteria too. By the time I was done all three courses of antibiotics, a lot of the good bacteria in my gut was completely wiped out. And not only did my asthma get worse (and my body less able to handle the gluten and dairy I was eating), but my mental health deteriorated as well. 

Moral of the story: Antibiotics can save lives, but they can also destroy your health if they aren’t completely necessary. Yet many conventional doctors hand them out like candy on Halloween. 

In most cases, those who suffer from mental health disorders like depression and schizophrenia, and from developmental disorders like autism, something has harmed the beneficial bacteria in their gut, sometimes before birth and sometimes later on in life.
— Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, Author of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet

Studies show that antibiotic use can lead to profound changes and rapid loss of diversity in the composition of the gut bacteria and this can lead to other chronic health complications. American children are typically prescribed one course of antibiotics every year, and excessive and inappropriate use can cause serious long-term consequences without probiotic intervention. For example, antibiotics used to treat acne are associated with the development of inflammatory bowel disease (12, 13, 16, 17). 

An article published in Nature highlights the negative long-term consequences of antibiotic over-prescription. It points out that antibiotics cause significant and possibly permanent changes in gut bacteria, and infants delivered via caesarean section and/or by a mother given antibiotics during pregnancy significantly will have an insufficient level of good bacteria (14, 15). 

I don’t want to suggest that antibiotics are absolutely terrible and we should always avoid them. But they are excessively and inappropriately prescribed and their benefits come at a cost. You should be aware of this so you can make an informed choice. If you do decide to take antibiotics, make sure you take probiotics afterwards. 

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3. Feed the good guys with prebiotics and resistant starch

The existing probiotics in our gut need to be nourished and supported, and this can be done by eating or supplementing with prebiotics. 

Prebiotics are substances 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 good bacteria 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, a key stress hormone, and focused more on positive feedback and less on negative stimuli. He said the results were very similar to when people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but without the side effects.

Other research by Burnet shows that prebiotics support overall brain health in humans and foster the growth of probiotics in mice, which leads to increased levels of several neurotransmitters that reduced anxiety-like behaviour (19, 20, 21, 22). 

Prebiotic-rich foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus and squash. These foods are included in my free grocery shopping guide for optimal brain health and you should be eating them regularly. If you feed the good bacteria, you will feel healthier physically and mentally.

Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake, and it’s been shown to help prevent and manage chronic disease (18). 

A convenient way to incorporate more resistant starch into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. I’ve tried and recommend it. You can get it through Amazon. It's one of the easiest and cheapest ways to incorporate more resistant starch into your diet. It is bland so you can simply add it to beverages, smoothies and meals. It has to stay raw though, so don’t cook it. 

Other high-quality resistant starches that I’ve tried include banana flour, plantain flour and waxy maize. I usually rotate between them.

Image of candy in a bowl and candy in an injectable needle

4. Don't feed the bad guys with sugar

Avoiding sugar is a critical aspect of preventing and treating brain and mental health challenges. Not only does high sugar consumption increase inflammation, but sugar is fuel for bad bacteria. Significantly limiting your sugar intake will starve the bad bacteria and allow the probiotic bacteria in your gut to thrive. 

Diets high in sugar cause negative changes in gut bacteria that impair “cognitive flexibility”, which is the ability to adapt to changing situations. Sugar can also impair short and long-term memory (23). 

In his book The Sugar Blues, William Duffy argues that sugar is an addictive drug and eliminating it can have a profoundly beneficial impact on mental health. For some people, cutting out refined sugar may be all they need to do to overcome their depression and other mental health challenges. 

When I first cut out sugar several years ago, I actually went through withdrawal. I was incredibly tired, had increased anxiety and depression, and was sweating profusely at work. This makes sense in light of the research showing that people who drink more sweetened beverages are more likely to suffer from depression (24). My boss at the time thought I was sick, so he actually sent me home for the day. Eventually, I overcame the withdrawal and my mood and energy improved significantly. 

So radically reducing your sugar intake will support your gut bacteria, brain chemistry and overall health. 

5. Eat whole, probiotic-rich foods

Overall, you should also be eating a wide-variety of whole foods to support your gut health. Eating a standard Western diet for just one day can dramatically change your gut bacteria in a bad way, while eating lots of whole foods increases the diversity of good bacteria (45, 46, 47). 

Bowl of fermented vegetables

If you haven’t already, grab my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health for a full-list of healthy whole foods. 

And probiotics don’t just need to come in supplement form. You can also experiment with incorporating probiotic foods into your diet. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, natto and pickled cucumbers. The probiotic bacteria in these foods cause their fermentation. If you can tolerate dairy, foods like kefir and yogurt (unsweetened) are also high in nourishing bacteria. 

By eating them, you’re promoting the proliferation of good bacteria in your gut, which will then support your brain. One study suggests that young adults experience less social anxiety if they eat fermented food, and another study shows that yogurt eaters experience positive changes in brain function that cause them to react more calmly to visual stimuli (25, 26).

This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.
— Dr. Emeran Mayer, MD, Psychiatrist at UCLA

Probiotic foods tend to have a broad combination of bacteria too – more than what can be found in typical probiotic supplements. And people have been fermenting food for more than 8,000 years, yet most of us stopped after the invention of the refrigerator, which may explain the decreased diversity of good bacteria in our digestive tracts today. 

Conclusion

Promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria through positive lifestyle choices can make our brains feel great and function optimally. Too much bad bacteria can make you feel mentally weak, tired and ill, and you may even see changes in your personality. I know I did.  

Bacteria have lived inside humans for hundreds of thousands of years and therefore have lots of experience modifying our brains. They are more precise and subtle than pharmaceuticals, meaning means fewer side effects. As a result, changing the composition of our gut bacteria through lifestyle and dietary interventions is emerging as a very effective and practical way to treat anxiety, depression, autism and other mental health disorders (27, 48, 49).

So in conclusion, support and feed the good bacteria with:

And starve and fight off the bad bacteria in your gut by avoiding:

  • Sugar

  • Antibiotics

By taking these steps, your gut, body and brain will become stronger and more resilient over time.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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

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Live Optimally,
Jordan Fallis

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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.

References:

(1) http://gutpathogens.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-4749-3-1

(2) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150414083718.htm

(3) http://gutpathogens.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-4749-3-1

(4) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150414083718.htm

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3179073/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25449699

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25862297

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150

 (9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16117982

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17692729

(12) http://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/v105/n12/full/ajg2010303a.html

(13) http://www.pnas.org/content/108/Supplement_1/4554.full.pdf#page=1&view=FitH

(14) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/476393a.html

(15) http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v7/n12/full/nrmicro2245.html

(16) http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/3/319.abstract

(17) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19018661

(18) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24228189

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136/

(20) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26476141

(21) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24144322

(22) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858812/

(23) https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/55795/MagnussonKathyBiomedicalSciencesRelationshipsBetweenDietRelatedChanges.pdf?sequence=1

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990543/

(25) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150609092803.htm

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839572/

(27) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415497

(28) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150728110734.htm

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23845749

(30) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24997039

(31) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181531/

(32) http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150728/ncomms8735/full/ncomms8735.html

(33) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988661

(34) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20600016

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683077

(36) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251188

(37) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20696216

(38) http://www.pnas.org/content/108/38/16050

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22968153

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21303428

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22483040

(42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26372511

(43) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897394/

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24315484?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg

(45) http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/1/6/6ra14.long

(46) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v518/n7540_supp/full/518S14a.html

(47) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24939238

(48) http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v13/n10/full/nrn3346.html

(49) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gbb.12109/abstract;jsessionid=F9A259194D111B1544816067055A05B7.f04t02

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(52) http://www.pnas.org/content/108/38/16050.long

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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How to Support Your Mitochondria for Better Brain Health

Picture of several mitochondria.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic dysfunction of mitochondria is another underlying factor that contributes to poor brain function and mental illness. 

Mitochondria are unique structures within every cell of your body. You have trillions and trillions of them, making up approximately 10% of your total body weight. They are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body by converting your nutrition into adenosine-5’- triphosphate (ATP). ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel. You are constantly using it, and your brain needs enough of it to work properly (106-107). 

Along with your gut bacteria, your mitochondria are critically important and need to be supported to overcome depression and anxiety, and reach optimal brain and mental health.

Mitochondria are especially abundant in your brain cells and involved in many important biological processes in the brain, including the regulation of free radicals and neurotransmitters. In fact, monoamine oxidase (MAO), the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of monoamine neurotransmitters, is localized within the outer mitochondrial membrane (91-93). 

So not surprisingly, numerous studies show that there is a correlation between impaired mitochondrial functioning in the brain and many psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, including bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, schizophrenia, psychosis, panic disorder, social anxiety, generalized anxiety and other stress-related diseases (82-90, 94-100, 102-104). 

Yes, you read that right. Every single one of those conditions has been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction. In fact, many researchers are convinced that mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in almost every chronic disease (108-110). 

Mitochondria dysfunction decreases ATP energy production and increases oxidative stress, which are commonly found in the brains of people suffering from brain and mental health disorders. Cognitive symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction can also include impairments in attention, executive function and memory. Unfortunately, a number of psychiatric drugs damage the mitochondria and worsen dysfunction (105). 

But luckily, there are ways to halt and reverse mitochondrial decay.

Below are a number of strategies I’ve used over the years to support my mitochondria and you can use them to regain optimal brain and mental health.

Eat Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods

Not surprisingly, eating lots of fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods is the most impactful action you can take to power your mitochondria. 

In order to thrive, your mitochondria need phytonutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats and proteins.

Dr. Terry Wahls, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, is a leading expert on the relationship between nutrition and mitochondrial health.

Dr. Terry Wahls standing in front of her wheelchair.

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) more than a decade ago but reversed the neurodegenerative brain disease by repairing her mitochondria with an intensive nutritional strategy. She outlines how she recovered her health in her book The Wahls Protocol

Research on her protocol shows that patients witness a “significant improvement in fatigue” (67). 

She recommends eating six to nine cups of vegetables and fruits every day, including green veggies (kale, spinach), brightly colored vegetables (beets, carrots, peppers), and sulfur-rich veggies (broccoli, cauliflower).

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health also contains a bunch of foods that you should be eating on a regular basis for optimal mitochondrial health. 

Dr. Wahls also has a fascinating TED talk that you can watch below if you're interested in learning more. 

Avoid Certain Foods and Ingredients

Eating poor-quality foods can also wear down your mitochondria. 

Pizza, burgers and fries. Fast, processed food impairs mitochondria health.

Genetically, your mitochondria were not designed to deal with our current food environment and lifestyle habits. 

On top of this, your mitochondria are expected to perform proficiently for much longer, as our ancestors rarely lived to the age of 80.

That’s why you should avoid refined sugars, processed flours, industrial oils and trans fats. They can damage your mitochondria and prevent them from properly producing energy.

Dr. Wahls also recommends you avoid all gluten, dairy and soy products for optimal mitochondrial health. I feel much better avoiding them completely. 

Eat More Essential Fats

Healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, help build and strengthen the membranes of your mitochondria. They’ve also been shown to improve mitochondrial functioning in brain (5-7). 

That’s why Dr. Wahls recommends eating organic grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish, such as salmon, every day. Avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil are also rich in healthy fats. 

Supplementing with krill oil is another option. I’ve discussed the overwhelming benefits of krill oil before here

Exercise

Not surprisingly, exercise strengthens your mitochondria by increasing oxygen and blood flow and activating biochemical pathways that produce new mitochondria (8). 

Runners have more high-functioning mitochondria than non-runners, and strength training and high-intensity interval training also increase the number of mitochondria and improve the efficiency of your existing mitochondria (9, 10).

Many experts recommend exercise for brain health, and as I’ve mentioned before, it can also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), your brain’s growth hormone

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Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is a treatment that uses low-level (low-power) lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to stimulate brain cells, helping them heal and function better. 

There is strong evidence to suggest that LLLT supports the mitochondria. 

Research shows that it reduces oxidative stress and increases the production of ATP energy in mitochondria (39, 40). 

These mitochondrial benefits have also been seen directly within the brain. Studies show that LLLT increases mitochondrial activity within brain cells, and this leads to beneficial effects in behaviour (41). 

On top of all this, LLLT treatment has been shown to increase the number of mitochondria and mitochondrial oxygen usage within the brain (42, 43).

Frankly, it’s ridiculous that this therapy is not more well-known and promoted by doctors.

But if you’ve read my blog for a while now, I’m sure you understand why.

You don’t have to wait for conventional medicine to catch up, and you can experiment with it yourself since it’s known to be very safe (44).

I use these two devices :

  • Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) - This is a powerful all-one-device that shines 660 nm of red light and 850 nm of infrared light. I shine it on my forehead for 5-10 minutes every day or every other day. I also shine it on other parts of my head, and on my thyroid, thymus gland and gut. If you decide to get this device, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

  • Vielight 810 – This is an intranasal device with 810 nm of near infrared light that I use regularly. It penetrates deeper into brain tissue and is absorbed better by the central nervous system. If you decide to get this one, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount. Some research has shown a 20-fold higher efficiency of light delivery to the deep brain through the nose instead of transcranial application (125).

You can learn more about LLLT in this post

Infrared saunas are another excellent way to expose yourself to infrared light. Check out my post about the benefits here

And you should also limit your exposure to artificial blue light, as it can also wear down your mitochondria. You can learn more about the risks of too much blue light in this post

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant compound found in grapes and red wine. 

Not only does it increase BDNF levels, but it also activates the SIRT1 gene. This gene triggers a number of positive biochemical reactions that protect and improve the functioning of your mitochondria. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting also trigger the SIRT1 gene (11, 12, 13).

In 2006, Harvard researchers found that resveratrol may increase lifespan by protecting the mitochondria (14).

That’s why I take this resveratrol on a regular basis and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting

Restricting your calories is one the best actions you can take to improve mitochondrial function.

Empty plate, fork and knife. Intermittent fasting boosts mitochondrial function.

Studies show that eating less food reduces the demand and damage on your mitochondria. 

But reducing calories is tough to do and absolutely no fun. 

That’s why I intermittent fast instead. 

Fasting activates your mitochondria and triggers autophagy, which is an intracellular process that essentially allows the mitochondria to clean themselves by removing unwanted and damaged debris, proteins and reactive oxygen species (1, 2, 4).

This process has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (3). 

Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)

NADH is a naturally-occurring compound found in the cells of all living organisms.

It plays a key role in the production of energy within the cell and is highly concentrated within your mitochondria (45). 

Depletion of NADH has been linked to a number of diseases, including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and stabilized oral NADH has been shown to improve all of these conditions (46, 47, 48). 

Although I don’t take it anymore, I’ve witnessed a beneficial effect from supplementing with this NADH through Amazon

LLLT also increases NADH in your mitochondria. 

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Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. 

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose (36).

Ketones are an alternative source of energy for your brain cells and their mitochondria. 

When your mitochondria are dysfunctional, following a ketogenic diet can be an effective strategy to fuel the mitochondria. 

When mitochondria are fueled by ketones instead of glucose, their ability to produce ATP is enhanced and free-radical byproducts are reduced.
— Dr. Jong Rho, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Neurology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital

Ketogenic diets may help treat many different brain and mental health diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and autism. 

Exogenous ketones can help you get into ketosis quickly.

I take Optimal Ketones, and it immediately increases my mental clarity (even when I'm eating carbohydrates). 

B Vitamins

All of the B vitamins play an essential role in maintaining mitochondrial function, and your mitochondria will be compromised if you have a deficiency of any B vitamin (37). 

Deficiency is more likely if you take certain medications

I take this B complex. It includes the bioactive forms of all of the B vitamins. 

Ribose

Ribose is a five carbon sugar created naturally by your body. Even though it’s a sugar, research suggests it does not raise blood sugar levels. Instead, your body stores it in the mitochondria (49, 50). 

Ribose is used by the mitochondria to produce ATP and if you don’t have enough, you’ll experience low energy (51). 

Chronic stress can deplete ribose, and certain conditions have been linked to chronic ribose deficiency, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. That’s why I recommend people supplement with ribose if they struggle with these disorders because it can help reduce mental and physical lethargy (52, 53).

I don’t take it every day, but I do cycle this ribose with other mitochondrial enhancers. 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant molecule found in every cell of your body. It’s particularly concentrated in the mitochondria, playing a key role in the production of energy and protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage. 

Without CoQ10, your body cannot synthesize ATP because CoQ10 is an essential component of the mitochondrial electron transport chain.

Many doctors are unaware that CoQ10 is an excellent treatment for many brain health issues, including depression, chronic fatigue, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Low levels of CoQ10 can cause brain fog, mental fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, depression and irritability (68-70). 

Researchers have found that CoQ10 levels are significantly lower in the depressed patients (71). 

Unfortunately, chronic oxidative stress and medications can further deplete CoQ10

But supplementing with CoQ10 can increase your mitochondrial energy production and reduce symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue (71). 

I took this CoQ10 supplement after coming off psychiatric medication

Ubiquinol is a lipid-soluble form of CoQ10. I haven’t taken it but it is the most active form of CoQ10. 

If you decide to supplement with CoQ10, you should take it with a healthy fat source such as coconut oil to increase absorption because it is fat soluble. 

Food sources with high natural concentrations of CoQ10 include organic red palm oil and grass-fed beef heart (72, 73). 

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods with a wide range of brain health and mitochondrial benefits.

It’s been shown to preserve and enhance memory, attention, and cognition by protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage and promoting the growth of new mitochondria in the brain (56-59). 

Since it helps grow new mitochondria, it may help you if you suffer from depression, since fewer mitochondria have been found in people with depression (63). 

Reactive nitrogen species (RNS) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause severe stress on brain cells and mitochondria, and PQQ has also been shown to suppress RNS and ROS (60-62). 

Researchers have found that supplemental PQQ can be neuroprotective by increasing mitochondrial activity levels (64-66). 

I recommend taking 10-20 mg each day along with CoQ10, as they are synergistic. Taking them together leads to further improvements in cognitive function (57).

You can get it here

It's also included in this supplement

Check out the “Neuroprotective” section of the PQQ Wikipedia page for more information on the brain health benefits of this compound. 

Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral within your body, and the mitochondria are considered magnesium “storage units” because they hold onto a lot of your body’s magnesium. 

Magnesium protects the mitochondria and plays a role in the production and transfer of ATP within the mitochondria. And research shows that if you have a deficiency in magnesium, your brain cells will have fewer mitochondria, and they will be less healthy (54, 55). 

This is just another reason to supplement with at least 200 mg of magnesium every day. It’s one of the most important nutrients for optimal brain health. I take this one through Amazon

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Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR) and Alpha Lipoic Acid

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

Carnitine is an amino acid that improves mitochondrial activity and plays an important role in energy production by transporting fatty acids directly into the mitochondria of your brain cells. It is required to produce ATP and deficiencies are associated with reduced mitochondrial function in the brain (74). 

Supplementing with ALCAR makes it easier for fatty acids to cross your blood-brain barrier and nourish the mitochondria within your brain. This can improve your mood, memory and energy levels.

Several studies show that ALCAR eases depressive symptoms and improve quality of life in patients with chronic depression (75-78). 

Scientific representation of brain and brain blood flow.

And individuals with autism often have reduced levels of carnitine within their brain (79). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

ALCAR is also synergistic with Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), meaning that when you take them together, they are more effective at supporting the mitochondria in your brain.

ALA is a mitochondrial enzyme and antioxidant. It is fat soluble and can easily cross your blood-brain barrier.

It’s been shown to improve cognition by reducing oxidative stress, and protecting existing mitochondria and creating new mitochondria in the brain (80, 101).

Other helpful nutrients that support your mitochondria and provide raw materials for them to produce ATP:

Conclusion

Picture of mitochondrion, the energy producer of brain cells.

Paying attention to your mitochondria is crucial for optimal brain and mental health, and luckily there are a number of dietary and lifestyle habits that can protect and support mitochondrial function.

The following steps will ensure your body and brain have healthier and more abundant mitochondria: 

Over time, if you follow these strategies, you can improve your mitochondrial health and naturally restore your mood and energy levels.

Please share this post with one of your friends or family members who you think might benefit from protecting and supporting their mitochondria, because it really is an underappreciated and unknown aspect of optimal brain and mental health. 

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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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. Terry Wahls, MD

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13 Powerful Ways to Support Your Thyroid for Better Mental Health

When you know better, you do better.
— Maya Angelou
Picture of the thyroid gland.

Sometimes it may feel as if we have no control over our thoughts and emotions. Our minds can take on a life of their own, with no rhyme or reason as to why we're suddenly sad and anxious.

But there are always underlying causes of these mood swings, and with a better understanding of them, you can learn to manage and overcome them. 

Like I have, you can connect the dots, determine your underlying triggers, learn to control them and even completely eliminate them over time. 

So today I want to talk about thyroid dysfunction. It was one of the underlying issues of my chronic mental illness. 

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple.

It’s one of your most important glands, producing hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) – which impact the health and functioning of your entire body.

In fact, normal metabolism and energy levels depend on these hormones. 

Your thyroid also plays a key role in the optimal health and functioning of your brain. It can impact your cognition, concentration, mood, memory and emotions. 

So when your thyroid hormones are out of balance, you can be too, and brain and mental problems can arise.

Your thyroid can either be overactive and produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), or underactive and produce too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).

Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is much more common, and since I personally struggled with symptoms of hypothyroidism, this post will mostly focus on that.

Picture of thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism can also be caused by an autoimmune conditions called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid tissue.

According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working? and Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s. 

Here are some of the common brain and mental health symptoms of low thyroid that I experienced:

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low mood

  • Forgetfulness

  • Weakness

  • Sluggishness

Sounds just like depression, doesn’t it?

You Don't Have Mental Illness, You Have Thyroid Problems

Many studies show that people with cognitive, emotional and behavioural disturbances have lower levels of thyroid hormone than the general population, and their psychiatric symptoms improve when they take thyroid hormone.

The following symptoms and disorders have been linked to thyroid problems (69-86): 

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar disorder, mania and mood swings

  • Irritability and rage

  • Insomnia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis

  • Dementia and confusion

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Borderline personality disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

In fact, many people struggling with these conditions see better improvements when they are treated with thyroid hormone than when they are treated with psychiatric medication (and experience fewer side effects). 

Psychiatric patients with subclinical hypothyroidism - especially those with incomplete responses to psychotropic therapy - should usually be treated with thyroid hormone. In some patients with no clear evidence of a biochemical or clinical thyroid disorder, mood symptoms nevertheless respond to thyroid hormone.
— Thomas D. Geracioti Jr, MD

A number of different medical practitioners and researchers have written books about how thyroid problems can negatively affect brain and contribute to mental illness:

So if you struggle with brain or mental illness, you likely do not need a prescription for antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medication. What you really need is to support your thyroid. Treating the underlying thyroid problem is critical to alleviating the associated psychiatric symptoms.

Luckily, there are easy, natural ways for you to do just that.

Below are 13 main strategies I’ve used to balance my thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function. 

Before implementing all of them, I highly recommend getting a full thyroid panel (like this one) so that you know your starting point. True Health Labs allows you to order their Complete Thyroid Panel even without a doctor. 

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1. Cut Out Gluten

Certain foods can disrupt proper thyroid function and you should avoid them to optimize brain and mental health. 

Gluten-containing grains (barley, wheat, rye, spelt) are the worst offenders.  

Picture of bread and bagels, which are full of gluten and worsen thyroid function.

The problem with gluten is that it can increase intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome). When this happens, small particles of food can leak into your bloodstream. Your immune system sees these food particles as foreign entities and attacks them, increasing inflammation throughout your body. 

On top of this, the molecular structure of gliadin (the protein found in gluten) resembles that of the thyroid gland. So when gliadin enters your bloodstream, your immune system not only attacks the gliadin, but also your thyroid tissue because of its close resemblance. And this can cause many brain and mental health problems (11-13). 

Research shows that people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance are more likely to have thyroid diseases and mental illnesses, and vice versa (1-10). 

Many people that have hypothyroidism really have gluten sensitivity. Over time, they actually have significant brain degeneration. When people degenerate their brain, one of the first things they get is depression.
— Dr. Datis Kharrazian

Thyroid function, and therefore brain and mental health, will often improve after the elimination of gluten-containing grains. 

2. Eat Enough Calories and Carbohydrates

Making sure you eat enough calories and carbohydrates on a daily basis is critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.  

A landmark paper, known as the Vermont Study, found that thyroid hormone drops when you don’t eat enough calories and carbohydrates (14). 

Person holding potatoes in their hands.

Several other studies also show that ketogenic low-carb diets can suppress thyroid function and reduce thyroid hormone. This is because carbohydrates play a key role on the production of thyroid hormone (15-18). 

In previous posts, I have mentioned that fasting and ketogenic dieting can have beneficial effects on your brain. This is still true. However, it's important to note fasting and low-carb diets should be followed intermittently and not consistently over long stretches of time, mainly because of their detrimental effects on the thyroid. I prefer to take Optimal Ketones instead. They immediately increase my mental clarity without having to restrict carbohydrates. 

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains plenty of healthy, nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrate, including:

  • Yams

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Other root vegetables

  • Berries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Raw honey

3. Avoid Vegetable Oils

You should also significantly limit all refined vegetable oils, including soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola. 

These oils are predominantly made up of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are highly unstable and oxidize very easily within your body. 

Unfortunately, like gluten, rancid PUFAs are everywhere and hard to avoid. Most commercially-prepared processed foods include them. 

And your thyroid is particularly vulnerable to their effects.

Dr. Raymond Peat, PhD, says that the sudden increase of fragile and rancid polyunsaturated oils into our food supply after World War II has caused many changes in human health, particularly thyroid function and hormones: 

Their [polyunsaturated oils] best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. By 1950, then, it was established that unsaturated fats suppress the metabolic rate, apparently creating hypothyroidism. The more unsaturated the oils are, the more specifically they suppress tissue response to thyroid hormone, and transport of the hormone on the thyroid transport protein. And in 1980, experimenters demonstrated that young rats fed milk containing soy oil incorporated the oil directly into their brain cells, and had structurally abnormal brain cells as a result.
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4. Eat coconut oil

I’ve discussed the brain and mental health benefits of coconut oil before here

It can help reduce brain fog and enhance your cognitive performance. And it may be accomplishing this by supporting your thyroid. 

According to Dr. Raymond Peat, coconut oil is very beneficial to the brain and thyroid:

Coconut oil has a general pro-thyroid action by diluting and displacing anti-thyroid unsaturated oils. And brain tissue is very rich in complex forms of fats. An experiment in which pregnant mice were given diets containing either coconut oil or unsaturated oil showed that brain development was superior in the young mice whose mothers ate coconut oil. Because coconut oil supports thyroid function, and thyroid governs brain development, including myelination, the result might simply reflect the difference between normal and hypothyroid individuals.

I recommend this coconut oil

And you don’t need to stick with coconut oil. Coconut milk, water and meat are other ways to get the benefits of coconut. 

5. Try Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is probably the best cutting-edge way to support your thyroid. I wrote about it previously here.  

Using it on my thyroid has made a remarkable difference in my energy levels and mental clarity. And this is likely because of an increase in my thyroid hormones. 

Multiple studies show that LLLT can improve the production of thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function in patients with chronic autoimmune thyroid disease. Study participants were able to reduce the dosage of their thyroid medication (36, 37).  

A study from Brazil showed that LLLT not only reduced the need for thyroid medication in all patients, but 9 months later after the study concluded, it also showed that 47% of patients no longer required any thyroid medication at all.  Participants with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis also saw a reduction in their anti-thyroid antibodies by more than 39% (40). 

A Russian study also demonstrated a 97% success rate when treating women with subclinical hypothyroidism. Researchers concluded LLLT should be the “method of choice in the treatment of [subclinical hypothyroidism], especially in the elderly” (40). 

Animal research has found similar results in rats and rabbits (38, 39). 

I shine the Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) device on my thyroid. It includes both red and infrared light. I’m convinced most people would benefit from it. If you decide to get it, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

Infrared saunas are another excellent way to expose yourself to infrared light and support thyroid function. Check out my post about the benefits here

6. Get Enough Vitamin A and D

Fat soluble vitamins A and D are also critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.

Vitamin D is necessary to help transport thyroid hormone into your cells and deficiency is quite common in people with thyroid problems. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with thyroid disease and supplementation has been shown to benefit the thyroid. (22-24). 

I previously discussed the brain health benefits of vitamin D here. I now use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my levels are optimal. 

Vitamin A helps your body produce thyroid hormone and protects the thyroid gland from oxidative stress (which is higher in people with thyroid issues). Research also shows that vitamin A can reduce your risk of hypothyroidism (19-21). 

However, I personally don’t recommend you supplement with vitamin A. It’s better to get it from food. Pastured eggs, grass-fed liver and butter (or ghee if you can't tolerate butter) are ideal sources. 

Cod liver oil is another great option as it contains both vitamin A, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids all together. I take this one every so often.

7. Get Enough Minerals

Your thyroid gland needs specific trace minerals to do its job properly. 

I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement so that you have all the minerals you need to support brain and thyroid health. It includes a small amount of iodine, selenium, magnesium and zinc.

Iodine is the most important, as it’s one of the building blocks used by your thyroid to create hormones. 

However, I don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of iodine separately. Many functional medicine practitioners that I’ve interviewed over the years have told me that high iodine intake through supplements can often do more harm than good. Too much supplemental iodine has been shown to cause further thyroid problems (66-68). 

Brazil nuts contain selenium, which can support your thyroid.

So I think the small amount in a multi-mineral is enough.

And getting some more iodine from whole foods, including seafood and sea vegetables, can also benefit you since they contain other nutrients that can support your thyroid.  

Selenium is another indispensable mineral for your thyroid and brain health.

It helps regulate and recycle your iodine stores, and selenium-based proteins help regulate thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism.

Without it, you’ll likely experience low-thyroid symptoms.

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium. 

Low levels of zinc can also lead to depleted thyroid hormones, and vice versa (34). This is just another reason to supplement with zinc.

As I’ve discussed before, a zinc deficiency can also contribute to stress and anxiety.

And although it isn't mentioned very often, magnesium is also critical for optimal thyroid function. The thyroid gland can't function properly without it (89).

I previously discussed how it can help a lot of people with depression and anxiety here

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8. Reduce Stress and Cortisol

High levels of physical and mental stress can be detrimental to your thyroid function. 

Your adrenal glands –  two walnut-shaped glands that sit atop the kidneys – secrete your stress stress hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. 

Research shows that cortisol inhibits thyroid hormones from getting into your cells, and weakened adrenal glands can lead to hypothyroid symptoms over time (35).

That’s why it’s critical that you manage stress.

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage it. 

The most effective way to significantly and permanently reduce your stress and anxiety is neurofeedback. It’s advanced, guided meditation and I previously wrote about my experience with it here

Person meditating outside.

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 can guide your 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 it through Amazon or the Muse website

I also find massage, acupuncture, heart-rate variability (HRV) training and this acupressure mat very helpful as well.

Lying on the acupressure mat while using my EmWave2 for just 10 minutes relaxes my entire body and mind. I do this at night before bed. 

Supplements that can help with stress include zinc, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine, which have been shown to lower cortisol levels (87, 88). 

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

Lastly, you should get enough sleep and don’t exercise too much. The stress caused by excessive exercise can wear you’re your body and contribute to thyroid problems. So make sure you get plenty of rest and recover between workout sessions.

9. Take Thyroid-Supporting Herbs

A number of different herbs can assist your thyroid gland. 

Ashwagandha is one of my favourites. Not only can it reduce stress and anxiety, but a number of studies show that it can boost thyroid hormones (25-29).

Bacopa is another adaptogen that has been shown to increase thyroid (T4) hormone levels by 42% (30). 

Forskolin stimulates the release of thyroid hormones (31). 

And one study found that ginseng increases and normalizes thyroid hormone levels (32). 

And last but not least, researchers say that rhodiola can “improve the quality of life of patients with short-term hypothyroidism” (33). 

Rhodiola also has a number of brain and mental health benefits. I explored them previously here

I’ve experimented with all of these herbs and they have improved my brain and mental health.

But it’s good to know they have some beneficial effects on my thyroid as well.

This mental health supplement includes bacopa, forskolin and rhodiola all in one supplement. 

10. Eat “Head to Tail”

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

The same can be said about animal food. 

Muscle meats contain so much tryptophan and cysteine that a pure meat diet can suppress the thyroid. In poor countries, people have generally eaten all parts of the animal, rather than just the muscles – bones, cartilage, skin, organs, and other odd bits. About half of the protein in an animal is collagen, and collagen is deficient in tryptophan and cysteine. This means that, in the whole animal, the amino acid balance is similar to the adult’s requirements.
— Dr. Raymond Peat

In other words, muscle meat (chicken breasts, lean beef) shouldn’t be your only source of animal protein. Our ancestors didn’t eat this way, so neither should we.  

Your body and thyroid prefer and expect to receive a balance of amino acids from different parts of whole animals.

That’s why I recommend “head-to-tail eating” – consuming a wide variety of proteins from the entire animal. 

Along with muscle meat, you should regularly cook and eat organ meats such as liver and bone broth.

Jars of bone broth.

Bone broth contains collagen, gelatin and amino acids such as glycine and proline that help the body better metabolize muscle meat.

Organ meats such as liver have an abundance of beneficial nutrients that aren’t found in muscle meat alone. For example, it’s much higher in vitamin A, which is important for optimal thyroid health (19, 20). 

I previously discussed the benefits of liver in more depth here.

I personally don’t like the taste of liver and bone broth can be inconvenient to make all the time, so I often supplement with these grass-fed beef liver capsules and drink this high-quality pre-made bone broth.

I also take this Multi-Glandular For Men, which contains a number of different organ tissues. There is also one for women

But if you’re actually interested in learning about how to cook and incorporate more whole animal proteins into your diet, I recommend checking out the book “Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal” by Jennifer McLagan.

11. Limit Halogens

Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference between iodine, and other halogens such as bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water. 

So your thyroid soaks them up and uses them like iodine.

By occupying iodine receptors, they worsen iodine deficiency, inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

Studies show that chlorine interferes with proper conversion of thyroid hormone (50, 58-61). 

That’s why I recommend filtering your drinking and shower water. Brita filters aren't enough because they don’t remove fluoride. I use this Berkey water filter to make sure I’m drinking the purest water available. It filters everything out of the water. I also use this filter to remove chlorine from my shower water. 

The research shows that bromide in particular can cause a lot of problems. Bromide is found in pesticides, prescription medication, plastic products and personal care products. PBDE (bromide) fire retardants have been added to mattresses, carpeting, electronics, furniture and car interiors since the 1970s. 

Even small amounts of bromide can be problematic, depleting iodine and weakening the thyroid gland. Bromide levels are 50 times higher in thyroid cancer than normal thyroid tissue, and elevated levels of bromide have been linked to mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia (50-57). 

12. Avoid Environmental and Dietary Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins – toxic metabolites produced by mold – can also disrupt normal thyroid function.

Mycotoxins are released into the air in water-damaged buildings, and you may not realize it’s affecting your brain and thyroid health until you develop certain symptoms. And even then, people frequently won’t make the connection between the mold and their health. 

That’s what happened to me, and my hormonal health went downhill, along with my brain and mental health. Luckily I’ve recovered since then

Mycotoxins are known hormone disruptors that cause inflammation, and a couple of studies mention that there is an increased frequency of “thyroid, immune dysfunction and autoimmune conditions” in people exposed to water-damaged building (41, 42). 

Very moldy home and man trying to clean it.

And one study shows that mold exposure is correlated with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (43). 

Kurt and Lee Ann Billings wrote the book Mold: The War Within after extensive personal bouts with toxic mold exposure. They write extensively about their experience and recovery and describe ongoing problems with thyroid dysfunction. 

After I moved out of the moldy home, I became extremely sensitive to any environmental mold and mycotoxins. 

I now use this air filter in my apartment. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, grains, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

Lastly, if exposed to mold or their toxins, you should 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.

13. Avoid and Remove Other Environmental Toxins

Mold and other halogens aren’t the only endocrine disruptors in your environment that can affect your thyroid metabolism and function.

In the book Thyroid Mind Power, Dr. Karilee Shames reports that “the last 40 years have witnessed a massive increase in the amount of hormone-disrupting synthetic chemicals, finding their way into our air, food and water. The most sensitive and highly susceptible of human tissues turned out to be the thyroid gland.”

Here are some common ones:

Water bottle. The plastic in water bottles can disrupt the thyroid.
  • Bisphenol A – found in plastic bottles and containers. I recommend you only eat and drink out of glass, ceramic and stainless steel. Avoid storing any of your food in plastic too. BPA-free plastic isn’t much better for you and can still disrupt hormonal health.

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – found in common household products including non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics. Researchers have found that people with higher levels of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) have a higher incidence of thyroid disease (44, 45).

  • Other pesticides and chemical additives – You should avoid processed food and eat organic as often as possible, wash all produce thoroughly to minimize your pesticide exposure, and find personal care products that don’t include toxic chemicals.

I also recommend increasing your levels of glutathione – your body’s main antioxidant and master detoxifier – to help your body combat the above substances from your body. I do this by supplementing with this liposomal glutathione on regular basis. 

Or you could take NAC and Vitamin C to help your body produce more of its own glutathione. 

Researchers have found that a decrease in thyroid function could be reversed by NAC supplementation, which increased glutathione. This is because glutathione plays a key role in the production and conversion of your thyroid hormones (46-49). 

Epsom salt baths, infrared saunas, and turmeric can also help your body release and remove environmental toxins. 

Summary and Conclusion

With the right information, you can make simple choices to improve thyroid health.

Here's a summary of everything we've gone over:

Doctor holding a woman’s neck to monitor her thyroid.

So with that, I want to leave you with a quote from a book I read recently by Sam Harris, called Free Will. It's an excellent book and you can get it through Amazon if you're interested.

I think this quote is appropriate considering the wide variety of factors that underlie brain and mental health problems:

Becoming sensitive to the background causes of one’s thoughts and feelings can - paradoxically - allow for greater creative control over one’s life. It is one thing to bicker with your wife because you are in a bad mood; it is another to realize that your mood and behaviour have been caused by low blood sugar. This understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet, of course, but it also allows you to grab hold of one of your strings: A bite of food may be all your personality requires. Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).

So even though it seems like there are an overwhelming amount of “strings” to pull, realize that you don’t have to pull them all at once.

You just have to start with one, and go from there.

And then over time, you'll start to get a handle on all of them, and you'll heal.

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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. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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