23 Powerful Ways to Support the Mitochondria in Your Brain

Picture of several mitochondria.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic mitochondria dysfunction is one of the main underlying factors 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.

Mitochondria are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body by converting 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 function in the brain and many psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, including:

In fact, some 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 (105).

Unfortunately, a number of psychiatric drugs damage the mitochondria and worsen the dysfunction.

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.

Supplements and lifestyle changes can improve mitochondrial health by increasing the availability of proteins needed for ATP production.

They also act as antioxidants, assisting the mitochondria in reducing oxidative stress.

Some of the following lifestyle changes and supplements can also increase the number of mitochondria present within the cell.

And you can start using them today to regain optimal brain and mental health.

 

1. Eat Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods

Dr. Terry Wahls standing in front of her wheelchair.

Eating lots of fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods is one of the most impactful actions 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.

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 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 if you're interested in learning more. 

 

2. Avoid Certain Foods and Ingredients

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

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

Your mitochondria were not designed to deal with our current food environment and lifestyle habits. 

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 personally feel much better avoiding them completely as well. 

 

3. 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 function in the 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 excellent option.

 

4. 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.

Exercise can also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

 

5. 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 LLLT 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). 

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

I use these two LLLT devices myself at home to support my mitochondria and boost my brain function:

  • 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). Vielight also has two new devices - the Neuro Gamma and the Neuro Alpha. And they are apparently even more effective than the Vielight 810.

You can learn more about LLLT in this post

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

 

6. 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 (11-13).

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

That’s why I take resveratrol every day and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Resveratrol is included in the Optimal Energy supplement.

 

7. Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting

Restricting your calories is one the best actions you can take to improve 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 fast intermittently instead. 

Fasting activates your mitochondria and triggers autophagy, which is an intracellular process that essentially allows your 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). 

 

8. 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.

But 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 supplement.

LLLT is also known to increase NADH in your mitochondria. 

 

9. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. 

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods, your body enters ketosis.

Ketosis is 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 they support your 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 also help you get into ketosis and experience the mitochondrial-boosting effects of ketones very quickly.

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

 

10. B Vitamins

B vitamins play an essential role in maintaining mitochondrial function.

In fact, your mitochondria will be compromised if you have a deficiency of any B vitamin (37). 

Deficiency is more likely if you take certain medications

Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 are all included in the Optimal Energy supplement for this reason.

 

11. 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).

Ribose is also included in Optimal Energy.

 

12. 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.

It also protects 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 syndrome, 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). 

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

But supplementing with it will give you a more significant mitochondrial boost.

 

13. Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods.

It has 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.

It also promotes 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.

PQQ has also been shown to suppress RNS and ROS (60-62). 

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

I personally never really noticed much of anything from PQQ. So I don’t take it anymore and didn’t include it in Optimal Energy.

You can get PQQ here if you want to try it though. 

 

14. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral within your body.

Mitochondria are considered magnesium “storage units” because they hold onto a lot of your body’s magnesium. 

Magnesium also 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 magnesium every day.

And it’s why I included magnesium in Optimal Energy.

 
Scientific representation of brain and brain blood flow.

Carnitine is an amino acid that improves mitochondrial activity and plays an important role in energy production.

It’s known to transport fatty acids directly into the mitochondria of your brain cells

It’s also required to produce ATP and deficiencies are associated with reduced mitochondrial function in the brain (74). 

Supplementing with carnitine 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 carnitine eases depressive symptoms and improves quality of life in patients with chronic depression (75-78). 

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

Carnitine is 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 in the brain.

It also protects existing mitochondria and creates new mitochondria in the brain (80, 101).

Both ALA and carnitine are included together in Optimal Energy.

 

16. Thiamine

Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, is an essential water-soluble nutrient that cannot be made by the body.

It’s used in nearly every cell in the body and it’s especially important for supporting energy levels and mitochondrial functioning in the brain.

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system.

Research shows that thiamine deficiency induces oxidative stress, resulting in mitochondrial abnormalities in the brain (21-22).

Healthy food sources of thiamine include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs. 

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

Thiamine is also included in Optimal Energy.

 

17. Creatine

Creatine is a molecule produced in the body and found in foods, particularly meat, eggs, and fish.  

Creatine is also available as a supplement.

Athletes, bodybuilders, wrestlers, sprinters often take extra creatine to gain more muscle mass.

It’s an incredibly well-researched supplement and safe to take regularly. 

Supplementing with creatine can also support the brain.

It's been shown to have neuroprotective effects. It rapidly produces energy to support brain cell function.

Researchers have also found that creatine supplementation improves function of mitochondria in the brain (25).

I used to take creatine powder before workouts, but I now just take the Creatine in Optimal Energy.

 

18. Curcumin

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

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

One reason why is because it protects mitochondria and prevents mitochondrial dysfunction in the brain (111-113).

 

19. Malic Acid

Malic acid, also known as malate, is an intermediate of the Krebs cycle.

It’s a key step in the pathway of energy production by the mitochondria.

And it has a number of health benefits because it improves mitochondrial function.

Malate supplementation has been shown to increase the availability of NAD+, which is necessary for producing ATP.

Malate also increases NADPH levels, which is a fundamental antioxidant in the body that promotes mitochondrial function (114).

That’s why I’ve included malic acid in the Optimal Energy supplement.

 

20. Niacinamide

Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a vitamin found in foods.

It’s also often taken as a supplement.

Niacinamide is the precursor to NAD+ and therefore supplementation can increase levels of this molecule and improve mitochondrial function.

Researchers have found that niacinamide prevents energy depletion in the brain (115).

It also improves the mitochondrial quality of brain cells by inducing autophagy and causing dysfunctional mitochondria to fragment (116).

 

21. N-Acetyl-Cysteine

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine.

It’s also the precursor to glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant.

Nowadays, we’re exposed to so many environmental toxins, which cause oxidative stress in the body and deplete our reserves of cysteine and glutathione.  

But supplementing with NAC can increase and normalize your cysteine and glutathione levels. 

This can combat and reduce oxidative stress in your brain, which can then help treat several mental illnesses.

NAC can also help support your mitochondria.

In one study, NAC treatment for 9 weeks reduced oxidative damage to the mitochondria (117).

And in multiple cell studies, NAC improved mitochondrial function by reducing oxidative stress (118-119).

 

22. Succinic acid

Succinic acid, also known as succinate, is an intermediate molecule of the Krebs cycle that plays a significant role in the electron transport chain.

It can be purchased as a supplement to boost energy production by the mitochondria.

Succinic acid has been shown to prevent structural and functional damage to the mitochondria caused by oxidative stress (120).

And in brain cells that have mitochondrial dysfunction, succinic acid supplementation improved mitochondrial functioning by increasing glucose and oxygen usage. This led to increased levels of ATP energy (121).

For this reason, succinic acid is in the Optimal Energy supplement.

 

23. EGCG

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

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

EGCG accumulates within the mitochondria and activates a number of proteins related to mitochondrial function (122-124).

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

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

 

Conclusion

Picture of mitochondrion, the energy producer of brain cells.

Paying attention to your mitochondria is crucial for optimal brain and mental health.

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: 

  • Take Optimal Energy. It’s an all-in-one mitochondrial supplement. It includes the 17 best natural compounds proven to boost mitochondrial functioning in the brain.

  • Eat nutrient-dense, whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Download my free food guide for a shopping list of the best foods to eat.

  • Avoid refined sugars, processed flours, industrial oils, trans fats, gluten and processed dairy.

  • Eat organic grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish, or supplement with krill oil.

  • Exercise

  • Try LLLT

  • Restrict calories and/or fast intermittently

  • Follow a cyclic ketogenic diet and/or take Optimal Ketones

If you follow these strategies, there’s no doubt that 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. 

 
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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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(107) http://www.umdf.org/site/c.8qKOJ0MvF7LUG/b.7934627/k.3711/What_is_Mitochondrial_Disease.htm

(108) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17239370

(109) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566449/

(110) https://riordanclinic.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/mitochondria-and-cancer-1.pdf

(111) https://accelerating.org/articles/curcumin.html

(112) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23422877

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26254982

(114) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0058345

(115) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10566977

(116) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19473119

(117) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4312826/

(118) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17917164

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4726696/

(120) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3032929

(121) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5430749/

(122) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26731017

(123) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670924/

(124) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16797120

Medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD

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20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s not a defect in your personality. 

As I’m sure you know, it’s often caused by physiological changes in your body and brain.

So you need to think of it like any other illness. 

If you have a broken bone, you need to wear a cast to stabilize the bone while it heals. 

And if you have depression, you need to be kind to yourself, as you seek and address the underlying root causes. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless. 

I used to think that I’d be depressed forever.

That my depression was simply genetic, and I couldn’t do anything about it. 

In fact, I accepted that notion for a while.

I felt defeated and hopeless, and thought I'd feel that way for my entire life.

I told myself I’d simply have to rely on drugs to survive because that’s just “how I’m wired”. 

But then one day, I changed my mind and decided that I’d had enough. 

And I was actually going to get to the bottom of it instead of just accepting it.

I took action and searched far and wide for safer and healthier solutions to deal with my depression.

I came across research that wasn’t even considered by my psychiatrist.

Therapies that they said wouldn’t work.

But then they did.

And I overcome my depression for good. 

One of my most important discoveries was that nutrient deficiencies can make your depression worse. 

And they could even be the root cause of it. 

It made so much sense.

But why hadn’t my doctors ever brought it up?

I delved deeper into the scientific literature, and I found MANY nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to depression.

I started increasing my intake of them.

And I got better.

Much better.

This new post includes 20 nutrient deficiencies that could be making you feel depressed.

It boggles my mind that many conventional psychiatrists ignore this research.

But that doesn’t mean you need to. 

Read on to learn more. 

Depressed woman holds her forehead and wonders what nutrients she’s deficient in.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to fight depression.

Several studies have shown that depressive patients have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (1-3).

Researchers even conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies, and they found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids were significantly lower in people with depression (4). 

They concluded that having a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is a “contributing factor to mood disorders” (5). 

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

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

Piece of cooked salmon on a plate. This salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids that can help fight depression.
  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

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

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

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

I take this one.

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

This isn’t surprising because plenty of research shows that omega-3 supplements are effective at treating clinical depression – just as effective as antidepressants drugs – because they lower inflammation in the brain (6-10). 

2. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.

And even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency. 

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency.

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today.

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (16-22). 

And B12 levels tend to be significantly lower in people who are depressed (13). 

In one study, subjects with Vitamin B12 deficiency were 2 times as likely to be severely depressed as non-deficient subjects (15). 

Even a mild decrease in B12 levels is associated with mood disturbances (14). 

Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re not deficient. 

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is an excellent source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver.

You may also want to supplement with Vitamin B12 because studies show that B12 supplementation significantly lowers homocysteine levels and reduces depressive symptoms (23-24). 

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12). 

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active.

3. Vitamin D (and Vitamin K2)

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

Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including depression.

Researchers have found a very strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression (27-28). 

The lower your Vitamin D levels, the more symptoms of depression you are likely to have (35). 

Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (25). 

Sunlight shining through trees in a forest. Sunlight gives us Vitamin D, one of the main nutrient deficiencies that can cause depression.

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (26). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight.

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

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

That’s why I recommend using a Vitamin D lamp. I use this one.

Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement

I now prefer sunlight and the lamp to get my Vitamin D, but research does show that taking a Vitamin D3 supplement is effective at reducing symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (29-31). 

This is likely because Vitamin D increases the production of numerous neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (32-34). 

Lastly, if you decide to supplement with Vitamin D3, you should consider taking it with Vitamin K2

A recent study found that Vitamin K2 reduces depression in animals (36). 

And Vitamin K2 is known to improve brain function in humans (37-38). 

4. Magnesium

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

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium today.  

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

Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including depression (42). 

In fact, researchers have found that people with depression have lower magnesium levels than healthy people (49). 

They’ve also found a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression (43). 

On top of this, animal research shows that removing magnesium from their diet results in depressive-like symptoms (50). 

So if you’re struggling with depression, it’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium so that you don’t have a deficiency.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

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

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

I also highly recommend a high-quality supplement that includes magnesium.

A number of studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce depressive symptoms in humans – sometimes within 7 days (44-48). 

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

5. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health.

Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning.

Mounting evidence suggests a link between zinc deficiency and the development and severity of depression (66-68, 76).  

Depressed patients tend to have lower levels of zinc. And as their zinc levels drop, their depressive symptoms get worse (81-84). 

An image of zinc-rich foods, including pumpkin seeds of cashews. Zinc is one mineral that can help fight depression. Many people with depression often have low levels of zinc.

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (63-65). 

So, if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient, and you’ll definitely want to optimize your zinc levels. 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include:

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

However, if you’re deficient like I was, I recommend taking a high-quality zinc supplement, at least for a short period of time. 

A meta-analysis and several studies have concluded that zinc supplementation has antidepressant effects and significantly reduces symptoms of depression. One way it improves mood is by significantly increasing BDNF levels (69-75, 77-80).

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal. 

Check out my previous post all about zinc if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels.

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6. Folate

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

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (55-56). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens

  • Asparagus

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Strawberries

  • Avocado

  • Beef liver

  • Poultry

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

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (54).

And supplementation is often needed. 

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

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (51-53). 

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

And the research backs up the use of methylfolate.

In one study, patients with depression took methylfolate for 6 months, and they witnessed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms (57). 

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (58). 

Methylfolate can be effective at treating depression because it helps lower homocysteine levels, helps produce serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain (59-62). 

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. Or you can take it separately if you’d like. 

7. Vitamin B6

Having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can also contribute to your depression.

It’s a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.

It can boost your mood because it plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and dopamine. It also lowers homocysteine

Research shows that people with depressive symptoms tend to have low levels of Vitamin B6 (85-87). 

A Vitamin B6 deficiency also contributes to chronic inflammation, which is one of the main underlying root causes of depression (88). 

A bunch of foods rich in Vitamin B6, including chicken, beef, bananas and potatoes. Vitamin B6 is one nutrient that can help you overcome depression.

Fortunately, consuming more Vitamin B6 can help. 

One study found that women that eat more foods containing Vitamin B6 have a lower risk of depression (89). 

Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken. 

But supplementation is often necessary to see quick improvements. 

One study found that supplementing with Vitamin B6 can reduce depressive symptoms by lowering homocysteine levels (90). 

When I took antidepressants for depression, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with Vitamin B6.

This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing depression in the long run. 

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Vitamin C

Having low levels of Vitamin C can also make you feel depressed.

Researchers have found that poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression (105). 

Animal research also shows that a Vitamin C deficiency can lead to low levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which causes mice to act depressed (106-107). 

As you probably know, Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 grams of this Vitamin C every day. 

I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily, and it definitely improved my mood and reduced my stress levels, especially when I was coming off antidepressants

Research backs this up, showing that supplementing with Vitamin C can actually improve mood in both unhealthy and healthy individuals (95, 102-103). 

Various other studies show that Vitamin C supplements reduce stress and anxiety and decrease the severity of depression (96-101, 104).

Studies even show that Vitamin C can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants (108-109). 

9. Thiamine

Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, is an essential water-soluble nutrient that cannot be made by the body. 

It’s used in nearly every cell in the body and especially important for supporting energy levels.

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system (167). 

Research shows that lower levels of Vitamin B1 are associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (168).

Vitamin B1 deficiency is also known to lead to irritability and symptoms of depression (170). 

Some doctors and researchers believe that postpartum depression is sometimes simply a Vitamin B1 deficiency (169). 

Luckily, consuming more Vitamin B1 can help.

An assorted mix of nuts. Nuts are a rich source of thiamine, or Vitamin B1. People with depression often have low levels of Vitamin B1.

A randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Vitamin B1 supplementation reduces symptoms of depression within 6 weeks (171). 

And another concluded that Vitamin B1 supplementation improves mood, reduces brain fog, and speeds up reaction time (172).

In fact, researchers have even found that subjects’ mood improves if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood increases, and that the opposite occurs if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood decreases (173). 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs. 

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

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is an amino acid found in nearly every cell of the body. It plays a vital role in the production of energy.

Researchers have found significantly lower levels of carnitine in patients with depression. And their low carnitine levels are associated with the severity of their depression (11-12, 174-175). 

Carnitine is mainly found in meat, fish and poultry.

But you can also supplement with it. 

I recommend Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), an acetylated form of carnitine. It’s best supplemental form of carnitine. 

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

But it’s also been shown to be very effective at quickly improving mood and treating depression (179-182). 

Six randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that ALCAR is better at treating depression than placebo (177). 

And two other studies found that ALCAR improved depressive symptoms in patients with chronic depression, and it was just as effective as antidepressant medications, but with less side effects (176, 178). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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11. Iron

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

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

Sounds like depression doesn’t it?

Several studies show that iron deficiency increases the risk of developing depression and increases the severity of depression (184-186, 188-190). 

A spoonful of spirulina. Spirulina is rich in iron. Iron is one nutrient deficiency that can cause depression.

Researchers have also conducted a meta-analysis and found that high iron intake reduces the chance of developing depression (183). 

In one study, iron supplementation resulted in a 25% improvement in depressive symptoms (187). 

Despite this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron though because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems.

It’s definitely preferable to get your iron from food. 

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

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

Other good sources of iron include:

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

12. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health.

Researchers have found that depression is associated with low levels of selenium (191). 

But supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase selenium levels and improve symptoms of depression (192). 

Other research shows that selenium intake is associated with a general elevation of mood (193). 

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured chicken and eggs, and grass-fed meat.

I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.

13. Riboflavin

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.  

A handful of almonds. Almonds are an excellent source of Vitamin B2, a nutrient that is commonly depleted in people with depression.

As a result, a Vitamin B2 deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and depression.

In fact, lower levels of Vitamin B2 have been found in people with depression (91). 

Researchers have also found that Vitamin B2 consumption decreases risk of postpartum depression (92). 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B2 include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds

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

If you’d like, you can also supplement with Vitamin B2.

Studies show that supplementing with Vitamin B2 helps lower homocysteine and reduces depressive symptoms (93-94). 

Vitamin B2 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement. 

14. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a coenzyme and antioxidant located primarily in the mitochondria. It has numerous known health benefits and plays a critical role in producing energy for the body.

CoQ10 is produced within the body, but it’s also found within food and can be supplied to the body through food or supplementation. It resembles a fat-soluble vitamin.

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10 (110). 

Research shows that CoQ10 levels are reduced in people with depression and chronic fatigue (111). 

One study also found that CoQ10 regulates serotonin levels and depressive symptoms in fibromyalgia patients (117). 

CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to improve fatigue and reduce depression symptom severity (112-114). 

It also displays antidepressant-like activity in animals (115-116). 

15. Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA) is an uncommon fatty acid.

Vials of Borage Oil, a fat that is rich in DGLA. DGLA has anti-inflammatory effects and can help beat depression.

It’s made in the body by the elongation of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).

But small amounts can also be found in animal products (118). 

Last year, researchers found that people with depression are more likely to have low levels of DGLA levels (121). 

And increasing DGLA levels may lower the risk of developing depression (122). 

DGLA also has anti-inflammatory effects in the body (119). 

So it makes sense that levels would be low in depressed individuals because an increasing amount of evidence suggests that depression is a chronic inflammatory disease. 

DGLA can be increased by supplementing with dietary GLA (120). 

GLA can be found in Borage Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Blackcurrant Seed Oil (123). 

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16. Inositol

Inositol is a naturally-occurring molecule found in nearly all plants and animals. It plays a key role in various biological processes.

The brain has the highest concentration of inositol, where it plays an important role making neurotransmitters (124). 

Inositol can be found in many foods, particularly fruit, especially cantaloupe and oranges (125). 

It used to be considered a B Vitamin, called Vitamin B8. But it currently is no longer considered an essential nutrient because your body can produce inositol from glucose (126). 

But I’m including it in this list anyway because individuals with depression have very low levels of inositol in their brains (127-129). 

And inositol supplementation has been shown to increase inositol levels and help treat depression (130, 132). 

It can also reduce symptoms of depression in women with premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (131, 133). 

It’s even been shown to help patients who have discontinued their antidepressant medication (134). 

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

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex.

Check out my full post about inositol to learn more about the benefits. 

Fun fact: Inositol is also used as a stand-in for cocaine in television shows and movies. 

17. Manganese

Manganese is an important trace mineral for human health. It acts as a cofactor, helping many enzymes carry out their functions in the body.

A table of foods that have high levels of manganese. Manganese deficiency can cause depression and make depression worse.

Research shows that having low levels of manganese can contribute to the development of depression (135). 

One study found that depressed patients had significantly lower levels of “manganese superoxide dismutase”, which is a manganese-dependent enzyme (136). 

Researchers have also found that women with higher manganese intake had a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms (137). 

Hazelnuts and macadamia nuts contain high levels of manganese, while leafy green vegetables, tea, chocolate and some fruits contain moderate levels (139). 

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t consume too much manganese.

In excess, manganese is neurotoxic and can lead to manganism, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes dopaminergic neuronal death and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease (138). 

So I definitely don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of manganese. 

The small amount of manganese in Optimal Antiox is fine though. It’s what I take. 

18. Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, suggesting that it’s very important.

It’s also one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier.

Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning the body can usually produce sufficient amounts of it. But sometimes the body uses up so much glutamine that it becomes necessary to obtain it from the diet or supplements, particularly during periods of illness, stress, inflammation and injuries (156-157). 

Researchers have found that depressed adults have reduced levels of glutamine (158). 

And glutamine deficiency has been shown to increase depressive-like behaviour in animals (159). 

But glutamine supplementation has “clear anti-depressive properties” and has been shown to improve mood (160-161). 

High levels of glutamine can be found in protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, fish and eggs. Beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, brussel sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso also contain some glutamine.

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

Glutamine is also available in supplement form. 

Glutamine was one of the main supplements that helped me heal my leaky gut, but I no longer need to take it regularly. 

19. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. It must be consumed through diet or by taking supplements. 

Some healthy foods that contain tryptophan include bananas, chicken, turkey and dark chocolate (140). 

A doctor is talking to a turkey and says “I think I know what is causing your narcolepsy. You’re full of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can make you sleepy, but it can also improve mood and help treat depression.

Tryptophan helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in the brain, which then produces serotonin (141-142). 

Researchers have found that depressed patients have significantly lower levels of tryptophan in their blood than healthy control subjects (143-144). 

Studies also show that depressed patients have a decreased ratio of tryptophan to neutral amino acids in their blood. This suggests that tryptophan availability to the brain is likely reduced in depressed patients (145-146). 

Personally, supplementing with tryptophan never helped me. In fact, it always seemed to make me worse. It gave me asthma and acne and increased my depression.  

This is because depressed patients sometimes have problems creating serotonin from tryptophan. Instead, they create other metabolites from tryptophan, such as quinolinic acid, which can be toxic. For depressed patients like me, tryptophan supplementation won’t help, and may actually make their depression worse (150-151). 

However, some people do see their mood improve when they increase their intake of tryptophan. So it shouldn’t be completely disregarded. 

There are studies that show that consuming a high tryptophan diet and consuming additional dietary tryptophan can increase mood and lead to significantly less depressive symptoms (152-154). 

So supplementing with tryptophan is worth a shot if you’re struggling with depression and haven’t tried it yet. Just be aware of possible side effects. 

If you want, you can also try supplementing with 5-HTP instead of tryptophan. 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin. 

5-HTP is included in this supplement

20. Glutathione

Glutathione is a small peptide made up of 3 important amino acids – glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine – each of which have several important roles in the human body.

Glutathione is found in the food supply and within the human body, where it acts as an antioxidant. It is used by every cell in the body.

It’s technically not an “essential nutrient” because the body can create it.

However, it’s still very important, and a glutathione deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in a number of diseases, including depression.

Studies show that patients with depression have significantly lower levels of glutathione. And the lower a person’s glutathione levels, the more depressed they are likely to be (162-164). 

Some practitioners and researchers have found that increasing glutathione intake and levels can successfully treat depression (165). 

Glutathione is also able to prevent behavioural depression in animals (166). 

It’s important to note that standard glutathione supplements are not very effective at increasing glutathione levels because they are not well absorbed by the body.

But I have found that high-quality liposomal glutathione supplements are effective. 

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is another tried-and-true way of increasing glutathione levels because it’s the direct precursor to glutathione

Garlic, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, can also help boost glutathione levels, but liposomal glutathione and NAC supplements are more powerful. 

Other supplements that have been shown to help increase and maintain optimal glutathione levels include Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and S-adenosyl-methionine (Sam-E)

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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) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20452573

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16741195

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369545/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20452573

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16741195

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24805797

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20586692

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20439549

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

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How to Fight Alzheimer's Disease with Intranasal Insulin

A woman spraying insulin up her cose with an intranasal bottle.

Today I want to discuss "intranasal insulin", a cutting-edge therapy that could help a lot of people. 

Neurologists and psychiatrists tend to undervalue the impact of hormones originating outside the brain.

Until modern medicine treats the entire body as one unified system – like functional medicine practitioners do – people will continue to lose faith in conventional practitioners and look elsewhere for solutions to their chronic brain and mental health problems. 

As Dr. Suzanne Craft, Ph.D, Professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, explains:

People are now starting to understand the critical interaction between the brain and the body and that many of the peptides and hormones produced in the body have very substantial roles to play in the brain. I think we’re at the beginning of a very exciting era in which we’re going to be able to start putting together these systems to understand Alzheimer’s disease, which is clearly a disease of the entire organism, not just of the brain.

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

It's been shown to pass the blood-brain barrier and act on insulin receptors directly within the brain (3, 4). 

Not only does our body produce and release it, but it can also be taken as a medication, particularly for the treatment of diabetes (1, 2). 

Researchers have found that insulin has “neurotrophic, neuromodulatory, and neuroprotective effects” by:

  • Promoting neuronal growth;

  • Regulating the levels of certain neurotransmitters;

  • Increasing brain energy levels (ATP in your mitochondria);

  • Increasing blood flow in the brain;

  • Preventing dopaminergic neuron loss;

  • Reducing inflammation in the brain; and

  • Protecting against oxidative stress in the brain by restoring antioxidants and energy metabolism (5-13).

Insulin in the dictionary.
In the brain, insulin has a number of roles to play. It promotes glucose uptake in the neurons of the hippocampal formation and the frontal lobes, areas that are involved in memory. Insulin also strengthens the synaptic connections between brain cells, helping to form new memories. In addition, insulin regulates the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays an important role in learning and memory.
— Dr. Suzanne Craft, Ph.D

So, it clearly does a lot in the brain, and research shows that it can be therapeutic for a number of mental health conditions, particularly Alzheimer’s disease

In a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is prepared and added to nasal spray bottleslike this one – and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support brain and mental health. 

Dr. William Banks, Professor of Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, says there are more than 100 different intranasal compounds that are being tested for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease

“Intranasal insulin” is just one of them, and it’s one of the more promising ones, as it’s been reported to significantly enhance memory, increase mental energy, reduce brain fog, improve mood, and lower anxiety and stress levels

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The Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease, Insulin and Diabetes

Many of the brain health experts I’ve talked to are convinced that Alzheimer’s disease should actually be called "Type 3 diabetes".

This is because diabetes and insulin are closely linked to cognitive decline and dementia

Many studies show that diabetes is associated with an increased risk of cognitive dysfunction, and people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment than non-diabetics (14-21). 

Researchers have also found that insulin declines in the brain as people age, and patients with Alzheimer’s disease often have insulin resistance and reduced levels of insulin in their brains (25-30)

But what if insulin deficiency is detected in the brain, and then insulin is supplied to the brain, could neurodegeneration and the development of dementia be prevented? And could the progression of existing Alzheimer’s disease be halted?

The answers to these questions appears to be yes:

  • Diabetic patients who take insulin have improved memory and reduced rates of Alzheimer’s disease;

  • Elderly diabetics who take insulin have less severe Alzheimer’s disease compared with non-diabetics;

  • Insulin improves cognition and memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease; and

  • Insulin prevents and reverses brain degeneration and cognitive impairment in diabetic animals (22-24).

Check out the below video to learn more from one of the leading researchers in the field: 

Cutting-Edge Research Shows That Intranasal Insulin Improves Cognition and Memory

The intranasal route of insulin administration provides direct access to the cerebrospinal fluid and brain.

This allows insulin to directly enter the brain from the nose, and bind to receptors within specific areas of the brain that are involved in memory and cognition (42). 

Insulin receptors in the brain are found in high densities in the hippocampus, a region that is fundamentally involved in the acquisition, consolidation, and recollection of new information.

An increasing amount of research has been published over the last ten years, demonstrating that intranasal insulin can significantly improve cognition, attention, memory and overall brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (31-33, 38-39, 43-45). 

In fact, there are over 30 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials showing that it’s effective at improving memory, learning and cognitive performance in humans (34-37). 

Illustration of how intranasal insulin works.

Yet most people aren’t aware of it, and doctors aren’t prescribing it, while millions of people suffer from dementia

One study found that it improved objective biomarkers of neurodegeneration, including amyloid deposits and tau pathology, in people with Alzheimer’s disease within a few months. In the group of patients that didn’t receive intranasal insulin, brain function continued to deteriorate (40). 

In another study, researchers gave intranasal insulin to 104 adults with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. At the end of the 4-month study, the participants who received insulin had significantly better memory and cognitive function compared to the group who didn’t receive insulin (41). 

The researchers also found that the improvements in cognition were correlated with improvements in objective biomarkers, and concluded that “intranasal insulin therapy can help to stabilize, slow, or possibly even reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease (41). 

Because of the promising research so far, the US government is currently funding a two-year long clinical trial to see if intranasal insulin will help 240 people with Alzheimer’s disease. Results from the Study of Nasal Insulin in the Fight Against Forgetfulness (SNIFF) are expected to be released in 2017. 

And intranasal insulin doesn’t just help elderly people with dementia. It’s also been shown to improve memory in younger, healthy individuals (46-51). 

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Intranasal Insulin and Other Brain and Mental Health Disorders

Alzheimer’s disease isn’t the only brain and mental health condition that can benefit from intranasal insulin. 

Here are some others:

  • ADHD and drug addiction – Insulin affects dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter linked to both these conditions (52).

  • Depression, anxiety and anger – In one study, 38 healthy people took intranasal insulin for 8 weeks and experienced enhanced mood, increased self-confidence and reduced anger. Another study found that it affected heart-rate variability (53, 59).

  • Stroke – Researchers point out that “intranasally administered insulin possesses many of the ideal properties for acute stroke neuroprotection” (54, 62).

  • Bipolar disorder – One study found that intranasal insulin significantly improved executive function in patients with bipolar disorder (55).

  • Neurodevelopmental disorder – Two studies have found that intranasal insulin improves cognition, autonomy, motor activity, nonverbal communication, social skills and developmental functioning of children and adults with a rare neurodevelopmental disorder (Phelan-McDermid syndrome) (57, 58).

  • Overall brain function – “Intranasal insulin appears to restore complex neural networking in the direction of normalization”. In other words, it seems to “reboot” the brain (56).

  • Parkinson’s disease and Down Syndrome – There is no evidence for this yet but there are ongoing trials looking into whether intranasal insulin could help people with these conditions (60, 61).

Safety of Intranasal Insulin and How to Try It Yourself

Numerous studies show that intranasal insulin is incredibly safe and does not cause any significant adverse side effects. The only minor side effects I came across were dizziness, nose bleeding and mild rhinitis, but these were rare (63-65). 

This is because unlike regular insulin administration, intranasal insulin only affects the nose and brain. It doesn’t enter the bloodstream, change insulin levels throughout the entire body, or cause low blood sugar (66-83). 

Overall, I believe the benefits outweigh the risks and it’s worth trying, especially if you’re struggling with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease. It may be another decade or more until the research trickles down and reaches your doctor’s office. Research shows that it takes about 17 years for new scientific evidence to be implemented in clinical practice

However, I’m not a doctor and you should definitely talk to your doctor about this if you’re considering trying it. If you have an open-minded doctor, perhaps they will support you in trying it. Don’t be surprised if they dismiss the idea entirely though. 

With that said, you can easily and legally buy insulin yourself. It’s available over the counter without a prescription at any pharmacy (in the US and Canada). Pharmacists hold it behind the counter and you just have to walk up and ask for “Novolin R.” In Canada, it’s called “Novolin Toronto.”

It’s that simple. You don’t need to provide personal identification or sign anything. It costs about $30.

After that, you can get a nasal spray bottle - like this one or this one

Then, use pliers to carefully remove the rubber cap from the insulin vial, and pour the insulin into the spray bottle. 

At this point, you’re ready to use it. Make sure to keep it in the fridge when you're not using it. 

Again, I’m not a doctor. So talk to your doctor about this before trying it. But I feel this is worth sharing and writing about considering it has massive potential to help many people who are struggling day-to-day. 

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Dosage

Each spray from the nasal bottle is 0.1mL or 10IU of insulin. 

Dosages in human studies range from 10IU to 160IU (1 to 16 sprays) daily. 

In the longest lasting study, participants took either 20 IU (2 sprays) or 40IU (4 sprays) of insulin daily for four months (86). 

So, if you’re going to try it, I wouldn’t take more than 40IU (4 sprays) for longer than 4 months.

However, participants in the ongoing SNIFF trial have been taking intranasal insulin for more than one year, so once the results from that study are released in 2017, my recommendation may change. 

Overall, self-experimentation is necessary to find the correct dosage that works best for you. 

Conclusion

Intranasal insulin is a very impressive and exciting substance, and the lack of side effects is encouraging. 

If you’re looking to improve your memory and brain function and avoid Alzheimer’s disease, it’s definitely worth considering and talking to your doctor about it. 

An elderly man sprays intranasal insulin up his nose.

All that’s needed is:

I’m aware that this might be little bit “out there” for some people, but I think it has the potential to help a lot of people reach optimal brain and mental health. 

Please share with anyone who is struggling with cognitive impairment or the early signs of dementia because it isn't a very well known treatment. 

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17049785?dopt=Abstract

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17430239/

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16340083/

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4743662/

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18549783

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15750215

(31) http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/106378

(32) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40263-013-0076-8

(33) http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/1107947

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(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3260944/

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21883804

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(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21911655?dopt=Abstract

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(41) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/219116/

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3443484/

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804944/

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(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23507773

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20719831/

(47) http://www.psyneuen-journal.com/article/S0306-4530(04)00052-6/abstract

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15288712

(49) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15288712?dopt=Abstract

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19091002?dopt=Abstract

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4391678/

(52) http://www.news-medical.net/news/2007/10/18/31385.aspx

(53) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15288712

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4828994/

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23107220

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25249577

(57) http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v24/n12/full/ejhg2016109a.html

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18948358

(59) http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/63/12/4083.long

(60) https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02064166

(61) https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02432716

(62) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26040423

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25374101

(64) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18948358

(65) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25374101

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(71) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19091002?dopt=Abstract

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(73) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15288712

(74) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11992114

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(81) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24101698

(82) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25337926

(83) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25374101

(84) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20876713

(85) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15288712

(86) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21911655

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

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