14 Powerful Ways to Form New Synapses in the Brain

Over the years, I’ve taken several psychiatric drugs, drank too much alcohol, and had numerous concussions – sometimes, all at once. 

In other words, my brain has taken quite the beating. 

Researchers used to think that if you damaged your brain like I did, you simply had to live with it.

But that’s no longer true. 

They now know the brain is plastic and flexible, and it can heal and recover.

You’re not stuck with the brain you have. 

You can actually change and improve it.

One way your brain repairs itself is through a process called synaptogenesis.

Synaptogenesis is the formation of new synapses in the brain.

Synapses are the connecting points between your 100 billion brain cells. You have trillions of synapses in your brain, and your brain cells communicate with one another across them (79). 

The deterioration and loss of synapses is linked to a number of neurodegenerative diseases and mental health disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, depression, poor learning and memory, intellectual impairment and other cognitive deficits (83-87). 

The good news is that researchers now know that synaptogenesis occurs in the brain throughout our entire lives (81-82). 

And there are a number of ways you can support synaptogenesis, promote the formation of new brain synapses and increase brain synapses. 

Below are 15 ways to do that.

Following these strategies can improve your mood, learning, memory and cognition.

Picture of brain and synapses.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Uridine and Choline

The formation of synapses depends on sufficient brain levels of three key nutrients – uridine, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline. These nutrients are synergistic, and if you take them taken together, they accelerate the formation of new synapses in the brain (66-67, 75-78). 

Unfortunately, most people nowadays don’t get enough of these essential nutrients through their diet because very few foods in the Western diet actually contain them.

In fact, the uridine in food is not bioavailable, and no food has been shown to increase plasma levels of uridine (1).

Picture of salmon and walnuts. Salmon and walnuts and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to form new brain synapses.

That’s why I now take this uridine monophosphate supplement sublingually to support the long-term health of my brain. 

At the same time, I take this krill oil supplement and the Optimal Brain supplement, which includes CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC (two high-quality sources of choline). This ensures my brain is getting enough of omega-3 fatty acids and choline.

Several researchers have concluded that supplementing with all three nutrients can increase synaptic formation, increase brain synapses, and improve cognition, learning and memory, particularly in people with Alzheimer's disease (68-74). 

Besides supplementation, I still encourage people to eat foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids and choline. 

The best way to get omega-3 fatty acids from food is by eating more cold-water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring. And the best food sources of choline include grass-fed beef liver and egg yolks. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

Taking uridine, choline and omega-3 fatty acids together can also promote the regeneration of myelin.

2. 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.

Man wearing LLLT helmet and using the Vielight device. LLLT and Vielight devices can help form new synapses in the brain.

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

One way that LLLT may help the brain is by encouraging synaptogenesis (12-15). 

Researchers have found that LLLT treatment significantly stimulates the synthesis of synapsin-1 (a marker for synaptogenesis) and increases synaptogenesis in the cortex (16-17). 

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

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

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

LLLT can also support mitochondria function, reduce brain fog, and increase blood flow to the brain

3. Bacopa

Bacopa monniera is an adaptogenic herb with cognitive-enhancing effects.

Several studies show that it improves cognition, learning and memory by strengthening communications between brain cells. Both healthy and elderly people who take the herb experience improved attention, learning and memory (2-5). 

Researchers believe these improvements are because bacopa increases brain synapses and increases specific neuromolecular mechanisms that encourage and enhance synaptogenesis (18). 

You can get bacopa through Amazon.

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4. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to promote the formation of new synapses.

Researchers have found repeatedly that physical activity encourages synaptogenesis and increases brain synapses (32-33). 

Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, promotes the regeneration of myelin, and can help reverse brain damage and cognitive decline

So not surprisingly, many brain health experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

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

5. Magnesium Threonate

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, including neurotransmitter and hormonal activity, which can have a huge effect on your brain function.

Researchers have found that increasing magnesium levels in the brain improves learning and memory by promoting synaptogenesis and increasing brain synapses (25-26). 

One study concluded that magnesium threonate increases the number of synaptic connections between brain cells and boosts the density of synapses (27). 

Magnesium rich foods, including spinach, avocados, bananas, almonds. Magnesium helps the brain form new synapses.

Unfortunately, lot of people are deficient in magnesium today (6-8).

But there are a number of ways you can make sure you’re consuming enough. 

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

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

But I also recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement. 

Magnesium threonate is the best form of magnesium for increasing brain magnesium levels and forming new synapses. 

I currently take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed.

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

Magnesium can also help repair a leaky blood-brain barrier.

6. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break and triggers a number of hormones that boost your body’s ability to repair itself.

On most days, I don’t eat breakfast at all, and then "break my fast" by eating my first meal of the day around 2 or 3 p.m. That means I eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window.

There are many health benefits to doing this.

It can improve mitochondrial function, reduce brain fog, and help protect you from dementia

And researchers have also found that fasting can trigger and enhance synaptogenesis (28-31). 

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

7. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. It’s one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it’s been shown to increase brain blood flow and improve memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and may also improve mood and mental energy (34).

Researchers have also discovered that it stimulates synaptogenesis and increases brain synapses (35). 

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

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8. Motor Learning

Motor learning is essentially when you learn something new that involves movement.

Complex processes occur in the brain in response to practicing or experiencing the new motor skill.

This results in changes to the central nervous system, which allows you to produce the movement again in the future.

Researchers have found that motor learning triggers synaptogenesis and generates new synapses in the cerebellar cortex of the brain (36-39). 

Some activities that involve motor learning include learning how to play the piano, climbing trees, juggling, and playing table tennis. 

When you engage in these activities, motor learning occurs, and you form new synapses in order to learn and solidify the new skill. 

9. Resveratrol

Picture of grapes. Grapes are rich in resveratrol, an antioxidant than help you form new synapses in your brain.

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

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

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can help restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, support your mitochondria, and increase blood flow to the brain. But it can also increase synaptogenesis.

Research shows the resveratrol promotes and enhances synaptogenesis (23-24). 

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. I don't take it every day, just every so often. You can get it here or here.

10. Piracetam

Piracetam is a nootropic (cognitive-enhancing) supplement. It provides a mild boost to brain function and has a long history of being used to treat cognitive impairment in Europe, Asia and South America. 

According to researchers, one way it improves cognition is by enhancing synaptogenesis and increasing brain synapses (9-10). 

One study found that rats treated with piracetam had a higher number of synapses than rats not treated with piracetam (11). 

Here is a good piracetam supplement from a reliable brand. I used to take it regularly but not anymore.

Phenylpiracetam is an advanced version of piracetam and I found it to be more effective. It also has impressive anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. You can get it here.

Both piracetam and phenylpiracetam work best if you take them with a source of choline, either CDP-Choline or Alpha GPC.

Both CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

11. Quercetin

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in fruits and vegetables. It is one of the most widely consumed flavonoids in the human diet. 

Quercetin has potent antioxidant action and is “neuroactive”, meaning it can affect brain function. 

As a result, it can protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inhibit the pro-inflammatory molecules that are associated with many progressive brain disorders (45-46). 

Researchers have also found that it stimulates synaptogenesis (48). 

Red apples, onions and tomatoes have the high levels of quercetin. But you can also supplement with it if you want. 

It’s interesting to note that quercetin increases the absorption of resveratrol, so it’s a good idea to take them both together if you want to increase synaptogenesis and form new brain synapses (47). 

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12. Intranasal Insulin

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

It has a number of important functions in the central nervous system, and researchers have found that it passes the blood-brain barrier and acts on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

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

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

One possible mechanism is by increasing synaptogenesis.

Brain insulin receptors are found primarily in synapses, and insulin signaling contributes to synaptogenesis (19-21). 

And the disruption of insulin action in the brain leads to impairment of synaptogenesis (22). 

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

13. Progesterone

Progesterone is a natural steroid and sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.

It has a variety of important functions in the body, and even plays an important role in brain function. 

Research shows that progesterone supports the normal development of brain cells and protects them from damage (40).

But many researchers have also found that progesterone promotes synaptogenesis (41-43). 

In addition to its role as a natural hormone, progesterone can be taken as a medication, usually by women during menopause as part of their hormone replacement therapy. 

14. Antioxidant Nutrients

Some nutrients have antioxidant effects in the body, and not consuming enough of them can reduce your rate of synaptogenesis. 

Research shows that “synaptic membrane synthesis” depends on sufficient dietary intake of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and the mineral selenium (64). 

A bunch of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables in heart-shaped bowls. Antioxidants can helps the brain form new synaptic connections.

One study found that synaptogenesis was significantly enhanced by supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, uridine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium. But it wasn’t enhanced as much with omega-3 fatty acids and uridine alone, suggesting that Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium play a key role in synaptogenesis (65). 

I get these antioxidant nutrients from a number of sources. 

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day. At one point, I was actually taking up to 10 grams of Vitamin C every day as an experiment, but that’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you.

For selenium, I make sure I eat brazil nuts regularly, as they are the richest source. But I also take some extra selenomethionine, which is the most absorbable form of selenium. 

For Vitamin E, good food sources include almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil, sunflower seeds and butternut squash. It’s also included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

Besides increasing synaptogenesis, antioxidants can also protect your brain from alcohol and help reverse brain damage

15. BONUS: 4 Things to Avoid

It’s not just what you do, but also what you avoid that can impact your rate of synaptogenesis. 

Researchers have found that certain compounds can impair synaptogenesis and inhibit the formation of new synapses in the brain. 

So besides trying to implement the 14 steps above, you should also try to avoid:

  • Bisphenol A – This compound is found in plastic bottles and containers, food and beverage cans, and other common consumer products, such as CDs, DVDs and sales receipts. Researchers have found that it impairs synaptogenesis in the brain (49). That’s why I recommend you only eat and drink out of glass, ceramic and stainless steel. Avoid all canned food and plastic containers. BPA-free plastic isn’t much better for you and can still disrupt hormonal health.

  • Lead – Lead is a heavy metal that can accumulate in the body and negatively affect brain function. Research shows that lead exposure can interfere with the formation of brain synapses (55-59). So it’s definitely a good idea to reduce your exposure to sources of lead. One way is by using an infrared sauna regularly.

  • Gabapentin – Gabapentin is a medication used to treat epilepsy, neuropathic pain, hot flashes, and restless legs syndrome. Researchers have found that it halts the formation of new synapses (80).

  • Stress – Chronic stress decreases synaptogenesis and decreases the number of synapse connections (88-89). Here are 20 ways to lower cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone. These two biofeedback devices are my favourite ways to reduce stress.

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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31 Powerful Ways to Induce Autophagy in the Brain

Autophagy is an absolutely essential biological process that plays a key role in the normal functioning and survival of your brain cells.

The word autophagy is derived from the Greek words auto and phagein.

Auto translates to “self”.

And phagein translates to “devouring”.

So autophagy essentially means “self-devouring”, or “to eat oneself”.  

That may sound scary and something that you would want to avoid…

But it’s actually something you want to embrace and induce yourself.

Because autophagy is a self-cleaning mechanism within our cells, which helps your brain detoxify, repair and regenerate itself.

It destroys the old, damaged, and malfunctioning components of your cells – and rebuilds new and healthier ones instead!

It’s sort of like spring cleaning or replacing old parts of your car.

By inducing autophagy, we are clearing out worn-out and faulty cellular parts within our brain cells.

Our brain cells need to last a lifetime, so autophagy is our body’s unique way of naturally rejuvenating them and defending them from disease.

Autophagy.

How Does Autophagy Affect Your Brain and Mental Health?

What we’ve discovered is that autophagy protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and certain forms of dementia. If you switch on autophagy, you remove proteins rapidly, as well as protect against excessive inflammation. By learning how to influence this process, we are able to affect the progression of these diseases.
— Dr. David Rubinsztein, professor of molecular neurogenetics at the University of Cambridge and UK Dementia Research Institute

Research shows that autophagy supports the central nervous system, improves brain function and reduces neurological cellular breakdown (136-138).

And studies suggest that autophagy is a built-in defense mechanism that detoxifies and clears the central nervous system (139).

But the autophagy process becomes less efficient as we get older.

And over time, our brain cells accumulate a variety of damaged organelles, abnormal and pathogenic proteins, and oxidized particles (141-142).

This clogs up the brain, accelerates cognitive aging, and even contributes to the development of dementia (140).

But autophagy doesn’t just decline in older individuals.

Even younger people with depression and schizophrenia have been shown to have deficiencies in autophagy pathways (162-163).

In fact, researchers have found a link between autophagy dysfunction and many neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, including (143-161):

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Huntington’s disease

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Frontotemporal dementia

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

  • Autism spectrum disorders

  • Fragile X syndrome

  • Mood disorders

  • Psychotic symptoms

  • Behavioural change

The good news is that you can do something about this.

You have the power to activate autophagy.

There are several reliable and natural ways to increase it.

And by doing so, you can reduce neuroinflammation, protect the nervous system, improve cognitive function, encourage the growth of brain cells, and even fight depression and Alzheimer’s disease (164-174).

Read on to learn more about how you can induce autophagy.  

Lifestyle Habits and Therapies That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to boost autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that aerobic exercise induces neuronal autophagy (1).

They believe the reason why exercise improves cognitive function is perhaps because it increases autophagy in the brain (2).

Exercise is a stressor on the body, and the body induces autophagy so that your cells can recover from the stress. All it takes is 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to activate autophagy in the brain (3).

As a result, exercise increases neurogenesis and reduces neurodegeneration.

Many doctors and researchers recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

You should find a sport or aerobic exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

2. Intermittent Fasting

One of the major benefits of fasting is a dramatic increase in autophagy, followed by a massive boost in stem cell production.
— Dr. Rhonda Patrick, PhD

Fasting is another biological stressor that promotes autophagy.

When you’re fasting, your body isn’t receiving nutrients, so it stresses out and triggers autophagy.

Researchers have found that fasting activates “profound autophagy” in the brain (24-26).

As a result, it can help treat neurological conditions and lowers the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (27-28).

So how long do you have to fast to trigger autophagy in the brain?

Research suggests 24 to 48-hour fasts are ideal and have the strongest effects (29).

But long fasts are not very realistic and practical.

Luckily, even shorter fasts have been shown to significantly promote neuronal autophagy (30-31).

That’s why I personally eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the other 16 hours of the day.

You don’t need to go that long, but you should try to fast for at least 12 hours at a time.

The best way to get started is simply by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day.

That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.

3. A Ketogenic Diet

Ketogenesis is like an autophagy hack. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting.
— Dr. Colin Champ, MD

A ketogenic diet is a very high-fat, low-carb diet.

To follow the diet, you need to get most of your calories from healthy fats, and no more than 10 percent of calories from carbs (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.

And this be very beneficial and increase autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that ketosis is neuroprotective and reduces neurodegeneration by promoting autophagy in the brain (4-6).

Autophagy reduces amyloid beta, the main component of amyloid plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (8-9).

An animal study also shows that ketosis reduces brain injury (during and after seizures) by activating autophagy (10).

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often.

Some of the best foods to eat if you follow a ketogenic diet include coconut oil, olive oil, pastured eggs, ghee, grass-fed meat, avocado, nuts and seeds.

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

I also take Optimal Ketones every day, which are exogenous ketones that get my body into a state of ketosis very quickly. That way I get the mental clarity of ketosis without having to follow a ketogenic diet all of the time.

Research shows that the ketone bodies in Optimal Ketones stimulates autophagy (7).

4. Circadian Rhythm, Melatonin and Deep Sleep

A baby sleeping. Sleep induces autophagy in the brain.

Getting enough high-quality sleep is very important if you want to increase autophagy.

I used to have very poor sleep and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my poor cognitive function.

Research shows that not getting enough sleep, and waking up intermittently throughout the night, negatively alters autophagy in the brain (11-12).

So it’s the length and quality of your sleep that matters.

That’s why I highly recommend getting at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.

What can you do to improve your sleep?

  • Maintain a proper circadian rhythm

  • Promote the production and release of melatonin at night

Researchers have found that our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) controls autophagy and plays a role in cognitive decline (13-14).

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain.

It helps control your circadian rhythm, and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Melatonin has been shown to induce autophagy in the brain, and it reduces the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders (66-68).

Even mild changes in our external environment (i.e. blue lighting at night) can affect our circadian rhythm and reduce melatonin production, negatively altering autophagy and our cognition the next day (13-14).

Knowing this, here is what you can do to support melatonin production, maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning. This sets your circadium rhythm.

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time every night.

  • Blue light significantly suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and abnormal functioning of your nervous system. As soon as it’s dark outside, you should avoid sources of blue light. Turn off household lights or install red light bulbs, install Iris on your computer and/or wear blue blocking glasses. These glasses block out blue light in your environment.

  • Don’t eat anything for 3 hours before bed, other than raw honey, bone broth and MCT oil, which are easy to digest and can actually support your sleep.

  • Avoid stimulating movies and TV before bed.

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Most people should completely avoid it after 2 pm. Some may have to cut it out even earlier. I can’t have any after 12 noon, otherwise the quality of my sleep suffers.

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

  • Reduce stress before bed. I supplement with magnesium and lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed.

  • Avoid alcohol before sleep, as it prevents getting into the deeper stages of sleep, which is when the body and brain heal.

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

If you’re still having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

5. Hot and Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to both hot and cold temperatures can stress your cells and promote autophagy.

Several researchers have found that “heat stress” triggers autophagy and stimulates the autophagic process (15-18).

Autophagy and the heat-shock response are also tightly linked (19-20).

Researchers have found that cold exposure induces neuronal autophagy, and they believe it can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases (21-22).

Research also shows that switching back and forth between cold and hot can induce autophagy (23).

So how does this translate into every day life?

Try switching back and forth between hot and cold in the shower.

Or spend time in a sauna or steam room, and then take a cold shower.

I personally like to go outside with minimal clothing in the winter, and then eventually come back inside and take a hot shower.

Cold plunges, cold baths and cryotherapy are some other ways to expose yourself to cold.

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6. Hyperbaric 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.

Several studies have shown that HBOT elevates and enhances autophagy in the central nervous system (41-44).

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.

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

7. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to induce autophagy in the brain (69).

One study found that acupuncture improved learning and memory, and protected brain cells, by upregulating the autophagy pathway (70).

Another found that acupuncture promoted the “autophagic clearance” of proteins from the brain that contribute to Parkinson’s disease (71).

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture. Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear. I’d recommend trying to find a health practitioner in your area who provides it, especially if you’re weening off psychiatric medication. It really helped me the first time I came off antidepressants. I was surprised.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture.

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

Foods That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

8. Coffee and Caffeine

A cup of coffee on a plate with a spoon. Coffee induces autophagy in the brain.

Drinking coffee is another great way to induce autophagy in the brain.

Researchers have found that both regular and decaffeinated coffee rapidly trigger autophagy (32).

The polyphenols in coffee are also good for your brain health because they stimulate autophagy (32).

And other studies show that caffeine protects brain cells and lowers the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases by inducing autophagy in the brain (33-35).

I drink one cup of this high-quality coffee every morning.

Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it later in the day. I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep.

It’s also a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just the coffee bean or pure caffeine.

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

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

And after years of careful clinical research, scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.

Coffee fruit concentrate is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

9. Green Tea

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

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

Researchers have found that EGCG stimulates autophagy in the brain, protects against brain cell toxicity and may help treat neurodegenerative disorders (36-38, 40).

It also improves learning and memory after chronic stress by restoring autophagic flux in the brain (39).

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.

10. Coconut Oil and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

Coconut oil is one of the best foods for your brain.

It’s especially important if you want to support your thyroid.

But it can also stimulate autophagy in the brain by increasing ketone levels (45-46).

I eat one or two tablespoons of this coconut oil almost every day now, along with Optimal Ketones, to boost ketones and induce autophagy in my brain.

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) within coconut oil are responsible for the ketone-increasing effects of coconut oil

If you don’t like coconut oil, you can supplement with pure MCT oil instead.

11. Ginger

Ginger is one of the healthiest spices.

It contains lots of nutrients and bioactive compounds that have powerful, protective benefits for your brain (47-49).

6-shagol, one of the active compounds within ginger, induces autophagy (50-55).

12. Reishi Mushroom

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a powerful fungus with hundreds of bioactive compounds.

It has been used for thousands of years by Chinese medicine practitioners to support the immune system, regulate inflammation, lower anxiety and support brain function.

Research shows that reishi mushroom can induce autophagy (56).

It also protects the brain from oxidative stress by regulating autophagy (57-58).

I’ve supplemented with this reishi mushroom tincture in the past to support my immune system.

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13. Turmeric (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 is because it protects brain cells from damage by activating autophagy (59-61).

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

14. Broccoli Sprouts (Sulforaphane)

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, similar to curcumin.

Studies have shown that sulforaphane increases autophagy within brain cells (62-63).

As a result, researchers believe it can be a therapeutic tool in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (63).

Broccoli sprouts are the best source of sulforaphane.

You can also take sulforaphane in supplement form.

If you decide to take it in supplement form, make sure you get the "myrosinase-activated" form.

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

I once bought a supplement that didn't contain myrosinase and had to return it, and then ended up buying this one instead.

15. Galangal

Galangal is a spice.

It’s known as “Thai ginger” or “Siamese ginger” because it looks very similar to ginger.

But it’s actually a different spice altogether.

It's commonly found in Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian cooking.

Galangin, a compound within galangal, has been shown to induce autophagy and protect dopaminergic neurons in the brain (64-65).

16. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Oleuropein)

Olive oil on a picnic table. The antioxidants in olive oil can induce autophagy in the brain.

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

Oleuropein, a polyphenol found in olive oil, has been shown to induce autophagy and reduce cognitive impairment (92).

As a result, researchers propose that a diet with extra virgin olive oil might have potential benefits for Alzheimer’s patients because of its induction of autophagy (72).

I add olive oil to my salads and sometimes even just take a tablespoon of it straight.

Be careful though. A lot of cheap extra virgin olive oil in grocery stores are not actually “extra virgin.”

Investigations have found that there is a lot of fraud within the olive oil industry and many so-called extra virgin olive oils contains other cheaper, refined vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn and canola.

This is discussed more in the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.

You don’t just have to eat olive oil to get the benefits of oleuropein though.

Oleuropein can also be found in olive leaf extract and argon oil.

17. Berries

Blueberries, strawberries, acai berries are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain.

And for good reason.

All three berries have been shown to significantly activate autophagy in the brain (74-74).

The polyphenols within them also protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation and improve cognitive function.

I try to eat one cup of berries every day to support my brain health.

18. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself, and they are absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

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

Researchers have also demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids can increase BDNF signaling and enhance autophagy in the brain (108-112).

So increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to support your brain.

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

  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain 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 feel off when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

Some researchers believe that the beneficial effects of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may simply be due to their ability to activate autophagy (107).

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Natural Supplements That Induce Autophagy in the Brain

19. Probiotics

Research suggests that certain probiotics can stimulate autophagy in the brain.

In one study, researchers gave the SLAB51 probiotic formulation to mice, and it partially restored autophagy in the brains of the mice (75).

The researchers also found that the SLAB51 probiotic reduced brain damage and decreased cognitive decline in the mice (75).

I tried to find the SLAB51 probiotic formulation online, but it doesn’t appear to be commercially available yet.

I personally take the Optimal Biotics supplement every day to support my gut and brain health.

I also like to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods regularly.

Check out this older article for several other ways to increase your good gut bacteria.

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 9 probiotic strains that can help.

20. American Ginseng

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a powerful herb that enhances brain function.

Researchers have found that it induces autophagy, which then protects the brain from neurotoxicity and reduces mitochondrial dysfunction (76-78).

Because of this, researchers believe it can help treat neurodegenerative disorders (77, 79).

American ginseng is included in the Optimal Ketones supplement. I find it increases my mental clarity and energy.

21. Ginkgo Biloba

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

It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

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

Researchers have also discovered it helps treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by activating and increasing autophagy in the brain (80-82).

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

22. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects.

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells. It’s been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood.

Researchers have also found that it helps reverse cognitive decline and supports mitochondrial function by inducing autophagy in the brain (83-86).

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

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

23. Vitamin D (and K2)

An illustration of the sun with Vitamin D in the middle. Vitamin D induces autophagy in the brain.

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

Unfortunately, researchers estimate that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.

This is a huge problem because every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.

Research shows that Vitamin D, and activation of the Vitamin D receptor, induces autophagy (89-91, 93).

Vitamin D supplementation in mice also increases levels of autophagy (92).

One study found that Vitamin D can reduce neurological deficits caused by traumatic brain injury by restoring autophagy in the brain (95).

And some researchers have pointed out that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many diseases that involve defective autophagy (94).

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sun.

I try to get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months.

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

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

I also take this Vitamin D supplement as needed, depending on my blood test levels.

Vitamin D is so critical for optimal brain health, so make sure to check your levels regularly. You can order a test here.

If you decide to take a Vitamin D3 supplement, it’s a good idea to take it along with Vitamin K2. They are synergistic and mix well together.

There is also some evidence that Vitamin K2 stimulates autophagy as well (87-88).

24. 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 improve your brain health and increase the formation of myelin.

Research shows that lithium induces autophagy in the brain and enhances the breakdown and clearance of proteins that contribute to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

Therefore, it may help treat Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's disease, and dementia (96-97).

I used to take this lithium orotate. I don’t take it anymore because I don’t need it, but I remember it making me feel calm and stable.

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25. Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active cannabinoids found in marijuana.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD isn’t psychoactive and doesn’t make you “high”.

But it can help treat a number of diseases because it reduces inflammation.

Researchers have found that CBD activates and enhances autophagy pathways in the brain (98-100).

I took this CBD oil for a while and I recommend it. It significantly reduced my stress, made me sleepy and knocked me out before bed.

I only took it in the evening because it made me too drowsy during the day, and I don’t need to take it anymore.

If you decide to get the same CBD oil as me, I found out you can use the coupon code 10off406 for a 10% discount.

26. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as golden root or arctic root, is a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb.

It’s one of the most popular adaptogens used to increase physical and mental stamina.

One study found that rhodiola can reduce neurodegeneration by inducing autophagy in the brain (101).

Other studies have found that the herb significantly upregulates autophagy (102-103).

I take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I need a cognitive boost. You can get it here or here.

Check out this post all about rhodiola to learn more about this amazing herb.

27. Berberine

A bowl of berberine. Berberine induces autophagy in the brain.

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants.

It has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and possibly antidepressant effects. It can also improve intestinal health and lower cholesterol.

Researchers have also found that berberine reduces inflammation and protects the brain from damage by boosting autophagy in the brain (104-105).

One study even found it reduces neurological deficits and promotes neurogenesis by stimulating autophagy (106).

I’ve experimented with varying dosages of this berberine. I personally didn’t notice any profound brain and mental health benefits, but I have heard good things from other practitioners.

28. Nicotinamide

Nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide or nicotinic acid amide, is the water-soluble, active form of Vitamin B3.

It has been shown to reduce cognitive decline and halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by improving autophagy function in the brain (113-114).

It also improves cognitive performance and preserves mitochondrial integrity (113).

Years ago, I took this nicotinamide supplement after reading that it could help with addiction, withdrawal and energy. It did, but I don’t take it individually anymore. I now take this all-in-one B complex instead.

29. Schisandra

Schisandra is a berry commonly used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.

The seeds of the berry contain lignans, which have health-promoting properties.

It’s considered an adaptogen and traditionally used to treat depression, stress and menopause.

But lots of research shows that Schisandra can also benefit people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (115-116).

This is because it reduces neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment by enhancing autophagy (117-120).

Besides promoting autophagy, it also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects upon brain cells (116).

You can also get Schisandra as dried whole berries or as juice.

But it usually isn’t used as a food.

Rather, it’s more commonly used as a supplement. It’s available in multiple forms, including dried powder and pills.

30. Spermidine

Spermidine is a polyamine compound with various metabolic functions.

It’s found in living tissues and within a wide range of foods, including aged cheese, fermented soy, chicken, mushrooms, pears and potatoes.

It can also be taken as a supplement.

Researchers have found that it’s neuroprotective and reduces synapse aging by enhancing autophagy in the brain (121-127).

As a result, it counteracts neurodegeneration, reduces memory impairment, and protects neurons from demyelination (121).

31. Resveratrol and Pterostilbene

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

It’s known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Several studies have shown that resveratrol induces autophagy in the brain (128-132).

In two of the studies, it protected brain cells and helped brain cells recover after injury by enhancing autophagy (131-132).

Researchers propose it could even be used to help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s Disease due to its autophagy-enhancing effects (130).

To consume enough resveratrol to promote autophagy, you’ll need to supplement with it.

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. I don't take it every day, just every so often. You can get it here or here.

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol, and it has also been shown to induce autophagy (133-135).

I tried this pterostilbene and it was beneficial, but I didn’t find it any more helpful than resveratrol, so I’ve decided to just stick with resveratrol considering it has significantly more research to back it up.

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

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

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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