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. 

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

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The Brain and Mental Health Benefits of Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) & Photobiomodulation

Low-level laser/light therapy (LLLT) is the very last treatment I used to restore my brain function after serious concussions, toxic mold exposure and multiple psychiatric prescriptions

And in my experience, it is one of the most efficient ways to boost brain function and improve mental health. 

Yet your doctor likely has no idea what it is. 

It’s about as cutting-edge as it gets, and even more unconventional than neurofeedback. But it works. 

Also known as photobiomodulation, LLLT is the application of low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to the body for therapeutic purposes.  When LLLT is applied to the brain, it is known as transcranial LLLT or transcranial photobiomodulation (44). 

LLLT has been around since 1967, and there are now more than one thousand scientific studies showing that it can help treat a variety of disorders without any harmful effects. Unlike high-intensity surgical lasers, low-powered lasers do not cut or burn tissue. Instead, these lasers stimulate a biological response and encourage cells to function properly (11, 12, 33). 

And luckily, it’s very easy to treat yourself at home with LLLT using red and infrared light.

I use two main devices on my brain and they have significantly improved the quality of my life.

Make sure you read the Recommended Devices section below, where I discuss the different devices I use. 

Picture of mitochondria being irradiated and stimulated by red and infrared light.

How It Works

Research shows that red and infrared light between the wavelengths of 632 nanometers (nm) and 1064 nm produce positive biological effects. For brain cells, the optimal range appears to be between 800 nm and 1000 nm, as these wavelengths can penetrate the scalp and skull and reach the brain (19, 20, 25-31).

The devices I use fall within this range. 

The light emitted from these devices stimulate a photochemical reaction within cells, which can accelerate the natural healing process and cause beneficial changes in behaviour (45).

How does it do this?

Mainly by supporting your mitochondria

As I’ve discussed before, mitochondria are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body in the form of 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. 

Proper mitochondrial function and ATP production is critical for neuroprotection, cognitive enhancement, and the prevention and alleviation of several neurological and mental disorders (46).

And research demonstrates that transcranial LLLT supports mitochondrial function and significantly increases the production of ATP in the brain (3-5, 8-10, 13-17, 21-22, 34, 45).

Your mitochondria contain photoacceptors that absorb the photons from light and convert them into ATP – energy that can be used to perform cellular tasks and biological processes (39, 40).

This process is comparable to plant photosynthesis, during which sunlight is absorbed by plants and converted to energy for the plants to grow (23, 24). 

By stimulating the mitochondria and producing more ATP, LLLT gives brain cells extra ATP energy to work better and heal and repair themselves.

On top of this, LLLT has also been shown to:

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My Experience and What You Should Expect

Along with neurofeedback, LLLT is one of the most impactful actions I have taken to optimize my brain and mental health.

Man using LLLT helmet and intranasal Vielight device.

By the time I was off all psychiatric medications, I had lost a lot of my full cognitive capabilities. Thankfully, LLLT has restored them.

Here are some of the results I’ve noticed:

  • Increased cognitive function

  • Sharper thinking

  • Improved mood, concentration, alertness

  • Less fatigue and reduced need for sleep

  • More mental motivation, endurance and productivity

Overall, it has improved my mental constitution. I don’t get fatigued and worn down as easily and I can focus and think harder for longer periods of time.

LLLT also has a cumulative effect. Your brain becomes stronger and more resilient over time as you do the treatment consistently.  

It has allowed me to reduce the number of supplements I take daily. I now realize that I needed the treatment for many years, but I just didn’t know it existed.

Luckily, I’m now able to treat myself on a regular basis and I’ve never felt better. 

Many serious brain injuries and mental illnesses can be successfully treated with LLLT, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, post-concussion syndrome, stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

I explore how LLLT has been shown to help each of these disorders below. Feel free to skip to the disorder you're struggling with to learn more.

Depression and Anxiety

Studies in rats and humans provide evidence that LLLT improves mood and decreases depressive symptoms.

In 2009, researchers took 10 patients with a history of major depression and anxiety (including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse) and applied LLLT to their foreheads for four weeks. At the end of the study, six of the 10 patients experienced a remission of their depression, and seven of the 10 patients experienced a remission of their anxiety. There were no observable side effects (54). 

The data supports that LLLT to the head constitutes a promising neurotherapeutic tool to modulate behaviour in a non-invasive manner.
— Dr. Julio C. Rojas, MD, PhD, University of California

This makes sense considering that several studies show that depression is linked to abnormal blood flow in the frontal cortex of the brain, and LLLT increases blood flow and circulation (47, 53). 

Other studies have shown that participants report a significant increase in positive emotions and a reduction in depressive symptoms for two weeks after LLLT treatment (55-57). 

Sufferers of traumatic brain injury (TBI) also experience a decrease in depression, anxiety, irritability and insomnia, and an overall improvement in quality of life, because of LLLT (58, 59).  

I’ve personally experienced all of these results.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a growing health concern. An estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually in the U.S. (60). 

Mild TBIs (concussions) make up 75 per cent of all brain injuries. Military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan frequently experience mild TBI while overseas, and many months after they return home, they often struggle with PTSD, depression and anxiety (61, 62). 

And research shows that transcranial LLLT can help (63). 

I personally experienced this. In 2010, I suffered multiple concussions while living in a moldy home, and thankfully LLLT has helped me completely recover from post-concussion syndrome. It’s helped me as much as neurofeedback

A number of human studies show that patients with chronic mild TBI experience improved cognition, memory and sleep with LLLT treatment. 

One study examined whether LLLT could help 11 patients with chronic mild TBI symptoms. They all had cognitive dysfunction, and four of them had multiple concussions like I did. 

After 18 LLLT sessions, their cognition, memory and verbal learning improved. Participants also said they slept better and had fewer PTSD symptoms. Coworkers, friends and family reported improved social, interpersonal, and occupational functioning (65). 

If LLLT was a drug, we would definitely be hearing about it.

In another study, 10 people with chronic TBI were given 10 treatments of LLLT (810 nm) and witnessed a reduction in headaches, cognitive dysfunction, sleep problems, anxiety, depression and irritability (66). 

There have also been a few case studies showing beneficial effects of transcranial LLLT in TBI patients (67, 68):

Seven years after closed-head TBI from a motor vehicle accident, case 1 (a 66-year-old woman) began transcranial LED treatments. Before LLLT treatment, she could focus on her computer for only 20 minutes. After eight weekly LLLT treatments, her focused computer time increased to 3 hours. She has treated herself nightly at home for 5.5 years now and maintains her improved cognition at age 72 years.
Case 2 (a 52-year-old retired, high-ranking female military officer) had a history of multiple closed-head injuries. Before beginning LLLT treatments, she was on medical disability for 5 months. After 4 months of nightly LLLT treatments at home, she returned to working full-time as an executive consultant with an international technology consulting firm and discontinued medical disability. Neuropsychological testing performed after 9 months of transcranial LED showed significant improvement in cognition and memory, as well as reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
Case 3 received 20 LLLT treatments over two months and experienced highly favourable outcomes with decreased depression, anxiety, headache, and insomnia, whereas cognition and quality of life improved.

So LLLT can improve cognition, reduce costs in TBI treatment and be applied at home?

Hmm, sounds like something the pharmaceutical industry would not like people to know about – and something that would force them to lose a lot of life-long customers. 

Several mouse studies also show that transcranial LLLT can prevent cell death and increase neurological performance after TBI (69-72). 

Researchers believe that LLLT works so well for people struggling with TBI symptoms because mitochondria in the brain are significantly dysfunctional after TBI, resulting in an inadequate supply of ATP, and LLLT can support the mitochondria and increase ATP production (73-75, 79). 

There is also poor blood flow and oxygenation, and increased inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain after head injuries. This contributes to brain damage, but LLLT can help combat these problems, increase antioxidants, promote neurogenesis and relieve chronic symptoms (76-78, 80-83).

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Alzheimer's Disease and Cognitive Impairment

Research shows that LLLT can boost performance and improve cognitive function, including attention and memory, in elderly people, young healthy people and animals.  

Preliminary studies demonstrate that LLLT could slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by decreasing a protein in the brain that is linked to dementia (84-86, 94). 

Downregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) occurs early in the progression of Alzheimer's disease, and LLLT has been shown to prevent brain cell loss by upregulating BDNF (87). 

LLLT could be used as a preventive intervention in people who present risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, or a history of head trauma. In such patients, LLLT could be combined with cognitive intervention approaches.
— Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Lima, PhD, University of Austin, Texas

Researchers have also applied LLLT to middle-aged mice, and discovered that the memory and cognitive performance of the middle-aged mice improved so much that it was comparable with that of young mice. The researchers concluded that LLLT should be “applied in cases of general cognitive impairment in elderly persons” (5, 88). 

Several others studies have shown that LLLT significantly increases alertness, awareness and sustained attention, and improves short-term memory and reaction time. Study participants also made fewer errors during tasks and tests (89-91, 93, 95). 

Another study found that LLLT was just as effective as exercise at enhancing cognition, likely by providing neuroprotection and supporting the mitochondria (92, 96).

Stroke

Multiple studies show that LLLT can significantly reduce brain damage and improve recovery outcomes after a stroke (110-113). 

In one study, researchers applied LLLT over the entire surface of the head of stroke patients approximately 18 hours after a stroke. Five days after the stroke, they found significantly greater improvements in the LLLT-treated group. The improvements continued 90 days after the stroke. At the end of the study, 70% of the patients treated with real LLLT had a successful outcome compared with only 51% of the control subjects (114). 

Follow up studies with over 600 stroke patients found similar beneficial results. Researchers believe increase in the production of ATP is responsible for the improvements (115, 116, 117).  

Numerous studies also show that LLLT significantly reduces neurological problems and improves behaviour in rats and rabbits after stroke. It also increases the growth of new brain cells in these animals, improving their overall recovery (118-124).

Other Disorders

There are a number of other disorders that can also improve with LLLT treatment: 

  • Parkinson’s disease (PD) – “Mitochondria in PD tissues are compromised… LLLT could be developed as a novel treatment to improve neuronal function in patients with PD” (109).

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress play an important role in motor neuron loss in ALS. Motor function significantly improved with LLLT group in the early stage of the disease (99).

  • Autism – Linked to mitochondria dysfunction and inflammation, so LLLT would likely help (103, 104).

  • Bipolar disorder – Linked to mitochondria dysfunction and inflammation (105, 106, 107)

  • Schizophrenia – Linked mitochondria dysfunction and inflammation (105, 106)

  • Smoking Cessation – Check out this video.

  • Alcoholism (101, 102)

  • Opiate addiction (102)

  • Headaches and migraines (108)

  • Acne - This is unrelated to brain health but LLLT can also treat acne. Improving my diet and gut health helped me overcome my acne, but I definitely wish I had known about LLLT when I had it. An integrative physician here in Ottawa has had a lot of success with her patients struggling with acne and other skin issues (97, 98).

Recommended Devices

I first discovered LLLT when reading Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity. I highly recommend the book. 

Dr. Doidge talks about the BioFlex Laser Therapy equipment, which costs thousands of dollars.

I found an integrative physician here who owned a Bioflex and I gave it a try. 

After a few sessions, I started experiencing beneficial effects.

So I decided to go ahead and buy my own LLLT devices for cheaper. And they have provided me with the same brain and mental health benefits as the expensive Bioflex: 

  • Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) - This is a powerful 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 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. I haven't tried them yet because I’m happy with my Bio-450 and Vielight 810. But I have heard great things from other biohackers and researchers. They are apparently even more effective than the Vielight 810. Again, you can also use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount if you buy one of these devices.

  • Red Light Man is another reliable company that provides red and infrared light devices.

Unlike most pharmaceuticals, LLLT is very safe, non-toxic and non-invasive, so you can easily try it on yourself without concern and see if it helps you like it has helped me (33, 34, 126). 

Woman applying a red and infrared light LLLT device to her forehead.

You can shine the light all over your head. But start slow and apply the light to different areas of your head for just 1-2 minutes, maybe even less if you’re really sensitive. Then work your way up to longer periods of time, perhaps 5-10 minutes per area. There’s no exact proper way to do this. Listen to your body and see how it affects you. 

It’s important to note that some people experience grogginess and fatigue after using LLLT. I experienced this the day after my first treatment. I was incredibly tired and lethargic. This was a sign that I did too much. 

If you feel extremely tired immediately after LLLT or the next day, take a break and do less next time. For example, if you applied light to your forehead for 3 minutes, then drop back down to 2 minutes for your next session. 

It is also important to cycle LLLT. The way it works is similar to exercise, so you need to take breaks in order to heal and get stronger. Using it everyday can cause a burnout effect. I use it every 2-3 days to give my brain a chance to recover.

Conclusion

Frankly, it’s ridiculous that this therapy is not more well-known and promoted by doctors. But like everything else on this website, you don’t have to wait for conventional medicine to catch up, and you can experiment with the LLLT devices yourself. There is a high benefit-to-risk ratio. 

I suspect that home-use application of LLLT will become much more popular in the coming years.

The remarkable effects of the treatment in healing the brain in a non-invasive manner, along with the fact that there is little evidence of any adverse side effects, suggests to me that it’s use will only increase.

At the same time, distrust in pharmaceuticals continues to grow because of uncertain efficacy and unbearable side effects. 

And as the Western population continues to age, the incidence of the degenerative brain diseases will only continue to increase, which will produce a severe financial and societal burden.

So people will realize they are at a disadvantage by not having their own device(s) and will start using them on a regular basis for optimal mental health and cognition.

I've come to this conclusion, and I'm glad I did.

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Jordan Fallis

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References:

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(83)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229161498_Transcranial_low_level_laser_light_therapy_for_traumatic_brain_injury

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(95) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1074742707001153

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

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

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

Who doesn't want that? 

There are many ways to increase dopamine naturally.

But what are the VERY BEST ways to do it?

This article gives you the answer. 

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

It starts off with my 10 personal favourites.

And then offers 26 other great options. 

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

Read on to learn more. 

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

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

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

Dopamine influences almost every aspect of your life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So not surprisingly, dopamine significantly impacts human behaviour.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you struggle with one of these conditions or symptoms. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless.

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

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

They can significantly improve your motivation, focus and mood.

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

Let’s jump into them.

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

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

1. Sunlight and Vitamin D

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

And it’s my personal favourite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

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

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

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

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

Deep breathing with the EmWave2 device is my favourite way. 

3. Low-Level Laser Therapy

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

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

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

This helps your brain function much better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Rhodiola

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

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

I previously wrote about rhodiola here

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

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

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

You can get it here or here

Click here to subscribe

5. Coffee

Drinking coffee is another great way to boost dopamine levels.

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

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

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

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

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

This might be due to the quality of the coffee. 

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

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

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine.

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

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

I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep and don't feel great the next day.

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

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

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

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

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

6. Uridine

Uridine is a natural compound commonly found in beer.

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

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

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

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

7. Cold Exposure

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

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

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

I take a cold shower every day.

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

You don’t have to be that extreme though.

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

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

I can be a bit painful.

But the beneficial effects end up being worth it.

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

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

Find what works best for you and do it regularly.

8. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite daily activity.

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

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

It likely has these effects by stimulating the vagus nerve

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

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

9. Ginseng

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

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

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

10. Citicoline and Alpha GPC

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

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

Why?

Because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

Other Effective Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

11. Take Dopamine Precursors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some healthy sources: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Probiotics

Research suggests that certain probiotics can also increase dopamine.

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

An image of different cartoon bacteria.

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

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

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

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

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

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

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

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

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

It does a lot.

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

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

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

14. Acupuncture

A woman’s ear with acupuncture needles in it.

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

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

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

I really like auricular acupuncture.

Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear.

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

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

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

15. Ginkgo Biloba

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

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

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

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

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

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

16. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a hormone naturally produced by the body.

But it can also be taken as a supplement.

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

So it’s very important.

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

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

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

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

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17. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that significantly affects brain function. 

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

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

When this happens, there is a reduction in dopamine.

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

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

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

One possible mechanism is by increasing dopamine levels.

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

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

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

18. Forskolin

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

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

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

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

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

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

19. Standing

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

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

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

20. Iron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other good sources of iron include:

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

21. Salt

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

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

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

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

Stick to sea salt and pink Himalayan salt.

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

22. Theacrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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23. Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

24. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take this one.

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

25. Touch and Massage

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

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

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

But it can also include massage therapy. 

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

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

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

26. Tea and Theanine

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

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

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

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

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

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

This anti-anxiety supplement contains theanine. 

27. Intermittent Fasting

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

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

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

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

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

28. Taurine

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

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

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.  

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29. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient.

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

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

There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.

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

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

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

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

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

30. Folate

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

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

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

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

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

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

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

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

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

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex

Folate also lowers homocysteine levels

31. St. John’s Wort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32. SAM-e

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

It’s also available as a supplement

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

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

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

33. Curcumin

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

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

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

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

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

34. Reduce Inflammation

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

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

There are many causes of chronic inflammation, including infections, mold, brain injuries, and leaky brain.

But one of the most common causes – and the one you have the most control over – is your diet. 

That’s why I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods such as gluten and dairy that can trigger inflammation in the gut and brain. 

You should also remove processed food from your diet, and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed beef and organic chicken

Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health for a full list of anti-inflammatory foods. 

Other steps you can take to reduce inflammation include reducing stress, exercising, improving gut health, treating infections and getting enough sleep. 

35. Music

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

But it also increases dopamine. 

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

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

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

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

Want to take it a step further?

Start making music. 

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

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

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

36. Get Enough Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote deeper and more restful sleep.  

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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

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