How to Actually Heal and Repair a Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier

Blood-brain barrier leakage means that the brain has lost its protective means, the stability of brain cells is disrupted and the environment in which nerve cells interact becomes ill-conditioned. These mechanisms could eventually lead to dysfunction in the brain.
— Dr. Walter H. Backes, Maastricht University Medical Center
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A healthy, properly-functioning blood-brain barrier is absolutely critical for optimal brain and mental health.

The blood-brain barrier is a protective shield that surrounds your brain.

It acts as a gatekeeper and filter, allowing beneficial nutrients to cross over into your brain, and keeping unwanted molecules out of your brain.  

But in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working, Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains that the blood-brain barrier can break down and become “leaky”.

This allows harmful substances to enter your brain, contributing to brain inflammation, which has been shown to cause cognitive problems and mental illness (92, 110-111).

Hyper-permeability of the blood-brain barrier and neuroinflammation have been linked to a number of different brain and mental health problems and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, brain fog, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia (101-109). 

A number of factors contribute to “leaky brain”, including (93-100):

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Needless to say, these things are very common today, so a lot of people likely have a leaky blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that even though the blood-brain barrier can break down and become leaky, it can also be fixed!

You can repair it if you give it what it needs to heal. 

After living in a moldy home and suffering multiple concussions, my brain and its barrier were in rough shape.

Since then, I’ve searched far and wide for solutions that could strengthen it.

Here are 23 strategies that have been shown to support and repair the blood brain barrier.

Many of them have helped me.

Together, they can help you reduce neuroinflammation, heal your “leaky brain,” and overcome your brain and mental health challenges. 

 

1. Avoid Gluten

Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.

I’m convinced that if you struggle with a chronic brain or mental illness, you should follow a strict gluten-free diet for at least 30 days and see how you feel.

You'll likely feel better.

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There’s one main reason I recommend this…

Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.

Zonulin is a protein in your body that increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier and disrupts the blood-brain barrier (48).

Researchers have found that gluten clearly increases zonulin and contributes to “leaky gut” and “leaky brain”, resulting in neuroinflammation and altered cognitive function (49, 50).

Gluten sensitivity can also create visible changes to the white matter in your brain, according to research in The Lancet Neurology (51).

Yet unfortunately, the myth continues to spread that only people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten-containing food.

That’s simply not true.  

Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain and Brain Maker, explains:

Not only is there increased gut permeability when the gut is exposed to gliadin, a protein found in gluten, but in fact the blood brain barrier also becomes more permeable in response to gliadin exposure.

You should also determine if you have other food sensitivities and remove those foods from your diet as well. A lot of people are sensitive to dairy, along with gluten. I can't tolerate gluten, dairy and egg whites and have to avoid them completely. 

 

2. Heal Your Gut (and Increase the Good Bacteria Within It)

There is a clear connection between your brain and digestive system.

I’ve discussed this before.

Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.

Because of this connection, it’s critical to address gut issues in order to heal a leaky brain.

Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.

“Germ-free” mice means that the mice don’t have any bacteria in their intestines.

And what did the researchers find?

They found that these germ-free mice had very leaky blood-brain barriers (56).

But when these germ-free mice received a fecal transfer, where researchers introduced bacteria into their intestines, the permeability of their blood-brain barriers decreased significantly (57).

So it’s becoming increasing clear that our gut bacteria directly affect the health of our blood-brain barrier.

And manipulating your gut bacteria, and increasing the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system, can help improve the integrity of your blood-brain barrier and heal your leaky brain. 

Given that the microbiome composition and diversity change over time, it is tempting to speculate that the blood-brain barrier integrity also may fluctuate depending on the microbiome.
— Dr. Sven Pettersson, MD, PhD

In my experience, this is true, as my brain functions much better when I take care of my gut. 

Eating more prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, taking a high-quality probiotic, and eating fermented foods on a regular basis can increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut.

I take Optimal Biotics every day.

You should check out my previous article about gut health to learn more.

And if you have depression or anxiety, taking these probiotics can help.

 

3. Drink Coffee

Coffee and caffeine are excellent for brain health. There is lots of research showing they are very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

One possible explanation for this is that caffeine supports the blood-brain barrier.

Studies show that caffeine protects against Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease by keeping the blood-brain barrier intact, and protecting against blood-brain barrier dysfunction and leakage (32).

In one study, researchers found that caffeine blocks the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, concluding that caffeine is “useful in the treatment Alzheimer's disease” (33, 34).

Another study showed that caffeine can protect against Parkinson’s disease and neurodegeneration by stabilizing the blood-brain barrier (35).

I used to not be able to handle any coffee and caffeine at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of this coffee most mornings.

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

It's also important to note that some people simply can’t tolerate coffee. This is because most coffee contains low levels of mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold). 

After living in a moldy home for more than one year, I’m extremely sensitive to mold and mycotoxins. Kicking Horse Kickass coffee and Bulletproof coffee are the only two coffees I have found so far that don’t make me feel sick. I can also tolerate pure caffeine tablets.

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine. But if coffee makes you feel terrible and jittery, it might be the quality of the coffee. Consider trying one of the two coffees above, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You’ll likely feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee. 

Lastly, there are additional brain health benefits when you consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just coffee or pure caffeine. 

Usually, coffee beans are extracted from the whole coffee fruit for roasting. And then the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

But this is a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

And researchers have now discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function.

That’s why I included coffee fruit concentrate in the Optimal Brain supplement

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4. Sulforaphane

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cabbages.

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

It’s quite similar to curcumin.

Numerous studies have shown that sulforaphane can prevent the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, reduce permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and improve cognitive function after stroke and traumatic brain injuries (87-91).

You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.

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

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

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

 

5. Avoid Alcohol

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Not surprisingly, alcohol and acetaldehyde – a byproduct of alcohol metabolism – can weaken and damage the blood-brain barrier, and contribute to leaky brain.  

Researchers have found that the oxidative stress that results from excess alcohol consumption leads to blood-brain barrier dysfunction (58, 59).

And this can then lead to neuro-inflammation (60).

There are ways to protect your brain from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to heal.

Some types of alcohol are better than others. You can learn more about the best types of alcohol here

 

 6. Resveratrol or 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 scientists are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF and support your mitochondria.

And according to cutting-edge research, it can also protect and support your blood-brain barrier.

In a recent study, researchers gave resveratrol to Alzheimer’s patients and it restored the integrity of their blood-brain barriers.

Because of this, there was a reduction in brain inflammation, which slowed down cognitive decline in the patients (38, 39). 

Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:

  • Significantly reduces the breakage, damage and dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and

  • Improves and maintains the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (36-37, 40-43).

Resveratrol imposes a kind of crowd control at the border of the brain. The agent seems to shut out unwanted immune molecules that can exacerbate brain inflammation and kill neurons.
— Dr. Charbel Moussa, MD, PhD

Because of resveratrol’s ability to stabilize the blood-brain barrier and protect against neuroinflammation, researchers also believe it may reduce the clinical severity of multiple sclerosis (44).

Lastly, resveratrol has been shown to protects against oxidized LDL-induced breakage of the blood–brain barrier (45, 46).

So clearly resveratrol is great for our blood-brain barriers.

If resveratrol was a pharaceutical drug, we would definitely be hearing more about it. But natural compounds cannot be patented, so we don't.  

I regularly supplement with this resveratrol. You can get it here or here

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, is very similar to resveratrol.

It’s also been shown to protect the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress, and it’s apparently better absorbed than resveratrol. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as a “better resveratrol” (47).

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

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7. Reduce Stress

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage and reduce your stress.

Research suggests that acute stress damages the blood-brain barrier (52).

And extreme stress has been shown to increase inflammation and increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (53-55).

But normalizing your stress levels can help the blood-brain barrier repair itself.

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

If you can’t access neurofeedback, taking up a daily meditation practice is an excellent idea.

I’m a big fan of the Muse headband. It’s a device that guides you while you meditation. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I wrote an entire review about it here, and you can get the device through Amazon or the Muse website

Regular massage, acupuncture, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), emotional freedom techniques (EFT), heart-rate variability (HRV) training, and this acupressure mat have helped me a lot as well.

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

Some nutrients and herbs that can help you with stress include zinc, magnesium, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine.

This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress over the years.

 

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. So you need to get them from diet or supplements, as they are absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

Omega-3 fatty acids can support your mitochondria, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can: 

  • Reduce damage to the blood-brain barrier after stoke;

  • Limit blood-brain barrier disruption after traumatic brain injury; and

  • Benefit people with multiple sclerosis by indirectly reducing disruption of their blood-brain barriers (76-78).

Wild fish is the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids, but unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

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

Krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a powerful, naturally occurring carotenoid.

Astaxanthin has also been shown to decreases inflammation and protect the blood-brain barrier (118-119).

 

9. Sleep and Melatonin

Deep sleep is necessary for the optimal functioning of your blood-brain barrier.

My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor brain and mental health. And then my poor brain and mental health would make my sleep worse. So it was a vicious cycle.

Sleep restriction has been shown to impair the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and increase its permeability (84).

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So you should really try to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night.

Supplementing with melatonin can also help.

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm).

Adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Research also shows that melatonin can stabilize the blood-brain barrier and prevent damage caused by traumatic brain injury (85, 86).

Besides taking melatonin, here are some other steps you can take to maintain your circadian rhythm and maximize the quality of your sleep:

You can also take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin.

 

10. Berberine

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants. 

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

And several studies have shown that it can decrease the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and reduce brain damage after traumatic brain injury. It does this by suppressing inflammation (23-26). 

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

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11. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t even aware that mold is in their home or workplace and affecting their brain function.

In water-damaged buildings, mycotoxins (toxic metabolites produced by mold) are released into the air.

If you’re genetically susceptible, they can wreak havoc on your brain, and your cognitive function and mental health can deteriorate for no apparent reason.

One way mold and mycotoxins can disrupt brain function is by causing “leaky brain.”

Researchers have discovered that mycotoxins can clearly reduce the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (62).

They’ve also concluded that exposure to mycotoxins in an indoor environment can cause neurological damage. One way it does this is by breaking down the blood-brain barrier (61).

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Several other studies have found that mycotoxins increase the permeability of blood-brain barrier and disrupt the functioning of the nervous system (63-66).

I lived in a moldy house for more than a year, and my blood-brain barrier likely became significantly leaky during that time, as my brain and mental health deteriorated. I also suffered a terrible concussion while living in that house, making my brain even more permeable. It took a while to get back to normal.

Today I use this air filter in my apartment to protect myself from any mold. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Mycotoxins aren’t just in your environment though. Low amounts of mycotoxins are also often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

If I'm exposed to mold or their toxins, I supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay. Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body.

 

12. B Vitamins

Several B vitamins have been shown to support the blood-brain barrier and help heal leaky brain.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency disrupts the blood-brain barrier, and supplementing with Vitamin B1 restores its integrity (80-81).

Researchers have also found that vitamins B12, B6, and B9 (folate) can restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in adults that have elevated homocysteine levels and mild cognitive impairment. Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound that can contribute to blood-brain barrier breakdown at high levels, and the B vitamins normalize homocysteine levels (82-83).

I take this B complex regularly. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12 and methylfolate.

 

13. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a key role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

It impacts your neurotransmitters and hormones, both of which can significantly impact your mood and brain function.

Magnesium is one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, because most people are deficient nowadays.

Research shows that it can support your mitochondria, protect your brain from alcohol, increase your BDNF levels, and help you overcome addiction and withdrawal.

And there is plenty of research showing that it can protect and support your blood-brain barrier as well.

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Multiple studies have found that magnesium protects the blood-brain barrier, prevents its disruption, and significantly reduces hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier (27, 28, 31).

One study found that it decreases blood-brain barrier permeability by 41% (29).

Magnesium’s protective effect against blood-brain barrier hyperpermeability has also been seen after traumatic brain injury (30).

Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

But supplementation and taking Epsom salt baths is still necessary for most people because magnesium is rapidly used up during times of stress and certain psychiatric drugs can deplete magnesium.

I take this magnesium supplement

 

14. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant produced by your body.

It can also be taken as a supplement.

ALA is fat soluble and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain (1-3).

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As I’ve discussed before, it can protect your brain from alcohol and support the mitochondria in your brain.

But not only can it cross your blood-brain barrier and support your brain; it can also support your blood-brain barrier itself.

Studies show that ALA has neuroprotective effects, and it maintains the integrity of the blood-brain barrier by reducing oxidative stress (4-5)

Researchers also point out that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects can stabilize the blood-brain barrier. This makes it an “attractive therapeutic agent for the treatment” of multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury (6-8).

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

 

15. Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR)

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.  

ALCAR has also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood. It helps reverse neurological decline and supports mitochondria function as well. 

It does so much, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that ALCAR helps repair the blood-brain barrier by reversing mitochondria decay caused by oxidative damage (122).

I find that ALCAR personally gives me a big boost in mental energy and cognitive function.  

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

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16. Curcumin

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

Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds for the brain. It can lower your cortisol levels and increase your BDNF levels.

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But it can also:

  • Reduce the disruption and hyperpermeability of the blood-brain barrier;

  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and

  • Improve the overall integrity of the blood-brain barrier (13-18).

Studies have also shown that curcumin can prevent blood-brain barrier damage and reduce the permeability of the blood-brain barrier caused by oxygen and glucose deprivation (20-22).

Researchers believe it can do all of this because it significantly reduces inflammation and oxidative stress (19).

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin

 

17. Vitamin D

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

Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system.

This means your entire body needs it to function properly and a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences.

Researchers have found that Vitamin D can prevent the disruption of the blood-brain barrier, mainly by reducing inflammation (72, 73).

In patients with multiple sclerosis, Vitamin D has been shown to protect endothelial cells and reduce blood-brain barrier disruption (74).

And one study found that intranasal administration of vitamin D reduces blood–brain barrier disruption (75).

I personally use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my Vitamin D levels are optimal.

 

18. Citicoline or Alpha GPC

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

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

As I’ve discussed before, it can help you overcome brain fog and addiction.

But it’s also been shown to significantly decrease the disruption and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier after traumatic brain injury (11-12).

And after brain ischemia, Citicoline significantly reduces blood-brain barrier dysfunction (10).

I personally take Citicoline every day.

It helps me a lot because I’ve had multiple concussions. 

Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to support the blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that it improves cognitive function by reversing the changes to the blood-brain barrier after a brain injury (9).

You can find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but both Citicoline and Alpha GPC have much more noticeable and immediate effects.  

Both citicoline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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19. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

“I have no doubt in my mind that, at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the Earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields.” - Dr. Robert Becker, Nobel Prize nominee and author of The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life

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

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

One way that radiofrequency EMFs may be causing neuropsychiatric effects is by contributing to a "leaky brain".  

Several studies have found that EMFs emitted from cellphones increase the permeability of the brain-blood barrier, and this increased permeability may lead to the accumulation of brain tissue damage and cognitive impairment (112-114). 

I encourage you to check out my other post about EMFs here

I'm still learning about how to manage and combat them, but here are some initial steps you can take:

  • Get an EMF meter to determine your exposure. I use the Cornet ED88T. It's the best option that is currently available. It measures electric, magnetic and radiofrequency fields. It's like having three meters in one. You can get it here.

  • Put your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it and/or use a radiation-blocking phone case such as Safe Sleeve. I did a lot of research into radiation-blocking cases and Safe Sleeve is the best on the market. They are manufactured with materials that have been 3rd-party tested to block 99.9% of radiation coming off a cell phone.

  • Turn off Wi-Fi at night while you’re sleeping.

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

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

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other steps you can take, and I plan on writing more about this soon because it isn’t discussed enough.

This may seem like “woo-woo” but it’s a real issue. And I suspect it will eventually become one of the biggest issues of our time.

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20. Lower Homocysteine

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body as a result of methylation.

In healthy people, it’s properly metabolized and normal levels are maintained. 

But when homocysteine isn’t properly metabolized, it can build up inside the body and levels can become too high.

And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy. 

At high levels, homocysteine is inflammatory, and research shows it increases permeability of the blood-brain barrier (115).

If you test and find out your levels are high, check out this article for 16 ways to lower your homocysteine levels.

Normalizing homocysteine not only helps the brain recover from physical damage, but also reduces depression and cognitive decline.

 

21. 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 has found that progesterone supports the normal development of brain cells and protects them from damage

And one study shows that it reduces inflammation and can support the blood-brain barrier after brain injury (120).

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

 

22. Increase Brain Blood Flow

Brain blood flow, or cerebral blood flow, refers to the blood supply that reaches your brain during a given period of time. 

Your brain needs almost 20% of the blood supply provided by each heartbeat.

A steady flow of blood brings oxygen, glucose and nutrients to the brain, and carries carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other metabolic waste products away from the brain.

But when blood flow to the brain is impaired, problems can arise, including a leaky blood-brain barrier.

Research shows that lack of brain blood flow increases oxidative stress, damages the blood-brain barrier, and increases blood-brain barrier permeability (116-117).

Be sure to check out this post for 21 ways to increase blood flow to the brain.

 

23. Other Nutrients, Antioxidants and Herbs

Here are several other nutrients, antioxidants and herbs that have been demonstrated to support the blood-brain barrier.

I’ve decided to not write about these in-depth because there isn’t as much research to back them up.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful though. They have still helped me: 

The brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself, and this includes the barrier that protects it.

The above steps have been proven to help repair and support the blood brain barrier, and I’ve noticed the benefits of implementing them into my own life.

I hope they help you too!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/96legacy/releases.96/14316.html

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11854488

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11854529

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8958163

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19823933

(6) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26240443_The_protective_effect_of_alpha_lipoic_acid_against_traumatic_brain_injury_in_rats

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(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26686249

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

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How to Protect Your Brain from Alcohol & Never Be Hungover

alcohol-brain-hangover.jpg

Alcohol isn’t good for you.

Ideally, you should completely avoid it for optimal brain and mental health. 

But that’s in a perfect world. 

Alcohol is everywhere and social interactions often involve it. So you’re going to end up drinking it every now and then. And during big holidays or special occasions, you likely won’t stop at one drink. 

And I don’t blame you. 

There are times when I let loose and have a drink or two (or several). Life’s too short not to indulge once in a while. 

Fortunately, it’s possible to have a few drinks on occasion without completely destroying your brain and mental health. In fact, you can enjoy the buzz safely and wake up the next day feeling great.

So I’m going to share with you my comprehensive anti-alcohol regimen so that you can manage and fight back against the damaging effects of alcohol. 

I often go many months without having a sip of alcohol. But when I do imbibe, I follow the steps below.

These recommendations will:

  • Protect your brain while consuming alcohol

  • Decrease the chances that you'll wake up depressed, anxious and hungover

  • Help you recover if you do wake up feeling sub-optimal

  • Heal your brain after long-term alcohol abuse

The more steps that you take, the less likely you will wake up feeling physically and mentally sick. 

And as you’ll see, these recommendations are very good for your brain and mental health in general. If you don’t drink, implementing some of these strategies into your everyday life will help you overcome anxiety and depression.

The Most Important Steps For Protecting Your Brain From Alcohol and Avoiding a Hangover

1. Pick The Right Drinks

The type of alcohol you drink can make a huge difference in how you feel the next morning. 

Certain drinks are worse for your brain and increase your chance of waking up hungover and depressed. 

Based on my experience and research, here are some common forms of alcohol, from best to worst:

vodka-brain-health-alcohol-hangover
  • Vodka – best option

  • Gin

  • Rum

  • Dry cider

  • Dry white wine

  • Tequila

  • Whiskey

  • Regular white wine

  • Red wine

  • Cider with lots of sugar

  • Gluten-free beer

  • Regular beer – worst option

Highly filtered and distilled liquor such as vodka, gin and rum are your best options. And it’s best to drink them straight. Carbonation increases the absorption of alcohol, which may increase the chance of you experiencing a hangover the next day (7). 

Dry cider and dry white wine are also decent options, but not as optimal as filtered and distilled liquor.

I recommend you completely avoid or significantly limit sugary drinks and beer. Refined sugar and wheat in beer can activate the immune system and trigger inflammation, which can negatively affect your brain and make you feel mentally unstable and foggy (57, 58). 

Some alcoholic drinks also contain congeners, substances produced during fermentation. They are often found in dark alcoholic drinks, such as whiskey and tequila, and can also contribute to hangovers, making you feel suboptimal the next day. So you should try to stay away from those too (4). 

red-wine-brain-health-alcohol-hangover

Lastly, mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by mold that are capable of causing disease in humans. Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in wine and beer, and can make you feel sick if you’re sensitive to them. And some research shows that one type of mycotoxin, ochratoxin A, can cause brain damage (49, 50, 51, 52). 

After living in a moldy environment for over one year, I became extremely sensitive to seemingly healthy foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea and nuts. Eating low-quality versions of these foods give me asthma and make me feel mentally tired. I couldn’t figure it out why at first, but I’ve now confirmed that it’s the mycotoxins that are commonly found in cheap versions of these foods. 

Not everyone will be sensitive to them. But if you are, your hangover will be worse and your cognition will suffer the next day.

That’s why I don’t recommend red wine, as it often contains them. Red wine is also overrated. It does contain the beneficial antioxidant resveratrol but not very much. Red wine manufacturers love to make it seem like it has a lot, but that’s just a marketing gimmick. You would have to drink several bottles of red wine on a regular basis to consume enough resveratrol and get major health benefits. And by drinking that much alcohol, you’d be destroying your health anyway. So you’re better off just supplementing with resveratrol

If you decide to drink something other than straight liquor, I recommend you take activated charcoal along with each drink. You can get it here

2. Drink Lots of Water

Alcohol dehydrates your body. 

And the tissue around your brain is made up of water. So as you drink, and you lose water, the tissues around your brain start to shrink. This leads to pressure around your head that can contribute to headaches, fatigue and dizziness (5, 6).

That’s why you should hydrate heavily. Have one or two cups of water with each alcoholic drink, and lots of water before bed. 

Your brain will thank you for it. 

3. Liposomal Glutathione

Your body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, a highly-reactive compound that is actually much more toxic to your brain than alcohol itself.

Your liver enzymes and antioxidants try to detoxify and eliminate it, but they often cannot keep up, leading to common hangover symptoms (19).

But hangover symptoms can be prevented or significantly reduced if you help your body get rid of the acetaldehyde. 

This can be done by supporting your body's natural detoxification pathways.  

One way to do this is by increasing glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant. 

alcohol-brain-health-hangover

Glutathione plays a key role in alcohol detoxification by “mopping up” acetaldehyde. And it's been shown that regular alcohol exposure depletes glutathione (47).

That’s why I recommend supplementing with liposomal glutathione before and after you drink alcohol. Doing so will guarantee you have enough of the antioxidant to protect your brain and prevent hangover symptoms. 

It’s important to note that most standard glutathione supplements get broken down by the your digestive tract and do not enter your bloodstream. So you’ll need to find a highly-absorbable form of glutathione

I take liposomal glutathione an hour before drinking, and in the morning to restore glutathione to healthy levels.  You can get it on Amazon.

4. N-Acetyl-Cysteine and Vitamin C

Another way you can increase gluathione is by taking Vitamin C and n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) together. 

NAC is the precursor to glutathione. It's been shown that it effectively produces and replenishes glutathione levels in our tissues, helping us fend off the consequences of alcohol consumption (23, 24).

In rats, it prevents alcohol toxicity and death by binding directly to acetaldehyde and blocking its damaging effects in the body and brain (25, 26). 

I’ve also previously discussed how NAC can help treat six different mental illnesses

Along with NAC, Vitamin C plays a key role in the production of glutathione. Research shows that it also helps soak up acetaldehyde, and it is depleted by alcohol consumption (25, 36).

If you do just one thing to protect your brain from alcohol, it would be to take either glutathione, or NAC and Vitamin C.

NAC and Vitamin C are both included in the Optimal Antiox supplement. I take it before, during, and after I drink alcohol.

It’s important to note that taking glutathione, NAC and Vitamin C before or during alcohol consumption does not prevent you from getting drunk. It simply blocks alcohol toxicity and the irritable side effects that you may experience the next day. So technically, you can “have your cake and eat it too” when you follow these steps properly.

Lastly, NAC is excitotoxic. If you are deficient in Vitamin B6 or magnesium, you may experience headaches from taking too much NAC along with alcohol. Obviously we’re trying to avoid headaches, so if this happens to you, just stick with glutathione and Vitamin C. 

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5. Bioavailable Vitamin B1

Thiamine (vitamin B1) is an essential water-soluble vitamin.

Alcohol depletes Vitamin B1, and deficiency is common in regular drinkers. A lack of Vitamin B1 has been shown to damage brain cells and cause a variety of mental symptoms including lethargy, fatigue, apathy, impaired awareness, loss of equilibrium, disorientation, memory loss and anorexia, (37, 38, 39). 

NAC’s antioxidant effects are even more powerful when combined with Vitamin B1. In one study, NAC, Vitamin C and Vitamin B1 completely blocked a deadly dose of acetaldehyde in animals. None of the animals treated with these nutrients died (25, 34). 

The two bioavailable forms of vitamin B1 that I recommend to you are benfotiamine and sulbutiamine

Benfotiamine is the fat-soluble form of vitamin B1, and its absorption is approximately five times higher than regular thiamine (48). 

I recommend you take 300 mg of benfotiamine with each drink. You can get it through AmazonIt’s also available in some B complex supplements, like this one.

Sulbutiamine is a synthetic version of Vitamin B1, consisting of two thiamine molecules bound together. This allows vitamin B1 to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support the brain. I recommend you take 200 mg of sulbutiamine before you go to bed, and then another 200 mg when you wake up in the morning. You can get high-quality sulbutiamine here

I remember the first time I took sulbutiamine after years of regular drinking. It felt like a light was turned on in my brain. Everything was brighter and I had a lot more mental energy. It was as if my brain hadn’t fully recovered from chronic alcohol consumption. I suspect regular vitamin B1 wasn’t reaching my brain. 

6. Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that could possibly be even more protective than Vitamin C. It is fat soluble and can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain (53, 54, 55).

ALA enhances the antioxidant power of glutathione, NAC and vitamin C and helps them clear acetaldehyde from your body (56).

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement, along with NAC and Vitamin C.

Combining ALA with Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) is even more powerful.

ALCAR is a neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing amino acid.

ALA and ALCAR are synergistic, meaning that when you take them together, they are more effective at protecting your brain.

They've been shown to prevent brain inflammation and neurotransmitter impairment caused by alcohol. They can also reverse brain damage and restore healthy brain function after drinking alcohol (55, 59, 60). 

Along with Optimal Antiox, I also take the Optimal Brain supplement before and after drinking. It includes 500 mg of ALCAR.  

7. Minerals

Alcohol depletes a number of minerals, particularly zinc, potassium and magnesium. 

That’s why I recommend taking a high-quality multi-mineral supplement after your last drink, before going to bed, and then again the next morning. 

Zinc and magnesium are especially important for brain and mental health, so you don’t want to be deficient in either of them. I take extra zinc and magnesium on top of my multimineral before bed. 

Magnesium is especially helpful, as it’s been shown to prevent and relieve headaches and improve sleep. Epson salt baths can provide your body with lots of magnesium (8). 

It’s also been shown that alcoholics are often deficient in zinc (and have too much copper) (28). 

Zinc deficiency may explain why alcoholics drink in the first place. As I’ve discussed before, zinc deficiency can contribute to social anxiety and generalized anxiety. And chronic drinkers often drink to manage their anxiety and stress. 

That’s why I would recommend a zinc supplement if you struggle with anxiety, stress or a drinking problem.

As a former anxious drinker, I find great relief in taking zinc. 

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Theanine

Theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in tea that has a number of health benefits (9, 40). 

It’s been shown to protect your brain from alcohol, as it blocks free radicals, counteracts the loss of glutathione, improves sleep, and accelerates the breakdown acetaldehyde – all of which contribute to the development of a hangover (12). 

It can also make you feel less drunk.

When researchers give theanine to mice, it significantly reduces blood levels of alcohol (12). So when you want to drink socially, but would rather not feel intoxicated, you should take theanine before consuming alcohol. 

Personally, I don’t want to block the buzz of alcohol. That’s why I take 200 mg of theanine just before going to bed, and then another 200 mg again in the morning when I wake up. Doing this will improve your sleep, help you sober up, and make you calmer and more stable the next morning. 

Theanine can also be found in green tea, but you would have to drink a lot to get the same amount that you would in supplement form. 

If you don’t want to experiment and take each supplement individually, I recommend taking this supplement called Vive. It includes many of the nutrients that I recommend throughout this article. I bought and tried Vive myself, and it works. It’s much more convenient than taking everything separately. I contacted Vive and got a discount code for readers. You can save 15% by using the code OPTIMAL15 at checkout.

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Additional Steps To Protect Your Brain From Alcohol and Avoid a Hangover

Based on my research and self-experimentation, my previous recommendations are the most impactful steps you can take. 

However, here are some extra tips and recovery solutions for you to consider.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that mixes well with alcohol. 

It has anti-anxiety effects that are synergistic with alcohol, so you will need less of each to experience the relaxing effects of each (61). 

In my experience, ashwagandha is helpful when you want to be in a relaxed and socialble mood, but would rather limit your alcohol intake. I have a reduced urge to continue drinking alcohol when I take ashwagandha before drinking. And from what I’ve heard, there isn’t any negative interaction between them, and I only experience positive results mixing the two.

It’s also been shown to help relieve anxiety and depression during alcohol withdrawal. In one study, its anti-anxiety effects were comparable to diazepam, an anti-anxiety medication (62).

So when you experience anxiety and depression after drinking alcohol, I’d recommend taking ashwagandha the next morning. It definitely helps me manage and overcome any alcohol withdrawal much easier.

You can get high-quality ashwagandha here. Take a low dose before drinking alcohol or a larger dose the morning after drinking. 

S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e)

If you struggle from depression, you probably notice that alcohol makes you feel more depressed the day after.

I used to be convinced that I would need to avoid alcohol forever because every time I drank it, I would be very depressed for several days afterwards.

alcohol-brain-hangover-depression

This is likely because alcohol increases the amino acid homocysteine, and high levels of homocysteine have been associated with depression (2, 3). 

That’s why I take S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) after a night of drinking, as it helps lower homocysteine. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to lead to SAM-e deficiency (27). 

SAM-e also helps restore glutathione after you drink alcohol (29, 30). 

Even if you don’t drink, but struggle with depression, supplementing with SAM-E may really help you. I took it for a few months after coming off psychiatric medication, but no longer need to take it regularly. You can get it here.

Supplementing with trimethylglycine and B vitamins (folate and B12) also helps your body synthesize its own SAMe, similar to how NAC and vitamin C work together to produce glutathione. 

Taurine

Taurine is another amino acid that reduces the bad effects of alcohol on your brain. 

It’s been shown to prevent brain cell death, reduce lack of coordination, and decrease the urinary loss of certain minerals during alcohol use (31, 32, 33).

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

I recommend taking taurine before and after consuming alcohol.

B Vitamins

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, took B vitamins to manage his alcohol cravings

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, took B vitamins to manage his alcohol cravings

As I mentioned above, Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is the most important B vitamin to take when consuming alcohol.

But research shows that alcohol significantly depletes all the B vitamins, particularly vitamin B3, B6 and folate (2, 27). 

Vitamin B3 (niacin) is very beneficial for the brain of regular drinkers. Niacin deficiency often leads to a desire to drink alcohol, and drinking alcohol further depletes niacin in the body and brain. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), took niacin to remain sober and manage his cravings for alcohol. 

Alcohol has also been shown to deplete the body of folate and vitamin B6, which are critical nutrients involved in the production of GABA and serotonin (20, 64). 

I take this B complex before and after drinking alcohol. 

Pyritinol

As I just mentioned, alcohol depletes vitamin B6. 

pyritinol-hangover-brain-health-alcohol

Similar to subutiamine, pyritinol is a special form of Vitamin B6 in which two Vitamin B6 molecules attached to each other. This allows Vitamin B6 to easily cross the blood-brain barrier and support the brain. 

Taking it before, during and after alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce hangover symptoms by more than 50% (46).

I take 300 mg before and 300 mg after drinking. You can get it here

Krill Oil

I’ve talked about the many mental health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids before, and it appears they can protect your brain from alcohol exposure too.

When people are exposed to both alcohol and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, they experience less brain inflammation and brain cell death than people who simply drink alcohol alone. It appears that DHA mitigates oxidative damage in the brain that results from binge drinking (11).

I take this krill oil everyday. 

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Curcumin

I’ve also discussed curcumin lots before, as it has helped me overcome chronic depression and anxiety. It’s one of the best supplements you can take for your brain and mental health. 

And here’s another reason you might want to consider taking it – it can increase glutathione and prevent brain damage caused by alcohol (35). 

It’s also been shown to prevent brain inflammation, and reverse the negative biochemical and behavioural changes that result from previous alcohol consumption (1).

I take the Longvida form of curcumin every day anyway. But I try to take it immediately before having any alcohol because of its protective effects. You can get it here.

Silymarin (Milk Thistle)

Silymarin is the active compound found in milk thistle, a herb commonly used to improve liver health and protect the liver from alcohol and other drugs.

Milk thistle also has powerful antioxidant properties that have been shown to help prevent the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde (18, 45). 

I take it before a night out. You can get it through Amazon.

Garlic

Garlic contains the antioxidant s-allyl-cysteine, which neutralizes acetaldehyde. It’s also been shown to reduce oxidative stress and protect the nervous system (41, 42). 

Maybe this is why I always crave garlic shawarma at the end of a night out :) 

I haven’t tried supplementing with garlic extract for preventing hangovers, but I did take this garlic extract after moving out of my moldy house in 2011 and it made me feel better.  

Other Antioxidants

One of the best ways you can  the oxidative stress that results from alcohol consumption is to regularly consume enough antioxidants, especially leading up to a night out (21).

Some other protective antioxidants include CoQ10, quercetin, grape seed extract, Vitamin E, selenium and resveratrol. 

antioxidants-alcohol-hangover-brain-health

Resveratrol is a very powerful antioxidant that can protect against alcohol’s toxic effects (13, 14, 15). 

Grape seed extract has also been shown to prevent the oxidative damage caused by alcohol (16, 17). 

Selenium levels tend to be lower in people who drink alcohol on a regular basis (22). 

And Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties that can prevent brain damage caused by alcohol. It’s often depleted in chronic drinkers (43, 44). 

And similar to statin drugs, alcohol has also been shown to deplete CoQ10 (63). 

I created and take the Optimal Antiox supplement before and after drinking, and it contains many of the antioxidants mentioned above.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is a potent natural treatment that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body. 

If you choose to drink wine or beer, you should take activated charcoal with each drink and once you’re done drinking. 

Activated charcoal can help bind and remove gluten and mycotoxins from your body, although it won’t catch them all. You’re definitely better off just avoiding drinks that contain them. 

The activated charcoal is also very good at protecting you from the congeners found in tequila and whiskey. 

I take this activated charcoal whenever I eat something that makes me sick. You can get it through Amazon. 

Conclusion

Clearly, there’s lots that can be done to protect your brain from alcohol. 

Even though your body and brain can be overwhelmed by alcohol, you can support yourself and reduce the damage by drinking the right alcohol, hydrating heavily, and supplementing with various antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Obviously it would be much easier to just avoid alcohol altogether. And that would definitely be optimal for your brain and mental health.

But if you do decide to drink, I’ve shared bunch of ideas here, and hopefully you find a good mix of preventative solutions that work for you. Self-experimentation is key.

But in my experience, the below interventions are the essentials. They work very well for me, mitigating damage and allowing me to wake up in the morning feeling great:

alcohol-brain-hangover-health-protect-cure

If you don’t want to experiment and take each supplement individually, I recommend taking this supplement called Vive. It includes many of the nutrients that I recommend throughout this article. I bought and tried Vive myself, and it works. It’s much more convenient than taking everything separately. I contacted Vive and got a discount code for readers. You can save 15% by using the code OPTIMAL15 at checkout.

Lastly, it’s important to consider your current level of health. If you’re an alcoholic, on medication, or struggle with severe mental health issues, you should focus on dealing and overcoming those issues first. Otherwise, alcohol will make everything worse. After you heal your body and brain, you should be able to tolerate it just fine.

Alcohol used to be a complete no-no for me, but I can now handle it just fine because I'm healthy. Yet, funny enough, now that I experience optimal brain and mental health, I actually don’t even feel the need to drink alcohol like I used to. 

Overall, I hope you found this useful. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Do you drink? What do you do to protect yourself or avoid a hangover? Have I missed anything?

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Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23583655

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18790817

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17541043

(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18182417

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20336685

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20497950

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17720590

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8984087

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296328

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15226168

(11) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0101223

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16141543

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17567031

(14) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037055/

(15) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21281738

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17910615

(17) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17567031

(18) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19900758

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20712596

(20) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10726110

(21) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10728605

(22) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175657

(23) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2538005

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16899047

(25) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1171591

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8833231

(27) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8139796

(28) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4012273

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC508623/

(30) http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/115/1/131.full

(31) http://www.hubmed.org/display.cgi?uids=19239146

(32) http://www.hubmed.org/display.cgi?uids=17961547

(33) http://www.hubmed.org/display.cgi?uids=19239172

(34) http://www.dsf.uniss.it/documenti/54.pdf

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10548748

(36) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15969504

(37) http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/134-142.htm

(38) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15166742

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15778906

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21735551

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15380627

(42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12885594

(43) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11723717

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11454938

(45) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21182217

(46) http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1974-20470-001

(47) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16054981

(48) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8929745

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153291/

(50) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228666280_Mycotoxin_Contamination_of_Beverages_Occurrence_of_Patulin_in_Apple_Juice_and_Ochratoxin_A_in_Coffee_Beer_and_Wine_and_Their_Control_Methods

(51) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11403149

(52) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21954354

(53) http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/96legacy/releases.96/14316.html

(54) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11854488

(55) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11854529

(56) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23238616

(57) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25642988

(58) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26970578

(59) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3022478/

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2734271/

(61) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18697607

(62) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2222180812602795

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22841563

(64) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12163694

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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How to Protect Your Brain from Blue Light

Overcoming brain and mental health issues isn't just about nutrition and supplementation

It's also about light.

How-to-Protect-Your-Brain-from-Blue-Light-screen-filters-protection-glasses-app-bulb-sleep-bedroom

Chronic exposure to artificial blue light is a risk factor that is often overlooked. 

This post talks about how you should be striving to reduce your blue light exposure as much as possible throughout the entire day (unless it’s naturally coming from the sun). 

We're getting way too much blue light nowadays, and it’s taking a toll on your brain and mental health. 

And if you’re interested in learning more about light, I recommend the book Light: Medicine of the Future by Dr. Jacob Liberman. 

What Is Blue Light?

Light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

Our eyes can only see light that falls within a small range of the electromagnetic spectrum, called "visible light". The human eye is not capable of "seeing" radiation with wavelengths outside the visible spectrum. 

Visible light corresponds to a wavelength range of approximately 400 to 700 nanometers (nm). Each visible wavelength is represented by a colour. Blue light is defined as having a wavelength between 450 and 495 nm. This short wavelength means that blue light is a type of high-energy visible light (25). 

Blue light is emitted from energy-efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs, and electronics such as computers, smartphones, tablets, and televisions. Obviously, these indoor man-made sources of blue light are on the rise, and we’re being exposed to more blue light in our environments than ever before (26). 

Why Artificial Blue Light Is Bad for Your Brain and Mental Health

I’ve been learning more and more that it’s best to limit your exposure to artificial blue light all day long, and not just at night. 

It’s important to note that there’s a big difference between artificial blue light and natural blue light from the sun. 

How-to-Protect-Your-Brain-from-Blue-Light-screen-filters-protection-glasses-app-bulb-sleep-bedroom

During the day, exposure to full-spectrum sunlight – which naturally contains some blue light –is actually beneficial and necessary for resetting your circadian rhythm.

The blue light from the sun is also balanced with other colours of light, such as red, green, infrared, and ultraviolet light.

But our devices and artificial lights have five times the amount of blue light than you would get from the sun. 

In the past, our ancestors would have been exposed to blue light from the sun only, and they weren’t exposed to blue light at night. 

But today, we shield ourselves from full-spectrum natural sunlight, and live indoors with excess artificial blue lighting all day long. 

And this is having brain and mental health consequences.

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What The Experts Are Saying

An increasing number of researchers, doctors and health organizations are speaking out about this. 

Dr. Jack Kruse, MD, a neurosurgeon and author of the book Epi-Paleo Rx, and speaks passionately about the risks of blue light. He argues that attending to your light environment is more important than food. 

Dr. Alexander Wunsch, another physician and researcher in the field of photobiology, explains that artificial LED lights have an excess of blue light, and not enough red light, and this creates reactive oxygen species (19):

We don’t have this kind of light quality in nature. This has consequences. The stress has consequences in the retina; it has consequences in our endocrine system.
— Dr. Alexander Wunsch

Even the American Medical Association is speaking out about this issue.  Last June, they released guidelines on how to reduce the harmful human and environmental effects of high-intensity LED lighting.

They point out that the energy-efficient LED lighting adversely suppresses melatonin at night, has a “five times greater impact” on sleep rhythms than conventional lighting, and widespread implementation of this lighting will lead to sleep problems and other conditions related to poor sleep.

Despite the energy efficiency benefits, some LED lights are harmful.
— Dr. Maya A. Babu, AMA Board Member

There is lots of research to support these claims and concerns. 

Researchers have discovered photoreceptors (light-sensitive cells) in our eyes that track the amount of blue light we're exposed to throughout the day. These photoreceptors communicate with areas of your brain that affect your mood, emotions and circadian rhythm (20-22). 

It’s also well-established that blue light at night sends a signal to your body that it’s daytime, which increases the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and reduces the quality of your sleep. It does this by significantly suppressing the production of melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone (27-34).

Melatonin is also an antioxidant that protects your brain and increases mitochondrial function. So chronically low melatonin can lead to lower mental energy and neurodegeneration (35-37). 

In my experience, if your circadian rhythm is thrown off and you’re not sleeping well, it's very hard to be completely healthy and emotionally balanced.

Studies show that exposure to blue light at night is significantly associated with depression (23). 

Other research has found that “higher nighttime light intensity” leads to lower melatonin levels, which contributes to depression and cognitive impairment (24). 

But luckily there are ways to protect yourself.

Let’s get into what you can do to shield yourself from the negative effects of artificial blue light. 

1. Use Software That Blocks Blue Light

Installing software that prevents blue light from being emitted from your technology is another cheap and straightforward action you can take to protect yourself from excess blue light.

My number one recommendation is to install the program Iris on your computer. You can download it here

Iris automatically alters the colour temperature of your screen as the day goes on, removing the blue wavelengths after sunset.

The standard setting only removes blue light in the evening, but you can change the settings so that it blocks out blue light all day long. That’s what I do now. 

Iris takes care of your computer, but what about your phone? 

Last year, Apple released Night Shift with its iOS 9.3 update to reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the iPhone. You can learn how to activate this on your iPhone here. I have Night Shift turned on all throughout the day. 

You can also install Twilight if you have an Android device.

2. Wear Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses

It's becoming increasing clear that one of the simplest and least expensive ways to support your brain, promote healthy sleep, and lower your risk of chronic mental disease, is to wear blue-light-blocking glasses not just at night, but anytime you are exposed to artificial lighting.

I own multiple pairs of blue-light-blocking glasses myself.  

Research shows that wearing blue-light-blocking glasses improves sleep quality and mood (1). 

Other studies show that wearing blue-light-blocking glasses in a bright room or while using blue-lit technology maintains normal melatonin levels at night (2-4). 

Researchers have also found dramatic improvements in insomnia and mood in about half of bipolar patients who wore blue-blocking glasses (5). 

People with bipolar disorder who wore blue-blocking glasses from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. for seven days had significant improvements in symptoms of mania compared to those who wore clear glasses. These benefits kicked in after just 3 days (6-7). 

During the day, I work on a computer in an office with lots of artificial fluorescent lighting shining down on me. 

So I wear these Gunnar computer glasses. These glasses have a light-yellow tint and are somewhat stylish. They significantly reduce the amount of blue light I’m exposed to throughout the day, which has reduced fatigue and eye strain. 

They are like the opposite of sunglasses - I wear them inside when I’m exposed to artificial blue light, and take them off when I go outside.

Gunnar Optiks has a wide-range of computer and gaming glasses to choose from through Amazon

If you work under blue light all day, it’s also a good idea to wear long sleeves because your skin also absorbs the blue light. Shielding it from your eyes is the priority though.

At home in the evening, I wear these orange-tinted Uvex glasses as soon as it’s dark outside. They eliminate all blue light, but aren’t stylish at all, so you’re better off wearing them inside and not out in public.

I also just ordered these red glasses, as they block out both blue and green light. Green light has been shown to stunt the release of melatonin, but not nearly as much as blue light. If you don’t have blue-blocking glasses yet, get the red ones

You can also get BluTech prescription lenses for the daytime but I haven’t done that for myself yet.

And these glasses are more stylish for when you want to go out in public at night but still want to block out the blue light. 

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3. Increase Your Exposure to Red and Infrared Light

Blue light causes reactive oxygen species in your tissue, and this stress needs to be balanced with near-infrared light that is not present in LEDs.
— Dr. Alexander Wunsch

If you’re exposed to too much blue light, you need to make up for it later by exposing yourself to more red light.

One of the reasons red and infrared light supports brain and mental health is because it combats the effects of blue light. 

Ideally, we would simply be exposed to the sunlight throughout the day, which has a healthy balance of both blue and red light.

But unfortunately, we live in the modern world, and it’s not possible to live outside all day like our ancestors, even though our bodies still expect us to. 

I work in an office environment with lots of blue light, and no red and infrared light.

red-infrared-light-How-to-Protect-Your-Brain-from-Blue-Light-screen-filters-protection-glasses-app-bulb-sleep-bedroom

So to balance out my excess blue light exposure during the day, I use a number of different LED devices and bulbs in the evening that emit red and infrared light. 

As I’ve discussed before, I use this Light Relief Device on my head and thyroid. It has LEDs that emit red and infrared light. I also use this CCTV Infrared light device on my head (the power adaptor for the CCTV device is sold separately here). 

But what I haven’t mentioned before is that I also have this infrared bulb shining in my bedroom and this red bulb in my bathroom. I use them to light up my apartment, particularly at night.

I even shine these bulbs directly into my eyes, face, chest and back for the health benefits. Because, as I mentioned earlier, our skin has photoreceptors that absorb light, and it’s critical to absorb more red light to balance out the blue. 

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

Penetrating red light is possibly the fundamental anti-stress factor for all organisms. Old observations such as Warburg’s, that visible light can restore the activity of respiratory pigments, showed without doubt that visible light is biochemically active. By the 1960s, several studies had been published showing the inhibition of respiratory enzymes by blue light, and their activation by red light. The problem to be explained is why the science culture simply couldn’t accept crucial facts of that sort.
— Dr. Raymond Peat

I find that all of these devices and bulbs increase my energy and mood.

So at the very least, consider installing red light bulbs, like this one, throughout your house in the evening to increase your exposure to red light. 

This may all seem strange but it works, and there is plenty of evidence to support it. 

In fact, red light therapy has been around for over 100 years. In 1910, Dr. John Kellogg published a book, titled Light Therapeutics, in which he recommended light therapy for a number of different diseases, including chronic fatigue.

Research shows that high-intensity blue light is bad for your mitochondria, while red light enhances mitochondrial function (15-18). 

I even found a study that clearly shows that red LED light protects animals from fake artificial blue light (14). 

And here is a spreadsheet that compiles a lot of the research showing that red and infrared light can help treat many different diseases, including depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, acne and chronic pain. 

Overall, blue light triggers oxidative stress in your cells, while red light repairs and regenerates your cells. Blue light is the equivalent to eating junk food, while red light is like eating healthy food. Staring at your smartphone all day and night is like eating McDonalds, while shining red light on yourself is like eating more vegetables. If you eat too much junk food, you might make up for it later by eating healthier and exercising. But with blue light, you need to make up for it by absorbing more red light. That’s what I do, and I hope it helps you too. 

4. Sleep in a pitch black room

Making sure your bedroom is as dark as possible while you sleep is another step you can take.  

Light can penetrate your eyelids, so simply closing your eyes is not enough. 

Even small amounts of light can reduce your melatonin production and disrupt your circadian rhythm. Exposure to room light during sleep has been shown to suppress melatonin by more than 50 percent (8). 

I completely black out my room with black-out curtains.

Another option is to wear a sleep mask like this one. 

However, it’s important to note that your skin also has photreceptors and can sense light in your environment (9-11). 

So it’s optimal to just black out your entire room with curtains, especially if you have LED streetlights outside your house. 

Electronics should also be unplugged so that your room is completely dark. 

If you do these things, you’ll notice a profound difference in your sleep and brain and mental health.

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5. Vitamin E and N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)

Vitamin E and N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) are two nutrients with antioxidant effects. 

One study found that NAC protects against the cellular damage induced by blue LED light (38). 

Perhaps this is one of the reasons NAC helps people who struggle with mental illness

Another study found that a combination of vitamin E and NAC significantly reduced blue-light-induced levels of reactive oxygen species (39). 

Both NAC and Vitamin E are included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

6. Lutein and Zeaxanthin

egg-yolks-How-to-Protect-Your-Brain-from-Blue-Light-screen-filters-protection-glasses-app-bulb-sleep-bedroom

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two more antioxidants that are found in your eye that may be able to protect you from the detrimental effects of blue light.  

Both zeaxanthin and lutein cannot be made by your body, so you must get them from food or supplements. They are found in green leafy vegetables, orange and yellow-coloured fruits and vegetables, and egg yolks. 

Together, these antioxidants can reduce free radicals before they cause damage and help your body better handle excess blue light. Researchers have found that they “absorb a broader spectrum of high-energy blue light, which offers greater protection of retinal tissue” (12, 13). 

You can also take them together as a supplement

Conclusion

Nutrition is important. But it's not the be all and end all.

Light is just as important.

Overall, you should aim to limit your exposure to blue light, both during the day and evening. 

Humans evolved getting a full spectrum of light throughout the day, not overwhelming amounts of artificial blue. 

Excessive blue light from LEDs and electronic screens can contribute to illness by triggering an overproduction of reactive oxygen species and decreasing your body’s production of melatonin.

But with the above modifications, you can significantly reduce the amount of blue light that enters your eyes and affects your brain and mental health.

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20030543

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22850476

(3) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-079X.2006.00332.x/full

(4) http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2004-2062

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20030543

(6) http://www.newsweek.com/blue-blocking-glasses-may-help-treat-bipolar-disorder-promote-sleep-484065

(7) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bdi.12390/abstract

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3047226/

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19493002

(10) https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21127-skin-sees-the-light-to-protect-against-sunshine/

(11) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bdi.12390/abstract

(12) http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/4/992.long

(13) http://www.newhope.com/high-energy-blue-light-exposure-protection-all-ages-white-paper

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/27562504/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7769534

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18922088

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19837048

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21116053

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15978279 

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9554572/

(21) http://www.newsweek.com/blue-blocking-glasses-may-help-treat-bipolar-disorder-promote-sleep-484065

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3200463/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23856285

(24) http://press.endocrine.org/doi/pdf/10.1210/jc.2015-1859

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909301  

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734149/

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21415172

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21164152

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15582288

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15325001

(31) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.12050/full

(32) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23691095

(33) http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/1/e006748

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3047226/

(35) http://behavioralandbrainfunctions.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1744-9081-2-15

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16179266

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16364209

(38) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909301

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15978279

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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