A Powerful Protocol Proven to Help Reverse Brain Damage

I’ve been reading a lot about brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in retired NFL football players lately.

While doing so, I came across an interesting study by Dr. Daniel Amen, MD, titled “Reversing brain damage in former NFL players: implications for traumatic brain injury and substance abuse rehabilitation.

In the study, thirty retired NFL players who had brain damage and cognitive dysfunction followed a brain-healthy protocol (which I outline below in this post). 

After following the protocol for six months, the former NFL players had increased blood flow to the brain and significant increases in performance. 

Neuropsychological testing showed that they had significant improvements in attention, memory, reasoning, and information processing. 

The NFL players themselves also self-reported subjective increases in memory, attention, mood, motivation, and sleep.

It just so happens that a lot of the supplements and therapies used in this protocol have also improved my mental health and supported my brain after suffering multiple concussions and living in a moldy home. 

We demonstrated that even if you have been bad to your brain, on the right program you can often reverse the damage and improve your life. It’s one of the most exciting discoveries in medicine today. I hope this message finds anyone who played contact sports like football, hockey, soccer, boxing so they can find help because their degenerative conditions can be reversed.
— Dr. Daniel Amen, MD, psychiatrist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
Illustration of a brain with a band-aid on it, demonstrating that it is damaged.

Why This Research Study Is So Important

It’s well known that brain injuries are common in professional American football players, and they increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment, dementia, depression and CTE (1-2).

A study sponsored by the National Football League (NFL) found that 6.1% of retired NFL players over the age of 50 had been diagnosed with dementia, which is five times the national average of 1.2%.

Even 2% of players aged 30 to 49 have received a dementia-related diagnosis, which is 20 times higher than the rate of the general population within that age group (3). 

And in a study of 100 active and retired NFL players, researchers found reduced brain blood flow and a higher rate of depressionmemory and attention problems compared to the general population (4). 

Brain injuries also increase the risk of drug abuse (5-6). 

Lastly, another study reported that 96% of all former NFL players autopsied had CTE, and that 79% of males who played football at any level also had CTE (10). 

But brain injuries and neurological damage don’t just affect retired professional football players. 

Millions of people, including soldiers, suffer concussions every year.  

In addition, substance abusers also experience high levels of brain damage from drugs and alcohol, and from the increased likelihood of suffering brain injuries during intoxication (7). 

But based on Dr. Amen’s protocol, there is hope. And it’s possible to reverse brain damage.

Below is the protocol that the NFL players followed to reverse brain damage and cognitive impairment, and significantly improve their brain, mental health and quality of life.  

1. Improve Your Diet and Exercise Regularly

Even after taking into account their large body frames, forty-eight percent of players in the study were overweight or obese.

So they were encouraged to eat healthier and exercise regularly in order to lose weight. 

This is because obesity is associated with dementia and smaller brain size (8). 

For exercise, you should find an aerobic activity that you enjoy so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

Group of people running. Exercise helps reverse brain damage.

This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:

  • Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week

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

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

  • Run for 20-30 minutes before lifting weights

If you’re looking for a bunch of healthy brain-boosting foods that you can eat on a regular basis, check out My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health

Click here to subscribe

2. Eliminate Alcohol

Not too surprisingly, the NFL players in Dr. Amen’s study were encouraged to completely eliminate alcohol.  

A mug of beer. Alcohol should be avoided if wanting to reverse brain damage since it is a neurotoxin.

Alcohol is a neurotoxin and wreaks havoc on the brain by raising cortisol levels, disrupting the blood-brain barrier, and increasing inflammation and oxidative stress (11). 

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 from brain damage. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all anymore.

Other than alcohol, the NFL players were also told to eliminate others drugs, including cigarettes.  

3. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough high-quality sleep was another key aspect of Dr. Amen’s therapeutic protocol for the NFL players because it’s so important for brain health. 

Deep sleep has been shown to slow down cognitive decline, reduce cortisol levels, promote the regeneration of myelin, increase the growth of new brain cells, and support the blood-brain barrier

Baby sleeping. Sleeping helps the brain recover and heal and helps reverse brain damage.

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

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

Here are some ways I now maximize the quality of my sleep:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning

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

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

  • Avoid stimulating movies and TV before bed.

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

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

  • Sleep in a dark environment. Completely black out your room with curtains or wear a sleep mask overnight. Sleeping with lights on in your room decreases neurogenesis and impairs cognitive performance (276). If you need to have light in your room (nightlight or alarm clock), it’s better to have red, orange or amber lighting rather than blue.

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

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

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

  • Take this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

4. Reduce Brain Inflammation with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Your brain is made up of about 60% fat, so you want to eat high-quality fats so that it can rebuild itself.

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain, and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful ways to reverse brain damage. 

Dr. Amen gave the NFL players 5.6 grams of fish oil each day, containing 1720 mg of EPA and 1160 mg of DHA.

A piece of cooked salmon. Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids which can help the brain heal and recover from damage.

EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for the optimal functioning of your brain and nervous system. They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (9-10). 

They are also the structural components of synapses, and have been shown to support the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases who have experienced synaptic loss (12). 

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

They are found primarily in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

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

That’s why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one. I don’t feel as well when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

I previously wrote about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in-depth here

5. Get Enough of These Vitamins and Minerals

Research shows that supplementing with a high-dose vitamin B complex, vitamin C and minerals reduces stress, improves mental health, and increases cognitive performance (13). 

So Dr. Amen got the NFL players in the study to take a high-potency multivitamin every day. 

I don’t usually recommend all-in-one multivitamins because they often contain too many synthetic vitamins that we don’t need, and not enough of the minerals that we do need. 

Instead, I separately take this mineral complex, this B complex, and this supplement with Vitamin C.

Click here to subscribe

6. Enhance Brain Blood Flow

Dr. Amen also focused on increasing blood flow in the brains of the retired NFL football players. 

He enhanced brain blood flow by giving them Ginkgo Biloba and Vinpocetine.

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

An illustration of a brain and blood flowing throughout it. Blood flow to the brain is essential if you want to reverse brain damage.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health, as it’s been shown to increase cognitive function, memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and can even improve mood and mental energy.

It has these effects primarily by increasing blood flow to the brain (27). 

Ginkgo biloba extract is included in the Optimal brain supplement

Ginkgo biloba extract goes well with Vinpocetine, which is a compound from the Periwinkle plant used for cognitive decline.

Like Ginkgo biloba, it enhances blood flow to the brain, leading to improved reaction time, reduced neuroinflammation. In Eastern Europe, it’s used for memory impairment (28-31). 

Check out this article for 19 other ways to increase blood flow to the brain. 

7. Increase Acetylcholine

The retired football players also supplemented with Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) and Huperzine A to increase levels of acetylcholine in their brain. 

Acetylcholine is considered the “learning” neurotransmitter and plays a key role in the brain’s cognitive processes. 

Huperzine-A is a compound extracted from the herbs of the Huperziceae family.

It has neuroprotective effects and cognitive enhancing properties because it increases acetylcholine. It does this by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Because of this, it’s shown promise as a treatment for fighting cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease (33). 

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It has neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects and helps reverse neurological decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain and supporting mitochondria function (32). 

Illustration of a body.

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

ALCAR can be found in the Optimal Brain supplement

8. Increase Antioxidants

Another key aspect of reversing brain damage is optimizing your intake of antioxidants, and Dr. Amen doesn’t ignore this.

Dr. Amen had the NFL football players in his study take Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) and N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) daily. 

NAC is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine, and precursor to glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant

Toxins and oxidative stress deplete the body's reserves of cysteine and glutathione, but supplementing with NAC can increase and normalize cysteine and glutathione levels.

This can combat and reduce oxidative stress in the brain, helping to treat several mental illnesses, including cognitive problems and addiction (23). 

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a fatty acid created in the body, playing a role in mitochondrial energy metabolism. In supplement form, it is a potent antioxidant compound that has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that can contribute to neurological decline. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which is crucial for healthy brain function (24-25). 

Several other studies have found that a combination of antioxidants – including NAC, ALA, Vitamin C and Vitamin E can improve cognitive functioning and decrease symptoms of cognitive decline. This is likely because oxidative stress plays a major role in the development of cognitive impairment and dementia, and these antioxidant nutrients and plant compounds can counteract this (14-22). 

Antioxidants can also reduce levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone. 

Click here to subscribe

9. Reduce Cortisol with Phosphatidylserine

Participants in Dr. Amen’s study also supplemented with phosphatidylserine.

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid that supports cognitive function. 

High amounts of phosphatidylserine are in the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention, learning and memory.

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

It’s also been shown to reduce cortisol, which can negatively affect the brain at chronically high levels (26). 

I personally take phosphatidylserine every day. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

10. Optimize Important Health Markers

Important health markers were also monitored and optimized to ensure that the NFL players were in the best health possible to support their brain.

Here are some of the markers Dr. Amen monitored in the NFL players:

Weight measures, such as body mass index and height-to-weight ratio – research shows that as a person's weight goes up, the size of their brain goes down. To reduce this problem, Dr. Amen ran an weight loss class to help the NFL players lose excess weight. 

Fasting blood glucose levels – Having high fasting blood glucose levels increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is associated with depression and dementia

Picture of blood in blood containers after being drawn.

C-reactive protein – This is a measure of inflammation, which is associated with many chronic illnesses, including depression, dementia and chronic pain. Dr. Amen aims for a measure of less than 1mg/liter. A healthy diet and nutrients help get inflammation under control.

Vitamin D Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including cognitive impairment. Normal levels are between 30 and 100 ng/mL. Dr. Amen prefers his patients’ levels to be between 50 and 100 because optimal vitamin D levels can reduce inflammation and improve mood. To boost vitamin D levels, he encouraged players to get more sunlight or take a Vitamin D3 supplement. I personally use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure I get enough Vitamin D.

Ferritin – Ferritin is a measure of iron stores. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, but too much iron can cause stress and accelerate aging. If the NFL players’ ferritin levels were too low, Dr. Amen gave them iron. If they were too high, he encouraged them to donate blood. I personally prefer beef liver capsules as good source of iron instead of taking iron supplements. 

In addition to the above strategies, Dr. Amen and his team treated other dementia risk factors, such as hypertension, heart disease, gum disease, alcohol and drug abuse, anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, low thyroid and testosterone levels, and sleep apnea.

11. Reduce Homocysteine with SAM-e and Methylated B Vitamins

This step – and the next two – are not a part of the original study.

However, Dr. Amen says he uses these treatments with his patients, including retired football players.

Illustration of the homocysteine symbol. Normalizing homocysteine levels can help the brain recover after damage.

Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound at high levels., which can lead to the development of mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and other mental health disorders. 

However, certain B vitamins have been shown to normalize homocysteine levels and reduce the rate of cognitive decline.

As a result, Dr. Amen says that he recommends his NFL patients supplement with methyl-B12, methyl-folate, and P-5-P (bioactive B6).

I take this B complex regularly. It contains the bioactive forms of all the B vitamins, including methyl-B12, methyl-folate and P-5-P. 

Trimethylglycine (TMG) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) also lower homocysteine.

I personally prefer SAM-e since it is the most powerful and noticeable. I take this one, which you can get here or here

Here is a full article all about how to lower homocysteine. 

For those players who were depressed or demented, we did more. I acted as the psychiatrist for a number of our players or a consultant to their own physicians. For many, I prescribed natural antidepressants, such as SAMe, because it also helps with pain.
— Dr. Amen
Click here to subscribe

12. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

A number of our players also opted to do hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which we have seen improve blood flow to the brain. Over the years I have been impressed with HBOT’s ability to increase blood flow to damaged brains.
— Dr. Amen

Again, this wasn’t included in the main protocol of the study, but Dr. Amen often recommends it to NFL players or anyone else with brain damage. 

Woman lying in hyperbaric oxygen tank. Male doctor sitting beside her. HBOt helps reverse brain damage.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that enhances healing in the brain.

Patients inhale 100% oxygen in a total body chamber. 

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

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

Lots of research shows that HBOT improves brain blood supply, reduces inflammation, and enhances neurogenesis, which improves recovery after injury to the central nervous system (34-38). 

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

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

My doctor uses this one at his clinic and recommended it to me. 

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

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

13. Neurofeedback

Brain hooked up to computer. Neurofeedback can help reverse brain damage.

Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that shows you your brain activity in real-time and teaches you how to self-regulate it.  

Sensors are placed on your scalp to measure your brain’s activity, and the measurements are displayed using video or sound.

Dr. Amen uses it with his NFL patients.

In our retired NFL players, we often saw excessively high slow wave activity (excessive delta and theta) and too little fast wave activity (too little beta) in the front part of the brain. Many of our athletes thought of neurofeedback like going to the gym for their minds and found it very helpful.

It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner.

But I also like the Muse headband. It’s a good substitute and gives you real-time feedback in your brainwaves while you meditate. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

Conclusion

Researchers used to believe that the brain could not heal, but they now know that’s wrong. 

Brain plasticity is possible, and if you put the brain in a healing environment, it can get better, and brain damage can be reversed. 

But the above protocol isn’t just for retired NFL players. 

It also applies directly to the larger traumatic brain injury and drug abuse communities.

Illustration of person holding a blue brain in their hands.

Or simply anyone who is experiencing cognitive decline, depression or other mental health problems. 

The retired NFL players in the study had sustained brain injuries decades previously, but they improved. 

If researchers can improve the brains of retired football players – who have had tens of thousands of hits to their heads – imagine the benefit you can get with a brain healthy program.

You’d don’t have to be held hostage by your bad brain. 

You can recover from brain damage, brain infection, substance abuse and toxic exposure. 

And Dr. Amen isn’t the only doctor showing the brain’s incredible power to heal.

Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD, is reversing cognitive decline and dementia with his own brain rehabilitation program. 

You can read more about his protocol here.

This work is incredibly important for football players, soldiers, firefighters, police, and anyone who has suffered brain trauma and damage.

Please share this post with anyone that you think would benefit from the information within it.

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16239884

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17545878

(3) http://ns.umich.edu/Releases/2009/Sep09/FinalReport.pdf

(4) http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/jnp.23.1.jnp98

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18991956

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20414130

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19345341

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19662657

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17574755

(10) http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/09/researchers-find-evidence-of-cte-in-96-of-deceased-nfl-players-they-tested

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17241155

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2344157/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20454891

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984445/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14500988

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9110909/

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10681271/

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16402761

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18042001

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC161361/

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2675154/

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17510979/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18990082

(24) https://examine.com/supplements/alpha-lipoic-acid/

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/20622459/

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2170852

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12905098

(28) https://examine.com/supplements/vinpocetine/

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15760651

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12498034

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12460136

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19720082

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17657601

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3231808/

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20715898

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146131

(37) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2013/512978/

(38) http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/45/6/1807

Medically reviewed by Dr. Daniel Amen, MD

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

20 Proven Ways to Quickly Lower Your Cortisol Levels

A man looking depressed and stressed, hoping to lower his cortisol levels.

Chronic stress is killer. 

It broke me down over the years and led me to deep depression.

Getting a handle on it has been critical to my recovery. 

But it took me a while to figure out what works.

And I’d rather not see other people struggle and frantically look for solutions.

So I’ve gathered some of my favourite ways to quickly lower levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone.

But before we get to them, let’s quickly discuss cortisol and how chronically high levels of cortisol can negatively affect your brain and mental health. 

How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”.

It’s a naturally-occurring steroid hormone that’s produced by your adrenal glands and released when you’re under physical or mental stress. Essentially, it triggers our fight-or-flight response in stressful situations.

But it’s also absolutely necessary for our health, as it plays a key role in many different bodily processes. 

Cortisol levels are generally highest in the morning and lowest at night. But problems can arise when they are elevated for prolonged periods of time (134). 

Chronically high cortisol levels can:

  • Change the size, structure and functioning of your brain;

  • Shrink and kill brain cells;

  • Cause premature aging in the brain;

  • Contribute to memory loss and lack of concentration;

  • Slow down our ability to grow new brain cells; and

  • Increase inflammation in the brain (135-140).

Watch this TED-Ed video, How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain,” to learn more: 

Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol also increase activity in the amygdala, the fear centre of the brain. This can create a vicious cycle in which the brain is more likely be get stuck in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

When I did neurofeedback, my practitioner discovered my amygdala was overactive. She trained it back down to normal levels, and my chronic anxiety dissipated.

Anxiety isn’t the only mental condition linked to an abnormal stress response. Here are some others:

Luckily, there are a number of ways to manage and overcome chronic stress, lower cortisol levels, reverse damage done to the brain, and improve your sense of wellbeing. 

This article includes the best foods, nutrients, herbs and supplements that reduce cortisol; as well as the best lifestyle habits, therapies and practices that reduce cortisol.

Let’s go through them.  

The Best Foods, Nutrients, Herbs and Supplements To Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

1. Eat Dark Chocolate

Most people know that dark chocolate is rich in multiple antioxidants, such as flavonols and polyphenols, which reduce oxidative stress.

But it also reduces cortisol. 

This may explain why people love to eat chocolate and experience relaxation when they do. 

Dark chocolate can protect your brain by boosting BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone

You should always try to get raw dark chocolate with the least amount of sugar like this one.

 

2. Drink Tea

Several different types of tea have beneficial effects on cortisol levels. 

Green tea has been shown to inhibit the synthesis of cortisol (18). 

And a study found that individuals who drank 4 cups of black tea daily for six weeks had lower cortisol levels in comparison to others who didn’t drink black tea (2). 

Researchers couldn’t confirm what caused this reduction in cortisol, but they suspected it had something to do with the high content of theanine, an amino acid found in both black and green tea.

A follow-up study published this year confirmed that theanine can reduce cortisol (13).

Theanine produces a calming effect on the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing the production of both GABA and dopamine in the brain (12). 

I personally can’t drink most teas because they tend to contain mycotoxins (mold toxins) and I’m very sensitive to them after living in a moldy home.

If you’ve lived in a moldy home or have found out that you’re genetically susceptible to mycotoxins, you can supplement with straight theanine like I do. 

This supplement includes theanine. 

And if you do decide to drink black tea, you can lower cortisol even more by getting decaffeinated black tea.

Lastly, chamomile tea is another type of tea that can decrease cortisol. It’s been used for centuries as a sleep aid. It contains flavonoids, essential oils, coumarin and other compounds that can help you relax.

Several studies show it can block the precursor hormone of cortisol and improve sleep quality (14, 15). 

This anti-anxiety supplement includes both theanine and chamomile, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

 

3. Eat Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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

It also contains a compound called oleuropein, which can reduce cortisol levels (37). 

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

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

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

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

 

4. Take Cortisol-Reducing Nutrients and Herbs

There are a number of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and adaptogenic herbs that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol levels. 

I’ll go over some of my favourites here.

Phosphatidylserine is probably the best option for reducing stress hormone levels. 

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid compound that plays a key role in optimal cognitive function. High amounts of phosphatidylserine can be found within the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention and memory, especially in the elderly (114-116). 

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

On top of all this, phosphatidylserine powerfully lowers cortisol (117-119). 

People who supplement with phosphatidylserine have been shown to have lower average levels of cortisol (120).

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

Ashwagandha is another great cortisol-reducing supplement. It’s a popular Indian herb commonly used to prevent anxiety. Its anti-anxiety effect is synergistic with alcohol.

Its stress-reducing effects are likely because it lowers cortisol levels. 

Multiple studies have concluded that it is a potent stress reliever that can reduce cortisol by anywhere from 14 to 32% (121-123). 

Another adaptogenic herb that can lower cortisol is rhodiola

I’ve discussed rhodiola before. It can really help with symptoms of depression. 

Research has found that it may be doing this by significantly reducing stress hormone levels in the body (124-126). 

Lastly, a number of minerals have been shown to reduce cortisol, including zinc, magnesium and selenium (96, 97, 127-133).

That’s why I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement every day. 

Overall, ashwagandha, rhodiola, phosphatidylserine and minerals are my favourite ways to keep stress levels low, but there are plenty of other supplements that have been shown to positively affect cortisol levels, including:

 

5. Consume Enough Food, Protein and Water

Eating enough protein and calories, and drinking enough clean, filtered water is also critical to keeping stress hormone levels low.  

Studies show that severely restricting calories elevates cortisol levels (108, 109). 

Restricting protein and depriving yourself of the amino acid leucine can also stimulate the stress response and increase stress hormones (110). 

That’s why I eat plenty of food each day and supplement with creatine and BCAA protein powder throughout the day when I don’t have access to a source of high-quality protein. 

Lastly, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.

Properly-hydrated runners have noticeably lower cortisol levels than dehydrated runners (81).

I use this Berkey system to filter my water so that it’s as pure as possible. You can get it here or here.

Click here to subscribe

6. Consume More Omega-3s and Less Omega-6s

As I’ve discussed before, omega-3s are dietary fats that are needed for the proper functioning of your brain and nervous system. They improve learning and memory, and protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (4-7). 

Researchers have also found that when individuals supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, there is a significant reduction in the release of cortisol (1, 10).

Omega-3 fatty acids also significantly reduce stress hormones in animals (3). 

Krill oil is my favourite source of omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one everyday.

I also eat wild salmon and grass-fed beef on a regular basis. 

On the other hand, consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to increased inflammation and cortisol levels (8, 9, 11).

So make sure to avoid refined vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola oil.

 

7. Get Enough Antioxidants

Not only do antioxidants counteract oxidative stress within the body; they can also help reduce cortisol (19, 25). 

Most of the research has been done in athletes, but supplementation with antioxidants – such as berry powders, greens powders, vitamin C, glutathione and CoQ10 – leads to fairly significant reductions in cortisol and other measures of stress (20-23). 

Dark berries in particular contain antochyanins, which have been shown to lower cortisol (24). 

Acai berries are my favourite, as they are loaded with antochyanins and vitamin C.

Regarding vitamin C, the research is mixed on whether it can consistently lower cortisol levels.

However, in my experience, high doses of vitamin C definitely reduce stress.

One study found that a high dose of vitamin C decreases anxiety and improves mood (29). 

After exercise, it’s also been shown to rapidly reduce cortisol (26, 27). 

And multiple other studies have found that both vitamin C and vitamin E reduce cortisol and anxiety (30-32). 

It’s also well known that chronic stress and high cortisol can deplete vitamin C and other antioxidant enzymes (28). 

In addition to getting vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day. I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily (2 gram doses throughout the day) and it helped me manage stress, but it’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you. 

 

8. Take 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 and mental health.

Thousands of high-quality scientific studies have been published, showing that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and can increase BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone. 

Research shows that curcumin inhibits the increase in cortisol caused by stress (33, 34). 

And animal studies have found that curcumin may reverse elevated cortisol levels after chronic stress (35, 36). 

Unfortunately, curcumin is very inefficient at absorbing into the bloodstream and reaching the brain (54, 55).

Luckily, science and technology has been able to concentrate significant amounts of curcumin into supplement form and increase its bioavailability. 

There are several different patented forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. 

My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin, as I noticed a significant effect from it. You can get it through Amazon. It is one of my favourite supplements and since it is a fat soluble, I take it every day with a fatty meal.

 

9. Eat Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotics are substances in food that humans can't digest, so they pass through our gastrointestinal tract and promote the growth of many different strains of good bacteria in our lower bowel.

They are essentially food for the probiotics in our intestines.

Dr. Phil Burnet, a neurobiologist at Oxford University, published a paper in 2015 showing that people who ingested prebiotics have lower levels of cortisol.

The people who ingested prebiotics also focused more on positive feedback and less on negative stimuli.

Dr. Burnet said the results were very similar to when people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but without the side effects (87).

That’s why I eat prebiotic-rich foods regularly, including sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus and squash. These foods are included in my free grocery shopping guide for optimal brain health. 

Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake. A convenient way to incorporate more of it into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. Other high-quality resistant starches include banana flour, plantain flour and waxy maize. Cooked and cooled white rice and potatoes also contain some resistant starch. 

I previously discussed prebiotics and resistant starch here.

I also created and take Optimal Biotics, which is a premium probiotic supplement that reduces stress and support my mental health. 

 

10. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine have been shown to increase stress hormones, so their consumption should be limited. 

Coffee is definitely good for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia

However, it can also disrupt sleep and make people anxious. I used to not be able to handle any coffee at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of Kicking Horse coffee most mornings.  

But if you’re struggling with high cortisol and chronic stress, I wouldn’t recommend high doses of caffeine.

It’s been shown to directly stimulate the adrenal cortex, release cortisol into the bloodstream and increase stress hormone levels (74-76).

One study found that caffeine increased cortisol by 30% in just one hour, and regular consumption can double your cortisol levels (88, 89). 

So limit it as much as possible.

An alternative solution is to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee fruit doesn’t contain caffeine, but it does contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

Scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. Coffee fruit concentrate can be found in the Optimal Brain supplement

Lastly, excess alcohol consumption over an extended period of time has also been shown to raise cortisol levels. Having a couple drinks here and there likely isn’t a problem though, and you can protect yourself from it by following these steps (90, 91). 

Certain types of alcohol are better to drink than others.

Click here to subscribe

The Best Lifestyle Habits and Practices to Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

11. Laugh

In the book The Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins explains how he cured himself of ankylosing spondylitis by laughing along with Marx Brothers movies.

I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.
— Norman Cousins

It sounds farfetched, but more and more research is showing that laughter has a powerful effect on our health. 

Researchers have found that laughing and having fun significantly reduces stress hormone levels (65, 66). 

In one study, laughter improved the short-term memory of older adults, and simply anticipating humour decreased their cortisol levels by nearly 50% (64). 

So, next time you’re stressed, try watching a funny TV show or YouTube video

 

12. Play with Animals

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

Petting your own dog or another person’s dog has been shown to significantly decrease stress hormone levels and increase oxytocin, endorphins, and other healing hormones (71, 73). 

Researchers have also compared 20 minutes of quiet rest to 20 minutes of interaction with a dog, and they found that hanging out with dog contributed to a much more significant decrease in cortisol. This is often why therapy dogs show up on college campuses during exams (71). 

So you should try to hang out with animals as much as possible, and consider getting a house pet if you don’t have one. I have a cat named Puddy. 

Spending time in nature has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels. So you can kill two birds with one stone by taking your pet for a walk in the park (77). 

Hmm perhaps “kill two birds with one stone” wasn’t the best idiom to use in this section, but you get my point. 

 

13. Listen to Music and Dance

Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain. 

Numerous studies show that music can relax you, especially before a stressful event, by significantly lowering stress hormones. It can also reduce the spike in cortisol during the stressful situation (50-54). 

Music can be even more relaxing when combined with non-strenuous dancing.

Regular dancing has also been shown to greatly decrease cortisol levels (55). 

 

14. Practice Relaxation Techniques and Therapies

Not too surprisingly, simply taking time each day to relax can lower cortisol.  

My favourite relaxation technique is meditation. 

Countless studies show that meditating daily for just 15 minutes can significantly lower stress hormone levels and blunt cortisol spikes (38-43). 

I use the Muse headband to meditate. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback on your brainwaves. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

Yoga has also been shown to lower cortisol. 

In one study, people with depression practiced yoga regularly for 3 months. By the end of the study, their cortisol levels dropped significantly and they experienced relief from their depression (44). 

Massage is another excellent option, as it’s been shown in many studies to significant decrease in cortisol and anxiety (45, 46). 

I get a massage every couple of months. 

Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”, is another tool I use to manage stress

Tapping is based on ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. You can learn how to practice it here

I know it seems hokey, but it works. 

It’s been shown to significantly decrease cortisol levels (47). 

The book The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living goes in more depth about the practice. 

Lastly, deep breathing exercises can help you manage your stress hormone levels. 

Diaphragmatic breathing – consciously breathing from your diaphragm – has been shown to encourage the body’s natural relaxation response and reduce cortisol (48, 49). 

I use the EmWave2 device every day to reduce stress and make sure I’m breathing optimally. I wrote about it before here.

 

15. Exercise (But Not Too Much)

Exercise is definitely good for you. It can balance hormones and reduce stress by releasing endorphins. However, overtraining can actually backfire and increase stress hormone levels (112). 

That’s why I don’t really recommend chronic endurance exercise and prefer weightlifting and high-intensity sprinting over cardio. 

Research shows that prolonged aerobic exercise can increase cortisol levels, and marathon runners have higher levels of cortisol (111, 113). 

Click here to subscribe

16. Get More Deep Sleep

This might be the most important step. 

Getting enough high-quality sleep is critical for your brain and mental health. 

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

Let me explain.

Normally, cortisol increases in the morning and then drops very low at night prior to bed. But if you have chronic stress and high cortisol, you can end up feeling wired and anxious at night, making it more difficult to sleep. 

Unfortunately, staying up late when your body expects to be asleep further increases your stress hormone levels even more. And lack of sleep and interrupted sleep have been shown to significantly increase cortisol throughout the next day and contribute to cognitive problems down the road (56-61, 63). 

So it’s clearly a vicious cycle where high cortisol causes sleep problems, and poor sleep increases stress.  

That’s why it’s so important go to bed at the same time every night and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Without doing that, you can end up with dysregulated daytime cortisol production.

And it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of sleep. In fact, the quality of your sleep is more important than the length of your sleep.

So I would try doing everything you can to maximize the quality of your sleep. 

Here are some things that I do:

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. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

And if you don’t get enough sleep one night, try to take a nap sometime the next day. Daytime napping after a night of sleep loss has been shown to cause beneficial changes in cortisol levels (62).

 

17. Chew Aspartame-Free Gum

Next time you’re stressed, try chewing a piece of gum

It’s an easy way to lower your stress hormone levels. 

According to one study, chewing gum while under moderate stress reduces mental stress and decreases cortisol by 12 per cent. Previous studies have also shown that chewing can increase alertness, neural activity and blood flow to the brain (82). 

I prefer if the gum is aspartame-free, like this one.

 

18. Stand Tall

Changing your body language can have a powerful effect on your biology. 

Standing tall for just two minutes can lower your cortisol by 25 per cent, according to a famous study led by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy (83). 

Cuddy’s research found that if you switch from low-power body language (arms crossed, hunched over, closed up, slumped shoulders, nervous) to high-power body language (opened up, tall, relaxed, confident), your hormones will change to match your new posture (84). 

So try your best to maintain high-power body language as much as possible as it can reduce stress hormones and increase confidence. You could even try holding a dominant pose for 2 minutes every day. You’ll likely find yourself feeling calmer and more mentally powerful.

And if you haven’t already, check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”.

I also recommend her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

19. Socialize

Social connectivity and positive social interactions also significantly reduce stress hormone levels.

Research shows that the more social support a person has, the lower their cortisol levels will be (67). 

This is likely because you release the hormone oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and oxytocin has been proven to decrease anxiety and block increases in cortisol (68). 

One study states that “the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness during stress” (69). 

Animal studies have also discovered that social isolation leads to higher cortisol and mental health problems (70). 

Make sure to check out my full article about oxytocin to learn more about this powerful neurotransmitter.

 

20. Other Cutting-Edge Therapies

Here are some other therapies that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol:

  • Bright Light Therapy (85, 86) – I recommend this device.

  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (78)

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (79, 80)

  • Acupuncture (92) – I use this acupressure mat.

 

Conclusion

It’s important to take control of your stress before it takes control over you.

Thankfully, there are so many ways to manage your stress and lower cortisol levels without having to resort to a prescription

Here’s a summary of everything we’ve gone over to reduce stress hormone levels:

A person is squeezing a stress ball. The stress ball looks like and is in the shape of a brain.

I remember when I first discovered all of these tools and strategies, it gave me so much hope that I could get better and overcome my depression and anxiety.

And I thankfully I did.

And you can too. 

Let me know what you think in the comments. Have you ever had high cortisol? Do you have any other tips that have helped you reduce cortisol?

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References

(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12909818

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17013636

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23208960

(4) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/179S.long

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3618203/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC533861/

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12777162

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14579682

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20932294

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081099/

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26797633

(14) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/

(15) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/

(16) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/pr900607v?prevSearch=kochhar&searchHistoryKey

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350893/

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24404164/

(19) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0020795

(20) http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/11594400-000000000-00000

(21) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761741/

(22) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X03001513

(23) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286306002348

(24)http://www.researchgate.net/publication/227685141_Anthocyanin_Pigments_Comparison_of_Extract_Stability

(25) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16042916

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21069377

(27) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18427418

(28) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC201008/

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12208645

(30) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036190

(31) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(32) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21839761

(33) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853174/

(34) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20920780

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19540859

(36) http://www.cjpt.ac.cn/EN/abstract/abstract1590.shtml

(37) http://www.ergo-log.com/oleuropein-boosts-testosterone-lowers-cortisol-stimulates-anabolism.html

(38) http://www.ergo-log.com/meditationhormones.html

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23724462

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1801007

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22377965

(42) http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1809754

(43) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/030105119505118T

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24049209

(45) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8707483

(46) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16162447

(47) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22986277

(48) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20617660

(49) http://www.ncbi.nl m.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573542/

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15086180

(51) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/258383.php

(52) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110826/

(53) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3734071/

(54) http://medind.nic.in/jau/t10/i2/jaut10i2p70.pdf

(55) http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.403.4566&rep=rep1&type=pdf

(56) http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jcem-33-1-14

(57) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9415946

(58) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0041218

(59) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2010/759234/

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6822642

(61) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10704520

(62) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16940468

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15558991

(64) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24682001

(65) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2556917

(66) http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/22/1_MeetingAbstracts/946.11

(67) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15473629

(68) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15219651

(69) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14675803

(70) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1

(71) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/

(72) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18221981

(73) http://www.sciencealert.com/having-a-dog-can-reduce-anxiety-and-stress-in-children-study-finds

(74) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18458357

(75) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249754/

(76) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16631247

(77) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835

(78) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22626867

(79) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1000194810600044

(80) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181968/

(81) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17006802

(82) http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/aa/876409

(83) http://www.people.hbs.edu/acuddy/in press, carney, cuddy, & yap, psych science.pdf

(84) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20855902

(85) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21199966

(86) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3686562/

(87) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0%20/fulltext.html

(88) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

(89) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2195579

(90) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2266962/

(91) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100907163313.htm

(92) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19765402

(93) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12909818

(94) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23390041

(95) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23726389

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19554276

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(98) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14737017

(99) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304394003003008

(100) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23789222

(101) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23788517

(102) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25141817

(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19323371

(104) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14737017

(105) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11526469

(106) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19865069/

(107) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9142558

(108) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3080766

(109) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19211813

(110) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21719534

(111) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10190775

(112) http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3817754

(114) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22017963

(115) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21103034

(116) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20523044

(117) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1325348

(118) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503954/

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15512856

(120) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18662395

(121) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798

(122) http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.324.8921

(123) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19789214

(124) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19170145

(125) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25101546

(126) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578

(127) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02789143

(128) http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/cclm.1984.22.issue-11/cclm.1984.22.11.717/cclm.1984.22.11.717.xml

(129) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6527092

(130) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21835188

(131) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6527092

(132) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19931332

(133) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1702662

(134) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443911000329

(135) http://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/11/chronic-stress-predisposes-brain-to-mental-illness/

(136) http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis#.VN9JHFXF8a4

(137) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312696/

(138) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3186928/

(139) http://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/11/chronic-stress-predisposes-brain-to-mental-illness/

(140) http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/mp2013190a.html%20

(141) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23946275

(142) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12537036

(143) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22564216

(144) http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis#.VN9JHFXF8a4

(145) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10890824

(146) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4576517/

(147) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17028025

(148) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17028025

(149) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothalamic%E2%80%93pituitary%E2%80%93adrenal_axis

(150) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/dc-wmo092412.php

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

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

21 Proven Ways to Increase Brain Blood Flow

Without a doubt, healthy blood flow is absolutely essential for optimal brain function and mental health.

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 hindered, cognitive problems can arise.

Poor brain blood flow and circulation are linked to a number of brain and mental illnesses, including:

Increasing blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s.
— Dr. Robert Vassar

Some of the major causes of poor brain blood flow include abnormal blood pressure, poor circulation, low thyroid, infections, and stress (126-130). 

Besides addressing these major causes, there are a number of ways to directly increase the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain.

Researchers use neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to measure cerebral blood flow.

And they have found that the following 21 methods increase brain blood flow and circulation in humans. 

After suffering multiple concussions, I had severe depression and brain fog, and had no choice but to focus on optimizing brain blood flow and circulation.

A lot of these methods have been significantly helpful to me.

If you want to naturally increase blood flow to your brain, continue reading to learn more.

An illustration of a person’s head, their brain, and blood flowing through the brain.

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best and most accessible ways to increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that moderate exercise increases blood flow to the brain by as much as 15% (1). 

And you don’t even need to work out intensely to increase blood flow to your brain.

Simply walking for 30 minutes at a brisk pace, three or four times each week, is good enough to get more blood and oxygen to your brain and reap the benefits (2). 

In fact, the foot’s impact on the ground while walking sends pressure waves through the arteries, which sends more blood and oxygen to the brain (3). 

There are many studies that suggest that exercise improves brain function in older adults, but we don’t know exactly why the brain improves. Our study indicates it might be tied to an improvement in the supply of blood flow to the brain.
— Dr. Rong Zhang

Exercise has also been shown to protect against cognitive decline and dementia, promote neurogenesis, help reverse brain damage, and promote the regeneration of myelin.

So not surprisingly, exercise is recommended by many brain health experts and it’s often their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

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

2. Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to cold can also help you get more blood flowing to your brain. 

Research shows that putting your hand in ice water for one minute can significantly increase the speed of blood flow to the brain (6-8). 

A tough looking guy with a mustache with his fists up in the air ready to fight. It says over the image “Have a cold shower? You mean a shower?”

Researchers have also found that cooling the skin during upright tilting maintains the speed of blood flow to the brain (5). 

Animal studies also show that cold exposure significantly increases cerebral blood flow (4). 

I take a cold shower every day, and often go outside with minimal clothing in the winter to increase my brain blood flow and circulation. 

You don’t have to do that right away though.

You can start out by finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water.

See how you feel, and then work your way up to longer.

It can be a bit painful, but you get used to it and the beneficial effects are worth it.

Another way to ease yourself into it is by sticking your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.

Cold exposure also stimulates the vagus nerve and supports the endocannabinoid system

3. Sunlight

A picture of the sun shining through the clouds around it. Sunlight can increase blood flow to the brain.

Research also shows that light stimulates brain blood flow and circulation.

Positron emission technology (PET) measures blood flow to specific areas of the brain.

In one study, researchers used PET scans to monitor cerebral blood flow in patients with season affective disorder (SAD) – before and after light therapy

Before light therapy, the scans show that patients had reduced blood flow to the cerebral cortex, the “executive” part of the brain.

But after just a few days of light therapy, this part of the brain started to light up, indicating greater activity and increased blood flow (9).

And this doesn’t just happen in depressed individuals.

Another study found that 10 minutes of light exposure can increase brain blood flow in healthy people (10). 

Light therapy even increases brain blood flow in pre-term infants (11). 

I personally get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months to support my brain health. It’s a simple way for me to increase blood flow to the brain every day.

Researchers have also found a positive correlation between Vitamin D levels and brain blood flow (94).

So I use this Vitamin D lamp during the winter months when there isn't enough sun.

4. Ginkgo Biloba

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

Today, it’s one of the most popular herbal supplements in the world.

Doctors even prescribe it in Germany!

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health.

Researchers have found that it increases cognitive function, and improves memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (15). 

It has these positive effects mainly by significantly increasing blood flow to the brain and increasing blood circulation in the brain (12-14). 

Gingko biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Click here to subscribe

5. Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that uses red and infrared light to support brain function.

The treatment involved either low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit red and infrared light.

This red and infrared light is applied to the brain, and it stimulates brain cells, helping them helping them function better.

Most doctors are clueless about LLLT; but not every doctor. 

A man wears on LLLT helmet and uses the Vielight intranasal device. LLLT can increase brain blood circulation and increase blood flow to the brain.

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

One way LLLT can help the brain is by increasing brain blood flow and circulation. 

One study found that applying near infrared light to the forehead can help treat depression and anxiety without side effects by increasing frontal regional cerebral blood flow (49).

Another study showed improvement in brain blood flow in healthy elderly women (50). 

Animal research has also found that light can be used to locally increase brain blood circulation (93). 

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

I use the Platinum LED Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) and shine the red and infrared light directly on my forehead. It’s a simple way for me to quickly and naturally increase blood flow to the brain. If you decide to buy and try this device yourself, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

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

LLLT can also support thyroid function and mitochondria function and help with brain fog

6. Vinpocetine

Vinpocetine is a compound from the Periwinkle plant. 

It’s commonly used in Europe to treat cognitive decline, memory impairments, stroke recovery, and epilepsy.

Researchers have found that it increases brain blood flow in both healthy people and stroke victims.

The increase in brain blood flow leads to increased brain oxygen levels and energy production, reduced brain inflammation and improved reaction time (16-25). 

I took this vinpocetine supplement after my last concussion to increase blood flow to the brain and speed up my recovery. 

7. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite relaxation technique and it's linked to increased blood flow in the brain.

In one study, 14 people with memory problems followed a simple 8-week meditation program, and researchers found a significant increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (31). 

Logical memory and verbal fluency also improved after training (31). 

Another study showed that just five days of meditation (30 minutes each day) significantly enhanced brain blood flow (32). 

I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. That way, you know how well you are meditating. It makes meditating much more enjoyable.

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

8. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.

Many people know that it’s found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

A glass of red wine and red grapes. Red wine and red grapes contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that can increase blood flow to the brain.

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

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF, help restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, and support your mitochondria.

But it can also quickly help you get more blood and oxygen flowing to your brain. 

In one study, after taking either 250 or 500 milligrams of resveratrol, study participants experienced a dose-dependent increase in brain blood flow (26). 

Even just 75 mg has been shown to increase brain circulation and cognition (27, 29). 

And a new study published just this year found that chronic resveratrol supplementation increases brain blood circulation in post-menopausal women, improving their cognition and mood (28, 30). 

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. It’s good to know it naturally increase blood flow in the brain as well. You can get the resveratrol I take here or here

9. Dark Chocolate

Most people love chocolate, and your brain loves it too. 

Dark chocolate contains cocoa, which is known to improve blood flow. 

It's one of my favourite foods. 

Research suggests that the flavonoids found in cocoa beans increase blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours after eating them. And this leads to an improvement in cognitive performance and general alertness (33, 35). 

Certain food components like cocoa flavanols may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function among older adults or for others in situations where they may be cognitively impaired, such as fatigue or sleep deprivation.
— Dr. Ian A. Macdonald, PhD, from the University of Nottingham Medical School in the United Kingdom

One study found that flavanol-rich cocoa significant increases the speed of brain blood flow in healthy elderly people (34). 

Another study showed that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day for 30 days was linked to improved blood flow to the brain and better memory (36). 

Dark chocolate also increases BDNF and reduces cortisol.

It’s important to choose a type of dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.

Here is one of my favourite high-quality dark chocolates

Click here to subscribe

10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

They are essential, meaning your body cannot create them and you have to get them from food or supplements.

Making sure you get more omega-3s is one of the most important actions you can take to support your brain and nervous system.

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

But they also naturally increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that higher omega-3 levels are significantly correlated with higher regional cerebral blood flow (37). 

This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia.
— Dr. Daniel G. Amen, MD, Amen Clinics

And one study found that omega-3 supplementation, in comparison with placebo, significantly increases brain blood flow (38). 

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough of these foods.

So supplementing with krill oil should be considered. Krill oil is a special kind of fish oil that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. I’ve tried tons of fish oil supplements, and I recommend krill oil over all the others.

I take this krill oil supplement. I feel slightly depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

11. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase brain blood flow and circulation.

In a randomized controlled trial, 17 post-stroke patients did acupuncture or sham acupuncture for 20 minutes.

The researchers found that the speed of blood flow to both hemispheres of the brain significantly increased during and after acupuncture treatment (39, 42). 

Research has also shown that acupuncture can significantly improve cerebral blood flow and circulation in animals (40-41, 43). 

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture, which is when the needles are inserted into ear.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I’m not sure why. I just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

I’d recommend trying to find a acupuncturist in your area who provides ear acupuncture.

Ear acupuncture really helped me the first time I weened off antidepressants. I was surprised.

At the end of each appointment, my practitioner would secure these small black seeds on my ear. 

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

Acupuncture also stimulates the vagus nerve

12. Chewing Gum

Research reveals that chewing increases brain blood flow (44). 

As a result, chewing can improve cognitive performance and brain function, including working and spatial memory, and increases the level of arousal and alertness during a cognitive task (45). 

If you chew gum, make sure it’s aspartame-free, like this one.

Chewing gum also reduces cortisol

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) 

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

It’s known to help reverse neurological decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain.

It’s often used as a brain booster by people of all ages because it support brain cells and increases alertness.

It’s also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood by supporting mitochondrial function.

Considering it does all this, it’s not surprising that researchers found that it can enhance brain blood flow in people who have had a stroke (46-47). 

I personally find ALCAR improves my mental energy and enhances my cognitive function.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Click here to subscribe

14. Nitrates

Nitrates are both naturally-occurring compounds found in soil and plants.

High levels of nitrates are found in foods such as beets, celery, cabbage, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.

Research shows that a nitrate-rich diet can increase blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, improving cognitive function and protecting against cognitive decline (51-52). 

Beet juice is a particularly rich source of nitrates, and studies have found that it can help widen blood vessels and increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain (53-54, 56). 

A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial even found that beet juice can improve cognitive performance by increasing brain blood flow (55). 

There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain. There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that’s believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition.
— Dr. Daniel Kim-Shapiro, PhD

I don’t really enjoy the taste, but every so often I do drink beet juice during cognitively-demanding tasks. 

Here is a good organic beet juice

15. Drink Less Coffee (Or Take Theanine)

Coffee is generally excellent for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

However, studies also show that if you want to get more blood flowing to your brain and within you brain, you’re better off avoiding or limiting caffeine

A cup of coffee on a plate with a spoon. Coffee and caffeine reduce blood flow to the brain. So you should try to limit your intake of them. Or take it with theanine instead.

Researchers have found that caffeine significantly reduces brain blood flow by 20 to 30% depending on the study and dosage (74-77). 

The good news is that taking the amino acid theanine can reduce the negative brain blood flow effects of caffeine (78-79). 

That’s why I take this theanine supplement with my morning coffee

I also sometimes take breaks from drinking coffee to normalize brain blood flow and circulation. 

Taking the herb rhodiola can make quitting caffeine much easier because it helps reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Lastly, you could also try supplementing with the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee bean is usually separated from the coffee fruit for roasting. When this happens, the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

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

In fact, scientists have discovered that ingesting coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. 

That’s why it’s included in Optimal Brain.

16. Piracetam

Piracetam is a “nootropic”, which means it’s a supplement that enhances cognition.

It provides a mild boost in brain function, and it’s regularly used in Europe, Asia and South America to treat cognitive impairment. 

A meta-analysis found that piracetam improves general cognition when supplemented by people in a state of cognitive decline (84). 

Research also shows that it can increase brain blood flow in humans and animals (85-91). 

Here is a good piracetam supplement. I used to take it every day but I don’t need it at all anymore.

Phenylpiracetam is an advanced version of piracetam and I found it to be even better because it improves mood and reduces anxiety. It’s also been shown to reverse the depressant effects of benzodiazepines (81-83).

You can get it here

Both piracetam and phenylpiracetam work best if you take them with a source of choline, such as CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC (80). 

17. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate diet.

To follow it correctly, you need to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

This means you need to avoid all carbohydrate-rich foods, including grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit.

When you restrict carbs this much, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose.

Researchers have found that ketones are a therapeutic option in traumatic brain injury because they can increase brain blood flow by 39% (100). 

Studies have also shown that ketones increase cerebral blood flow by 65% in animals (103-104). 

And caloric restriction also increases ketones, which preserves cerebral blood flow in aging rats (102). 

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often, but not for long stretches of time due to resulting hormone problems.

I do take Optimal Ketones every day, which are exogenous ketones that get your body into a state of ketosis very quickly. They immediately increase my mental clarity, without having to restrict carbs.

Ketones can also support mitochondria health, promote the regeneration of myelin, and increase the growth of new brain cells

18. Citicoline

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

You need to get choline from food, but most people do not get enough because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

That’s why supplementation is often necessary.

Citicoline is a supplemental form of choline that has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

It enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine and dopamine (two neurotransmitters that are critical for optimal brain function) and increases the number of acetylcholine and dopamine receptors in your brain (105-110). 

It’s also been shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the rate of brain blood flow (114-116). 

A double-blind placebo-controlled study concluded that Citicoline improves cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease by increasing brain blood flow (113). 

Citicoline significantly improves my focus and mental energy. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in foods such as beef liver and egg yolks, but the effects of Citicoline are much more noticeable and immediate because it quickly passes the blood-brain barrier and supports your brain.  

Citicoline also promote the regeneration of myelin, support the blood-brain barrier, and help reverse brain damage.

19. Blueberry Juice

Drinking blueberry juice improves cognitive function in the elderly, according to research published this year (123-125). 

One way it improved brain health was by increasing oxygen levels and increasing blood flow to the brain.

The participants had improvements in working memory while doing cognitive testing.

In this study we have shown that with just 12 weeks of consuming 30ml of concentrated blueberry juice every day, brain blood flow, brain activation and some aspects of working memory were improved in this group of healthy older adults.
— Dr. Joanna Bowtell

The amount of juice in the study was equivalent to 230g of blueberries.

The researchers believe that the flavonoids in blueberries were responsible for the positive effects.  

 

20. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods that can improve cognitive function.

Researchers have found that supplementing with PQQ can increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (117-118). 

One study found that PQQ can prevent the reduction of brain function in elderly people, especially in attention and working memory, by increasing brain blood flow (119). 

I cycle this BioPQQ supplement with my other mitochondrial-support supplements

21. Intranasal Insulin

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.

An elderly man sprays insulin up his nose. Intranasal insulin has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.

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

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

One possible mechanism is by increasing brain blood flow and circulation.

Research shows that intranasal insulin increases regional cerebral blood flow in the insular cortex (120, 122). 

And in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, intranasal insulin improved brain blood flow in older adults (121).  

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

22. BONUS: Other Promising Nutrients and Herbs

Researchers have found that the following compounds can increase cerebral blood flow in animals, but I couldn’t find any research showing that it will do the same in humans. However, they are worth experimenting with as many of them have supported my brain and mental health over the years.

A picture of the brain and nervous system.
 

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

(1) http://www.the-aps.org/mm/hp/Audiences/Public-Press/Archive/2011/9.html

(2) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110412131921.htm

(3) http://www.nmhu.edu/research-shows-walking-increases-blood-flow-brain/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/754495

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12070190

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8706113

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22104537

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27206903

(9) https://goo.gl/NKCSF1

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3819153/

(11) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8749.2004.tb00460.x/abstract

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12905098

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25966264

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163160/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3679686/

(16) https://examine.com/supplements/vinpocetine/

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15760651

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12498034

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12460136

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1429914/

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12044859

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4274818/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23289173

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25548768

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19135345

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20357044

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27105868

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28054939

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27420093

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27005658

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20164557

(32) http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00212/full

(33) http://www.medsci.org/press/cocoa.html

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518374/

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794461

(36) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-08/aaon-cmh073113.php

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28527220

(38) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051111002584

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26569545

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19358505

(41) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0056736

(42) https://goo.gl/XZqLQd

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24006668

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9134116

(45) http://www.medsci.org/v11p0209.htm

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2068049

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2387659

(48) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1673537407600383

(49) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19995444

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25277249

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575935/

(52) http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20101103/beet-juice-good-for-brain#1

(53) https://goo.gl/oeTwfb

(54) http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20101103/beet-juice-good-for-brain#1

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26037632

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27630836

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16912655

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17459424

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12614590

(60) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026286207000258

(61) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ana.410150507/abstract

(62) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140429085116.htm

(63) https://goo.gl/x39wBK

(64) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1038/jcbfm.2011.85

(65) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746283/

(66) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22447676

(67) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0024320509004627

(68) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19925811

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12466053

(70) https://goo.gl/JLo2KP

(71) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23685189

(72) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28325558

(73) https://goo.gl/ffuYWA

(74) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2748160/

(75) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15132312/

(76) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2122148/

(77) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677118/

(78) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4480845/

(79) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25761837

(80) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7301036

(81) https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/11319230-000000000-00000

(82) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21689376

(83) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6403074

(84) https://examine.com/supplements/piracetam/

(85) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3556550

(86) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21183904

(87) https://goo.gl/Uf4XQU

(88) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4026900

(89) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8876930

(90) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10978039

(91) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17523446

(92) https://goo.gl/JYEMNd

(93) https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14191

(94) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22773150

(95) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3810733

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3446252

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20096732

(98) https://goo.gl/rHW2KD

(99) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27156064

(100) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8967461

(101) https://ccforum.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/cc10020

(102) https://goo.gl/KRZ9oy

(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16001018

(104) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1038/sj.jcbfm.9600177

(105) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695184/

(106) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11796739

(107) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1430829/

(108) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1839138

(109) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1098982

(110) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19351232

(111) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4011061/

(112) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16055952

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10669911

(114) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1098982

(115) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7820960

(116) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7913981/

(117) https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-38810-6_29

(118) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27526146

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26782228

(120) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23907764

(121) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5391232/

(122) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.22304/abstract

(123) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28249119

(124) http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_572581_en.html

(125) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170307100356.htm

(126) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20453669

(127) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539653/

(128) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3246784/

(129) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15118175

(130) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14757593

(131) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28155036

(132) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28506213

(133) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15929050

(134) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17088679

(135) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10867218

(136) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9682941

(137) http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/481961

(138) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12742675

(139) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9373423

(140) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21167506

(141) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7496746

(142) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1919689

(143) http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/jnp.15.3.326

(144) http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/783869

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

13 Proven Ways Saunas Can Improve Your Mental Health

When it comes to improving your mental health, some of the simplest strategies can have a huge impact.

Using a sauna regularly is one of them.

Infrared saunas in particular are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. 

They have a number of brain and mental health benefits, as discussed in the book Sauna Therapy by Dr. Lawrence Wilson.

However, you don’t necessarily need an infrared sauna to experience health benefits. Even traditional saunas – available at most public gyms, spas and health centres – have a number of beneficial cognitive and psychological effects. 

Once you start using a sauna, you should listen to your body to determine how much time you should spend in it. Start out slowly and increase the length of your sessions over time. Also make sure to drink lots of water before and after each session, and never consume alcohol in combination.

Read on to learn about the 13 ways traditional and infrared saunas can improve your brain and mental health.

Illustration of man sitting in a sauna, improving his mental health one minute at a time.

1. Saunas Improve Mood and Reduce Depression

Saunas can really help people that struggle with depression.

Lots of research shows that they can make you feel euphoric. Saunas are somewhat stressful on the body, so your brain produces and releases more euphoric hormones to deal with it (53-55).

And these changes appear to be semi-permanent (56). 

So if you use a sauna regularly, you'll end up being consistently happy. 

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, has completed two studies in which he had people with major depression sit in an infrared sauna.

Woman with hands up in the air, sun setting in the background.

In his first study, the participants had just one infrared sauna treatment and it reduced their symptoms by about 50%.

In his follow-up study, he found that a single session caused a rapid and powerful antidepressant effect, and the benefits continued for six weeks, which was unexpected. 

He concluded that whole-body hyperthermia holds promise as a safe, rapid-acting, antidepressant treatment with a prolonged therapeutic benefit (57-58). 

Other researchers have looked at the effects of infrared sauna therapy on mildly depressed patients with fatigue, appetite loss, and mental complaints. They found that sauna treatment significantly increased their appetite and reduced their mental complaints (59). 

Whole-body heat therapy has also been shown to reduce depression in cancer patients (60-61).

And other research shows that sweating increases mental satisfaction and energy (62). 

2. Saunas Reduce Anxiety and Stress

Not surprisingly, saunas can also reduce stress and anxiety.

Several studies have shown that regular sauna use lowers levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone (49-52). 

In one study, researchers found that using a sauna can reduce both state and trait anxiety (48).

And other research shows that sweating increases relaxation, and reduces feelings of frustration and anxiety (62). 

Here are 21 other ways to reduce cortisol and increase your resilience to stress.

3. Saunas Increase Beta-Endorphins, Relieve Pain and Help Treat Fibromyalgia

Beta-endorphins are pain-relieving compounds that originate within your body. 

Your brain produces and releases these natural painkillers during times of strenuous exercise, emotional stress and pain.

Since saunas are a stressor, the release of endorphins are increased when you spend time in one.

Illustration of person in pain. Saunas can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Several studies have shown that heat stress and heat exposure in a dry sauna cause a significant increase in beta-endorphin levels (28-32). 

This may explain why research shows that sauna therapy can lessen the pain experienced by patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic syndrome characterized by widespread pain with tenderness in specific areas.

In one study, people with fibromyalgia experienced a 33 to 77 per cent reduction in pain after using an infrared sauna regularly. Six months after the study was done, the participants still reported a 28 to 66 per cent reduction in pain (35). 

Other researchers have found the same thing and concluded that infrared sauna therapy is effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia (33-34). 

Another way to relieve pain is by taking DL-Phenylalanine. It’s an amino acid that inhibits the breakdown of endorphins. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it here.

Click here to subscribe

4. Saunas Increase Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

A cartoon brain with arms and legs, lifting weights over its head. Saunas increase BDNF.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a naturally-occurring protein in the brain that lowers your risk of mental disease and improves your mood. It does this by protecting and repairing your brain cells and increasing the growth of new brain cells. Many researchers consider it a natural antidepressant because it can reduce anxiety and depression (5-13, 15).

Research suggests that if you struggle with mental illness, you likely have reduced levels of BDNF. But luckily, there are ways to boost it.

Using a sauna is one of the ways. 

Research shows that heat exposure increases the expression of BDNF (14). 

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

5. Saunas Increase Norepinephrine Levels and May Help Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter in the brain that can help with focus and attention.

An illustration of a man’s mind being open with lots of arrows. Saunas can help reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Numerous studies have found that sauna use significantly increases norepinepherine levels (39-42). 

In one study, women spent 20 minutes in a sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed an 86% increase in norepinephrine (43). 

In another study, men that stayed in a sauna until exhaustion increased their norepinephrine levels by 310% (44-45). 

Besides increasing norepinephrine, heat stress also increases your body’s ability to store norepinephrine for later release (46). 

Medications that increase the reuptake norepinephrine are often prescribed to people with ADHD, so researchers believe that sauna therapy should be considered as an alternative treatment (47). 

6. Saunas Encourage the Growth of Myelin

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

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

Illustration of myelin sheath.

Heat stress increases prolactin, a hormone that promotes the production of myelin (16-19). 

In one study, researchers had healthy young men stay in a sauna until they were exhausted, and they reported a 10-fold increase in prolactin (20-11). 

In another study, women spent 20 minutes sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed a 510% increase in prolactin (22). 

I previously provided 25 other ways to promote the growth of myelin in this post

Other than using a sauna, my favourite way to increase myelin is by taking this lion’s mane mushroom supplement. It’s helped me a lot. You can get it here or here

Click here to subscribe

7. Saunas Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Dementia is obviously a major concern today. 

It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer, and by 2050, it’s estimated that 13 million Americans and 160 million people globally will be affected by the disease (63).

There is currently a lack of effective treatment options, so simple tools to help with prevention are crucial.

A young woman and elderly woman laughing and smiling. Saunas can help reduce the risk of dementia.

It turns out that sauna therapy may be one of these tools.

Researchers tracked the health of more than 2,300 men in Finland for about 20 years. The men who used a sauna four to seven times each week had a 66 percent lower chance of developing dementia than men who used a sauna just once a week (64-68). 

We have taken into account other lifestyle factors, like physical activity and socioeconomic factors. There is an independent effect of sauna.
— Dr. Jari Laukkanen, Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Eastern Finland

I previously provided some other ways to reverse cognitive decline and dementia in this post

Intranasal insulin can also help. 

8. Saunas Reduce Psychological Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa, or simply known as anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction.

Researchers have examined the effects of sweating on anorexia and reported positive effects on hyperactivity, depression, and stress levels (27). 

9. Saunas Reduce Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex, incapacitating illness. It affects millions of people around the world and may affect up to 4 million people in the United States alone. 

People struggling with this disorder not only have unrelenting fatigue lasting for 6 months or more, but also memory and concentration deficits, sleep disturbances, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and gastrointestinal and immune system dysfunction.

A woman holds her forehead, struggling with fatigue. Saunas can help reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

One study found that infrared sauna sessions significantly reduce fatigue in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. It also significantly reduced their anxiety and depression (23). 

I've had some clients with chronic fatigue say that their doctor recommended they stay out of the sun and avoid exposing themselves to too much heat. But the above study didn't find any negative effects in chronic fatigue patients from regular infrared sauna sessions (23). 

Another study found that daily infrared sauna sessions dramatically improved symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, including fatigue, pain and sleep disturbances. The patients in the study didn’t improve with prednisolone, a steroid medication, but did improve with sauna therapy (24).

So if you struggle with chronic fatigue, infrared sauna therapy is definitely worth looking into. 

Click here to subscribe

10. Saunas Reduce Tension Headaches

"Chronic tension-type headache" is a syndrome characterized by frequent headaches that occur more than 15 days every month. 

The intensity and duration of the headaches can be very distressing and disabling and affect a person's well-being.

But research shows that regular sauna use is a simple, self-directed treatment that is effective for reducing headache pain intensity (26). 

11. Saunas Help Eliminate Heavy Metals

Some of the benefits of sauna usage occur because of increased sweating. 

Many people don’t sweat very much, and this can cause problems because your skin acts as an important route of detoxification and helps you excrete heavy metals that are so prevalent in your modern environment. Common heavy metals in our environment include cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury (36, 37). 

A diagram demonstrating the negative effects of heavy metals on the body. Regular sauna use can help your body excrete heavy metals.

Lack of sweating may actually result in increased toxic load over time, which can negatively affect your brain and mental health.

Research shows that mercury poisoning from dental amalgam affects the mind and emotions and plays a role in the development of mental illness (1). 

But by sweating frequently in a sauna, you can enhance your detoxification pathways and help your body remove mercury (2, 4). 

In fact, studies show that high mercury levels can be reduced to normal levels by using a sauna repeatedly (3). 

Researchers have concluded that “sweat-inducing sauna use can provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals and should be the initial and preferred treatment of patients with elevated mercury levels” (38). 

Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body.
— Researchers writing in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health

12. Saunas Increase Deep Sleep

Getting high-quality deep sleep is critical for optimal brain function and mental health. 

And using a sauna regularly is one way to improve it. 

Researchers in Finland report that sauna use is one of the factors that can result in deeper, more restful sleep (25). 

Some other ways to promote sleep include blocking out blue light before bed, taking this sleep supplement, lying on an acupressure mat, supplementing with magnesium, collagen and melatonin if necessary, and blacking  out your room with curtains or wearing a sleep mask.

13. Saunas Support Thyroid Function

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple, and lots of research shows that thyroid dysfunction can contribute to mental health problems

One of the main threats to the health of your thyroid is non-biological halogens. These include bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water.

An illustration showing the thyroid gland.

Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference these halogens and iodine, a trace mineral necessary for proper thyroid function.

Your thyroid soaks up the halogens and uses them like iodine. By occupying iodine receptors, they inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones, and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

But don’t worry – sauna use can help your body excrete halogens (69). 

The more you can excrete the halogens, the more your body will be able to use iodine to produce thyroid hormones.

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

Check out this post for more ways to support your thyroid. 

Conclusion

As you can see, saunas have a number of beneficial effects on the brain and can help you manage and overcome your mental health challenges. 

I’ve been doing a lot of research into saunas recently and have concluded that infrared saunas have additional benefits and are much more gentle and effective than the traditional “hot rock” saunas.

Unfortunately, most infrared saunas emit unsafe levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

However, I did find a company that has a patent on low-EMF infrared saunas. Their saunas are also very well built and have a lifetime warranty. So I'm going to go with one of their saunas. You can get one here

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2618948

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22315626/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312275/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218899/

(5) http://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2009/624894/abs/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504526/

(7) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322303001811

(8) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0896627391902733

(9) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432812006997

(10) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899306027144

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25568448

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC23964/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC23964/

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21385602

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20594764

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15234248

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17314279

(19) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00691246

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25748743

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15992574/

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3363395

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25636135

(27) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0041851

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3002937

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8061252

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218898

(33) https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/internalmedicine/47/16/47_16_1473/_pdf

(34) https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/internalmedicine/47/16/47_16_1473/_article

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21742283

(36) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(37) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(38) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(41) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00691246

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15234248

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4008413

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12621106

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18396259

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3788622

(50) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(53) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3002937

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8061252

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218898

(56) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9103537

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27172277

(58) http://blogs.webmd.com/mental-health/2016/07/can-sitting-in-a-sauna-ease-depression.html

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16046381

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1607735

(61) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/02656739209021785?journalCode=ihyt20

(62) http://digital.library.okstate.edu/etd/umi-okstate-1543.pdf

(63) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24598707/

(64) https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article-abstract/46/2/245/2654230/Sauna-bathing-is-inversely-associated-with

(65) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161216114143.htm

(66) http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/01/20/sweating-in-sauna-might-help-keep-brain-healthy-finnish-study.html

(67) http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/studies-show-saunas-can-protect-against-heart-brain-diseases-1.3232765

(68) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201612/frequent-sauna-use-may-reduce-risk-dementia-study-finds

(69) http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2016/09/09/sauna-bathing.aspx

(70) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/04/detoxification-program.aspx

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer