23 Powerful Ways to Support the Mitochondria in Your Brain

Picture of several mitochondria.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic mitochondria dysfunction is one of the main underlying factors that contributes to poor brain function and mental illness. 

Mitochondria are unique structures within every cell of your body. You have trillions and trillions of them, making up approximately 10% of your total body weight.

Mitochondria are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body by converting nutrition into adenosine-5’- triphosphate (ATP). ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel. You are constantly using it, and your brain needs enough of it to work properly (106-107). 

Along with your gut bacteria, your mitochondria are critically important and need to be supported to overcome depression and anxiety, and reach optimal brain and mental health.

Mitochondria are especially abundant in your brain cells and involved in many important biological processes in the brain, including the regulation of free radicals and neurotransmitters.

In fact, monoamine oxidase (MAO), the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of monoamine neurotransmitters, is localized within the outer mitochondrial membrane (91-93). 

So not surprisingly, numerous studies show that there is a correlation between impaired mitochondrial function in the brain and many psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, including:

In fact, some researchers are convinced that mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in almost every chronic disease (108-110). 

Mitochondria dysfunction decreases ATP energy production and increases oxidative stress, which are commonly found in the brains of people suffering from brain and mental health disorders.

Cognitive symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction can also include impairments in attention, executive function and memory (105).

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

But luckily, there are ways to halt and reverse mitochondrial decay.

Below are a number of strategies I’ve used over the years to support my mitochondria.

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

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

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

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

 

1. Eat Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods

Dr. Terry Wahls standing in front of her wheelchair.

Eating lots of fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods is one of the most impactful actions you can take to power your mitochondria. 

In order to thrive, your mitochondria need phytonutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats and proteins.

Dr. Terry Wahls, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, is a leading expert on the relationship between nutrition and mitochondrial health.

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) more than a decade ago but reversed the neurodegenerative brain disease by repairing her mitochondria with an intensive nutritional strategy.

She outlines how she recovered her health in her book The Wahls Protocol

Research on her protocol shows that patients witness a “significant improvement in fatigue” (67). 

She recommends eating six to nine cups of vegetables and fruits every day, including green veggies (kale, spinach), brightly colored vegetables (beets, carrots, peppers), and sulfur-rich veggies (broccoli, cauliflower).

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains a bunch of foods that you should be eating on a regular basis for optimal mitochondrial health. 

Dr. Wahls also has a fascinating TED talk that you can watch if you're interested in learning more. 

 

2. Avoid Certain Foods and Ingredients

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

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

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

That’s why you should avoid refined sugars, processed flours, industrial oils and trans fats. They can damage your mitochondria and prevent them from properly producing energy.

Dr. Wahls also recommends you avoid all gluten, dairy and soy products for optimal mitochondrial health.

I personally feel much better avoiding them completely as well. 

 

3. Eat More Essential Fats

Healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, help build and strengthen the membranes of your mitochondria. They’ve also been shown to improve mitochondrial function in the brain (5-7). 

That’s why Dr. Wahls recommends eating organic grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish, such as salmon, every day.

Avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil are also rich in healthy fats. 

Supplementing with krill oil is another excellent option.

 

4. Exercise

Not surprisingly, exercise strengthens your mitochondria by increasing oxygen and blood flow and activating biochemical pathways that produce new mitochondria (8). 

Runners have more high-functioning mitochondria than non-runners, and strength training and high-intensity interval training also increase the number of mitochondria and improve the efficiency of your existing mitochondria (9, 10).

Many experts recommend exercise for brain health.

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

 

5. Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is a treatment that uses low-level (low-power) lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to stimulate brain cells, helping them heal and function better. 

There is strong evidence to suggest that LLLT supports the mitochondria. 

Research shows that LLLT reduces oxidative stress and increases the production of ATP energy in mitochondria (39, 40). 

These mitochondrial benefits have also been seen directly within the brain.

Studies show that LLLT increases mitochondrial activity within brain cells, and this leads to beneficial effects in behaviour (41). 

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

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

  • Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) - This is a powerful all-one-device that shines 660 nm of red light and 850 nm of infrared light. I shine it on my forehead for 5-10 minutes every day or every other day. I also shine it on other parts of my head, and on my thyroid, thymus gland and gut. If you decide to get this device, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

  • Vielight 810 – This is an intranasal device with 810 nm of near infrared light that I use regularly. It penetrates deeper into brain tissue and is absorbed better by the central nervous system. If you decide to get this one, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount. Some research has shown a 20-fold higher efficiency of light delivery to the deep brain through the nose instead of transcranial application (125). Vielight also has two new devices - the Neuro Gamma and the Neuro Alpha. And they are apparently even more effective than the Vielight 810.

You can learn more about LLLT in this post

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

 

6. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant compound found in grapes and red wine. 

Not only does it increase BDNF levels, but it also activates the SIRT1 gene. This gene triggers a number of positive biochemical reactions that protect and improve the functioning of your mitochondria. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting also trigger the SIRT1 gene (11-13).

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

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

Resveratrol is included in the Optimal Energy supplement.

 

7. Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting

Restricting your calories is one the best actions you can take to improve mitochondrial function.

Studies show that eating less food reduces the demand and damage on your mitochondria. 

But reducing calories is tough to do and absolutely no fun. 

That’s why I fast intermittently instead. 

Fasting activates your mitochondria and triggers autophagy, which is an intracellular process that essentially allows your mitochondria to clean themselves by removing unwanted and damaged debris, proteins and reactive oxygen species (1, 2, 4).

This process has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (3). 

 

8. Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)

NADH is a naturally-occurring compound found in the cells of all living organisms.

It plays a key role in the production of energy within the cell and is highly concentrated within your mitochondria (45). 

Depletion of NADH has been linked to a number of diseases, including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

But stabilized oral NADH has been shown to improve all of these conditions (46, 47, 48). 

Although I don’t take it anymore, I’ve witnessed a beneficial effect from supplementing with this NADH supplement.

LLLT is also known to increase NADH in your mitochondria. 

 

9. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. 

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

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose (36).

Ketones are an alternative source of energy for your brain cells and they support your mitochondria. 

When your mitochondria are dysfunctional, following a ketogenic diet can be an effective strategy to fuel the mitochondria. 

When mitochondria are fueled by ketones instead of glucose, their ability to produce ATP is enhanced and free-radical byproducts are reduced.
— Dr. Jong Rho, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Neurology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital

Ketogenic diets may help treat many different brain and mental health diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and autism. 

Exogenous ketones can also help you get into ketosis and experience the mitochondrial-boosting effects of ketones very quickly.

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

 

10. B Vitamins

B vitamins play an essential role in maintaining mitochondrial function.

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

Deficiency is more likely if you take certain medications

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

 

11. Ribose

Ribose is a five carbon sugar created naturally by your body.

Even though it’s a sugar, research suggests it does not raise blood sugar levels.

Instead, your body stores it in the mitochondria (49, 50). 

Ribose is used by the mitochondria to produce ATP and if you don’t have enough, you’ll experience low energy (51). 

Chronic stress can deplete ribose, and certain conditions have been linked to chronic ribose deficiency, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.

That’s why I recommend people supplement with ribose if they struggle with these disorders because it can help reduce mental and physical lethargy (52, 53).

Ribose is also included in Optimal Energy.

 

12. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant molecule found in every cell of your body.

It’s particularly concentrated in the mitochondria, playing a key role in the production of energy.

It also protects the mitochondria from oxidative damage. 

Without CoQ10, your body cannot synthesize ATP because CoQ10 is an essential component of the mitochondrial electron transport chain.

Many doctors are unaware that CoQ10 is an excellent treatment for many brain health issues, including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease

Low levels of CoQ10 can cause brain fog, mental fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, depression and irritability (68-70). 

Researchers have found that CoQ10 levels are significantly lower in the depressed patients (71). 

Unfortunately, chronic oxidative stress and medications can further deplete CoQ10

But supplementing with CoQ10 can increase your mitochondrial energy production and reduce symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue (71). 

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

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

 

13. Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

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

It has a wide range of brain health and mitochondrial benefits.

It’s been shown to preserve and enhance memory, attention, and cognition by protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage.

It also promotes the growth of new mitochondria in the brain (56-59). 

Since it helps grow new mitochondria, it may help you if you suffer from depression, since fewer mitochondria have been found in people with depression (63). 

Reactive nitrogen species (RNS) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause severe stress on brain cells and mitochondria.

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

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

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

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

 

14. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral within your body.

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

Magnesium also protects the mitochondria and plays a role in the production and transfer of ATP within the mitochondria.

And research shows that if you have a deficiency in magnesium, your brain cells will have fewer mitochondria, and they will be less healthy (54, 55). 

This is just another reason to supplement with magnesium every day.

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

 
Scientific representation of brain and brain blood flow.

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

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

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

Supplementing with carnitine makes it easier for fatty acids to cross your blood-brain barrier and nourish the mitochondria within your brain. This can improve your mood, memory and energy levels.

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

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

Carnitine is synergistic with Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), meaning that when you take them together, they are more effective at supporting the mitochondria in your brain.

ALA is a mitochondrial enzyme and antioxidant. It is fat soluble and can easily cross your blood-brain barrier.

It’s been shown to improve cognition by reducing oxidative stress in the brain.

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

Both ALA and carnitine are included together in Optimal Energy.

 

16. Thiamine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thiamine is also included in Optimal Energy.

 

17. Creatine

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

Creatine is also available as a supplement.

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

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

Supplementing with creatine can also support the brain.

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

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

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

 

18. Curcumin

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

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

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

 

19. Malic Acid

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

20. Niacinamide

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

It’s also often taken as a supplement.

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

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

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

 

21. N-Acetyl-Cysteine

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

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

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

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

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

NAC can also help support your mitochondria.

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

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

 

22. Succinic acid

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

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

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

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

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

 

23. EGCG

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

Picture of mitochondrion, the energy producer of brain cells.

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

Luckily there are a number of dietary and lifestyle habits that can protect and support mitochondrial function.

The following steps will ensure your body and brain have healthier and more abundant mitochondria: 

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

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

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

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

  • Exercise

  • Try LLLT

  • Restrict calories and/or fast intermittently

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

If you follow these strategies, there’s no doubt that you can improve your mitochondrial health and naturally restore your mood and energy levels.

Please share this post with one of your friends or family members who you think might benefit from protecting and supporting their mitochondria, because it really is an underappreciated and unknown aspect of optimal brain and mental health. 

 
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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD

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

Blood-brain barrier leakage means that the brain has lost its protective means, the stability of brain cells is disrupted and the environment in which nerve cells interact becomes ill-conditioned. These mechanisms could eventually lead to dysfunction in the brain.
— Dr. Walter H. Backes, Maastricht University Medical Center
A leaky brain leaking water.

A healthy, properly-functioning blood-brain barrier is absolutely critical for optimal brain and mental health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A leaky brain leaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of them have helped me.

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

 

1. Avoid Gluten

Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.

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

You'll likely feel better.

Man with headache and inflammation in the brain because of gluten.

There’s one main reason I recommend this…

Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.

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

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

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

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

That’s simply not true.  

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

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

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

 

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

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

I’ve discussed this before.

Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.

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

Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.

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

And what did the researchers find?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take Optimal Biotics every day.

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

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

 

3. Drink Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Sulforaphane

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

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

It’s quite similar to curcumin.

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

You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.

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

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

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

 

5. Avoid Alcohol

Glass of alcohol. Alcohol disrupts the blood-brain barrier.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 6. Resveratrol or Pterostilbene

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

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

And scientists are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF and support your mitochondria.

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

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

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

Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:

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

  • Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7. Reduce Stress

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

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

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

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

Person holding stress ball. Reducing stress can help repair the blood-brain barrier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

9. Sleep and Melatonin

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

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

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

Young child sleeping in bed. Sleep can help fix the blood-brain barrier when it becomes leaky.

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

Supplementing with melatonin can also help.

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

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

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

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

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

 

10. Berberine

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants. 

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

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

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

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11. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moldy roof. Mold can damage the blood-brain barrier and make it permeable and leaky.

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

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

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

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

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

 

12. B Vitamins

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

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

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

 

13. Magnesium

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

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

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

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

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

Magnesium and magnesium rich foods. Magnesium can help the blood-brain barrier heal.

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

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

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

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

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

 

14. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

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

It can also be taken as a supplement.

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

Human brain and blood flow.

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

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

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

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

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

 

15. Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR)

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

It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects. It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.  

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

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

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

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

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16. Curcumin

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

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

But it can also:

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

  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and

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

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

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

 

17. Vitamin D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

18. Citicoline or Alpha GPC

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

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

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

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

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

I personally take Citicoline every day.

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

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

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

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

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

Egg yolks. Egg yolks contain choline, which can help repair a leaky blood-brain barrier.
 

19. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20. Lower Homocysteine

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

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

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

And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy. 

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

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

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

 

21. Progesterone

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

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

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

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

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

 

22. Increase Brain Blood Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

23. Other Nutrients, Antioxidants and Herbs

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

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

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

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

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

I hope they help you too!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References

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

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

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

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

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

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

(7) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6898853_Lipoic_Acid_Affects_Cellular_Migration_into_the_Central_Nervous_System_and_Stabilizes_Blood-Brain_Barrier_Integrity

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16888025

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25714975

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10561698

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12691414

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10701532

(13) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022480416303638

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

(15) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307999386_Curcumin_attenuates_blood-brain_barrier_disruption_after_subarachnoid_hemorrhage_in_mice

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

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