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

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

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

Yet your doctor likely has no idea what it is. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How It Works

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

The devices I use fall within this range. 

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

How does it do this?

Mainly by supporting your mitochondria

As I’ve discussed before, mitochondria are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body in the form of adenosine-5’- triphosphate (ATP). 

ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel. You are constantly using it, and your brain needs enough of it to work properly. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Experience and What You Should Expect

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

Man using LLLT helmet and intranasal Vielight device.

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

Here are some of the results I’ve noticed:

  • Increased cognitive function

  • Sharper thinking

  • Improved mood, concentration, alertness

  • Less fatigue and reduced need for sleep

  • More mental motivation, endurance and productivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depression and Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve personally experienced all of these results.

Traumatic Brain Injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alzheimer's Disease and Cognitive Impairment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stroke

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

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

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

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

Other Disorders

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Smoking Cessation – Check out this video.

  • Alcoholism (101, 102)

  • Opiate addiction (102)

  • Headaches and migraines (108)

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

Recommended Devices

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

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

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

After a few sessions, I started experiencing beneficial effects.

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

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

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

  • Vielight also has two new devices - the Neuro Gamma and the Neuro Alpha. I haven't tried them yet because I’m happy with my Bio-450 and Vielight 810. But I have heard great things from other biohackers and researchers. They are apparently even more effective than the Vielight 810. Again, you can also use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount if you buy one of these devices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jordan Fallis

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

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13 Powerful Ways to Support Your Thyroid for Better Mental Health

When you know better, you do better.
— Maya Angelou
Picture of the thyroid gland.

Sometimes it may feel as if we have no control over our thoughts and emotions. Our minds can take on a life of their own, with no rhyme or reason as to why we're suddenly sad and anxious.

But there are always underlying causes of these mood swings, and with a better understanding of them, you can learn to manage and overcome them. 

Like I have, you can connect the dots, determine your underlying triggers, learn to control them and even completely eliminate them over time. 

So today I want to talk about thyroid dysfunction. It was one of the underlying issues of my chronic mental illness. 

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple.

It’s one of your most important glands, producing hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) – which impact the health and functioning of your entire body.

In fact, normal metabolism and energy levels depend on these hormones. 

Your thyroid also plays a key role in the optimal health and functioning of your brain. It can impact your cognition, concentration, mood, memory and emotions. 

So when your thyroid hormones are out of balance, you can be too, and brain and mental problems can arise.

Your thyroid can either be overactive and produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), or underactive and produce too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).

Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is much more common, and since I personally struggled with symptoms of hypothyroidism, this post will mostly focus on that.

Picture of thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism can also be caused by an autoimmune conditions called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid tissue.

According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working? and Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?, 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s. 

Here are some of the common brain and mental health symptoms of low thyroid that I experienced:

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low mood

  • Forgetfulness

  • Weakness

  • Sluggishness

Sounds just like depression, doesn’t it?

You Don't Have Mental Illness, You Have Thyroid Problems

Many studies show that people with cognitive, emotional and behavioural disturbances have lower levels of thyroid hormone than the general population, and their psychiatric symptoms improve when they take thyroid hormone.

The following symptoms and disorders have been linked to thyroid problems (69-86): 

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar disorder, mania and mood swings

  • Irritability and rage

  • Insomnia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis

  • Dementia and confusion

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Borderline personality disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

In fact, many people struggling with these conditions see better improvements when they are treated with thyroid hormone than when they are treated with psychiatric medication (and experience fewer side effects). 

Psychiatric patients with subclinical hypothyroidism - especially those with incomplete responses to psychotropic therapy - should usually be treated with thyroid hormone. In some patients with no clear evidence of a biochemical or clinical thyroid disorder, mood symptoms nevertheless respond to thyroid hormone.
— Thomas D. Geracioti Jr, MD

A number of different medical practitioners and researchers have written books about how thyroid problems can negatively affect brain and contribute to mental illness:

So if you struggle with brain or mental illness, you likely do not need a prescription for antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medication. What you really need is to support your thyroid. Treating the underlying thyroid problem is critical to alleviating the associated psychiatric symptoms.

Luckily, there are easy, natural ways for you to do just that.

Below are 13 main strategies I’ve used to balance my thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function. 

Before implementing all of them, I highly recommend getting a full thyroid panel (like this one) so that you know your starting point. True Health Labs allows you to order their Complete Thyroid Panel even without a doctor. 

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1. Cut Out Gluten

Certain foods can disrupt proper thyroid function and you should avoid them to optimize brain and mental health. 

Gluten-containing grains (barley, wheat, rye, spelt) are the worst offenders.  

Picture of bread and bagels, which are full of gluten and worsen thyroid function.

The problem with gluten is that it can increase intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome). When this happens, small particles of food can leak into your bloodstream. Your immune system sees these food particles as foreign entities and attacks them, increasing inflammation throughout your body. 

On top of this, the molecular structure of gliadin (the protein found in gluten) resembles that of the thyroid gland. So when gliadin enters your bloodstream, your immune system not only attacks the gliadin, but also your thyroid tissue because of its close resemblance. And this can cause many brain and mental health problems (11-13). 

Research shows that people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance are more likely to have thyroid diseases and mental illnesses, and vice versa (1-10). 

Many people that have hypothyroidism really have gluten sensitivity. Over time, they actually have significant brain degeneration. When people degenerate their brain, one of the first things they get is depression.
— Dr. Datis Kharrazian

Thyroid function, and therefore brain and mental health, will often improve after the elimination of gluten-containing grains. 

2. Eat Enough Calories and Carbohydrates

Making sure you eat enough calories and carbohydrates on a daily basis is critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.  

A landmark paper, known as the Vermont Study, found that thyroid hormone drops when you don’t eat enough calories and carbohydrates (14). 

Person holding potatoes in their hands.

Several other studies also show that ketogenic low-carb diets can suppress thyroid function and reduce thyroid hormone. This is because carbohydrates play a key role on the production of thyroid hormone (15-18). 

In previous posts, I have mentioned that fasting and ketogenic dieting can have beneficial effects on your brain. This is still true. However, it's important to note fasting and low-carb diets should be followed intermittently and not consistently over long stretches of time, mainly because of their detrimental effects on the thyroid. I prefer to take Optimal Ketones instead. They immediately increase my mental clarity without having to restrict carbohydrates. 

My Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health contains plenty of healthy, nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrate, including:

  • Yams

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Other root vegetables

  • Berries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Raw honey

3. Avoid Vegetable Oils

You should also significantly limit all refined vegetable oils, including soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola. 

These oils are predominantly made up of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are highly unstable and oxidize very easily within your body. 

Unfortunately, like gluten, rancid PUFAs are everywhere and hard to avoid. Most commercially-prepared processed foods include them. 

And your thyroid is particularly vulnerable to their effects.

Dr. Raymond Peat, PhD, says that the sudden increase of fragile and rancid polyunsaturated oils into our food supply after World War II has caused many changes in human health, particularly thyroid function and hormones: 

Their [polyunsaturated oils] best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. By 1950, then, it was established that unsaturated fats suppress the metabolic rate, apparently creating hypothyroidism. The more unsaturated the oils are, the more specifically they suppress tissue response to thyroid hormone, and transport of the hormone on the thyroid transport protein. And in 1980, experimenters demonstrated that young rats fed milk containing soy oil incorporated the oil directly into their brain cells, and had structurally abnormal brain cells as a result.
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4. Eat coconut oil

I’ve discussed the brain and mental health benefits of coconut oil before here

It can help reduce brain fog and enhance your cognitive performance. And it may be accomplishing this by supporting your thyroid. 

According to Dr. Raymond Peat, coconut oil is very beneficial to the brain and thyroid:

Coconut oil has a general pro-thyroid action by diluting and displacing anti-thyroid unsaturated oils. And brain tissue is very rich in complex forms of fats. An experiment in which pregnant mice were given diets containing either coconut oil or unsaturated oil showed that brain development was superior in the young mice whose mothers ate coconut oil. Because coconut oil supports thyroid function, and thyroid governs brain development, including myelination, the result might simply reflect the difference between normal and hypothyroid individuals.

I recommend this coconut oil

And you don’t need to stick with coconut oil. Coconut milk, water and meat are other ways to get the benefits of coconut. 

5. Try Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is probably the best cutting-edge way to support your thyroid. I wrote about it previously here.  

Using it on my thyroid has made a remarkable difference in my energy levels and mental clarity. And this is likely because of an increase in my thyroid hormones. 

Multiple studies show that LLLT can improve the production of thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function in patients with chronic autoimmune thyroid disease. Study participants were able to reduce the dosage of their thyroid medication (36, 37).  

A study from Brazil showed that LLLT not only reduced the need for thyroid medication in all patients, but 9 months later after the study concluded, it also showed that 47% of patients no longer required any thyroid medication at all.  Participants with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis also saw a reduction in their anti-thyroid antibodies by more than 39% (40). 

A Russian study also demonstrated a 97% success rate when treating women with subclinical hypothyroidism. Researchers concluded LLLT should be the “method of choice in the treatment of [subclinical hypothyroidism], especially in the elderly” (40). 

Animal research has found similar results in rats and rabbits (38, 39). 

I shine the Platinum Therapy Lights Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) device on my thyroid. It includes both red and infrared light. I’m convinced most people would benefit from it. If you decide to get it, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

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

6. Get Enough Vitamin A and D

Fat soluble vitamins A and D are also critical for optimal thyroid and brain function.

Vitamin D is necessary to help transport thyroid hormone into your cells and deficiency is quite common in people with thyroid problems. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with thyroid disease and supplementation has been shown to benefit the thyroid. (22-24). 

I previously discussed the brain health benefits of vitamin D here. I now use this Vitamin D lamp to make sure my levels are optimal. 

Vitamin A helps your body produce thyroid hormone and protects the thyroid gland from oxidative stress (which is higher in people with thyroid issues). Research also shows that vitamin A can reduce your risk of hypothyroidism (19-21). 

However, I personally don’t recommend you supplement with vitamin A. It’s better to get it from food. Pastured eggs, grass-fed liver and butter (or ghee if you can't tolerate butter) are ideal sources. 

Cod liver oil is another great option as it contains both vitamin A, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids all together. I take this one every so often.

7. Get Enough Minerals

Your thyroid gland needs specific trace minerals to do its job properly. 

I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement so that you have all the minerals you need to support brain and thyroid health. It includes a small amount of iodine, selenium, magnesium and zinc.

Iodine is the most important, as it’s one of the building blocks used by your thyroid to create hormones. 

However, I don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of iodine separately. Many functional medicine practitioners that I’ve interviewed over the years have told me that high iodine intake through supplements can often do more harm than good. Too much supplemental iodine has been shown to cause further thyroid problems (66-68). 

Brazil nuts contain selenium, which can support your thyroid.

So I think the small amount in a multi-mineral is enough.

And getting some more iodine from whole foods, including seafood and sea vegetables, can also benefit you since they contain other nutrients that can support your thyroid.  

Selenium is another indispensable mineral for your thyroid and brain health.

It helps regulate and recycle your iodine stores, and selenium-based proteins help regulate thyroid hormone synthesis and metabolism.

Without it, you’ll likely experience low-thyroid symptoms.

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium. 

Low levels of zinc can also lead to depleted thyroid hormones, and vice versa (34). This is just another reason to supplement with zinc.

As I’ve discussed before, a zinc deficiency can also contribute to stress and anxiety.

And although it isn't mentioned very often, magnesium is also critical for optimal thyroid function. The thyroid gland can't function properly without it (89).

I previously discussed how it can help a lot of people with depression and anxiety here

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8. Reduce Stress and Cortisol

High levels of physical and mental stress can be detrimental to your thyroid function. 

Your adrenal glands –  two walnut-shaped glands that sit atop the kidneys – secrete your stress stress hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. 

Research shows that cortisol inhibits thyroid hormones from getting into your cells, and weakened adrenal glands can lead to hypothyroid symptoms over time (35).

That’s why it’s critical that you manage stress.

I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage it. 

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

Person meditating outside.

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 can guide your 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 it through Amazon or the Muse website

I also find massage, acupuncture, heart-rate variability (HRV) training and this acupressure mat very helpful as well.

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

Supplements that can help with stress include zinc, ashwagandha and phosphatidylserine, which have been shown to lower cortisol levels (87, 88). 

This anti-anxiety supplement also includes a number of natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress over the years (Use the the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount).

Lastly, you should get enough sleep and don’t exercise too much. The stress caused by excessive exercise can wear you’re your body and contribute to thyroid problems. So make sure you get plenty of rest and recover between workout sessions.

9. Take Thyroid-Supporting Herbs

A number of different herbs can assist your thyroid gland. 

Ashwagandha is one of my favourites. Not only can it reduce stress and anxiety, but a number of studies show that it can boost thyroid hormones (25-29).

Bacopa is another adaptogen that has been shown to increase thyroid (T4) hormone levels by 42% (30). 

Forskolin stimulates the release of thyroid hormones (31). 

And one study found that ginseng increases and normalizes thyroid hormone levels (32). 

And last but not least, researchers say that rhodiola can “improve the quality of life of patients with short-term hypothyroidism” (33). 

Rhodiola also has a number of brain and mental health benefits. I explored them previously here

I’ve experimented with all of these herbs and they have improved my brain and mental health.

But it’s good to know they have some beneficial effects on my thyroid as well.

This mental health supplement includes bacopa, forskolin and rhodiola all in one supplement. 

10. Eat “Head to Tail”

Whole plant foods tend to be much healthier when they’re left whole, as they tend to have various nutrients that work together synergistically. 

The same can be said about animal food. 

Muscle meats contain so much tryptophan and cysteine that a pure meat diet can suppress the thyroid. In poor countries, people have generally eaten all parts of the animal, rather than just the muscles – bones, cartilage, skin, organs, and other odd bits. About half of the protein in an animal is collagen, and collagen is deficient in tryptophan and cysteine. This means that, in the whole animal, the amino acid balance is similar to the adult’s requirements.
— Dr. Raymond Peat

In other words, muscle meat (chicken breasts, lean beef) shouldn’t be your only source of animal protein. Our ancestors didn’t eat this way, so neither should we.  

Your body and thyroid prefer and expect to receive a balance of amino acids from different parts of whole animals.

That’s why I recommend “head-to-tail eating” – consuming a wide variety of proteins from the entire animal. 

Along with muscle meat, you should regularly cook and eat organ meats such as liver and bone broth.

Jars of bone broth.

Bone broth contains collagen, gelatin and amino acids such as glycine and proline that help the body better metabolize muscle meat.

Organ meats such as liver have an abundance of beneficial nutrients that aren’t found in muscle meat alone. For example, it’s much higher in vitamin A, which is important for optimal thyroid health (19, 20). 

I previously discussed the benefits of liver in more depth here.

I personally don’t like the taste of liver and bone broth can be inconvenient to make all the time, so I often supplement with these grass-fed beef liver capsules and drink this high-quality pre-made bone broth.

I also take this Multi-Glandular For Men, which contains a number of different organ tissues. There is also one for women

But if you’re actually interested in learning about how to cook and incorporate more whole animal proteins into your diet, I recommend checking out the book “Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal” by Jennifer McLagan.

11. Limit Halogens

Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference between iodine, and other halogens such as bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water. 

So your thyroid soaks them up and uses them like iodine.

By occupying iodine receptors, they worsen iodine deficiency, inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

Studies show that chlorine interferes with proper conversion of thyroid hormone (50, 58-61). 

That’s why I recommend 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. 

The research shows that bromide in particular can cause a lot of problems. Bromide is found in pesticides, prescription medication, plastic products and personal care products. PBDE (bromide) fire retardants have been added to mattresses, carpeting, electronics, furniture and car interiors since the 1970s. 

Even small amounts of bromide can be problematic, depleting iodine and weakening the thyroid gland. Bromide levels are 50 times higher in thyroid cancer than normal thyroid tissue, and elevated levels of bromide have been linked to mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia (50-57). 

12. Avoid Environmental and Dietary Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins – toxic metabolites produced by mold – can also disrupt normal thyroid function.

Mycotoxins are released into the air in water-damaged buildings, and you may not realize it’s affecting your brain and thyroid health until you develop certain symptoms. And even then, people frequently won’t make the connection between the mold and their health. 

That’s what happened to me, and my hormonal health went downhill, along with my brain and mental health. Luckily I’ve recovered since then

Mycotoxins are known hormone disruptors that cause inflammation, and a couple of studies mention that there is an increased frequency of “thyroid, immune dysfunction and autoimmune conditions” in people exposed to water-damaged building (41, 42). 

Very moldy home and man trying to clean it.

And one study shows that mold exposure is correlated with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (43). 

Kurt and Lee Ann Billings wrote the book Mold: The War Within after extensive personal bouts with toxic mold exposure. They write extensively about their experience and recovery and describe ongoing problems with thyroid dysfunction. 

After I moved out of the moldy home, I became extremely sensitive to any environmental mold and mycotoxins. 

I now use this air filter in my apartment. It removes any mold spores and smoke that may be in the air.

Low amounts of mycotoxins are often found in some seemingly healthy foods, such as tea, nuts, grains, coffee and chocolate. I recommend finding the freshest, highest-quality, organic versions of these foods.

Lastly, if exposed to mold or their toxins, you should 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.

13. Avoid and Remove Other Environmental Toxins

Mold and other halogens aren’t the only endocrine disruptors in your environment that can affect your thyroid metabolism and function.

In the book Thyroid Mind Power, Dr. Karilee Shames reports that “the last 40 years have witnessed a massive increase in the amount of hormone-disrupting synthetic chemicals, finding their way into our air, food and water. The most sensitive and highly susceptible of human tissues turned out to be the thyroid gland.”

Here are some common ones:

Water bottle. The plastic in water bottles can disrupt the thyroid.
  • Bisphenol A – found in plastic bottles and containers. I recommend you only eat and drink out of glass, ceramic and stainless steel. Avoid storing any of your food in plastic too. BPA-free plastic isn’t much better for you and can still disrupt hormonal health.

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – found in common household products including non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics. Researchers have found that people with higher levels of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) have a higher incidence of thyroid disease (44, 45).

  • Other pesticides and chemical additives – You should avoid processed food and eat organic as often as possible, wash all produce thoroughly to minimize your pesticide exposure, and find personal care products that don’t include toxic chemicals.

I also recommend increasing your levels of glutathione – your body’s main antioxidant and master detoxifier – to help your body combat the above substances from your body. I do this by supplementing with this liposomal glutathione on regular basis. 

Or you could take NAC and Vitamin C to help your body produce more of its own glutathione. 

Researchers have found that a decrease in thyroid function could be reversed by NAC supplementation, which increased glutathione. This is because glutathione plays a key role in the production and conversion of your thyroid hormones (46-49). 

Epsom salt baths, infrared saunas, and turmeric can also help your body release and remove environmental toxins. 

Summary and Conclusion

With the right information, you can make simple choices to improve thyroid health.

Here's a summary of everything we've gone over:

Doctor holding a woman’s neck to monitor her thyroid.

So with that, I want to leave you with a quote from a book I read recently by Sam Harris, called Free Will. It's an excellent book and you can get it through Amazon if you're interested.

I think this quote is appropriate considering the wide variety of factors that underlie brain and mental health problems:

Becoming sensitive to the background causes of one’s thoughts and feelings can - paradoxically - allow for greater creative control over one’s life. It is one thing to bicker with your wife because you are in a bad mood; it is another to realize that your mood and behaviour have been caused by low blood sugar. This understanding reveals you to be a biochemical puppet, of course, but it also allows you to grab hold of one of your strings: A bite of food may be all your personality requires. Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).

So even though it seems like there are an overwhelming amount of “strings” to pull, realize that you don’t have to pull them all at once.

You just have to start with one, and go from there.

And then over time, you'll start to get a handle on all of them, and you'll heal.

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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

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