This Mineral Is Probably Making Your Chronic Stress and Anxiety Worse

Stressed and anxious woman grabbing her head and hair.

I suffered from anxiety for years. It runs in my family. Many of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents suffer from anxiety and depression and have relied on alcohol, nicotine, and anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication to manage it. I didn’t want to go down that path, so I’ve sought out other treatments for years.

Unfortunately, my family is not alone. Anxiety and panic attacks are incredibly common today. While in university, I remember asking a doctor on campus if she had witnessed an increase in the number of college students who had come to see her about their anxiety over the years. And she responded with an overwhelming yes. 

“There are just not enough resources and practitioners to manage them all,” I remember her saying.

I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to get to the bottom of my anxiety. And so I have an urge to share this information with the world. But what has worked for me might not work for everyone.

And I want to make it clear - there is not just one solution. There really is no magic bullet if you want to overcome this. There are a number of things that can contribute to anxiety. And there are a number of things you can do to cumulatively get over it. (If you’re looking for a quick fix, try antidepressants. And they really aren’t a quick easy fix, as they don’t work for a lot of people and come with a lot of side effects). 

But today I want to discuss just one of the things I did to help myself, and hopefully it helps you too. In upcoming posts, I will explore other therapies and technologies that have helped me master my own mind and avoid the unfortunate path of my ancestors.

Click here to subscribe

Nutrient Therapy

If you go to your doctor and suggest that maybe a deficiency or imbalance of nutrients is causing your anxiety, they’ll laugh at you. But nutrients have a powerful impact on your mood and brain function – especially if you take supplements with high-quality, biologically-active nutrients.

Our nervous system requires several dozen minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids to function properly. Deficiencies of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, D3 and E are common, especially if you eat refined foods.

This TED talk by Julia J Rucklidge, Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Canterbury, discusses the power of nutrition and supplements. She explores a range of scientific research showing the significant role that nutrition plays when it comes to mental health or illness:

 

The Intricate Balance between Zinc and Copper

We all get anxious once in a while, but tend to get over it. But chronic anxiety, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is when a person suffers from worry and tension all of the time. People who suffer from GAD are often clinically depressed as well (1).

Recent research looking into GAD suggests that an imbalance of zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu), two essential trace minerals within the body, may be contributing and worsening the condition. Researchers of a study titled “Decreased zinc and increased copper in individuals with anxiety” used Inductively Coupled Plasma-mass Spectrometry (ICP) to measure trace minerals in 38 chronically-anxious individuals. They compared the mineral status of these individuals with the mineral status of 16 people in a control group without anxiety symptoms. They found that individuals with chronic anxiety had significantly higher plasma levels of copper and very low levels of zinc, and their anxiety improved significantly with zinc supplementation (2).

In other words, people who suffer from anxiety have way too much copper in their bodies, and not enough zinc. I used to suffer from GAD and depression, and increasing my intake of zinc, and limiting my intake of copper, is one of the most impactful actions I have taken to overcome them, so this makes sense to me personally.

The positive effects of zinc supplementation also makes sense in light of my independent research and understanding of biochemistry. Zinc and copper are antagonists. They compete with one another for absorption and receptor channels. When your body doesn’t absorb enough zinc, copper rises. And because of their essential roles in neurotransmitter synthesis, zinc and copper levels can directly affect thoughts and behaviour.

Copper and zinc balancing each other.

How Copper Can Accumulate in Your Body and Make You an Anxious Wreck

Functional medicine practitioner Chris Kresser explains that copper and zinc are very important for neurotransmitter health, but zinc needs to dominate. If not, all sorts of neurological and behavioural disorders can emerge, including depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia. (3).

Too much copper can have a powerful effect on the mind and alter mood and behaviour. The accumulation of excess copper in the brain enhances the production of stimulatory neurotransmitters (epinephrine and norepinephrine), which can further promote anxiety. Pfeiffer and Goldstein (1984) monitored the brain waves of individuals who took 5 mg of copper or 5 mg of Dexedrine (a common amphetamine that increases epinephrine and norepinephrine), and they found that copper and the amphetamine exhibited an equivalent stimulation of the central nervous system (40, 41, 43, 44).

On top of this, research has shown that too much copper can inhibit and block the neurotransmission of GABA, one of the main calming neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (5, 6, 42). It’s no wonder that anxious people find such relief from alcohol and anti-anxiety medications, as they both activate GABA receptors in the brain.

Depending on the severity of the copper toxicity and the susceptibility of the person, copper can affect the mind moderately or very severely. The milder effects are initially positive because it is activating and stimulating and can increase creativity and productivity. I’ve witnessed this myself, as I used to feel as if my chronic anxiety motivated me to accomplish a lot of work. It may be why creative people tend be depressed and anxious individuals.

But as the toxicity continues and builds up more and more, it becomes increasingly exhausting on the body and the individual can start to break down mentally, leading to an inability to cope adequately with stress. The anxious person’s fatigued body can’t keep up with their overactive mind, and medication often becomes necessary.

But instead of taking drugs, people need to consider supplementing with zinc.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates several hundred enzymatic reactions, including brain and nervous system function and neurotransmission.

Yet it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in the mineral, and six different studies show that subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (45, 46, 47).

Zinc is very calming and sedating, as it enhances GABA activity in the brain.

A number of studies also show that zinc deficiency causes depression-like and anxiety-like behaviors, and supplementation has successfully been used as a treatment (48-53).

Click here to subscribe

Practical Takeaways: What Should You Do To Combat This?

Woman confused and thinking about what she should do.

The key takeaway here is that if you suffer from chronic anxiety, you need to work on lowering your copper to zinc ratio, as it is likely very high at this point. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Don’t drink tap water: Copper piping for water has become the norm, which contributes to ingesting much more copper than what can be found in your diet. I filter my water with this high-quality filter.

  • Stop taking a multi-vitamin: Many multi-vitamins and multi-mineral supplements contain relatively high doses of copper. However, there are some multi-mineral supplements that purposely don't include copper. I take this one.

  • Eat zinc-rich foods foods such as oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, Brazil nuts and legumes. Raising zinc levels is a more straightforward approach than trying to lower copper levels.

  • Take a zinc supplement every day: I discovered several years ago that I was very deficient in zinc, and my anxiety improved significantly after supplementing with it. Anxiety itself also lowers zinc levels because the body rapidly uses up zinc in times of stress. I have now created my own zinc supplement, called Optimal Zinc. I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best zinc supplement so that they can experience superior results. I have found that many zinc supplements on the market fall short and sometimes cause severe side effects because they start removing copper from the body way too quickly. But Optimal Zinc doesn't do this, and it includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc and help remove excess copper from the body.

  • Supplement with Vitamin B6: It has been shown to improve the absorption and utilization of zinc (37, 38, 39). It is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

Conclusion

Increasing zinc and reducing copper intake is just one nutritional option for people who suffer from chronic anxiety. It’s one of many things that have helped me. For people with severe anxiety, it will take some time for zinc to build up in your system and copper to be reduced. But you should find relief over time.

Unfortunately, your doctor isn’t aware of this. Modern medicine doesn’t care very much about deficiencies of essential nutrients, and most physicians are mistakenly taught that diet provides sufficient nutrition. 

This is because nutritional deficiencies benefit the pharmaceutical industry. Malnutrition leads to chronic symptoms that can be “managed” by patented drugs. Natural supplements can’t be patented. But drugs can. So as long as underlying nutritional imbalances aren’t corrected, doctors will keep prescribing and the pharmaceutical industry will have life-long customers. 

For now, the “drug model” of disease remains prevalent, and until it becomes a thing of the past, people will just have to acknowledge and accept that they need to take control of their anxiety and overcome it themselves. It is a multi-faceted condition, but nutrients can play a huge role in eliminating it. 

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

1.      http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml

2.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738454/

3.      http://chriskresser.com/rhr-could-copper-zinc-imbalance-be-making-you-sick/

4.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3630857

5.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9749714/

6.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23946400/

7.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3968590

8.     http://journals.lww.com/jinvestigativemed/Citation/2005/01010/Zinc_Deficiency_Alters_Deoxyribonucleic_Acid.141.aspx

9.      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ar00034a005

10.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6727650

11.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938404003105

12.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0447.1963.tb07470.x/abstract

13.  http://www.biobalance.org.au/articles/17

14.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20150596

15.  http://ebm.rsmjournals.com/content/232/2/323.short

16.  http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/2/270.full

17.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15845090

18.  Jing Qian and Jeffrey L. Noebels, Department of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas “Exocytosis of Vesicular Zinc Reveals Persistent Depression of Neurotransmitter Release during Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor Long-Term Depression at the Hippocampal CA3–CA1 Synapse”

19.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1471-4159.2003.01803.x/full

20.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0306987791902776

21.  http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/5/1473S.short

22.  http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=17186550

23.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197018606002233

24.  http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/5/1432S.short

25.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9344463

26.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18338309

27.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19685012

28.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3579922

29.  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02784623?LI=true

30.  ‘Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry & Heal Your Brain”, William Walsh, PhD

31.  ‘Mental & Elemental Nutrients’, Carl C Pfeiffer, MD, PhD

32.  http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/fluoride-childrens-health-grandjean-choi/

33.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12197999

34.  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

35.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20617034

36.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20413065

37.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1957821

38.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17171460

39.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22410949

40.  Jones CE, Underwood CK, Coulson EJ, et al: Copper induced oxidation of serotonin: analysis of products and toxicity. J Neurochem, 2007 Aug; 102(4): 1035-1043.

41.  Wenzel KG, Pataracchia RJ: The earth’s gift to Medicine: Minerals in health and Disease. Alton, Ontario. KOS Publishing. 2005.

42.  Pfeiffer CC: Excess copper as a factor in human diseases. J Ortho Med, 1987; 2(3): 171-182.

43.  Pfeiffer CC, Iliev V: Pyrroluria, urinary mauve factor, causes double deficiency of B6 and zinc in schizophrenics. Fed Proc, 1973; 32: 276.

44.  https://riordanclinic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/The_Schizophrenias_Ours_to_Conquer-Riordan-Clinic-Books.pdf

45.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22664333

46.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939673

47.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673824

48.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jnr.10846/abstract

49.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689416

50.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14730113

51.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796297/

52.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21798601

53.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24130605

54.  http://www.jbc.org/content/264/10/5598.full.pdf

55.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12184792

56.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7705778

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

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

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. 

Click here to subscribe

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.
Click here to subscribe

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

Click here to subscribe

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!

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References

(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11280546

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12217453

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11123714

(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10529537

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2111403/

(6) http://www.eje-online.org/content/130/2/137.abstract

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15244201

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9872614

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12919165

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11768252

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12366374

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19014325

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1808742/

(14) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC371281/

(15) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6761185

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3740086

(17) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/35/1/24.full.pdf

(18) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1249190

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6470830

(20) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23378454

(21) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/34/8/1489.abstract

(22) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3921055/

(23) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12919165

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10750047

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

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21432907

(27) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1211/146080800128735782/abstract

(28) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9811169

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10619390

(30) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887410200048X

(31) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6327383

(32) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6327383

(33) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20946017

(34) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746228/

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17002934

(36) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20662037

(37) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22718472

(38) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25265487

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25975382

(40) http://valtsus.blogspot.ca/2015/09/hypothyroidism-could-it-be-treated-with.html

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654247/

(42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15143854

(43) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/430949

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24407430

(45) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866686/

(46) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21540553?dopt=Abstract

(47)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12044880_Effect_of_Glutathione_GSH_Depletion_on_the_Serum_Levels_of_Triiodothyronine_T_3_Thyroxine_T_4_and_T_3_T_4_Ratio_in_Allyl_AlcoholTreated_Male_Rats_and_Possible_Protection_With_Zinc

(48) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7408784

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7052928

(50) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8909694

(51) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15255296

(52) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10999431

(53) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9542578

(54) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9341949

(55) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8909694

(56) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6548284

(57) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8909694

(58) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890436/

(59) http://www .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1087230

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19318504

(61) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956646/

(62) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9140329

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21001996

(64) www.gulflink.osd.mil/library/randrep/pb_paper/mr1018.2chap10.html

(65) http://www.optimox.com/iodine-study-18

(66) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7477223

(67) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20517655?dopt=AbstractPlus

(68) http://www.eymj.org/Synapse/Data/PDFData/0069YMJ/ymj-44-227.pdf

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15213796

(70) http://www.drrichardhall.com/Articles/hashimoto.pdf

(71) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11958781

(72) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17141745

(73) http://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-244X-4-25

(74) http://cpementalhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1745-0179-1-23

(75) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19215985

(76) http://www.ccjm.org/index.php?id=107937&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=359985&cHash=260c2e3470893b3cb8daee104f8cdf36

(77) http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/thyroid-deficiency-and-mental-health

(78) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20404728

(79) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27268005

(80) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24480318

(81) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24480318

(82) http://www.eje-online.org/content/138/1/1.full.pdf

(83) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24443228

(84) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24345793

(85) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3013313/

(86) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23380316

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

(88) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1325348

(89) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6747732

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

Rhodiola: The Very Best Herb for Depression and Fatigue

This herb increased your resilience to physical and mental stress. It can calm you down, or increase your energy, depending on the needs of your body. In other words, it helps the body normalize itself and reach a state of physical and mental balance

Read More

A Powerful Protocol Proven to Help Reverse Brain Damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Research Study Is So Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Improve Your Diet and Exercise Regularly

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

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

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

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

Group of people running. Exercise helps reverse brain damage.

This is exercise routine I try to follow consistently:

  • Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week

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

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

  • Run for 20-30 minutes before lifting weights

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

Click here to subscribe

2. Eliminate Alcohol

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

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

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

There are ways to protect your brain from alcohol, but you’re better off avoiding it completely or significantly reducing your consumption if you’re trying to heal from brain damage. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all anymore.

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

3. Get Enough Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning

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

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

  • Avoid stimulating movies and TV before bed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Reduce Brain Inflammation with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Get Enough of These Vitamins and Minerals

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

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

6. Enhance Brain Blood Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginkgo biloba extract is included in the Optimal brain supplement

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

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

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

7. Increase Acetylcholine

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration of a body.

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

ALCAR can be found in the Optimal Brain supplement

8. Increase Antioxidants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

9. Reduce Cortisol with Phosphatidylserine

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Optimize Important Health Markers

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

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

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

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

Picture of blood in blood containers after being drawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

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

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

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

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

Patients inhale 100% oxygen in a total body chamber. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. Neurofeedback

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

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

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

Dr. Amen uses it with his NFL patients.

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

It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner.

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Illustration of person holding a blue brain in their hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about his protocol here.

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medically reviewed by Dr. Daniel Amen, MD

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer