27 Powerful Ways to Increase Your IGF-1 Levels

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a hormone in your body that’s absolutely critical for optimal physical and mental performance.  

It’s produced by the liver.

And once it’s released into the bloodstream, it stimulates growth, regenerates cells, and helps your body recover and repair itself.  

It’s known to play an important role in childhood growth and development, and helps you build and maintain muscle throughout your entire adult life.  

But it doesn’t just affect your muscles… 

It also powerfully supports your brain. 

Unfortunately, your IGF-1 levels drastically decrease as you get older, contributing to cognitive decline

Your levels can even drop when you’re young, especially if you’ve had a brain injury or developed a chronic health issue. 

Luckily, there are many different ways to optimize and increase IGF-1 levels. 

Researchers have found that IGF-1 levels can be manipulated to improve quality of life and delay the deteriorating effects of brain aging

It doesn’t matter if you’re old, run down, or chronically ill... 

The 25 strategies in this article can naturally boost IGF-1 production and amplify your cognitive performance.  

I’ve divided this article into four main sections:

  • The benefits of IGF-1

  • Food and nutrients that increase IGF-1

  • Supplements and herbs that increase IGF-1

  • Lifestyle habits and therapies that increase IGF-1

Continue reading to learn more and discover how to increase IGF-1.  

Image of brain cell connections.

The Benefits of Increasing Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1) and How It Affects Your Brain 

IGF-1 is a very important blood marker to monitor. 

Yet many doctors don’t check it. 

This is a shame because it plays a crucial role in healing and brain health.  

Research suggests that IGF-1 levels tend to be low in people struggling with chronic illness and systemic inflammation (87-88, 103).  

Studies also show that IGF-1 crosses the blood–brain barrier and affects the brain and cognitive function (113, 116, 129-131).  

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are associated with lower IGF-1 levels, and increasing IGF-1 can help prevent the accumulation of amyloid plaque in the brain (104-108).  

Other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease, are also associated with lower IGF-1 levels, and increasing IGF-1 can help lower your risk of developing these diseases (109-112).  

Researchers have also found that IGF-1 and higher levels of IGF-1 can lead to the following cognitive and neurological health benefits: 

But it doesn’t stop there... 

Many people who have had brain injuries also end up having low levels of IGF-1. 

This is because your brain signals to your liver to produce IGF-1. And when your brain gets injured, it can stop doing this efficiently (122-126).  

Research clearly shows that IGF-1 levels often drop after traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which worsens cognitive dysfunction. This even happens in people who have had mild TBIs. But strategies to increase IGF-1 can increase brain cell survival, repair the brain, and improve cognition after TBIs (117-121).  

I personally had low IGF-1 levels after multiple head injuries.  

But I had no idea for the longest time.  

I eventually found a doctor who actually listened to me, we checked my levels, and I found out they were low.  

I then implemented many of the strategies below to increase and normalize my IGF-1 levels, and I felt better.

It’s important to test and monitor your IGF-1 levels like I did because you don’t want your IGF-1 levels getting too high either. 

 

Best Foods and Nutrients to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally

 

1. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for brain health. 

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical zinc deficiency impairs brain function (5-7).  

That’s a problem because a zinc deficiency decreases IGF-1 levels in humans (8).  

In one animal study, feeding a zinc-depleted diet to rats for 14 days resulted in a 28% decrease in IGF-1 compared with rats fed a zinc-adequate diet (9).  

Luckily, zinc supplementation can help.  

Researchers have found that supplementing with zinc significantly increases circulating IGF-1 levels, and increases the synthesis and action of IGF-1 in the body (10-13).  

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc and IGF-1 levels are optimal. 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.  Optimal Zinc includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc. 

Besides supplementing, you should also eat plenty of healthy, whole foods that contain zinc.  

Some of the best foods to optimize your zinc levels include:  

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

Check out my previous post all about zinc for more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels. 


2. Protein

Protein-rich foods, including eggs, salmon, red meat and nuts. Eating enough protein will ensure you increase your IGF-1 levels.

Eating enough high-quality protein is critical if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels.  

Research shows that low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1 (69).  

Meanwhile, high-protein diets can increase IGF-1 levels (66-67, 71-72).  

Animal protein and red meat in particular has been shown to increase IGF-1 concentrations (68, 70).  

It's important to keep in mind that 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 prefers and expects 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

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. 

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. 

3. Vitamin C

Taking extra Vitamin C is another way to increase IGF-1.  

As you probably know, Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables such as green peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage.  

Researchers have found that higher dietary intake of citrus fruits and Vitamin C is associated with higher concentrations of IGF-1 (1).  

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day, just so I know I’m getting enough. 

I’ve taken up to 10 grams of Vitamin C daily, and it definitely improves my mood and reduces stress and anxiety.

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4. Blueberries

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a great idea if you want to improve your brain health and cognitive function.  

And blueberries are particularly potent because of the flavonoids within them. 

Researchers have found that blueberries improve memory by increasing IGF-1 (2).  

Besides that, blueberries also improve brain health by increasing BDNF and improving brain blood flow

I buy wild blueberries every time I go grocery shopping.  

They are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.  

Alternatively, you can take a blueberry extract.  

I used to take this one. It’s actually cheaper in the long run that eating blueberries every day, but I just prefer eating actual blueberries.  

In fact, most researchers often use concentrated blueberry extracts instead of actual blueberries when they study the beneficial health effects of blueberries. 

5. Magnesium

Magnesium. Magnesium increases IGF-1 levels. Most people are deficient nowadays.

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.  

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for optimal brain function. 

Research shows that magnesium levels are strongly and independently associated with total IGF-1 levels (14).  

And researchers believe that magnesium deficiency worsens the age-related decline in IGF-1 levels (15).  

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking every day.  

I personally take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain because it’s very effective at passing the blood-brain barrier

Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium.  

You should also make sure you’re eating enough magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:  

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

Magnesium also supports the blood-brain barrier, increases BDNF, and helps with the formation of new brain synapses

6. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health. 

Studies show that there is a significant association between selenium and IGF-1 levels (16).  

Animal research has found that a selenium deficiency is linked to lower IGF-1 levels (17).  

And supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase IGF-1 in elderly individuals (18-19).  

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured chicken and eggs, and grass-fed meat.  

I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium

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7. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a tasty spice that has a number of health benefits.  

It has anti-inflammatory effects, it’s loaded with antioxidants, and it's even been shown to have beneficial effects on neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease (46-49).  

Researchers have also found that cinnamon extract significantly activates IGF-1 signaling (50-51).  

Not all cinnamon is created equal though. 

You’ll have to find and consume Ceylon, which is considered “true cinnamon”. It has the most health benefits.  

Most cinnamon in grocery stores is cheap and not actually Ceylon

You can usually find Ceylon in health food stores.  

It’s also available through Amazon

8. Vitamin D

Vitamin D capsules in a clear bowl. Vitamin D supplements can increase IGF-1 levels, especially if you’re deficient.

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

Unfortunately, researchers estimate that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.  

This is a huge problem because every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences. 

Research shows that Vitamin D significantly increases circulating IGF-1 levels in adults (25).  

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sun.  

I try to get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months.  

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.  

During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I use this Vitamin D sunlamp.

I also take this Vitamin D supplement as needed, depending on my blood test levels.  

Vitamin D is so critical for optimal brain health, so make sure to check your levels regularly.  

9. Thiamine

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

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

Researchers have found that Vitamin B1 plays a key role in the IGF-1 system, and a deficiency leads to a significant drop in IGF-1 levels (27).  

Benfotiamine is the best supplemental form of Vitamin B1. It’s included in this B complex that I take. 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs.  

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

 

Best Supplements and Herbs to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally 

 

10. Probiotics

The beneficial bacteria in your gut are known to convert the food you eat into short-chain fatty acids.  

These probiotic bacteria - and the short-chain fatty acids that they produce - play a critical role in the synthesis of IGF-1 in your body and brain.  

Research clearly shows that the following probiotics stimulate the IGF-1 system and increase IGF-1 concentrations (33-40).  

All four of these probiotics are included in the Optimal Biotics supplement

Meanwhile, antibiotics have been shown to decrease IGF-1 (41).  

Check out this older article for several other ways to increase your good gut bacteria.  

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 9 probiotic strains that can help. 

11. Dehydroepiandrosterone

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of the most abundant circulating steroid hormones in humans. It’s produced in the adrenal glands, the gonads, and the brain, and it’s a precursor to other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.  

It's also available as a supplement

DHEA has been shown to have neuroprotective effects, and it’s also known to improve memory and cognition. 

In one study, a 100 mg daily dose of DHEA for six months elevated IGF-1 levels in both men and women (3).  

You can get DHEA here.  

It's also one of the best supplements for reducing depression

12. Taurine

Taurine is an organic compound found in food, particularly meat and seafood.  

Taken as a supplement, it can improve your mood and reduce your anxiety because it can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase oxytocin, dopamine and BDNF in the brain. 

It turns out that it can also increase IGF-1 levels and increase the synthesis of IGF-1 (42-43).  

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

13. Resveratrol

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

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

And researchers are starting to understand why. 

In one study, resveratrol was shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the production of IGF-1 in the brain (4).  

It’s also been shown to increase BDNF, synaptogenesis, autophagy and blood flow in the brain. 

To consume enough resveratrol to increase IGF-1, you’ll need to supplement with it.  

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain.  

I don't take it every day, just every so often.  

You can get it here or here

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14. Leucine

Leucine is one of three branched chain amino acids (BCAA).  

It's an essential amino acid, meaning you’ll need to get it from food or supplements.  

Athletes and bodybuilders often take it as a supplement because it helps increase energy, improve strength and build muscle.  

Researchers have found that leucine significantly increases IGF-1 and IGF binding protein (52).  

You can get leucine from protein-rich foods, such as fish, chicken and turkey.  

But you may want to supplement with it if your goal is to increase IGF-1.  

I take this BCAA supplement when I lift weights regularly. 

15. Astragalus

Illustration of the astragalus plant. Astragalus can increase IGF-1 levels.

Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to support the immune system and reduce inflammation.  

There are more than 2,000 species of Astragalus, but usually Astragalus supplements simply contain Astragalus membranaceus.  

Astragalus membranaceus extract has been shown to significantly increase IGF-1 levels in humans and animals (53-57).  

It's available in many forms, including liquid extracts, capsules, powders and teas

 

16. Colostrum

Colostrum is a special kind of milk, also known as “first milk”. 

It’s naturally produced by the mammary glands of mammals immediately following the delivery of a newborn. 

It contains a number of different nutrients and growth factors, including IGF-1, that support the health and development of a newborn baby (58). 

Colostrum from cows (bovine colostrum) can be taken as a supplement by humans for its health benefits.  

Research shows that colostrum supplementation significantly increases circulating levels of IGF-1 (59-60).  

I take this bovine colostrum powder regularly. I would say it's probably the most important supplement I've taken to optimize my IGF-1 levels. 

17. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

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

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

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

It does so much, so not surprisingly, researchers have also found that ALCAR increases IGF-1 levels in humans (20).  

Animal studies also show that it increases IGF-1 levels in rats (21-22).  

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

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

18. Creatine

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

Creatine is also available as a supplement. Athletes, bodybuilders, wrestlers, sprinters often take extra creatine to gain more muscle mass. It’s an incredibly well-researched supplement and safe to take regularly. 

Supplementing with creatine can also support the brain. It's been shown to have neuroprotective effects and it rapidly produces energy to support brain cell function (23).  

In one study, healthy individuals took creatine every day for 5 days, and researchers witnessed a 30 per cent increase in IGF expression (24).  

When I’m lifting weights regularly, I take this creatine powder every day on an empty stomach. 

19. Ursolic Acid

An apple partially peeled. Apple peels contain ursolic acid, a natural compound that can increase IGF-1 levels.

Ursolic Acid is a natural compound found in a variety of plants and herbs, such as apple peels, rosemary, thyme and holy basil. Apple peels contain the largest amount. 

In one study, supplementing with 100 mg of Ursolic Acid, three times daily, increased IGF-1 levels in humans by 22.8 per cent (62).  

Animal research also shows that it increases IGF-1 signaling and enhances IGF-1 receptors (61, 63).  

You can get pure Ursolic Acid through Amazon.

Or you can supplement with the herb Holy Basil, which contains some Ursolic Acid. But it may not be as effective as taking pure Ursolic Acid.  

20. Hydroxy Methyl Butyrate

Hydroxy Methyl Butyrate (HMB) is a metabolite of leucine. 

It's also a dietary supplement used by athletes and bodybuilders to increase muscle strength and development. 

Studies show that HMB supplementation increases the expression and levels of IGF-1 (64-65).  

You can get HMB through Amazon.  

21. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a coenzyme and antioxidant located primarily in the mitochondria. It has numerous known health benefits and plays a critical role in producing energy for the body.  

CoQ10 is produced within the body, but it’s also found within food and can be supplied to the body through food or supplementation. It resembles a fat-soluble vitamin. 

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10.  

Research shows that supplementing with CoQ10 significantly increases IGF-1 levels (26).  

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. I took this one when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

 

Best Lifestyle Habits, Therapies and Practices to Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) Naturally

 

22. Low-Level Laser Therapy

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

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

Several studies show that LLLT increases the expression, production and release of IGF-1 (28-32).  

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

I use this device and shine the red and infrared light directly on my forehead.  

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

Before trying LLLT, I highly recommend reading my full article about it first.

23. Exercise

A cartoon woman lifting weights over her head. Exercise powerfully increases IGF-1 levels.

Exercise is probably the best way to boost IGF-1 levels, as it also appears to “push” IGF-1 to the brain to improve its function.  

There are two main forms of exercise that you need to engage in if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels – high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training.  

Research shows that resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training) significantly increases IGF-1 and increases the bioavailability of IGF-1 (73).  

Intense and strenuous HIIT workouts cause a significant increase in circulating levels of IGF-1 (74).  

Besides increasing IGF-1, exercise can also induce autophagy in the brain, increase dopamine and BDNF, and increase blood flow to the brain

That’s why many doctors and researchers recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.  

24. Deep Sleep

Getting enough high-quality, deep sleep is very important if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels and improve your brain and mental health. 

I used to have very poor sleep and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my low IGF-1 levels and poor cognitive function. 

Sleep deprivation is known to suppress IGF-1 in humans and animals (75, 78-79).  

Meanwhile, sleep extension significantly increases IGF-I concentrations (76).  

In one study, researchers found that increased deep sleep is associated with higher levels of IGF-1 in healthy older men (77).  

And in another study, improving the sleep quality of military personnel led to a significant increase in their IGF-1 levels, and a significant reduction in their symptoms of depression and PTSD (80).  

So, it’s not just the length of your sleep that matters. 

It’s also the depth and quality of your sleep.  

If you’re having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote deeper and more restful sleep.  

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25. Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards increasing your IGF-1 levels naturally. 

Research clearly shows that proinflammatory cytokines inhibit and impair IGF-1 bioactivity, and induce a state of IGF resistance (81-85).  

There are many causes of chronic inflammation, including infections, mold, brain injuries, and leaky brain.  

But one of the most common causes – and the one you have the most control over – is your diet.  

That’s why I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods such as gluten and dairy that can trigger inflammation in the gut and brain.  

You should also remove processed food from your diet, and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, wild fish, grass-fed beef and organic chicken.  

Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health for a full list of anti-inflammatory foods.  

Other steps you can take to reduce inflammation include reducing stress, exercising, improving gut health, treating infections and getting enough sleep. 

26. Avoid or Limit Alcohol

A glass of alcohol. Alcohol should be avoided if you want to increase your IGF-1 levels.

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

It also lowers your IGF-1 levels. 

Researchers have found that high alcohol intake inhibits IGF-1 (86).  

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. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all anymore.  

If you do decide to drink it, this post explains that some types of alcohol are better than others. 

27. Sauna Sessions

When it comes to improving your health, some of the simplest strategies can have a huge impact.  

Using a sauna regularly is one of them. 

Research suggests that daily sauna sessions can significantly increase the production of growth hormone and IGF-1 (44-45).  

This sauna is the best low-EMF, infrared sauna on the market.  

Once you start using a sauna, you should listen to your body to determine how much time you should spend in it. Start out slowly and increase the length of your sessions over time.  

Also, make sure to drink lots of water before and after each session, and never consume alcohol in combination.  

Check out this post to learn more about saunas and the 13 ways they can improve your brain and mental health.  

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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(66) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16900085?dopt=Abstract  

(67) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4148/f158df7d4264f91de7266cd3c0b9696358ed.pdf  

(68) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4148/f158df7d4264f91de7266cd3c0b9696358ed.pdf  

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How to Reverse Dementia Naturally with The Bredesen Protocol

You may be doubtful that reversing cognitive decline and dementia is even possible.

I used to be too. 

But I want to point you to an amazing study published in the Aging Journal

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The 9 Most Promising Psychobiotics for Anxiety

I used to walk around ruminating, struggling with inner turmoil and nervousness all the time. 

It never went away.

It was impossible to shake. 

It wore me down and ruined the quality of my life. 

There’s no doubt that fear and vigilance are helpful when you’re faced with an actual threat. 

But an unnecessarily high state of worry and arousal when there is nothing threatening you? That's a nightmare. 

It doesn’t have to be that way though. 

If you have chronic anxiety, there are ways to manage and reverse it, like I have.

And psychobiotics are one way to do that.

Psychobiotics are probiotics and prebiotics that can improve your mental health by changing the mixture of bacteria in your gut (46-47). 

It is estimated that 100 trillion bacteria, and 500 to 1,000 species of bacteria, live in the human gut. These gut bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome, help with digestion. But an increasing amount of research suggests that they also communicate with your brain through the microbiome-gut-brain axis, affecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviour (48-49). 

Gut is playing chess with Brain. Gut says “Gutsy move for a brain…”.

A dysfunctional gut microbiome has been linked to a number of mental health problems and psychiatric conditions, including anxiety.

In fact, anxiety and gut health are very tightly linked. 

Research shows that people who have digestive disorders are more likely to have anxiety, and those with anxiety have higher rates of gastrointestinal disease (50-52).

And studies show that when digestive disorders improve, anxiety improves as well (53). 

Unfortunately, a lot of people have poor gut health today because of the widespread use of antibiotics, medications, herbicides, stress, infections, poor diet, etc. 

But don’t worry. You can improve your gut health and anxiety at the same time with the use of psychobiotics. 

Studies show that psychobiotics can improve anxiety by (54-55):

Here are the nine best psychobiotics that have been shown in human and animal studies to decrease stress and help treat anxiety disorders. 

They are truly the best probiotics for anxiety.

The word psychobiotic.

1. Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a bacterium found in the human gut. It is one of the most popular probiotic species found in supplements.

Preliminary research suggests that supplementing with lactobacillus rhamnosus can lower anxiety in humans (3). 

GABA is the main inhibitory and relaxing neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and studies suggest that lactobacillus rhamnosus may reduce anxiety by changing the expression of GABA receptors (1-2, 4). 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice, and it reduced their anxiety-like behaviours. But when researchers removed part of their vagus nerve, lactobacillus rhamnosus did not reduce their anxiety, suggesting that psychobiotics communicate with the brain and improve mental health through the vagus nerve (1-2). 

The mice [given lactobacillus rhamnosus] were more chilled out.
— Dr. John Cryan, researcher and pharmacologist with the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center at University College Cork, Ireland

Other studies have found that lactobacillus rhamnosus decreases stress-induced anxiety-like behaviour, and researchers have concluded that it can protect against anxiety (5, 7). 

Lactobacillus rhamnosus has also been shown to reduce obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)-like behaviour in mice. In fact, researchers found it was just as effective as fluoxetine, an SSRI antidepressant commonly used to treat OCD (6). 

So if you struggle with OCD or obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it’s worth trying this psychobiotic.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus can be found in some yogurt and dairy products, such as fermented and unpasteurized milk and semi-hard cheese. But I typically don’t recommend eating these foods unless you’re sure you can tolerate them.

2. Bifidobacterium longum

Bifidobacterium longum is another bacterium present in the human gut. It is often added to food as it can help prevent the growth of pathogenic organisms.

I previously wrote about how it’s been proven to help treat depression.

Bacteria. Bacteria can affect the mind through the gut-brain axis.

But it can also reduce anxiety. 

Researchers have concluded that bifidobacterium longum can reduce cortisol and alleviate psychological distress in humans (including obsessions, compulsions, paranoia, anxiety) (28-30). 

Lots of animal research also shows that bifidobacterium longum can significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviour (31-34). 

One study found that a chronic infection in mice increased inflammation and caused anxiety-like behaviour, but bifidobacterium longum reduced anxiety and normalized behaviour (35-36). 

Researchers have even figured out that it works by acting through the vagus nerve (27). 

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3. Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus plantarum is another probiotic species that can reduce anxiety. 

In one study, researchers gave lactobacillus plantarum to patients with irritable bowel syndrome and it significantly reduced their anxiety and improved their quality of life (8). 

Animal studies also show that lactobacillus plantarum can cause positive changes in emotional behaviours and significantly reduce anxiety-like behaviours. It does this by increasing dopamine and serotonin, lowering stress hormone levels, and reducing inflammation (9-11). 

As a result, researchers have concluded that lactobacillus plantarum has psychotropic properties without physical side effects, and has great potential for treating neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety (9-11). 

Lactobacillus plantarum is also commonly found in many fermented vegetables including sauerkraut, pickles, brined olives, kimchi.

4. Lactobacillus helveticus

Lactobacillus helveticus is a probiotic strain that has been shown to reduce cortisol and have anti-anxiety effects in humans (37, 39, 44).

One study found that it can even reduce paranoid and obsessive-compulsive thoughts (38). 

Blue bacteria. Bacteria can influence our anxiety levels.

Animal research shows that a Western-style diet can negatively change the gut microbiome, increase brain inflammation, and contribute to anxiety. But lactobacillus helveticus can protect against this, reducing both neuroinflammation and anxiety (40-42).

One study even found that lactobacillus helveticus works better than citalopram, a common SSRI antidepressant, at reducing anxiety-like behaviour in rats. It also reduced their stress hormone levels and increased their serotonin levels (43). 

Lactobacillus helveticus is also commonly found in American Swiss cheese and Emmental cheese, and sometimes other cheeses, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Romano, provolone, and mozzarella.

I’m very sensitive to dairy so I can’t eat cheese regularly. But if you’re not and can tolerate them, you could try adding some of these cheeses into your diet. 

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5. Lactobacillus reuteri

Lactobacillus reuteri is a bacterium with anti-inflammatory effects that scientists first discovered in the 1980s. 

It is usually found in the human gut. However, not all humans have it, and some people simply have very low levels of it. Therefore, you may need to supplement with it to introduce and maintain high levels of it.

Research shows that Lactobacillus reuteri can reduce anxiety-like behaviours in animals by reducing stress hormone levels and altering the expression of GABA receptors (13-14).

And one study found that the absence of lactobacillus reuteri causes social deficits in animals.

We found that treatment with this single bacterial strain was able to rescue their social behavior.
— Shelly Buffington, neuroscience researcher at Baylor College of Medicine

By adding it back in to the guts of the animals, the researchers were able to reverse some of their behavioural deficits, which were similar to symptoms of social anxiety and autism in humans (15-16). 

Therefore, lactobacillus reuteri is definitely the psychobiotic strain worth trying if you struggle with social anxiety or symptoms of autism.

It's also found in breast milk, and some meat and dairy products.

6. Lactobacillus casei

Lactobacillus casei is another bacterium found in the human gut. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and digestive problems took Lactobacillus casei as a daily supplement for two months. At the end of the study, they had a significant decrease in their anxiety symptoms (17-19). 

So this is a good psychobiotic to try if you struggle with a mixture of fatigue, digestive problems and anxiety.

Lactobacillus casei is the dominant species in naturally fermented Sicilian green olives, and can also be found in other fermented vegetables and dairy products. 

7. Lactobacillus fermentum

Lactobacillus fermentum is another species that is part of the human microbiome and commonly found in fermented vegetables.

It hasn’t been studied as much as other lactobacillus probiotic species.

Bacteria. Psychobiotics are bacteria that affect our psychological state of mind.

But there still is some evidence that is may be able to help treat anxiety, especially if you have a long history of antibiotic treatment. 

Research shows that antibiotics can trigger anxiety in animals by disturbing the microbiome.

But by giving animals lactobacillus fermentum, researchers can reduce the inflammation and reverse the psychological problems brought on by antibiotics, including anxiety-like behaviour (12).

So if you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics over the years, or noticed that your anxiety got worse after taking a course of antibiotics, taking a psychobiotic supplement with lactobacillus fermentum is worth a try. 

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8. Bifidobacterium breve

Bifidobacterium breve is a beneficial bacterium found in human breast milk and the human gut. The amount in your gut declines as you get older (20). 

Research shows that bifidobacterium breve can reduce anxiety-like behaviour in animals (21). 

Anxious animals also perform better on cognitive tests after being given it (22). 

This makes bifidobacterium breve a great psychobiotic option if your anxiety impairs your cognition and interferes with your ability to complete tasks. 

Bifidobacterium breve can be found naturally in some fermented foods.

9. Galacto-oligosaccharides

Not all psychobiotics are simply probiotics.

Psychobiotics can also include “prebiotics,” which are non-digestible soluble fibres that stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria, and therefore improve mental health and reduce anxiety.

Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are a type of prebiotic that have been shown to do just that. 

Picture of intestines. Our intestinal health can significantly affect our mental health.

In one study, GOS significantly decreased the secretion of cortisol, and participants paid more attention to positive information rather than negative information (23).

People who are anxious tend to have high levels of cortisol and often get caught up in negative thinking. So this study suggests that GOS has anti-anxiety effects. 

Other research has demonstrated that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often have anxiety because of the lack of microbial diversity in their gut. However, when IBS sufferers supplement with a prebiotic mixture containing GOS, it significantly reduces their anxiety and improves the quality of their life (24-26). 

You can get GOS here.

What Psychobiotic Should You Take?

Ideally, you should buy and try one probiotic strain at a time to figure out how you respond to each one.

That's what I did over the span of several years. 

I would buy and try one probiotic species and strain, take it for at least one month, and then monitor how I felt during that time.

Sometimes I would stop taking it if I felt worse.

I was my own guinea pig and tested and experimented with so many different probiotic supplements to find the ones that helped. 

I usually recommend people follow the same process because many people like myself often experience a bad reaction to one strain, but a good reaction to another. 

But I understand doing that can be time-consuming and tedious. Plus, clinical studies often demonstrate that probiotic mixtures with multiple strains are better at improving the diversity of gut bacteria than single strains (45). 

So, to make it easier for you, I’ve now created my own psychobiotic supplement, called Optimal Biotics.

I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best psychobiotic supplement so that they can experience superior results.

I have found that many psychobiotic supplements on the market fall short and even cause side effects.

But Optimal Biotics doesn't, and it contains the 8 most well-researched and beneficial probiotic strains for your mental health.

I also recommend adding fermented foods into your diet and see how that goes. Fermented foods contain many strains of bacteria that have not been documented in the scientific literature.  That said, the downside is that the bacteria in fermented foods will vary depending on the batch, and there is sometimes the risk of them containing pathogenic bacteria.

Here are some other steps you can take to increase the good bacteria in your gut. 

And this anti-anxiety supplement also includes several other natural compounds that have helped me manage my anxiety over the years. It can help reduce stress and anxiety while you work to improve your gut health. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

Conclusion

The microbiome and psychobiotics are at the cutting-edge of neuroscience and mental health research and treatment. It hasn’t been that long since researchers first discovered that there is a gut-brain connection. 

Cartoon image of bacteria and psychobiotics.

When I first found out about it several years ago, I started consuming psychobiotics, and they have definitely helped me recover from chronic anxiety. 

But it’s important to point out that psychobiotics alone were never enough.

I also had to make changes to my diet, take key supplements, improve thyroid health, and overcome trauma. There really is no quick fix or magic bullet. 

Yet for some people, psychobiotics can be life changing, especially if you have digestive issues alongside your anxiety and worry. 

Overall, I think they are absolutely worth a try. 

I hope this article helps you, and please share it with anyone you think might benefit from it. 

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370913/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25879690

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(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25024629

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(11) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161121160038.htm

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25869281

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3754198/

(14) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x/full#b28

(15) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616140723.htm

(16) http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(16)30730-9

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664325/

(18) https://gutpathogens.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-4749-1-6

(19) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19338686/

(20) http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmicb.2016.01204/full

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251188

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25794930

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136/

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370913/

(25) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03911.x/abstract

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(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3413724/

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(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27841940

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A leaky brain leaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of them have helped me.

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

 

1. Avoid Gluten

Avoiding gluten is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.

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

You'll likely feel better.

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

There’s one main reason I recommend this…

Gluten has been shown to elevate “zonulin”.

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

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

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

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

That’s simply not true.  

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

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

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

 

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

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

I’ve discussed this before.

Whatever happens in your gut directly impacts your brain function.

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

Researchers have studied mice that are “germ free”.

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

And what did the researchers find?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take Optimal Biotics every day.

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

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

 

3. Drink Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Sulforaphane

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

It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

It’s quite similar to curcumin.

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

You can take sulforaphane in supplement form.

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

Myrosinase is the enzyme in broccoli that helps metabolize sulforaphane.

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

 

5. Avoid Alcohol

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 6. Resveratrol or Pterostilbene

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

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

And scientists are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF and support your mitochondria.

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

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

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

Numerous other studies have found that resveratrol:

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

  • Defends and protects the blood-brain barrier; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7. Reduce Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

But they can also support your blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

9. Sleep and Melatonin

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

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

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

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

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

Supplementing with melatonin can also help.

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

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

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

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

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

 

10. Berberine

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from various plants. 

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

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

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

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11. Avoid Environmental Mold and Mycotoxins

Environmental mold can be a serious problem for some people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

12. B Vitamins

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

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

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

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

 

13. Magnesium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take this magnesium supplement

 

14. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

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

It can also be taken as a supplement.

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

Human brain and blood flow.

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

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

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

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

ALA is included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

 

15. Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16. Curcumin

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

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

Turmeric spice. Curcumin is a compound in turmeric that can reduce inflammation and support the blood-brain barrier.

But it can also:

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

  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction; and

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

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

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

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

 

17. Vitamin D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

18. Citicoline or Alpha GPC

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

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

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

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

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

I personally take Citicoline every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

19. Reduce Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20. Lower Homocysteine

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

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

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

And that’s when homocysteine becomes dangerous and unhealthy. 

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

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

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

 

21. Progesterone

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

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

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

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

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

 

22. Increase Brain Blood Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

23. Other Nutrients, Antioxidants and Herbs

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

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

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

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

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

I hope they help you too!

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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

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