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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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

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How to Support Your Mitochondria for Better Brain Health

Picture of several mitochondria.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic dysfunction of mitochondria is another underlying factor that contributes to poor brain function and mental illness. 

Mitochondria are unique structures within every cell of your body. You have trillions and trillions of them, making up approximately 10% of your total body weight. They are considered the “powerhouses of the cell,” generating most of the energy in your body by converting your nutrition into adenosine-5’- triphosphate (ATP). ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel. You are constantly using it, and your brain needs enough of it to work properly (106-107). 

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

Mitochondria are especially abundant in your brain cells and involved in many important biological processes in the brain, including the regulation of free radicals and neurotransmitters. In fact, monoamine oxidase (MAO), the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of monoamine neurotransmitters, is localized within the outer mitochondrial membrane (91-93). 

So not surprisingly, numerous studies show that there is a correlation between impaired mitochondrial functioning in the brain and many psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, including bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, schizophrenia, psychosis, panic disorder, social anxiety, generalized anxiety and other stress-related diseases (82-90, 94-100, 102-104). 

Yes, you read that right. Every single one of those conditions has been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction. In fact, many researchers are convinced that mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in almost every chronic disease (108-110). 

Mitochondria dysfunction decreases ATP energy production and increases oxidative stress, which are commonly found in the brains of people suffering from brain and mental health disorders. Cognitive symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction can also include impairments in attention, executive function and memory. Unfortunately, a number of psychiatric drugs damage the mitochondria and worsen dysfunction (105). 

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

Below are a number of strategies I’ve used over the years to support my mitochondria and you can use them to regain optimal brain and mental health.

Eat Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods

Not surprisingly, eating lots of fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods is the most impactful action you can take to power your mitochondria. 

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

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

Dr. Terry Wahls standing in front of her wheelchair.

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) more than a decade ago but reversed the neurodegenerative brain disease by repairing her mitochondria with an intensive nutritional strategy. She outlines how she recovered her health in her book The Wahls Protocol

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

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

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

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

Avoid Certain Foods and Ingredients

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

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

Genetically, your mitochondria were not designed to deal with our current food environment and lifestyle habits. 

On top of this, your mitochondria are expected to perform proficiently for much longer, as our ancestors rarely lived to the age of 80.

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

Dr. Wahls also recommends you avoid all gluten, dairy and soy products for optimal mitochondrial health. I feel much better avoiding them completely. 

Eat More Essential Fats

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

That’s why Dr. Wahls recommends eating organic grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish, such as salmon, every day. Avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil are also rich in healthy fats. 

Supplementing with krill oil is another option. I’ve discussed the overwhelming benefits of krill oil before here

Exercise

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

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

Many experts recommend exercise for brain health, and as I’ve mentioned before, it can also increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), your brain’s growth hormone

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Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

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

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

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

These mitochondrial benefits have also been seen directly within the brain. Studies show that LLLT increases mitochondrial activity within brain cells, and this leads to beneficial effects in behaviour (41). 

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

Frankly, it’s ridiculous that this therapy is not more well-known and promoted by doctors.

But if you’ve read my blog for a while now, I’m sure you understand why.

You don’t have to wait for conventional medicine to catch up, and you can experiment with it yourself since it’s known to be very safe (44).

I use these two devices :

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

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

You can learn more about LLLT in this post

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

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

Resveratrol

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

Not only does it increase BDNF levels, but it also activates the SIRT1 gene. This gene triggers a number of positive biochemical reactions that protect and improve the functioning of your mitochondria. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting also trigger the SIRT1 gene (11, 12, 13).

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

That’s why I take this resveratrol on a regular basis and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting

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

Empty plate, fork and knife. Intermittent fasting boosts mitochondrial function.

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

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

That’s why I intermittent fast instead. 

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

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

Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)

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

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

Depletion of NADH has been linked to a number of diseases, including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and stabilized oral NADH has been shown to improve all of these conditions (46, 47, 48). 

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

LLLT also increases NADH in your mitochondria. 

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Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet. 

When you restrict carbohydrate-rich foods, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose (36).

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

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

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

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

Exogenous ketones can help you get into ketosis quickly.

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

B Vitamins

All of the B vitamins play an essential role in maintaining mitochondrial function, and your mitochondria will be compromised if you have a deficiency of any B vitamin (37). 

Deficiency is more likely if you take certain medications

I take this B complex. It includes the bioactive forms of all of the B vitamins. 

Ribose

Ribose is a five carbon sugar created naturally by your body. Even though it’s a sugar, research suggests it does not raise blood sugar levels. Instead, your body stores it in the mitochondria (49, 50). 

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

Chronic stress can deplete ribose, and certain conditions have been linked to chronic ribose deficiency, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. That’s why I recommend people supplement with ribose if they struggle with these disorders because it can help reduce mental and physical lethargy (52, 53).

I don’t take it every day, but I do cycle this ribose with other mitochondrial enhancers. 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant molecule found in every cell of your body. It’s particularly concentrated in the mitochondria, playing a key role in the production of energy and protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage. 

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, chronic oxidative stress and medications can further deplete CoQ10

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

I took this CoQ10 supplement after coming off psychiatric medication

Ubiquinol is a lipid-soluble form of CoQ10. I haven’t taken it but it is the most active form of CoQ10. 

If you decide to supplement with CoQ10, you should take it with a healthy fat source such as coconut oil to increase absorption because it is fat soluble. 

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

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods with a wide range of brain health and mitochondrial benefits.

It’s been shown to preserve and enhance memory, attention, and cognition by protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage and promoting the growth of new mitochondria in the brain (56-59). 

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

Reactive nitrogen species (RNS) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause severe stress on brain cells and mitochondria, and PQQ has also been shown to suppress RNS and ROS (60-62). 

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

I recommend taking 10-20 mg each day along with CoQ10, as they are synergistic. Taking them together leads to further improvements in cognitive function (57).

You can get it here

It's also included in this supplement

Check out the “Neuroprotective” section of the PQQ Wikipedia page for more information on the brain health benefits of this compound. 

Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral within your body, and the mitochondria are considered magnesium “storage units” because they hold onto a lot of your body’s magnesium. 

Magnesium protects the mitochondria and plays a role in the production and transfer of ATP within the mitochondria. And research shows that if you have a deficiency in magnesium, your brain cells will have fewer mitochondria, and they will be less healthy (54, 55). 

This is just another reason to supplement with at least 200 mg of magnesium every day. It’s one of the most important nutrients for optimal brain health. I take this one through Amazon

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Acetyl-Carnitine (ALCAR) and Alpha Lipoic Acid

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

Carnitine is an amino acid that improves mitochondrial activity and plays an important role in energy production by transporting fatty acids directly into the mitochondria of your brain cells. It is required to produce ATP and deficiencies are associated with reduced mitochondrial function in the brain (74). 

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

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

Scientific representation of brain and brain blood flow.

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

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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

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

It’s been shown to improve cognition by reducing oxidative stress, and protecting existing mitochondria and creating new mitochondria in the brain (80, 101).

Other helpful nutrients that support your mitochondria and provide raw materials for them to produce ATP:

Conclusion

Picture of mitochondrion, the energy producer of brain cells.

Paying attention to your mitochondria is crucial for optimal brain and mental health, and luckily there are a number of dietary and lifestyle habits that can protect and support mitochondrial function.

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

Over time, if you follow these strategies, you can improve your mitochondrial health and naturally restore your mood and energy levels.

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

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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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.

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13 Powerful Ways to Support Your Thyroid for Better Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture of thyroid gland.

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

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

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

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low mood

  • Forgetfulness

  • Weakness

  • Sluggishness

Sounds just like depression, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar disorder, mania and mood swings

  • Irritability and rage

  • Insomnia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis

  • Dementia and confusion

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Borderline personality disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1. Cut Out Gluten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Eat Enough Calories and Carbohydrates

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

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

Person holding potatoes in their hands.

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

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

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

  • Yams

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Other root vegetables

  • Berries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Raw honey

3. Avoid Vegetable Oils

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

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

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

And your thyroid is particularly vulnerable to their effects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recommend this coconut oil

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

5. Try Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Get Enough Vitamin A and D

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Get Enough Minerals

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

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

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

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

Brazil nuts contain selenium, which can support your thyroid.

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

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

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

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

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

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium. 

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

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

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

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

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8. Reduce Stress and Cortisol

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

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

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

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

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

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

Person meditating outside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Take Thyroid-Supporting Herbs

A number of different herbs can assist your thyroid gland. 

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

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

Forskolin stimulates the release of thyroid hormones (31). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Eat “Head to Tail”

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

The same can be said about animal food. 

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

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

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

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

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

Jars of bone broth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Limit Halogens

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

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

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

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

That’s why I recommend filtering your drinking and shower water. Brita filters aren't enough because they don’t remove fluoride. I use this Berkey water filter to make sure I’m drinking the purest water available. It filters everything out of the water. I also use this filter to remove chlorine from my shower water. 

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

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

12. Avoid Environmental and Dietary Mycotoxins

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

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

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

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

Very moldy home and man trying to clean it.

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

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

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

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

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

Lastly, if exposed to mold or their toxins, you should supplement with activated charcoal or bentonite clay.

Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are potent natural treatments that can trap toxins and chemicals, allowing them to be flushed out of your body.

13. Avoid and Remove Other Environmental Toxins

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

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

Here are some common ones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary and Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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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.

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(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

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

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

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(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

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The 25 Best Natural Supplements Proven to Reduce Depression

Eight years ago, I was prescribed an antidepressant and started taking it every day. 

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. 

It helped a little bit. 

But then some serious side effects kicked in over time... 

Weight gain, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, emotional numbness, drowsiness, personality changes, and even cognitive decline

So if I could go back in time, I would rely on natural supplements first before jumping on pharmaceuticals.  

That’s not to say prescription antidepressants don’t help people.  

They do. 

They can save lives. 

But for some people (like me), they can end up doing more harm than good.  

So in this post, I want to share with you my favourite natural supplements for relieving depression.  

Research shows that there are many natural antidepressants that are just as effective as prescription antidepressants, but without adverse effects. 

After I came off medication, I relied on many of them to reduce depression and improve my mood and energy.  

Depression is complex, and there are often numerous underlying root causes.  

But these natural options will support you and prop you up while you seek and resolve the root causes of your depression.  

I’ve tried hundreds of natural supplements over the years, and these are the most effective ones for depression.  

They’ve really helped me, and I’ve seen other people get better with them as well. 

Read on to discover the best evidence-based supplements for treating depression. 

A smiley face made out of supplement capsules.
 

1. Probiotics

As you probably already know, the health of your gut (and the bacteria within it) significantly influence your brain and mental health.  

In fact, people who have been diagnosed with gut diseases are more likely to be diagnosed with depression (1).  

But luckily, there’s a solution. 

High-quality research shows that probiotic supplements can significantly reduce depressive symptoms in both healthy and depressed individuals (2-4).  

Studies also show that the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the gut.  

By taking a probiotic supplement, you can enhance the diversity of the bacteria in your gut, create a better environment for the synthesis of serotonin, and therefore increase serotonin levels and activity in your brain (5).  

Probiotics also reduce inflammation, which tends to be elevated in people with depression (6).  

The best probiotics for depression are Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus casei. 

All five of them are included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.  

Check out this post for five other ways to increase the good bacteria in your gut.  

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

 

2. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as golden root or arctic root, is a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb.  

It’s one of the most popular adaptogens used to increase physical and mental stamina. 

It can also reduce depression (9).  

In one study, rhodiola significantly reduced symptoms of depression and emotional instability in people with mild and moderate depression (7).  

Another study found that it was almost as effective as Zoloft, a commonly prescribed antidepressant, but it was better tolerated and it didn’t cause nearly as many side effects (8).  

Plenty of animal research also shows that rhodiola has antidepressant effects by lowering cortisol, and restoring serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine (10-16).  

I personally take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I need a boost in mood and energy.  You can get it here or here.  

Be sure to check out this post to learn more about the benefits of rhodiola, above and beyond just reducing depression. 

 

3. Acetyl-L-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 supports brain cells.  

Researchers have found that ALCAR is quite effective at alleviating chronic fatigue, improving mood and treating depression (17-18).  

In one study, supplementing with ALCAR for 1 to 2 months reduced depression in elderly individuals (19). 

And another study showed that ALCAR can reduce depression in people with chronic depression. Twelve weeks of supplementation reduced their depressive symptoms just as effectively as an antidepressant (20).  

It works because it supports mitochondrial function, and increases BDNF levels and serotonin levels in the brain (21-22).  

I find that ALCAR personally gives me a big boost in mood, motivation, mental energy and resilience. 

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

 

4. Theanine

A cup of green tea. Theanine is found in green tea and has been shown to help reduce depression.

Theanine is a unique amino acid found in tea. It has a number of mental health benefits. 

I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It definitely improves my mood. It also helps me focus and cancels out the jitters of caffeine. 

In one study, theanine supplementation reduced depressive symptoms and anxiety, and improved sleep and cognitive function in patients with major depression (23).  

Animal research also shows that theanine can alleviate depression in mice that are exposed to chronic stress (24).  

This mental health supplement contains theanine, along with several natural compounds that have helped me manage depression and anxiety over the years. 

Theanine can also be found in green tea, which has also been shown to help reduce depression (25). 

 

5. Magnesium

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 the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity

Research clearly shows there are links between low magnesium intake, magnesium deficiency, and depression and suicide (26-28, 34-35).  

Several studies also show that magnesium supplementation improves depressive symptoms in people with depression, including people with postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome (29-32).  

Sometimes even just one week of supplementing with magnesium can improve mood and reverse symptoms of depression (33).  

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

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.  

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6. Vitamin D

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

Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and has become a major global health problem. Researchers estimate that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency

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

Research shows that there is a strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression and suicide (36-37).  

Thankfully, several studies shown that Vitamin D3 supplementation reduces depressive symptoms, treats seasonal affective disorder, and lowers suicide risk (38-40).  

Vitamin D helps fight depression because it plays a key role in the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, and protects against the depletion of dopamine and serotonin in the brain (41).  

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. You can order a test here.  

If you decide to take a Vitamin D3 supplement, it’s a good idea to take it along with Vitamin K2. They are synergistic and mix well together. 

 

7. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health, as it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning. 

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 (42-44). 

Researchers have also found that a zinc deficiency increases the likelihood of developing depression, as well as increasing the severity of depression (45).  

But zinc supplementation can definitely help.  

A meta-analysis concluded that taking a zinc supplement is an effective treatment for depression (46).  

In one study, 50 people took 30 mg of zinc for 12 weeks, and their mood significantly improved, and their BDNF levels increased as well (47-49).  

So if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible you’re deficient, and you’ll want to consider taking a zinc supplement to optimize your levels. 

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc 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. 

Some of the best foods you should eat 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. 

 

8. DL-Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body cannot create it, and you must obtain it from your diet. 

It plays a key role in the production of dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter that can improve your mood (50).  

People struggling with depression have been shown to have low levels of phenylalanine in their blood and urine (55).  

You can find phenylalanine in from protein-rich foods, such as: 

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

But I find that supplementing with DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA), a special supplemental form of phenylalanine, is much more effective than simply eating foods with phenylalanine. 

In one study, 23 depressed patients took DLPA every day for 15 days. At the end of the 15 days, 17 of them had completely overcame their depression, and they didn't experience adverse side effects (51).  

Another 3-week study found very similar results (52).  

Researchers have even concluded that DLPA is just as effective as prescription antidepressants. And people who don’t respond to pharmaceutical antidepressants often get significantly better when they take DLPA (53-54).  

Even if you take medication, research shows that combining DLPA with antidepressants leads to greater increases in mood than simply taking an antidepressant alone (56).  

Yet unlike antidepressants, you can feel the effects of DLPA quickly (within a few hours) and in some cases, it can “terminate depression within 2 to 3 days” (57). 

Not surprisingly, I absolutely love DL-Phenylalanine. It was probably the most important supplement that I took while I transitioned off of antidepressants

If you’d like to learn more about DLPA, read this post

 

9. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)

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

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

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

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

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

In one study, 149 people with moderate depression were given NAC or placebo for eight weeks. The individuals who received NAC experienced a significant reduction in their depression, as well as improvements in their overall functioning and quality of life (58).  

In another six-month study, NAC significantly reduced symptoms of depression in patients with bipolar disorder. It also significantly improved their social and occupational functioning. The researchers concluded that NAC is a safe and effective strategy for depressive symptoms (59).  

Several other studies have examined the effects of NAC on bipolar disorder and found that taking NAC daily can significantly improve and even cause a full remission of depressive symptoms (60-62).  

 

10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to promote the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system. 

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

Researchers have also found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids are significantly lower in individuals with depression (63-64).  

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

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including: 

  • Salmon  

  • Black cod  

  • Sablefish  

  • Sardines  

  • Herring 

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

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 krill oil supplement.  

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference. 

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acid supplements are effective at treating clinical depression. They also improve mood in people who haven’t been diagnosed with depression, but have depressive symptoms (65-66. 68-69).  

One way they work is by reducing inflammation in the brain, which is strongly linked to depression (67).

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11. Ginseng

Ginseng is known for its anti-stress effects. 

But it also has antidepressant effects (70).  

More than one study has shown that ginseng reduces depression and increases quality of life (71-72).  

Ginseng has been shown to work because it reduces inflammation and increases dopamine, serotonin and BDNF in the brain (73-76).  

Ginseng is one of my favourite herbal supplements for brain function and depression.

 

12. S-adenosyl-L-methionine

S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound that naturally occurs in the body.  

It’s also available as a supplement.  

It’s most commonly used for treating depression because lowered SAM-e levels are associated with depression. 

Researchers have concluded that SAM-e is an effective and safe option for the treatment of depression. It has beneficial effects similar to conventional antidepressants (77-78, 82-83).  

In one study, people who hadn't responded to SSRI antidepressants took SAM-e for six weeks, and it significantly reduced their symptoms of depression (79).  

In another study, 20 healthy individuals received infusions of SAM-e or a placebo for seven days. The researchers scanned and studied the brains of the participants during the study. And it was confirmed that SAM-e is an antidepressant because it targets and supports brain regions involved in depression (81).  

It has also been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine activity in the brain, and inhibit the reuptake of norepinephrine (80).  

The great thing about SAM-e is that it works fairly quickly, as people usually notice benefits within the first few days of taking it, and it doesn’t cause severe side effects like pharmaceutical antidepressants (83).  

I took this SAM-e supplement after coming off psychiatric medication and it significantly helped me by improving my mood and energy.

 

13. Curcumin

A picture of turmeric. Curcumin is the main compound in turmeric that has been shown to reduce depression.

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

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

Researchers have repeatedly found that curcumin reduces depressive symptoms in patients with major depression (84-86). 

In one study, curcumin reduced depression in more than 100 people after six weeks of supplementation (87).   

It also reduces inflammatory markers and cortisol levels, and increases BDNF levels, all of which are involved in depression (87). 

 

14. Methylfolate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.  

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (88).  

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens  

  • Asparagus  

  • Broccoli  

  • Cauliflower  

  • Strawberries  

  • Avocado  

  • Beef liver  

  • Poultry

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

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people don't get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (103). 

People with depression often need to supplement with methylfolate to get the full benefits.  

In one study, six months of methylfolate supplementation reduced symptoms of depression in patients with clinical depression and schizophrenia (92).  

Research also shows that taking methylfolate alongside an antidepressant makes the antidepressant more effective (93).  

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (104). 

Methylfolate works because it lowers homocysteine levels, stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain, and plays a key role in the production of dopamine (94-102).  

Whatever you do, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you need to take the biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (89-91).  

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.  

I take this B vitamin complex, and it includes methylfolate. Or you can take methylfolate separately at a higher dose.  

 

15. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.  

Even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency.  

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today. 

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (136-142). 

But supplementation can help. 

Research shows that supplementing with Vitamin B12 for six weeks can reduce depressive symptoms in depressed patients (143).  

In one study, Vitamin B12 supplementation lowered homocysteine levels and reduced depression in more than 200 people (144).  

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12).  

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active. 

Besides methyl-B12 and methylfolate, you should also consider supplementing with the rest of the B vitamins. 

There is evidence to suggest that many people with depression are also deficient in Vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B6, and supplementing with them can help reduce, prevent and lower the risk of depression (145-151).  

I take this B complex supplement, which includes all the bioactive forms of the B vitamins, including B9, B12, B2 and B6.  

Vitamin B12 is also found in animal foods, and beef liver is a really good source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver. 

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16. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a natural medicinal herb with antidepressant effects. It's often prescribed for depression in European countries.  

Researchers have concluded that it’s as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants for treating depression but has fewer adverse effects (105-107). 

A double-blind, randomized control trial showed that St John’s Wort can prevent depression from developing, and delay relapses in depression (108).  

It's been found to work by increasing dopamine signaling and increasing serotonin receptors (109-111). 

I took this St. John’s Wort supplement years ago for my depression. It helped me, but I eventually stopped taking it and working on fixing the true, underlying causes of my depression instead. 

In my experience, it’s best for people who are struggling with mild or moderate depression.  

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t take St. John’s Wort if you’re already taking antidepressant medication. They don’t mix well.  

 

17. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. You can also take it as a supplement.  

It helps control your circadian rhythm, and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night. 

Researchers have found that people with depression often have low levels of melatonin and a compromised circadian rhythm (257-259). 

Studies also show that supplementing with melatonin at bedtime can lower symptoms of depression. It can also improve the circadian rhythm of various neurotransmitters that are disturbed in people with depression (260-261).  

You can get melatonin here.  

Or you can take this sleep supplement. It 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. 

 

18. Uridine

Four glasses of beer. Beer contains uridine, which has been shown to reduce depression.

Uridine is a natural compound commonly found in beer.  

I definitely don’t recommend drinking beer, but supplementing with pure uridine can protect the brain, enhance cognition, and increase mood and motivation. 

Uridine supplementation has been shown to reduce depression in young people with bipolar disorder (113).  

Animal studies also show that uridine supplements alleviate depression and increases dopamine in the brains of rats (114-115).  

It’s important to note that uridine in food is not bioavailable, and no food has been shown to increase blood levels of uridine (112). 

So you’ll need to supplement with it.

 

19. Sarcosine

Sarcosine is an amino acid derivative that is naturally found in egg yolks, turkey, ham, vegetables and legumes. 

Supplementing with sarcosine has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression without side effects (116, 119).  

In one study, sarcosine was found to be significantly more effective at treating major depression than citalopram (a common SSRI antidepressant). 

Patients who received sarcosine were much more likely to improve, improved much more quickly, and were less likely to drop out of the study than patients that received citalopram (117).  

Animal research also shows that sarcosine has antidepressant effects (118).  

You’ll have to supplement with sarcosine for it to improve your mood. The amount of sarcosine in food is too small to have a beneficial effect. 

I take this sarcosine powder.  

It has impressive antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, but without any of the nasty side effects that are common with pharmaceutical antidepressants and benzodiazepines.  

 

20. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid that is known to support cognitive function.  

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

But researchers have also found that phosphatidylserine can also reduce depression. 

In one study, supplementing with phosphatidylserine induced consistent improvement of depressive symptoms, memory and behaviour in elderly individuals with depression (121).  

Animal research also shows that phosphatidylserine has antidepressant effects. In fact, the antidepressant effects are more prominent in rats than the cognitive-enhancing effects (122).  

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

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21. Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Hericium Erinaceus – better known as lion’s mane mushroom – is an edible mushroom with numerous health benefits.  

It’s another one of my favourite supplements for brain health because it reduces inflammation and has antioxidant effects

One study found that it reduced depression in 30 women after 4 weeks of supplementation (120).  

This lion’s mane mushroom supplement is the highest-quality that I could find. I spent a lot of time researching and looking into different sources because not all lion's mane supplements are high-quality and effective, and I settled on this one.  

You can get it here or here

 

22. Ginkgo Biloba

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

It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany. 

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it increases brain blood flow and improves memory, mental energy and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

But researchers have also found that Ginkgo Biloba reduces depression in elderly individuals (123-127).  

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

 

23. Saffron

Saffron plant. Saffron has been shown to reduce depression.

Saffron is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus plant.  

It has a number of health benefits due to the medicinal compounds within it. 

Researchers have found that saffron is effective at reducing depression in people with mild to moderate depression (127-128).  

More than one study shows that saffron works just as well as SSRI antidepressants, reducing depression without side effects (129-131).  

Saffron has also been shown to inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, similar to pharmaceutical antidepressants (132). 

 

24. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a steroidal hormone naturally manufactured by the body, but it can also be taken as a supplement.  

It’s the precursor to almost all other steroid hormones, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.  

It’s been shown to enhance memory and reduce fatigue. 

But researchers have found that it can also reduce depression.  

Depressed patients often have low pregnenolone levels, but replenishing pregnenolone levels with supplementation significantly reduces symptoms of depression (133-135).  

Whenever I take pregnenolone, it gives me a big boost in brain function and mental energy. It definitely has an effect. But it doesn’t really improve my mood. In fact, if I take it every day, it starts to make me irritable. So I save it and only take it when I need it.   

Plenty of other people have excellent, consistent results with it though. 

If you want to try it, you can get it here

 

25. 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

Research shows that low DHEA levels are significantly associated with increased depressive symptoms, and low DHEA levels are often found in depressed patients (270-271).  

And in multiple studies, supplementing with DHEA has been shown to improve mood and reduce depression (272-273).  

Researchers have found that it works because it impacts the activity of several neurotransmitters involved in depression, including dopamine, serotonin and GABA (274).  

 

26. BONUS: Other Natural Supplements That Can Reduce Depression

An image of several different natural supplements

Here are numerous other natural supplements that have also been shown to reduce depression and improve mood in humans.

I didn’t include them in the main list because they aren’t my favourite “go-to” solutions for depression.

Plus, they can be “hit-and-miss” and don’t always work for everyone in every situation.

But research still shows they can be quite effective, so they’re worth considering and giving a shot.  

 

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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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.

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(274) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18280022

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

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