Why Sleeping in the Woods for 11 Days Improved My Mental Health

You often hear that modern life is making us sick.

It’s true. A lot of people are suffering from diseases of civilization – including neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses – because there is a mismatch between our ancient physiology and the western diet and lifestyle (1). 

Most people are aware of some of the causes – poor dietary choices, nutrient deficiencies, excess stress, emotional trauma, lack of exercise, etc. 

But what if there was something in our modern environment that we couldn’t see that was making us sick?

Well, over the past several months, I’ve been learning more and more about the brain and mental health effects of man-made electromagnetic fields (EMFs). 

They’re actually a huge problem.

An increasing amount of scientific research is showing that they can cause widespread neuropsychiatric effects, including depression (2).

Learning about this inspired me to go live in the woods for 11 days. Yes, I’m serious :-) 

Read on to learn more about EMFs and my experience getting completely away from them. 

An illustration demonstrating EMFs in our environment.

Researchers and Doctors Are Sounding the Alarm about the Brain and Mental Health Effects of 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. I consider that to be far greater on a global scale, than warming, and the increase in chemical elements in the environment.” – Dr. Robert Becker, MD, two-time Nobel nominee, and author of The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life

Man-made EMFs emitted by cellphones, Wi-Fi internet, and radio are considered radiofrequency (RF) EMFs. 

People can experience a wide range of brain and mental health symptoms from these EMFs, including EEG changes, sleep disturbance/insomnia, depression, headache, tinnitus, brain fog, dizziness, listlessness, irritability, malaise, restlessness/anxiety, fatigue/tiredness, concentration/attention dysfunction, memory and thinking difficulties

This has been well documented in European countries. The prevalence of EMF sensitivity in Sweden, Switzerland and Austria have been reported to be 1.5%, 3.5% and 5% respectively (2, 3, 7). 

But I suspect the amount of people who are struggling with the negative effects of EMFs is actually higher because most people are simply not aware of the problem. 

As of March 22, 2017, 225 scientists from 42 countries have signed a letter that urges the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and governments around the world to develop stricter controls on devices that emit EMFs. Altogether, these scientists have published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed papers demonstrating the biological and health effects of radiofrequency EMFs.

As a result of the increasing amount of research demonstrating the risk of EMFs, the World Health Organization has now reclassified radiofrequency EMFs as a “class 2B carcinogen”, which places it in the same carcinogenic class as lead and the pesticide DDT (4).

Some European countries have also taken action in response. Switzerland has replaced the wireless internet in schools with wired internet. In Germany, the public health department is recommending their citizens switch off WiFi when they are not using it. And Italy, France, Austria, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Russia and China all have set limits on radiofrequency exposure that are 100 to 10,000 times lower than US standards (5, 6). 

Meanwhile, the United States rushes forward with the wireless revolution and the looming rollout of 5G

What about in Canada? Not much has been done here either, even though more than 50 Canadian doctors and researchers have demanded that Health Canada raise awareness about EMFs, update their EMF guidelines, and provide resources  to assist Canadian physicians in treating people with EMF sensitivity. 

Dr. Riina Bray, medical director of the Environmental Health Clinic at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, has even stood in front of Canadian Parliament to bring awareness to this issue. She says:

Individuals who are sensitive to EMF, or those with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, are canaries in a coal mine and lucky enough to have discovered what it is that is making them feel unwell. Many of them find everyday life and work difficult and uncomfortable. Most often we see them with family members who thought the patient had gone mad, but then realized that what they were saying was actually true, through observations.

The question that continues to alarm me is this. What of those who have not yet become sensitized, or those who are unwell but have not realized it is the EMFs provoking the problem and continue to try to function in an environment where the electrical and magnetic fields are high?

As a physician who has specialized in the area of environmental health for over 20 years, I am mortified at the lack of accountability regarding radio and microwave radiation use in the everyday lives of Canadians both young and old. There are no longitudinal studies except the one going on right now on people who did not ask to be subjects, who gave no research ethics board consent, and on whom data is not being collected. That is not a study at all.
— Dr. Riina Bray

I highly recommend you read the full transcript here. It is eye opening.

Dr. Jack Kruse, author of author of the book Epi-Paleo Rx, also talks about the risks of man-made EMFs extensively.

And these three books discuss the issue. I just started reading the first one: 

Lastly, I highly recommend watching this TV special if you're interested in hearing more experts talk about the effects of man-made EMFs:

My Experience

Two functional medicine practitioners have confirmed that I’m particularly sensitive to EMFs. 

I live and work in the city, so I bought this EMF meter to figure out the amount of EMFs I was being exposed to in my environment. 

Pathway leading toward's the cottage property.

Pathway leading toward's the cottage property.

The result? Lots of radiofrequency EMFs where I spend most of my time, including my downtown apartment. 

However, my family has a cottage property about 1.5 hours away from the city. It’s just a cabin in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, away from civilization. 

So, I recently went there with my meter to measure the levels.

The result? Dead air. Zero radiofrequency EMFs. 

I thought my meter was broken because I’m so used to it displaying a yellow or red warning signal in the city. But at the cottage property, it was green. 

So, for 11 days, I lived at this property. I’ve been very quiet on social media because of this.

I had my phone off, the Wi-Fi was off the entire time, and I connected to the Internet only sparingly using an Ethernet cable

I even went to the electrical panel in the basement and cut the power supply on the circuit breaker sometimes, particularly right before I went to bed. 

What did I experience from this experiment?

  • Deeper, more restful sleep – I usually never dream or remember any dreams. But I had very vivid dreams and remembered them the next morning while in the woods. This rarely happens. The last time this happened, it was when I was doing neurofeedback. I’ve since learned that neurofeedback is protective against EMFs and helps people cope with EMFs [because EMFs alter electrical activity in the brain (18-23)].

  • Complete elimination of coffee

  • Reduction in the amount of supplements I had to take – In the city, I usually need to manage some lingering symptoms with supplements and other therapies. But these symptoms faded when I completely removed myself from EMFs.

  • More mental energy and endurance

  • Increased focus

A deer I saw on my trip away from the city.

A deer I saw on my trip away from the city.

Of course, there could be other factors at play and this could have been placebo, but I really don’t think so considering the huge difference in my sleep quality and the amount of dreams I could vividly recall the next morning.

Some people may be skeptical of all this, so let me lay out some of the research showing that EMFs can affect brain function and impact mental health.

Research in Russia shows that much of the impact from EMFs occurs in the brain and nervous system, and 26 studies have associated EMFs with 13 different neuropsychiatric effects (2). 

Below are 15 specific ways EMFs can affect your brain and mental health. 

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1. EMFs Damage Myelin

Myelin is a fatty, white substance that wraps around the end of many nerve cells. It forms an electrically insulating sheath that increases nerve condition speeds. 

Myelin sheath.

In other words, it allows your brain to send information faster and more efficiently, making it absolutely essential for the optimal functioning of your nervous system.

This research paper explains that there is an association between EMFs and the deterioration of myelin.

The researchers say there is "an association between RF-EMF exposure and either myelin deterioration or a direct impact on neuronal conduction, which may account for many electro-hypersensitivity symptoms” (9). 

I previously provided 25 proven ways to promote the regeneration of myelin.

My favourite way to regenerate myelin is by taking this lion’s mane mushroom supplement. It’s helped me a lot. You can get it here or here

2. EMFs Reduce Cognitive Function

While I was away from the city, my cognitive function improved. I found that it was easier to read quickly. 

In 2009, researchers looked at whether EMFs emitted by cellphones would affect cognitive function.

They found that the participants that were exposed to cellphone radiation demonstrated slower response times during a working memory task (8). 

3. EMFs Contribute to Bipolar Disorder

Smiley faces. EMFs may contribute to bipolar disorder.

I couldn’t find any scientific research demonstrating that EMFs cause or worsen bipolar disorder.

However, I did find an amazing case study from someone named Carmen in Virginia Beach.

She explains that limiting her exposure to EMFs significantly improved her symptoms of bipolar disorder:

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003. 

I have always taken my medications and still even with great doctors and family support, I was not able to avoid the mental hospital in 2010. 

In 2014, I started to have some odd health issues that resembled symptoms of a stroke. 

It took many months but I was able to identify the root of my symptoms: fluorescent lights, cell towers, WIFI, my cell phone and other things too. 

Nobody listened because I have a pre-existing mental condition and attributed some of my symptoms to panic attacks and OCD.

I had to stop working in due to the severity of my symptoms and I had to do a lot of changes in my house, changed WIFI for a hardwire connection straight to the router from computer, changed our home cordless phone for old fashion corded one and all my family stopped using cell phones in the house. I also had to change light bulbs and some other things. 

I realized my cell phone on my night table had been keeping me up at night because all of a sudden, I had no trouble sleeping anymore.

Now I can focus on things, I am no longer confused or forgetful, and I am not hyperactive.

Most important of all, I have not had any periods of mania, depression or hypomania since I reduced my exposures to electromagnetic fields.

You can read her entire story here

It's important to note that she mentions that she also experienced symptoms from fluorescent lights and had to change the light bulbs in her home. 

This is likely because of the negative health effects of blue LED lighting, which I previously wrote about here

4. EMFs Alter Brain Proteins

Research shows that long-term exposure to EMFs significantly alters the expression of 143 proteins in the brain. 

What does this mean to us?

Researchers explain that these changes may affect brain plasticity, increase oxidative stress in the nervous system, and may explain conditions such as headaches, sleep disturbance, fatigue, memory deficits, and brain tumors (13). 

5. EMFs Increase Anxiety

Research clearly shows that radiation from wireless technology affects the autonomic nervous system and increases anxiety and stress.

EMFs increase anxiety.

In particular, it can lead to neurotic disturbances by upregulating the sympathetic nervous and downregulating the parasympathetic nervous system (15, 17). 

In other words, it can directly increase your “fight-or-flight” response, making you chronically stressed and anxious. 

And researchers are making it clear that it’s not just “in the person’s head”. One report explains that the response to “electrosmog is physiological and not psychosomatic”. In other words, it’s really affecting the person's body. 

Unfortunately, “those who experience prolonged and severe EMF hypersensitivity may end up developing psychological problems”, stress-related behaviours and anxiety disorders due to their inability to work, and the social stigma that their symptoms are imagined rather than real (15, 16). 

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6. EMFs Affect Neurotransmitters

EMFs also affect neurotransmitters, the chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain.

One study found that radiation from cellphones significantly disrupts levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. 

The researchers concluded that this may be why people report that they experience stress, memory problems and learning difficulties from EMF exposure (14). 

7. EMFs Affect Thyroid Function

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

An illustration showing the location of the thyroid gland.

As I discussed before, your thyroid gland plays a key role in the optimal health and functioning of your brain. It can impact your cognition, concentration, mood, memory and emotions.

Researchers have found that EMF exposure can affect the structure and functioning of the thyroid gland (10). 

One study found that heavy cellphone users have higher than normal TSH levels, and lower than normal T4 levels. These abnormal levels are linked to thyroid dysfunction and hypothyroidism (low thyroid) (11). 

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

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low mood

  • Forgetfulness

  • Weakness

  • Sluggishness

Not surprisingly, these are also common symptoms of EMF hypersensitivity.

Check out this post for ways to support your thyroid.

My favourite way is by applying this red and infrared light to my thyroid. 

8. EMFs Increase Risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by inattention and hyperactivity.

Yale researchers have determined that cellphone use during pregnancy affects the brain development of offspring, and this can lead to symptoms of ADHD in the children once they are born (12). 

This is the first experimental evidence that fetal exposure to radiofrequency radiation from cellular telephones does in fact affect adult behaviour. The rise in behavioral disorders in human children may be in part due to fetal cellular telephone irradiation exposure.
— Dr. Hugh Taylor, MD

9. EMFs May Worsen Symptoms of Autism

A report published in the journal Pathophysiology points out that autism involves many biological disturbances that are very similar to the physiological impacts of EMFs and radiofrequency radiation.

The researchers even say that reducing EMF exposure might reduce symptoms of autism.

With dramatic increases in reported autism that are coincident in time with the deployment of wireless technologies, we need an aggressive investigation of potential Autism/EMF/RFR links. The evidence is sufficient to warrant new public exposure standards benchmarked to low-intensity (non-thermal) exposure levels now known to be biologically disruptive, and strong, interim precautionary practices are advocated.

10. EMFs Reduce Melatonin and Disrupt Sleep

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. It helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm), and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

Melatonin acts as a very potent antioxidant in your brain and can protect against a number of neurodegenerative and mental health conditions (26). 

Reduced levels of melatonin are associated with depression and suicide, seasonally affective disorder (SAD), schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (24). 

Cellphone next to a woman sleeping. EMFs negatively affect sleep.

Unfortunately, 17 independent studies have found that EMFs disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm and natural production of melatonin, leading to sleep difficulties and many adverse health effects (25, 27-31). 

Researchers say that the evidence is “substantial and robust” and “there is a sound scientific basis for concluding that” acute and chronic EMF exposure lowers melatonin production, leading to very serious health effects, including depression (25, 32). 

That’s why you should turn off all Wi-Fi before bed. I live in a downtown apartment with lots of radiation coming from all the apartments around me, which likely explains why I slept so much better in the woods.

Other than supplementing with melatonin, here are some actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin and improve the quality of your sleep:

  • Expose your eyes to sun in the morning

  • Supplement with magnesium and collagen before bed. This pre-made bone broth is a really good source of collagen.

  • Lie on this acupressure mat for 10 minutes before bed

  • Turn off household lights or get red light bulbs, install Iris on your computer and/or wear blue blocking glasses as soon as it's dark outside. These glasses block out blue light in your environment. Blue light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin. You can read more about the problem with blue light here.

  • Go to bed at the same time every night

  • Don’t eat for 3 hours before bed

  • Completely black out room with curtains and wear sleep mask.

  • 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. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

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11. EMFs Increase Brain Tumors

The National Toxicology Program conducted a large, complex, two-year study on the potential health hazards of cellphone use. They found that RF and EMF exposure increases brain tumors in rats, mice, and humans (50-51). 

Sweden researchers have also published a meta-analysis showing a significant association between long-term cellphone use and both malignant and benign brain tumors (52). 

12. EMFs Disrupt the Blood-Brain Barrier

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.

A leaky brain. EMFs disrupt the blood-brain barrier.

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.

A number of factors contribute to “leaky brain”, including electromagnetic fields. 

Radiofrequency EMFs emitted from cellphones have been shown to increase the permeability of the brain-blood barrier in several studies (33-34). 

And this increased permeability may lead to the accumulation of brain tissue damage and cognitive impairment (33, 35). 

I previously provided ways to support and repair the blood-brain barrier in this post

My favourite way is by drinking this high-quality coffee

13. EMFs Increase Risk of Depression and Suicide

About 10 studies have reported an association between exposure to EMFs and depression (36, 37). 

A woman with depression. EMFs contribute to the rising rates of depression.

In a few of those studies, researchers found a specific correlation between living near a cellphone base station and severity of depressive symptoms (38-40). 

In another study, researchers looked at personnel at the U.S. embassy in Moscow who were exposed to EMFs, and they found that there was a statistically significant increase in depression (41). 

People working around radiofrequency EMFs are also more likely to suffer from depression and commit suicide (42-45). 

A good way to combat this is by supplementing with rhodiola. I previously wrote about how it’s a good antidepressant, but it’s been shown to be radioprotective as well (60-62). 

14. EMFs Increase Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress  

Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage cells and contribute to brain damage, aging and mental disease (46-47). 

Oxidative stress is when there is an altered balance between free radicals and their elimination by antioxidants.

After an extensive literature review, researchers have concluded that EMF exposure increases levels of free radicals and oxidative stress in the body, leading to acute and chronic health effects (49). 

In another study, researchers found that EMFs are an “oxidative stressor and DNA damage inducer” (48). 

Long-term EMF exposure has also been shown to lead to a chronically increased level of free radicals, reducing the effects of melatonin in the brain (49).

15. EMFs Linked to Dementia

Dementia is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer, and by 2050, it’s estimated that 13 million Americans and 160 million people globally will be affected by the disease.

Unfortunately, there are more than 70 studies linking EMFs to dementia, and this number is likely to rise as time goes on, along with the number of diagnoses (53). 

The research also includes several epidemiological studies and meta-analyses that link exposure to EMFs and Alzheimer’s onset (55). 

An elderly man sitting and thinking. EMFs contribute to dementia and cognitive decline.

Researchers have found that overnight exposure to EMFs significantly increases the secretion of amyloid-beta, a peptide that is involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease (54). 

EMF exposure also negatively affects the “entorhinal cortex”, the area of the brain that is first affected by Alzheimer's disease (56-57). 

Lastly, animal studies show that EMFs decrease learning and memory and cause cognitive deficits (58-59). 

I previously wrote a post with some ways to reverse cognitive decline and dementia. You can check that out here

Conclusion

If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.
— Omar N. Bradley
What EMFs would look like if you could see them.

What EMFs would look like if you could see them.

My vacation in the woods is now over, and I’m currently back in the city. 

I’m certain I’m sensitive to EMFs now, and it’s definitely impacting the quality of my life.

I really hope I don’t scare people with this post. But I do think it’s something that should be on your radar. 

At this point, I still don’t have too many recommendations to combat EMFs, other than the ones I already mentioned in my previous post about myelin (see step #25 in that post). 

But I plan on researching more and putting together a complete protocol that I’ve personally tested myself, so that you can also protect and shield yourself from EMFs!

So, stay tuned for that in an upcoming article.
 

 

 

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.dovepress.com/the-western-diet-and-lifestyle-and-diseases-of-civilization-peer-reviewed-article-RRCC

(2) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891061815000599

(3) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0928468012000442

(4) http://www.magdahavas.com/whos-new-classification-of-rfr-what-does-this-mean-for-canada/

(5) http://www.magdahavas.com/free-internet-access-in-swiss-schools-no-wifi/

(6) http://www.parentsforsafetechnology.org/worldwide-countries-taking-action.html

(7) https://openparliament.ca/committees/health/41-2/58/dr-riina-bray-1/only/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19194860

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25205214/

(10) http://jeb.biologists.org/content/209/17/3322.long

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3243874/

(12) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120315110138.htm

(13) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/15368378.2011.631068

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852905

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24192494

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25359903

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/9501332/

(18) https://www.rfsafe.com/study-shows-30-mins-exposure-4g-lte-cell-phone-radiation-alters-brain-activity/

(19) http://www.ewg.org/cell-phone-radiation-affects-brain-function

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12881192

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20001702

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14995060

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4459698/

(24) http://www.neilcherry.nz/documents/90_b1_EMR_Reduces_Melatonin_in_Animals_and_People.pdf

(25) http://www.neilcherry.nz/documents/90_b1_EMR_Reduces_Melatonin_in_Animals_and_People.pdf

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1262766/

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23051584

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1519707/

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207748/

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207748/

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3062017/

(32) http://www.saludgeoambiental.org/sites/saludgeoambiental.org/files/docs/cem_baja_frec_y_depresion_canada.pdf

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12076339

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19345073

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25598203

(36) http://www.saludgeoambiental.org/sites/saludgeoambiental.org/files/docs/cem_baja_frec_y_depresion_canada.pdf

(37) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891061815000599

(38) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15620045

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22219055

(40) https://www.emf-portal.org/en/article/18762

(41) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9814721

(42) https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nioshtic-2/00080942.html

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071010/

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7275611

(45) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13102818.1994.10818812

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2701375

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15182885

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22535669

(49) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15352165

(50) https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/results/areas/cellphones/index.html

(51) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/do-cell-phones-cause-cancer-probably-but-it-s-complicated/

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569116/

(53) http://www.emfresearch.com/emfs-dementia/

(54) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304394007002480

(55) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijcb/2012/683897/

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25462671

(57) https://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n2/full/nn.3606.html

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25359903

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25542888

(60) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16822199

(61) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3148626/

(62) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16013456

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

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13 Proven Ways Saunas Can Improve Your Mental Health

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

Using a sauna regularly is one of them.

Infrared saunas in particular are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. 

They have a number of brain and mental health benefits, as discussed in the book Sauna Therapy by Dr. Lawrence Wilson.

However, you don’t necessarily need an infrared sauna to experience health benefits. Even traditional saunas – available at most public gyms, spas and health centres – have a number of beneficial cognitive and psychological effects. 

Once you start using a sauna, you should listen to your body to determine how much time you should spend in it. Start out slowly and increase the length of your sessions over time. Also make sure to drink lots of water before and after each session, and never consume alcohol in combination.

Read on to learn about the 13 ways traditional and infrared saunas can improve your brain and mental health.

Illustration of man sitting in a sauna, improving his mental health one minute at a time.

1. Saunas Improve Mood and Reduce Depression

Saunas can really help people that struggle with depression.

Lots of research shows that they can make you feel euphoric. Saunas are somewhat stressful on the body, so your brain produces and releases more euphoric hormones to deal with it (53-55).

And these changes appear to be semi-permanent (56). 

So if you use a sauna regularly, you'll end up being consistently happy. 

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, has completed two studies in which he had people with major depression sit in an infrared sauna.

Woman with hands up in the air, sun setting in the background.

In his first study, the participants had just one infrared sauna treatment and it reduced their symptoms by about 50%.

In his follow-up study, he found that a single session caused a rapid and powerful antidepressant effect, and the benefits continued for six weeks, which was unexpected. 

He concluded that whole-body hyperthermia holds promise as a safe, rapid-acting, antidepressant treatment with a prolonged therapeutic benefit (57-58). 

Other researchers have looked at the effects of infrared sauna therapy on mildly depressed patients with fatigue, appetite loss, and mental complaints. They found that sauna treatment significantly increased their appetite and reduced their mental complaints (59). 

Whole-body heat therapy has also been shown to reduce depression in cancer patients (60-61).

And other research shows that sweating increases mental satisfaction and energy (62). 

2. Saunas Reduce Anxiety and Stress

Not surprisingly, saunas can also reduce stress and anxiety.

Several studies have shown that regular sauna use lowers levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone (49-52). 

In one study, researchers found that using a sauna can reduce both state and trait anxiety (48).

And other research shows that sweating increases relaxation, and reduces feelings of frustration and anxiety (62). 

Here are 21 other ways to reduce cortisol and increase your resilience to stress.

3. Saunas Increase Beta-Endorphins, Relieve Pain and Help Treat Fibromyalgia

Beta-endorphins are pain-relieving compounds that originate within your body. 

Your brain produces and releases these natural painkillers during times of strenuous exercise, emotional stress and pain.

Since saunas are a stressor, the release of endorphins are increased when you spend time in one.

Illustration of person in pain. Saunas can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Several studies have shown that heat stress and heat exposure in a dry sauna cause a significant increase in beta-endorphin levels (28-32). 

This may explain why research shows that sauna therapy can lessen the pain experienced by patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic syndrome characterized by widespread pain with tenderness in specific areas.

In one study, people with fibromyalgia experienced a 33 to 77 per cent reduction in pain after using an infrared sauna regularly. Six months after the study was done, the participants still reported a 28 to 66 per cent reduction in pain (35). 

Other researchers have found the same thing and concluded that infrared sauna therapy is effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia (33-34). 

Another way to relieve pain is by taking DL-Phenylalanine. It’s an amino acid that inhibits the breakdown of endorphins. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it here.

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4. Saunas Increase Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

A cartoon brain with arms and legs, lifting weights over its head. Saunas increase BDNF.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a naturally-occurring protein in the brain that lowers your risk of mental disease and improves your mood. It does this by protecting and repairing your brain cells and increasing the growth of new brain cells. Many researchers consider it a natural antidepressant because it can reduce anxiety and depression (5-13, 15).

Research suggests that if you struggle with mental illness, you likely have reduced levels of BDNF. But luckily, there are ways to boost it.

Using a sauna is one of the ways. 

Research shows that heat exposure increases the expression of BDNF (14). 

I previously provided 21 other ways to boost BDNF in this post

5. Saunas Increase Norepinephrine Levels and May Help Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter in the brain that can help with focus and attention.

An illustration of a man’s mind being open with lots of arrows. Saunas can help reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Numerous studies have found that sauna use significantly increases norepinepherine levels (39-42). 

In one study, women spent 20 minutes in a sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed an 86% increase in norepinephrine (43). 

In another study, men that stayed in a sauna until exhaustion increased their norepinephrine levels by 310% (44-45). 

Besides increasing norepinephrine, heat stress also increases your body’s ability to store norepinephrine for later release (46). 

Medications that increase the reuptake norepinephrine are often prescribed to people with ADHD, so researchers believe that sauna therapy should be considered as an alternative treatment (47). 

6. Saunas Encourage the Growth of Myelin

Myelin is a fatty, white substance that wraps around the end of many nerve cells. It forms an electrically insulating sheath that increases nerve condition speeds.

In other words, it allows your brain to send information faster and more efficiently, making it absolutely essential for the optimal functioning of your nervous system.

Illustration of myelin sheath.

Heat stress increases prolactin, a hormone that promotes the production of myelin (16-19). 

In one study, researchers had healthy young men stay in a sauna until they were exhausted, and they reported a 10-fold increase in prolactin (20-11). 

In another study, women spent 20 minutes sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed a 510% increase in prolactin (22). 

I previously provided 25 other ways to promote the growth of myelin in this post

Other than using a sauna, my favourite way to increase myelin is by taking this lion’s mane mushroom supplement. It’s helped me a lot. You can get it here or here

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7. Saunas Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Dementia is obviously a major concern today. 

It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer, and by 2050, it’s estimated that 13 million Americans and 160 million people globally will be affected by the disease (63).

There is currently a lack of effective treatment options, so simple tools to help with prevention are crucial.

A young woman and elderly woman laughing and smiling. Saunas can help reduce the risk of dementia.

It turns out that sauna therapy may be one of these tools.

Researchers tracked the health of more than 2,300 men in Finland for about 20 years. The men who used a sauna four to seven times each week had a 66 percent lower chance of developing dementia than men who used a sauna just once a week (64-68). 

We have taken into account other lifestyle factors, like physical activity and socioeconomic factors. There is an independent effect of sauna.
— Dr. Jari Laukkanen, Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Eastern Finland

I previously provided some other ways to reverse cognitive decline and dementia in this post

Intranasal insulin can also help. 

8. Saunas Reduce Psychological Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa, or simply known as anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction.

Researchers have examined the effects of sweating on anorexia and reported positive effects on hyperactivity, depression, and stress levels (27). 

9. Saunas Reduce Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex, incapacitating illness. It affects millions of people around the world and may affect up to 4 million people in the United States alone. 

People struggling with this disorder not only have unrelenting fatigue lasting for 6 months or more, but also memory and concentration deficits, sleep disturbances, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and gastrointestinal and immune system dysfunction.

A woman holds her forehead, struggling with fatigue. Saunas can help reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

One study found that infrared sauna sessions significantly reduce fatigue in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. It also significantly reduced their anxiety and depression (23). 

I've had some clients with chronic fatigue say that their doctor recommended they stay out of the sun and avoid exposing themselves to too much heat. But the above study didn't find any negative effects in chronic fatigue patients from regular infrared sauna sessions (23). 

Another study found that daily infrared sauna sessions dramatically improved symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, including fatigue, pain and sleep disturbances. The patients in the study didn’t improve with prednisolone, a steroid medication, but did improve with sauna therapy (24).

So if you struggle with chronic fatigue, infrared sauna therapy is definitely worth looking into. 

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10. Saunas Reduce Tension Headaches

"Chronic tension-type headache" is a syndrome characterized by frequent headaches that occur more than 15 days every month. 

The intensity and duration of the headaches can be very distressing and disabling and affect a person's well-being.

But research shows that regular sauna use is a simple, self-directed treatment that is effective for reducing headache pain intensity (26). 

11. Saunas Help Eliminate Heavy Metals

Some of the benefits of sauna usage occur because of increased sweating. 

Many people don’t sweat very much, and this can cause problems because your skin acts as an important route of detoxification and helps you excrete heavy metals that are so prevalent in your modern environment. Common heavy metals in our environment include cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury (36, 37). 

A diagram demonstrating the negative effects of heavy metals on the body. Regular sauna use can help your body excrete heavy metals.

Lack of sweating may actually result in increased toxic load over time, which can negatively affect your brain and mental health.

Research shows that mercury poisoning from dental amalgam affects the mind and emotions and plays a role in the development of mental illness (1). 

But by sweating frequently in a sauna, you can enhance your detoxification pathways and help your body remove mercury (2, 4). 

In fact, studies show that high mercury levels can be reduced to normal levels by using a sauna repeatedly (3). 

Researchers have concluded that “sweat-inducing sauna use can provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals and should be the initial and preferred treatment of patients with elevated mercury levels” (38). 

Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body.
— Researchers writing in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health

12. Saunas Increase Deep Sleep

Getting high-quality deep sleep is critical for optimal brain function and mental health. 

And using a sauna regularly is one way to improve it. 

Researchers in Finland report that sauna use is one of the factors that can result in deeper, more restful sleep (25). 

Some other ways to promote sleep include blocking out blue light before bed, taking this sleep supplement, lying on an acupressure mat, supplementing with magnesium, collagen and melatonin if necessary, and blacking  out your room with curtains or wearing a sleep mask.

13. Saunas Support Thyroid Function

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple, and lots of research shows that thyroid dysfunction can contribute to mental health problems

One of the main threats to the health of your thyroid is non-biological halogens. These include bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water.

An illustration showing the thyroid gland.

Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference these halogens and iodine, a trace mineral necessary for proper thyroid function.

Your thyroid soaks up the halogens and uses them like iodine. By occupying iodine receptors, they inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones, and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

But don’t worry – sauna use can help your body excrete halogens (69). 

The more you can excrete the halogens, the more your body will be able to use iodine to produce thyroid hormones.

I also recommend reducing your exposure by 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. 

Check out this post for more ways to support your thyroid. 

Conclusion

As you can see, saunas have a number of beneficial effects on the brain and can help you manage and overcome your mental health challenges. 

I’ve been doing a lot of research into saunas recently and have concluded that infrared saunas have additional benefits and are much more gentle and effective than the traditional “hot rock” saunas.

Unfortunately, most infrared saunas emit unsafe levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

However, I did find a company that has a patent on low-EMF infrared saunas. Their saunas are also very well built and have a lifetime warranty. So I'm going to go with one of their saunas. You can get one here

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2618948

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22315626/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312275/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218899/

(5) http://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2009/624894/abs/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504526/

(7) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322303001811

(8) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0896627391902733

(9) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432812006997

(10) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899306027144

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25568448

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC23964/

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC23964/

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21385602

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20594764

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15234248

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17314279

(19) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00691246

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25748743

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15992574/

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3363395

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25636135

(27) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0041851

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3002937

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8061252

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218898

(33) https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/internalmedicine/47/16/47_16_1473/_pdf

(34) https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/internalmedicine/47/16/47_16_1473/_article

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21742283

(36) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(37) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(38) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(41) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00691246

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15234248

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4008413

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12621106

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18396259

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3788622

(50) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(53) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3002937

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8061252

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218898

(56) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9103537

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27172277

(58) http://blogs.webmd.com/mental-health/2016/07/can-sitting-in-a-sauna-ease-depression.html

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16046381

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1607735

(61) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/02656739209021785?journalCode=ihyt20

(62) http://digital.library.okstate.edu/etd/umi-okstate-1543.pdf

(63) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24598707/

(64) https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article-abstract/46/2/245/2654230/Sauna-bathing-is-inversely-associated-with

(65) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161216114143.htm

(66) http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/01/20/sweating-in-sauna-might-help-keep-brain-healthy-finnish-study.html

(67) http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/studies-show-saunas-can-protect-against-heart-brain-diseases-1.3232765

(68) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201612/frequent-sauna-use-may-reduce-risk-dementia-study-finds

(69) http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2016/09/09/sauna-bathing.aspx

(70) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/04/detoxification-program.aspx

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

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13 Powerful Ways to Support Your Thyroid for Better Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture of thyroid gland.

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

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

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

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Low mood

  • Forgetfulness

  • Weakness

  • Sluggishness

Sounds just like depression, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar disorder, mania and mood swings

  • Irritability and rage

  • Insomnia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis

  • Dementia and confusion

  • Social anxiety disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Borderline personality disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1. Cut Out Gluten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Eat Enough Calories and Carbohydrates

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

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

Person holding potatoes in their hands.

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

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

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

  • Yams

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Other root vegetables

  • Berries

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Raw honey

3. Avoid Vegetable Oils

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

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

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

And your thyroid is particularly vulnerable to their effects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recommend this coconut oil

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

5. Try Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Get Enough Vitamin A and D

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Get Enough Minerals

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

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

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

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

Brazil nuts contain selenium, which can support your thyroid.

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

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

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

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

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

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium. 

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

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

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

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

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8. Reduce Stress and Cortisol

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

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

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

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

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

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

Person meditating outside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Take Thyroid-Supporting Herbs

A number of different herbs can assist your thyroid gland. 

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

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

Forskolin stimulates the release of thyroid hormones (31). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Eat “Head to Tail”

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

The same can be said about animal food. 

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

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

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

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

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

Jars of bone broth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Limit Halogens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Avoid Environmental and Dietary Mycotoxins

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

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

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

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

Very moldy home and man trying to clean it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. Avoid and Remove Other Environmental Toxins

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

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

Here are some common ones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary and Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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

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