20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s not a defect in your personality. 

As I’m sure you know, it’s often caused by physiological changes in your body and brain.

So you need to think of it like any other illness. 

If you have a broken bone, you need to wear a cast to stabilize the bone while it heals. 

And if you have depression, you need to be kind to yourself, as you seek and address the underlying root causes. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless. 

I used to think that I’d be depressed forever.

That my depression was simply genetic, and I couldn’t do anything about it. 

In fact, I accepted that notion for a while.

I felt defeated and hopeless, and thought I'd feel that way for my entire life.

I told myself I’d simply have to rely on drugs to survive because that’s just “how I’m wired”. 

But then one day, I changed my mind and decided that I’d had enough. 

And I was actually going to get to the bottom of it instead of just accepting it.

I took action and searched far and wide for safer and healthier solutions to deal with my depression.

I came across research that wasn’t even considered by my psychiatrist.

Therapies that they said wouldn’t work.

But then they did.

And I overcome my depression for good. 

One of my most important discoveries was that nutrient deficiencies can make your depression worse. 

And they could even be the root cause of it. 

It made so much sense.

But why hadn’t my doctors ever brought it up?

I delved deeper into the scientific literature, and I found MANY nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to depression.

I started increasing my intake of them.

And I got better.

Much better.

This new post includes 20 nutrient deficiencies that could be making you feel depressed.

It boggles my mind that many conventional psychiatrists ignore this research.

But that doesn’t mean you need to. 

Read on to learn more. 

Depressed woman holds her forehead and wonders what nutrients she’s deficient in.

1. 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 fight depression.

Several studies have shown that depressive patients have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (1-3).

Researchers even conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies, and they found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids were significantly lower in people with depression (4). 

They concluded that having a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is a “contributing factor to mood disorders” (5). 

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:

Piece of cooked salmon on a plate. This salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids that can help fight depression.
  • 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 one.

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

This isn’t surprising because plenty of research shows that omega-3 supplements are effective at treating clinical depression – just as effective as antidepressants drugs – because they lower inflammation in the brain (6-10). 

2. 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.

And 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 (16-22). 

And B12 levels tend to be significantly lower in people who are depressed (13). 

In one study, subjects with Vitamin B12 deficiency were 2 times as likely to be severely depressed as non-deficient subjects (15). 

Even a mild decrease in B12 levels is associated with mood disturbances (14). 

Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re not deficient. 

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is an excellent source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver.

You may also want to supplement with Vitamin B12 because studies show that B12 supplementation significantly lowers homocysteine levels and reduces depressive symptoms (23-24). 

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.

I take this B complex supplement regularly, and it includes methyl-B12.

3. Vitamin D (and Vitamin K2)

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

Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including depression.

Researchers have found a very strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression (27-28). 

The lower your Vitamin D levels, the more symptoms of depression you are likely to have (35). 

Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (25). 

Sunlight shining through trees in a forest. Sunlight gives us Vitamin D, one of the main nutrient deficiencies that can cause depression.

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (26). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight.

It’s especially important to make sure you get some sunlight in the morning to set your circadian rhythm. 

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

That’s why I recommend using a Vitamin D lamp. I use this one.

Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement

I now prefer sunlight and the lamp to get my Vitamin D, but research does show that taking a Vitamin D3 supplement is effective at reducing symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (29-31). 

This is likely because Vitamin D increases the production of numerous neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (32-34). 

Lastly, if you decide to supplement with Vitamin D3, you should consider taking it with Vitamin K2

A recent study found that Vitamin K2 reduces depression in animals (36). 

And Vitamin K2 is known to improve brain function in humans (37-38). 

4. 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 today.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity. 

Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including depression (42). 

In fact, researchers have found that people with depression have lower magnesium levels than healthy people (49). 

They’ve also found a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression (43). 

On top of this, animal research shows that removing magnesium from their diet results in depressive-like symptoms (50). 

So if you’re struggling with depression, it’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium so that you don’t have a deficiency.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

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

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

I also highly recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement

A number of studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce depressive symptoms in humans – sometimes within 7 days (44-48). 

I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

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

5. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health.

Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning.

Mounting evidence suggests a link between zinc deficiency and the development and severity of depression (66-68, 76).  

Depressed patients tend to have lower levels of zinc. And as their zinc levels drop, their depressive symptoms get worse (81-84). 

An image of zinc-rich foods, including pumpkin seeds of cashews. Zinc is one mineral that can help fight depression. Many people with depression often have low levels of zinc.

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (63-65). 

So, if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient, and you’ll definitely want to optimize your zinc levels. 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include:

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

However, if you’re deficient like I was, I recommend taking a high-quality zinc supplement, at least for a short period of time. 

A meta-analysis and several studies have concluded that zinc supplementation has antidepressant effects and significantly reduces symptoms of depression. One way it improves mood is by significantly increasing BDNF levels (69-75, 77-80).

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

Check out my previous post all about zinc if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels.

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6. Folate

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 (55-56). 

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 do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (54).

And supplementation is often needed. 

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a 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 (51-53). 

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.

And the research backs up the use of methylfolate.

In one study, patients with depression took methylfolate for 6 months, and they witnessed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms (57). 

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (58). 

Methylfolate can be effective at treating depression because it helps lower homocysteine levels, helps produce serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain (59-62). 

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. Or you can take it separately if you’d like. 

7. Vitamin B6

Having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can also contribute to your depression.

It’s a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.

It can boost your mood because it plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and dopamine. It also lowers homocysteine

Research shows that people with depressive symptoms tend to have low levels of Vitamin B6 (85-87). 

A Vitamin B6 deficiency also contributes to chronic inflammation, which is one of the main underlying root causes of depression (88). 

A bunch of foods rich in Vitamin B6, including chicken, beef, bananas and potatoes. Vitamin B6 is one nutrient that can help you overcome depression.

Fortunately, consuming more Vitamin B6 can help. 

One study found that women that eat more foods containing Vitamin B6 have a lower risk of depression (89). 

Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken. 

But supplementation is often necessary to see quick improvements. 

One study found that supplementing with Vitamin B6 can reduce depressive symptoms by lowering homocysteine levels (90). 

When I took antidepressants for depression, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with Vitamin B6.

This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing depression in the long run. 

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Vitamin C

Having low levels of Vitamin C can also make you feel depressed.

Researchers have found that poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression (105). 

Animal research also shows that a Vitamin C deficiency can lead to low levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which causes mice to act depressed (106-107). 

As you probably know, Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 grams of this Vitamin C every day. 

I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily, and it definitely improved my mood and reduced my stress levels, especially when I was coming off antidepressants

Research backs this up, showing that supplementing with Vitamin C can actually improve mood in both unhealthy and healthy individuals (95, 102-103). 

Various other studies show that Vitamin C supplements reduce stress and anxiety and decrease the severity of depression (96-101, 104).

Studies even show that Vitamin C can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants (108-109). 

9. Thiamine

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

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

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system (167). 

Research shows that lower levels of Vitamin B1 are associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (168).

Vitamin B1 deficiency is also known to lead to irritability and symptoms of depression (170). 

Some doctors and researchers believe that postpartum depression is sometimes simply a Vitamin B1 deficiency (169). 

Luckily, consuming more Vitamin B1 can help.

An assorted mix of nuts. Nuts are a rich source of thiamine, or Vitamin B1. People with depression often have low levels of Vitamin B1.

A randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Vitamin B1 supplementation reduces symptoms of depression within 6 weeks (171). 

And another concluded that Vitamin B1 supplementation improves mood, reduces brain fog, and speeds up reaction time (172).

In fact, researchers have even found that subjects’ mood improves if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood increases, and that the opposite occurs if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood decreases (173). 

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

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

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

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is an amino acid found in nearly every cell of the body. It plays a vital role in the production of energy.

Researchers have found significantly lower levels of carnitine in patients with depression. And their low carnitine levels are associated with the severity of their depression (11-12, 174-175). 

Carnitine is mainly found in meat, fish and poultry.

But you can also supplement with it. 

I recommend Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), an acetylated form of carnitine. It’s best supplemental form of carnitine. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.

But it’s also been shown to be very effective at quickly improving mood and treating depression (179-182). 

Six randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that ALCAR is better at treating depression than placebo (177). 

And two other studies found that ALCAR improved depressive symptoms in patients with chronic depression, and it was just as effective as antidepressant medications, but with less side effects (176, 178). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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11. Iron

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.

It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale, irritable and foggy

Sounds like depression doesn’t it?

Several studies show that iron deficiency increases the risk of developing depression and increases the severity of depression (184-186, 188-190). 

A spoonful of spirulina. Spirulina is rich in iron. Iron is one nutrient deficiency that can cause depression.

Researchers have also conducted a meta-analysis and found that high iron intake reduces the chance of developing depression (183). 

In one study, iron supplementation resulted in a 25% improvement in depressive symptoms (187). 

Despite this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron though because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems.

It’s definitely preferable to get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.

Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I go with the capsules. You can get them here or here.

Other good sources of iron include:

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

12. Selenium

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

Researchers have found that depression is associated with low levels of selenium (191). 

But supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase selenium levels and improve symptoms of depression (192). 

Other research shows that selenium intake is associated with a general elevation of mood (193). 

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

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

13. Riboflavin

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.  

A handful of almonds. Almonds are an excellent source of Vitamin B2, a nutrient that is commonly depleted in people with depression.

As a result, a Vitamin B2 deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and depression.

In fact, lower levels of Vitamin B2 have been found in people with depression (91). 

Researchers have also found that Vitamin B2 consumption decreases risk of postpartum depression (92). 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B2 include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds

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

If you’d like, you can also supplement with Vitamin B2.

Studies show that supplementing with Vitamin B2 helps lower homocysteine and reduces depressive symptoms (93-94). 

Vitamin B2 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement. 

14. Coenzyme Q10

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

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

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10 (110). 

Research shows that CoQ10 levels are reduced in people with depression and chronic fatigue (111). 

One study also found that CoQ10 regulates serotonin levels and depressive symptoms in fibromyalgia patients (117). 

CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to improve fatigue and reduce depression symptom severity (112-114). 

It also displays antidepressant-like activity in animals (115-116). 

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. It can be used if you have a CoQ10 deficiency. I took CoQ10 when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

15. Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA) is an uncommon fatty acid.

Vials of Borage Oil, a fat that is rich in DGLA. DGLA has anti-inflammatory effects and can help beat depression.

It’s made in the body by the elongation of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).

But small amounts can also be found in animal products (118). 

Last year, researchers found that people with depression are more likely to have low levels of DGLA levels (121). 

And increasing DGLA levels may lower the risk of developing depression (122). 

DGLA also has anti-inflammatory effects in the body (119). 

So it makes sense that levels would be low in depressed individuals because an increasing amount of evidence suggests that depression is a chronic inflammatory disease. 

DGLA can be increased by supplementing with dietary GLA (120). 

GLA can be found in Borage Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Blackcurrant Seed Oil (123). 

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16. Inositol

Inositol is a naturally-occurring molecule found in nearly all plants and animals. It plays a key role in various biological processes.

The brain has the highest concentration of inositol, where it plays an important role making neurotransmitters (124). 

Inositol can be found in many foods, particularly fruit, especially cantaloupe and oranges (125). 

It used to be considered a B Vitamin, called Vitamin B8. But it currently is no longer considered an essential nutrient because your body can produce inositol from glucose (126). 

But I’m including it in this list anyway because individuals with depression have very low levels of inositol in their brains (127-129). 

And inositol supplementation has been shown to increase inositol levels and help treat depression (130, 132). 

It can also reduce symptoms of depression in women with premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (131, 133). 

It’s even been shown to help patients who have discontinued their antidepressant medication (134). 

I took high doses of this inositol powder when weening off psychiatric medication.

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex.

Check out my full post about inositol to learn more about the benefits. 

Fun fact: Inositol is also used as a stand-in for cocaine in television shows and movies. 

17. Manganese

Manganese is an important trace mineral for human health. It acts as a cofactor, helping many enzymes carry out their functions in the body.

A table of foods that have high levels of manganese. Manganese deficiency can cause depression and make depression worse.

Research shows that having low levels of manganese can contribute to the development of depression (135). 

One study found that depressed patients had significantly lower levels of “manganese superoxide dismutase”, which is a manganese-dependent enzyme (136). 

Researchers have also found that women with higher manganese intake had a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms (137). 

Hazelnuts and macadamia nuts contain high levels of manganese, while leafy green vegetables, tea, chocolate and some fruits contain moderate levels (139). 

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t consume too much manganese.

In excess, manganese is neurotoxic and can lead to manganism, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes dopaminergic neuronal death and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease (138). 

So I definitely don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of manganese. 

The small amount of manganese in Optimal Antiox is fine though. It’s what I take. 

18. Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, suggesting that it’s very important.

It’s also one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier.

Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning the body can usually produce sufficient amounts of it. But sometimes the body uses up so much glutamine that it becomes necessary to obtain it from the diet or supplements, particularly during periods of illness, stress, inflammation and injuries (156-157). 

Researchers have found that depressed adults have reduced levels of glutamine (158). 

And glutamine deficiency has been shown to increase depressive-like behaviour in animals (159). 

But glutamine supplementation has “clear anti-depressive properties” and has been shown to improve mood (160-161). 

High levels of glutamine can be found in protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, fish and eggs. Beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, brussel sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso also contain some glutamine.

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

Glutamine is also available in supplement form. 

Glutamine was one of the main supplements that helped me heal my leaky gut, but I no longer need to take it regularly. 

19. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. It must be consumed through diet or by taking supplements. 

Some healthy foods that contain tryptophan include bananas, chicken, turkey and dark chocolate (140). 

A doctor is talking to a turkey and says “I think I know what is causing your narcolepsy. You’re full of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can make you sleepy, but it can also improve mood and help treat depression.

Tryptophan helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in the brain, which then produces serotonin (141-142). 

Researchers have found that depressed patients have significantly lower levels of tryptophan in their blood than healthy control subjects (143-144). 

Studies also show that depressed patients have a decreased ratio of tryptophan to neutral amino acids in their blood. This suggests that tryptophan availability to the brain is likely reduced in depressed patients (145-146). 

Personally, supplementing with tryptophan never helped me. In fact, it always seemed to make me worse. It gave me asthma and acne and increased my depression.  

This is because depressed patients sometimes have problems creating serotonin from tryptophan. Instead, they create other metabolites from tryptophan, such as quinolinic acid, which can be toxic. For depressed patients like me, tryptophan supplementation won’t help, and may actually make their depression worse (150-151). 

However, some people do see their mood improve when they increase their intake of tryptophan. So it shouldn’t be completely disregarded. 

There are studies that show that consuming a high tryptophan diet and consuming additional dietary tryptophan can increase mood and lead to significantly less depressive symptoms (152-154). 

So supplementing with tryptophan is worth a shot if you’re struggling with depression and haven’t tried it yet. Just be aware of possible side effects. 

If you want, you can also try supplementing with 5-HTP instead of tryptophan. 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin. 

5-HTP is included in this supplement

20. Glutathione

Glutathione is a small peptide made up of 3 important amino acids – glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine – each of which have several important roles in the human body.

Glutathione is found in the food supply and within the human body, where it acts as an antioxidant. It is used by every cell in the body.

It’s technically not an “essential nutrient” because the body can create it.

However, it’s still very important, and a glutathione deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in a number of diseases, including depression.

Studies show that patients with depression have significantly lower levels of glutathione. And the lower a person’s glutathione levels, the more depressed they are likely to be (162-164). 

Some practitioners and researchers have found that increasing glutathione intake and levels can successfully treat depression (165). 

Glutathione is also able to prevent behavioural depression in animals (166). 

It’s important to note that standard glutathione supplements are not very effective at increasing glutathione levels because they are not well absorbed by the body.

But I have found that high-quality liposomal glutathione supplements are effective. 

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is another tried-and-true way of increasing glutathione levels because it’s the direct precursor to glutathione

Garlic, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, can also help boost glutathione levels, but liposomal glutathione and NAC supplements are more powerful. 

Other supplements that have been shown to help increase and maintain optimal glutathione levels include Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and S-adenosyl-methionine (Sam-E)

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

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7 Important Nutrients Depleted by Psychiatric Drugs

There is no biological free lunch.
— Tim Ferriss
Bottle of psychiatric drugs and fruits and vegetables.

If you try to cheat nature, it will backfire. 

By managing symptoms with synthetic man-made drugs, you may feel better for a while. But once you stop those drugs, you will end up with more symptoms than you started with.

I experienced this firsthand. 

When I was on SSRI antidepressants and Adderall, I felt better initially.

But then something just didn’t feel right.

I started suffering from cognitive decline, something I hadn't experienced before.

I eventually got fed up with the medication and tried getting off of them.

But then I felt remarkably worse – much worse than I did before starting the medication.

Doctors simply told me I was experiencing a relapse of my depression and anxiety.

But that couldn’t be it, because not only were my symptoms much worse, but I also had new symptoms - symptoms I didn't experience before I went on medication.

So I did some research, and discovered something called “drug-induced nutrient depletion”.

Studies show that pharmaceutical drugs can deplete your body of critical nutrients through multiple mechanisms, including increased excretion of vitamins and minerals, and impaired digestion, absorption and storage of nutrients. Over time, nutritional deficiencies can develop. And these deficiencies can cause additional symptoms and increase side effects. In fact, many drug "side effects" are simply nutritional deficiencies. 

This is clearly a problem because, as I’ve discussed before, nutrient deficiencies can be one of the main causes of mental illness. Being prescribed medication which then further depletes vitamins and minerals from your body will make you worse. It’s an epidemic that seems to be ignored by the conventional medical system. 

Citrus fruits and prescription pills.

You may even develop new symptoms or side effects months or years after starting a medication because it takes time for nutrients to be depleted from your body. So both you and your doctor may not make the connection between the original medication and new symptoms. 

These additional symptoms and “side effects” are often diagnosed as a new disease, leading to a new prescription, which further depletes nutrients. 

So it’s clearly a downward spiral where you could end up being on multiple medications. 

At my worst, I was on four psychiatric medications. Thankfully I'm off them all now and very healthy. 

But this article discusses the seven key nutrients that are commonly depleted by psychiatric medication, and how you can replenish them, minimize side effects and feel better. 

Your drug package insert won’t list these deficiencies, and your doctor is definitely not aware of them.

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1. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 is a molecule found in every cell of your body and plays a key role in the production of energy. 

It’s also an antioxidant and protects your body and brain from free radical damage. 

Higher levels of CoQ10 have a “significant antidepressant effect” in rats because of its “well-documented antioxidant effect”. This makes sense considering the increasing amount of scientific literature suggesting that oxidative stress contributes to depression.

Unfortunately, studies show that a number of psychiatric medications including antidepressants, deplete CoQ10.

Low levels of CoQ10 can cause brain fog, mental fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, depression and irritability.

Other deficiency symptoms can include increased blood pressure, muscle cramps, high blood sugar, and shortness of breath. 

That’s why I recommend supplementing with at least 100 mg of CoQ10 if you take one of the medications below, which have been proven to deplete CoQ10:

  • Antipsychotics - Aripiprazole (Abilify), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Risperidone (Risperdal), Olanzapine (Zyrexa), Haloperidol (Haldol), Paliperidone (Invega), Ziprasidone (Geodon)

  • Antidepressants - Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Bupropion (Wellbutrin), Mirtazapine (Remeron), Venlafaxine (Effexor), Amitriptyline (Elavil), Doxepin (Adapin), Imipramine (Tofranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), Nortriptyline (Aventyl), Protriptyline (Vivactil)

You can get CoQ10 here.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. This includes neurotransmitter, enzyme, and hormonal activity, all of which can have a huge effect on your mood and brain function.

It’s one of the most important nutrients for optimal brain health, and reduces anxiety, depression and irritability. Yet, many people are deficient in magnesium today and may experience the following symptoms because of it:

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Muscle weakness, cramps, tremors, and spasms

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Insomnia

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Heart arrhythmias

  • Osteoporosis

  • Nausea

Interestingly, these symptoms sound very similar to the list of side effects of many common common psychiatric medications.

And research has shown that the following psychiatric medications deplete magnesium from your body, increasing the likeliness of developing a deficiency:

  • Antidepressants - Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Venlafaxine (Effexor)

  • Central nervous stimulants - amphetamine (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta), atomoxetine (Strattera), dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)

Inadequate magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems. This includes depression, anxiety, insomnia, seizures, ADHD, pain, schizophrenia, irritability, premenstrual syndrome, drug abuse, and short-term memory and IQ loss. Case studies have shown that patients with schizophrenia or major depression who have attempted suicide had significantly lower levels of magnesium in their cerebrospinal fluid. 

Maybe doctors should consider prescribing magnesium – something that actually gets to the root cause of these conditions – rather than giving out medications that cover up symptoms and actually make the underlying condition worse. Just a thought.

So if you have mental health condition, or take medication to deal with it, I'm convinced you should be supplementing with magnesium every single day. I take 200 mg of this magnesium supplement before bed. You can get it here.

Besides supplementation, you should make sure to eat lots of food with magnesium, including avocados, almonds, pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, spinach, dark chocolate, halibut and beets. 

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Baby sleeping under a blanket.

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

It is critical for deep and restorative sleep, which is necessary for optimal brain and mental health. 

Yet many psychiatric medications can deplete your supply of melatonin, increase your need for melatonin, or interfere with the activity of melatonin. This can lead to insomnia at night and fatigue during the day, which are common side effects of psychotropic medication. You may also experience frequent waking throughout the night.

Here are some of the drugs shown to affect melatonin:

  • Antidepressants, including Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Venlafaxine (Effexor)

  • Benzodiazepines, including Diazepam (Valium), clorazepate (‎Tranxene), lorazepam (Ativan), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Antipsychotics including Aripiprazole (Abilify), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Risperidone (Risperdal), Olanzapine (Zyrexa), Haloperidol (Haldol), Paliperidone (Invega), Ziprasidone (Geodon)

If you take one of these drugs, you should consider supplementing with melatonin every night. If you don’t take medication, it is still a safe and effective way to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. You can get melatonin here.

You can also consider taking this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and a number of natural compounds that increase the production of melatonin naturally. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount. 

4. Vitamin B2

Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.  

As a result, a deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and skin and thyroid problems. 

The following drugs can inhibit the absorption of vitamin B2, increasing your need for supplementation:

  • Antipsychotics including Aripiprazole (Abilify), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Risperidone (Risperdal), Olanzapine (Zyrexa), Haloperidol (Haldol), Paliperidone (Invega), Ziprasidone (Geodon)

  • Anticonvulsants and Mood Stabilizers, including Phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), Primidone (Mysoline), Methsuxamide (Elontin), Valproic acid (Depakote), topiramate (Topomax) and Gabapentin (Neurontin)

  • Antidepressants, including Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Bupropion (Wellbutrin), Mirtazapine (Remeron), Venlafaxine (Effexor), Amitriptyline (Elavil), Doxepin (Adapin), Imipramine (Tofranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), Nortriptyline (Aventyl), Protriptyline (Vivactil)

Lower levels of vitamin B2 have been found in people with depression, so giving them psychiatric medications can actually make them feel worse in the long run. 

To help yourself, you can supplement with Vitamin B2

When I was on medication, I took this Vitamin B2 supplement through Amazon.

I now take the Optimal Zinc supplement because it includes Vitamin B2.

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B2 include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds. 

5. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is a key nutrient that boosts mood, deepens sleep, and supports your entire nervous system. 

It accomplishes this by playing a key role in the production of many neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin, GABA and dopamine

But since psychiatric medications alter these neurotransmitters, vitamin B6 levels can be affected as well. 

When I took antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with vitamin B6.

This is because multiple medications have been shown to deplete Vitamin B6:

Fruits and vegetables displayed to show the letter B and the number 6. Vitamin B6 is depleted by psychiatric drugs.
  • Antidepressants, including Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Bupropion (Wellbutrin), Mirtazapine (Remeron), Venlafaxine (Effexor), Amitriptyline (Elavil), Doxepin (Adapin), Imipramine (Tofranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), Nortriptyline (Aventyl), Protriptyline (Vivactil).

  • Benzodiazepines, including Diazepam (Valium), clorazepate (‎Tranxene), lorazepam (Ativan), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Alprazolam (Xanax)

So if you take one of the above medications, I highly recommend supplementing with Vitamin B6

I previously took 100 mg of this Vitamin B6 supplement when I was on medication. 

But I now take the Optimal Zinc supplement because it includes both Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B2. 

Drugs that deplete vitamin B2 will also indirectly deplete vitamin B6 because B2 is required to activate B6:

  • Antipsychotics including Aripiprazole (Abilify), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Risperidone (Risperdal), Olanzapine (Zyrexa), Haloperidol (Haldol), Paliperidone (Invega), Ziprasidone (Geodon)

  • Anticonvulsants and Mood Stabilizers, including Phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), Primidone (Mysoline), Methsuxamide (Elontin), Valproic acid (Depakote), topiramate (Topomax) and Gabapentin (Neurontin)

Symptoms of B6 deficiency include weakness, mental confusion, depression, insomnia and severe PMS symptoms. 

Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken.

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6. Vitamin B12 and 7. Folate

Vitamin B12 and folate are essential B vitamins that play a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.

If you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of B12 and folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate and B12 are at greater risk for developing depression

Yet, instead of looking at folate and B12 levels in the blood, doctors often prescribe all sorts of psychiatric medications that have been shown to deplete folate and B12, including:

  • Antidepressants – Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Bupropion (Wellbutrin), Mirtazapine (Remeron), Venlafaxine (Effexor), Amitriptyline (Elavil), Doxepin (Adapin), Imipramine (Tofranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), Nortriptyline (Aventyl), Protriptyline (Vivactil)

  • Benzodiazepines – Diazepam (Valium), clorazepate (‎Tranxene), lorazepam (Ativan), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Antipsychotics including Aripiprazole (Abilify), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Risperidone (Risperdal), Olanzapine (Zyrexa), Haloperidol (Haldol), Paliperidone (Invega), Ziprasidone (Geodon)

  • Anticonvulsants and Mood Stabilizers, including Lithium (Lithobid), Phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), Primidone (Mysoline), Methsuxamide (Elontin), Valproic acid (Depakote), topiramate (Topomax) and Gabapentin (Neurontin)

B12 and folate deficiency can lead to an inability to methylate properly and increased homocysteine levels. This can worsen your depression, irritability, fatigue, confusion and forgetfulness. 

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid. Instead, you should take a biologically active form of folate (methylfolate). 

I take methylfolate. It's the most effective supplemental form of folate. Many people, including myself, have genetic mutations in the enzyme that produces l-methylfolate in the body. Folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation. 

Methylfolate also helps produce SAM-e in the body, which can help fight depression and improve your mood. 

If you decide to supplement with B12, you should avoid the semisynthetic version (cyanocobalamin) and take the methylated form (methyl-B12), which is better absorbed. 

Both methyfolate and methyl-B12 are included in this B complex. Or you can take them separately. 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries. B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is a really good source. 

More

Here are some more nutrients that have been shown to be depleted by psychiatric medication. Reduced levels do appear in the research - just not as consistently as the nutrients above - so supplementation should still be considered:

  • Vitamin D – Antidepressants, Benzodiazepines, Antipsychotics, Mood Stabilizers

  • Vitamin B1 – Benzodiazepines, Antipsychotics

  • Biotin – Benzodiazepines, Antipsychotics, Mood Stabilizers

  • Essential Fatty Acids, including Omega-3s – Antidepressants

  • Sodium (add sea salt to meals) – Antidepressants

  • Glutathione – Antidepressants

  • Calcium – Benzodiazepines, Antipsychotics, Antidepressants, Mood Stabilizers

  • Vitamin K – Benzodiazepines, Antipsychotics, Mood Stabilizers

  • Vitamin C – Antidepressants, Stimulants (Adderall), Antipsychotics

  • Inositol – Mood Stabilizers, Antipsychotics

  • Vitamin B3 – Antidepressants

  • Potassium – Stimulants (Adderall)

  • Vitamin A – Antipsychotics

  • Carnitine – Antipsychotics

  • Various minerals (Zinc, Selenium and Manganese) – Antidepressants

Conclusion

The bottom line is that the medication you may be consuming to manage your mental health actually reduces nutrient absorption, and can rob your body and brain of essential vitamins and minerals. This can lead to unwanted side effects and declining health.

On top of this, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are actually a huge underlying cause of mental health issues to begin with. 

Luckily, you can avoid side effects, and even control and overcome chronic mental disease without medication, by restoring these missing nutrients:

If I had simply been prescribed these nutrients, I wouldn’t have needed medication. Instead, I was given a prescription that made my underlying deficiencies worse, and dug me into a deeper mental health hole.

If you have to take a prescribed drug, you can offset many of the side effects and experience much better health by supplementing with the above nutrients. 

So why isn’t this information passed on to patients who are taking psychiatric drugs? Because unfortunately, almost all doctors are unaware that medications can deplete nutritional reserves.

So for now, you’ll just have to be aware of drug-nutrient depletions yourself. 

If you’re interested in learning more, there are several handbooks and resources in the reference section of this article, including the Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook and The Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs

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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:

Pelton, Lavalle, Hawkins, Krinsky. Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook. Lexi-Comp; 2nd Ed., 2001

Pelton R Lavalle. The Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs. Morton Publishing Co, 2nd Ed., 2004

Vaglini F, Fox B. The Side Effects Bible: The Dietary Solution to Unwanted Side Effects of Common Medications. Broadway, 2005.

A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition: Improve Your Health and Avoid Side Effects When Using Common Medications and Natural Supplements Together

Kishi T, et al, “Inhibition of myocardial respiration by psychotherapeutic drugs and prevention by coenzymeQ,” Biomedical and clinical aspects of coenzyme Q, Yamamura Y, Folkers K, and Ito Y, eds, Elsevier/NorthHollandBiomedical Press: Amsterdam, 1980, vol2, 129-154.

Prescription for Nutritional Healing, third edition, (2000, Balch & Balch)

https://tantor-site-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/bonus-content/B0592_DrugMuggers/B0592_DrugMuggers_PDF_1.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7728363

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8848522

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1289919

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6262379

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7150370

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6705444

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6626265

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6737696

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6167651

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1578091

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9155210

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10896698

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7150370

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10746516

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9861593

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16542786

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11041381

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9368236

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18705537

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16542786

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17568057

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/635065

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22081620

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23313551

https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/melatonin

http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=107&pid=33&gid=000712

http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=107&pid=33&gid=000706

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00048670802534408

http://www.naturemade.com/~/media/Images/NatureMade/PDF/Health%20Care%20Professionals/HCP%20Updates%20042315/Common%20Drug%20Classes%20and%20Nutrient%20Interactions%20Chart%20FNL.ashx

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This Mineral Is Probably Making Your Chronic Stress and Anxiety Worse

Stressed and anxious woman grabbing her head and hair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nutrient Therapy

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

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

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

 

The Intricate Balance between Zinc and Copper

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

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

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

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

Copper and zinc balancing each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Practical Takeaways: What Should You Do To Combat This?

Woman confused and thinking about what she should do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 36 Best Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

Dopamine makes you happier, smarter, more productive, more creative, more focused, and more social.

Who doesn't want that? 

There are many ways to increase dopamine naturally.

But what are the VERY BEST ways to do it?

This article gives you the answer. 

It includes the 36 very best ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain.

It starts off with my 10 personal favourites.

And then offers 26 other great options. 

Not only do they work, but many of them work very quickly.

Read on to learn more. 

Natural-Ways-to-Increase-Dopamine-Levels-in-the-Brain-naturally-how-to-boost-sources-release-produce-raise-receptors-supplements-foods-sensitivity-fast-quickly-density-production-synthesis-instantly-what-will-intelligence-which-vitamins-herbs-essential-oils-diet-depression-adhd-parkinsons-prefrontal-cortex-lobe-causes-effects-gain-energy-motivation-focus-mood-adderall-amino-acids-creativity-concentration-d2-now-without-drugs-medication-otc-safely

What Is Dopamine and What Does It Do in the Brain?

Dopamine may be the secret to what makes us human – meaning awfully bright, able to plan ahead, and resist impulses when necessary.
— Dr. Emily Deans

Dopamine influences almost every aspect of your life.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, meaning it’s a chemical messenger released by neurons (nerve cells) to “communicate” with other neurons (236). 

Like all neurotransmitters, dopamine shuttles between cells and binds to receptors.

In the media and popular culture, dopamine is often promoted as the main pleasure neurotransmitter.   

But dopamine actually appears to increase desire and motivation more than pleasure.

In fact, it’s often called the “motivation molecule”. 

The brain includes several dopamine pathways, and they play a key role in reward, motivation, memory and attention (233-235). 

So not surprisingly, dopamine significantly impacts human behaviour.

And research shows that naturally increasing dopamine levels can lead to numerous benefits, including:

Conditions and Symptoms Associated with Low Levels of Dopamine in the Brain

Low levels of dopamine make people less likely to work for things.
— Dr. John Salamone

Research shows that low dopamine levels are associated with a number of brain and mental health conditions and symptoms, including:

Perhaps you struggle with one of these conditions or symptoms. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless.

You can naturally increase your dopamine levels and recapture your zest for life.

All you need to do is implement some of the natural strategies below.   

They can significantly improve your motivation, focus and mood.

They have helped me, and they can help you too. 

Let’s jump into them.

The chemical symbol for dopamine with smiley faces at the end of them.

My Top 10 Favourite Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

1. Sunlight and Vitamin D

Exposing yourself to sunshine is one of the best natural ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain. 

And it’s my personal favourite.

Research shows that sunlight increases dopamine release (4-5).

Woman looking towards the sun. Sunlight can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

I personally get sunlight every single day during the spring and summer months to increase dopamine. 

It’s important to get the sunlight in your eyes to trigger the release of dopamine. 

So make sure you don’t wear contacts, glasses or sunglasses when you go outside. This way, you’ll get a bigger dopamine boost. 

It’s especially important to do this in the morning because it sets your circadian rhythm (3). 

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

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

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun.

Researchers believe that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (6).

Having a deficiency in Vitamin D leads to lower dopamine levels, but treatment with Vitamin D3 enhances dopamine release (1-2). 

So at the very least, you should take a Vitamin D supplement if you’re deficient. 

2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body and part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

Research shows that chronic impairment of vagus nerve function leads to the inhibition of dopamine in the brain (7). 

But vagus nerve stimulation reverses a dysregulated dopamine system (8).

Read this article for 13 ways to stimulate your vagus nerve. 

Deep breathing with the EmWave2 device is my favourite way. 

3. Low-Level Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that can improve your brain function and support your dopamine levels.

LLLT involves the use of low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit red and infrared light.

You can shine this light on your head, it penetrates the skull and stimulates your brain cells.

This helps your brain function much better.

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

A man uses an LLLT helmet and intranasal Vielight device. LLLT can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Research shows that LLLT significantly increases the secretion of dopamine in the brain (12).

Several studies also show that LLLT is neuroprotective and protects dopaminergic brain cells from degeneration (13-21).

Because of this, researchers say LLLT is a promising therapeutic strategy for dopamine-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (12).

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

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

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

You can learn about how I use these devices in my LLLT article. I highly recommend reading it if you want to try this.

4. Rhodiola

Rhodiola is one of the most popular herbs in the world used to increase physical and mental performance.

It’s a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb, and it’s also sometimes called golden root or arctic root.

I previously wrote about rhodiola here

Researchers have found that rhodiola stimulates dopamine receptors and inhibits the enzymes that break down dopamine in the brain (22). 

It also increases the amount of dopamine precursors that can pass the blood brain barrier (23). 

I take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I want to boost my energy and cognitive function.

You can get it here or here

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5. Coffee

Drinking coffee is another great way to boost dopamine levels.

Research shows that caffeine increases the release of dopamine in the brain (26-27). 

Other studies have found that it also enhances dopamine signaling and increases dopamine receptors (24-25). 

I usually drink one cup of this coffee most mornings. I also sometimes take pure caffeine tablets before a workout.

A cup of coffee on a small plate. Coffee and caffeine increases dopamine levels in the brain.

Sometimes people find that coffee makes them feel terrible and jittery.

This might be due to the quality of the coffee. 

I find that low-quality, non-organic coffee makes me feel terrible.

In fact, cheap coffee feels like it lowers my dopamine.

Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine.

But if it makes you feel sick, consider trying Kicking Horse coffee, which I can tolerate just fine, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You may feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee.

Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it in the evening close to bed. Some people like me are really sensitive and have to stop drinking it very early in the day so that it doesn’t disrupt their sleep.

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 and don't feel great the next day.

Lastly, it's also a good idea to try to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of just coffee or pure caffeine

Traditionally, the coffee bean is extracted from the coffee fruit for roasting. And the surrounding fruit is discarded. 

But that’s a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

And researchers have found that consuming whole coffee fruit concentrate can significantly enhance cognitive functioning.  

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

6. Uridine

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.

Research shows that uridine significantly increases the release of dopamine and elevates dopamine levels (29-32).

It’s important to note that uridine in food is not bioavailable, and there isn’t any foods that have been shown to increase plasma levels of uridine unfortunately (28). 

So I take this uridine supplement sublingually, usually before bed. You can get it here or here.

7. Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to cold can also increase your dopamine levels naturally.

A man sitting outside in the freezing cold. Cold exposure can increase dopamine levels in your brain.

Researchers have found that cold water immersion increases dopamine by 250% (43-44). 

I take a cold shower every day.

During the winter, I’ll also go outside for short periods of time with hardly any clothes. It boosts my dopamine and increases my motivation.

You don’t have to be that extreme though.

You can start by finishing your next shower with one minutes of cold water.

See how it feels, and then over time, increase the amount of time you turn off the hot.

I can be a bit painful.

But the beneficial effects end up being worth it.

Another way is to stick your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.

Or you can try cold plunges, cold baths and even cryotherapy if you want!

Find what works best for you and do it regularly.

8. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite daily activity.

And research shows that it's linked to increases in dopamine (46-48). 

In one study, researchers used brain scan imaging to confirm that meditation naturally increases dopamine release by 65% (45).

It likely has these effects by stimulating the vagus nerve

I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. It makes meditation a lot more fun and tolerable.

I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website.

9. Ginseng

There are two types of ginseng that increase dopamine – American Ginseng and Siberian Ginseng.

American Ginseng has been shown to improve attention and cognitive processing by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain (93-94). 

Researchers have also found that Siberian Ginseng has antidepressant effects by significantly elevating dopamine levels in the brain (95). 

10. Citicoline and Alpha GPC

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

Choline is an essential nutrient for optimal brain health, but unfortunately that most people don’t consume enough of it.

Why?

Because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

Citicoline has been shown to enhance the synthesis of dopamine, increase the release of dopamine, and increase the density of dopamine receptors in the brain (136-142). 

It also protects brain cells that release dopamine, which then prevents a reduction in dopamine (143). 

Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (144). 

Citicoline and Alpha GPC significantly improve my focus and mental energy. That’s why they are both included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in beef liver and egg yolks, but it’s better to take Citicoline and Alpha GPC because you get noticeable and immediate benefits.

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Other Effective Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain

11. Take Dopamine Precursors

You can also increase your dopamine levels by giving your body the raw materials to create dopamine. 

It’s first important to understand that dopamine is created within the body from the amino acid Phenylalanine (149). 

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

Phenylalanine is converted into Tyrosine, which is converted into L-Dopa, which is then finally converted into dopamine (150). 

Vitamin B6 and iron are two nutrients that are needed for this conversion to take place.   

An image showing how phenylalanine is converted tyrosine and then to dopamine. Supplementing with phenylalanine and/or tyrosine can increase dopamine.

Both phenylalanine and tyrosine can be obtained from protein-rich foods.

Here are some healthy sources: 

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

You can also supplement directly with Phenylalanine, Tyrosine and/or L-Dopa, along with P-5-P and iron

Research shows that supplementing with these dopamine precursors can enhance cognitive performance by increasing dopamine levels in the brain (151-155). 

Mucuna Pruriens, a tropical plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, is good source of L-DOPA and has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (156-161). 

In my experience, Tyrosine and Mucuna Pruriens can sometimes be too stimulating and increase anxiety in some people.

So I prefer supplementing with DL-Phenylalanine because it has other mental health benefits besides increasing dopamine, and can actually reduce anxiety.  

12. Probiotics

Research suggests that certain probiotics can also increase dopamine.

One study found that the probiotic species Lactobacillus plantarum significantly increases dopamine.

An image of different cartoon bacteria.

Researchers concluded that daily intake of Lactobacillus plantarum may be able to help treat neuropsychiatric disorders (36). 

Another study found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus increases dopamine in the frontal cortex (37). 

I created and take the Optimal Biotics supplement to support my dopamine levels and mental health.

You can also read this older article for 4 other ways to increase your good gut bacteria. 

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 7 other probiotic strains that can help. 

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is a special form of the amino acid carnitine that helps reverse neurological decline and supports mitochondria function in the brain.

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it provides support to brain cells, enhances cognition, and increases alertness.

It’s also been shown to help reduce chronic fatigue and improve mood.

It does a lot.

So not surprisingly, researchers have also found that it increases dopamine output in the brain (42). 

I find that it gives me a big boost in mental energy and cognitive resilience.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

14. Acupuncture

A woman’s ear with acupuncture needles in it.

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Researchers have found that acupuncture increases the production of dopamine in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve (9). 

Other studies show that acupuncture enhances the availability of dopamine in the brain and normalizes the release of dopamine during withdrawal (10-11). 

I really like auricular acupuncture.

Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear.

It really helped me when I came off psychiatric medication. So I recommend finding a practitioner that provides it if you’re trying to get off medication as well.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I don’t really know why, I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

I also use this acupuncture mat at home to relax before bed.

15. Ginkgo Biloba

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

It’s one of the most popular natural supplements in the world, and it’s even prescribed by doctors in Germany.

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

Researchers have also discovered that it significantly increases dopamine levels in the brain (33-34). 

It increases the number of dopaminergic neurons in the brain as well (35). 

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

16. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a hormone naturally produced by the body.

But it can also be taken as a supplement.

It helps form almost all other steroid hormones in the body, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.

So it’s very important.

And since hormones affect brain health so much, it’s been shown to enhance memory and reduce stress-induced fatigue.

Research shows that it also increases dopamine release in the brain (38). 

Whenever I take pregnenolone, it gives me a big boost in energy and supports brain function. It definitely works. But if I take it everyday, it starts to make me angry and irritable for some reason. So I only take it every so often.

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

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17. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that significantly affects brain function. 

Researchers have found that it passes the blood-brain barrier and acts on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

Unfortunately, many people today develop insulin resistance within the brain.

When this happens, there is a reduction in dopamine.

Research shows that insulin resistance within the brain alters normal dopamine functioning, leading to depression and anxiety (40). 

So in a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is being prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support the brain and mental health.

Intranasal insulin has been reported to significantly enhance memory, increase mental energy, reduce brain fog, improve mood, and lower anxiety and stress levels.

One possible mechanism is by increasing dopamine levels.

One study found that insulin enhances dopamine release in the brain (39). 

Another study found that intranasal insulin is neuroprotective and protects dopaminergic brain cells from damage (41). 

If you’re interested in learning more about intranasal insulin, I previously wrote a full article about it. You can read that here.

18. Forskolin

Forskolin is a natural herb historically used in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s been used for hundreds of years to treat various conditions and diseases.

The herb comes from the roots of the Indian coleus, which is a tropical plant. 

Researchers have found that it stimulates the conversion of tyrosine to dopamine and enhances the release of dopamine (49, 51). 

Other studies show that it can upregulate dopamine receptors (50, 52-56). 

I don’t take it anymore because I prefer Rhodiola and Ginseng. But when I did take it, I noticed an increase in mental energy and clarity.

The one I took isn't available anymore but there are many options available on Amazon

19. Standing

One of the best hacks for your brain is simply standing more often.

Researchers have found that prolonged, uninterrupted sitting leads to fatigue and lower dopamine levels (57). 

I have this standing desk so that I’m not sitting all the time while working.  

20. Iron

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.

It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale and irritable.

Research shows that iron plays a key role in the regulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission, and iron deficiency can lead to lower dopamine levels (58). 

I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems (59). 

It’s definitely much better to just get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.

Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I take the capsules every day instead. You can get them here or here

Other good sources of iron include:

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

21. Salt

A spoonful of sea salt. Salt can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Salt is another tasty, natural way to boost your brain’s dopamine levels.

Researchers have found that dietary salt intake increases dopamine levels (60). 

Keep in mind that processed salt should be avoided or limited. 

Stick to sea salt and pink Himalayan salt.

I add this Celtic sea salt to most of my meals. 

22. Theacrine

Theacrine is a natural compound that can increase energy, focus and mental clarity, and improve mood and motivation.

It’s a small alkaloid molecule found in certain fruits and plants. It’s most commonly found in a Chinese tea known as kucha.

Theacrine’s chemical structure is similar to caffeine. In fact, it’s considered a “new alternative” to caffeine because it activates similar pathways in the brain.

Researchers have found that theacrine acts through the dopamine system to provide a stimulant effect (66). 

It activates dopamine receptors, which increases motivation and wakefulness (67). 

In my experience, theacrine is a good replacement for coffee. It works and feels similar to caffeine, but it has a longer half life and less of a tolerance. It’s also less likely to disrupt sleep (61-63). 

I sometimes take this theacrine supplement when I feel like taking a break from coffee and caffeine. You can get it here or here

You can also take them together for even better results. Research shows that theacrine and caffeine are more effective when taken together because caffeine increases the bioavailability and positive effects of theacrine (64-65). 

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23. Exercise

Not surprisingly, exercise is another natural way to increase dopamine levels in your brain. 

Plenty of research shows that daily exercise leads to increased dopamine neurotransmission, including increased dopamine release and increased dopamine receptor expression and binding (70-73). 

Exercise also slows the break down of dopamine and prevents the loss of dopaminergic brain cells (71). 

Besides boosting dopamine levels, exercise can also stimulate the vagus nerve, promote neurogenesis and increase blood flow to the brain.

Many experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

Exercise can be a big chore for a lot of people, so I recommend finding some sort of sport or aerobic activity that you enjoy. That way you won’t get sick of it and you’ll exercise regularly.

24. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain.

Eating more of them is one of the greatest steps you can take to promote optimal brain and nervous system functioning, and boost your dopamine levels.

In one study, researchers fed animals omega-3 fatty acids, and they found that the animals had 40 per cent higher levels of dopamine in the brain than animals that didn’t receive omega-3 fatty acids (69). 

The researchers also noted a reduction in the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, and greater binding of dopamine to the dopamine receptors (69). 

Research also shows that omega-3 fatty acids can help restore normal dopamine release after traumatic brain injury (68). 

A piece of cooked salmon on a plate and a fork. Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids that increase dopamine in the brain.

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

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

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 one.

I actually feel more depressed when I stop taking it. It makes a difference.

25. Touch and Massage

Interpersonal touch is another natural way to increase your dopamine levels.

Researchers have discovered that touch significantly increases dopamine release in the brain (74-76).

This can include kissing, cuddling, stroking, tickling, hugging and sex. 

But it can also include massage therapy. 

Studies have shown that massage therapy increases dopamine by 31% on average (77). 

This is one reason why I regularly get a massage from a registered massage therapist. 

Massage also reduces cortisol, increases oxytocin, and stimulates the vagus nerve

26. Tea and Theanine

A cup of green tea on a table. And a spoonful of green tea leaves. Green tea can increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Tea has also been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

This includes both green tea and black tea (79-83). 

Both green tea and black tea contain theanine, an amino acid.

Theanine has also been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and significantly increase the release of dopamine in the brain (78, 84-85). 

I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It’s calming and cancels out the jitters of caffeine. 

This anti-anxiety supplement contains theanine. 

27. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break and triggers the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, including dopamine.

Researchers have found that intermittent fasting leads to higher levels of dopamine by increasing dopamine release and enhancing dopamine action (86-89). 

It also reduces age-related loss of dopamine receptors (90). 

I often eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the rest of the day. 

The best way to start fasting is by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day. That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.

28. Taurine

Taurine is an organic compound found in food, particularly meat and seafood. It has a wide variety of health benefits.

It can cross the blood-brain barrier and elevate dopamine levels in the brain (91). 

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.  

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29. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient.

This is a shame because it plays a role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, and it’s absolutely necessary for optimal neurotransmitter activity.

Magnesium has antidepressant effects, and one reason for this is because it increases dopamine activity in the brain (92). 

There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

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

You can also increase your body’s intake of magnesium by taking epsom salt baths.

Supplementation is also a good idea for most people. I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

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

30. Folate

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

One reason for this is because folate is absolutely necessary for the production and synthesis of dopamine in the brain (99-100). 

When you have low folate levels, you will also have lower dopamine levels because your body can’t produce dopamine efficiently, and this contributes to depression (101). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

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

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a 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 (96-98). 

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.

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex

Folate also lowers homocysteine levels

31. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a natural medicinal herb with antidepressant effects.

A 2015 meta-analysis concluded that it is as effective as standard antidepressant pharmaceuticals for treating depression and has fewer adverse effects (105). 

An image of the St. John’s Wort plant.

A number of studies have also shown that it significantly increases the release of dopamine and increases dopamine levels in the brain (106-110).

One study shows that it increases dopamine in the prefrontal cortex by 40% after one hour (106). 

I took this St. John’s Wort supplement years ago for my depression. It helped me, but I eventually stopped taking it and fixed 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 St. John’s Wort shouldn’t be taken if you’re already taking antidepressant medication

32. SAM-e

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.

Research shows that SAM-e improves mood by producing dopamine and increasing dopamine levels in the brain (102-104). 

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

33. Curcumin

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.

It’s been shown to help treat both depression and Parkinson’s disease (111-112). 

Several researchers have found that curcumin increases dopamine levels by reducing the break down of dopamine in the brain (113-120). 

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. The “Longvida” form is my favourite. You can get it here.

34. Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards increasing your dopamine levels naturally. 

Lots of research shows that chronic inflammation reduces dopamine synthesis and dopamine release in the brain, which then leads to a lack of motivation, fatigue and depression (121-124). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

35. Music

Previously, I talked about how music can naturally reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin.

But it also increases dopamine. 

Researchers have found that listening to your favourite music significantly increases the release of dopamine in your brain (125-126, 129-132).

Even the anticipation of good music leads to the release of dopamine (127). 

We are really excited about our study’s results because they suggest that even a non-pharmacological intervention such as music can regulate mood and emotional responses at both the behavioural and neuronal level.
— Dr. Elvira Brattico

And several brain imaging studies show that listening to music activates the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are rich with dopamine receptors (133-134). 

Want to take it a step further?

Start making music. 

Research shows that creating and performing music boosts dopamine levels, even more than simply listening to music (128). 

Because of this, researchers believe music therapy may be an effective therapy for the treatment of disorders caused by low dopamine (130). 

Music has even been shown to help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their fine motor control (135). 

36. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is very important if you want to increase dopamine and naturally optimize your dopamine levels. 

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

Research shows that lack of sleep downregulates dopamine receptors, and reduces dopamine receptor availability and sensitivity in the brain (145, 147-148). 

When people are forced to pull an “all-nighter”, the availability of dopamine receptors in their brain is significantly reduced the next morning (146). 

So try your best to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night. 

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

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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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(85) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22943921

(86) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15604149

(87) https://goo.gl/Qk2EbX

(88) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4725115/

(89) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28944597

(90) https://goo.gl/Lnf1MX

(91) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16820013

(92) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19059299

(93) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4503934/

(94) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/149256/

(95) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23418105

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5314166

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14769778

(98) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17522618

(99) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28671236

(100) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18950248

(101) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10896698

(102) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3429269/

(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2120432

(104) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5380442/

(105) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypericum_perforatum

(106) https://examine.com/supplements/hypericum-perforatum/

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(108) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11302563

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(121) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27480574

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(127) https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.2726

(128) https://goo.gl/nmifcM

(129) https://examine.com/supplements/music/

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(131) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3690607/

(132) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21217764

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(141) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19351232

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(179) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627312009415

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(183) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2170853/

(184) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3058375/

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(200) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26156984

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(204) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26156984

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(207) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22885871

(208) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28728017

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(211) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18457535

(212) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2812584/

(213) https://goo.gl/RCqMR7

(214) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15681811

(215) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18457535

(216) https://www.nature.com/articles/mp201621

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(219) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15303308

(220) http://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/6/2572#sec-24

(221) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine

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(223) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21718969

(224) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27709065

(225) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2950973/

(226) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27225499

(227) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654247/

(228) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530139/

(229) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0013669/

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(234) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24259638

(235) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18320725

(236) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9457173

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

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