20 Proven Ways to Quickly Lower Your Cortisol Levels

A man looking depressed and stressed, hoping to lower his cortisol levels.

Chronic stress is killer. 

It broke me down over the years and led me to deep depression.

Getting a handle on it has been critical to my recovery. 

But it took me a while to figure out what works.

And I’d rather not see other people struggle and frantically look for solutions.

So I’ve gathered some of my favourite ways to quickly lower levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone.

But before we get to them, let’s quickly discuss cortisol and how chronically high levels of cortisol can negatively affect your brain and mental health. 

How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”.

It’s a naturally-occurring steroid hormone that’s produced by your adrenal glands and released when you’re under physical or mental stress. Essentially, it triggers our fight-or-flight response in stressful situations.

But it’s also absolutely necessary for our health, as it plays a key role in many different bodily processes. 

Cortisol levels are generally highest in the morning and lowest at night. But problems can arise when they are elevated for prolonged periods of time (134). 

Chronically high cortisol levels can:

  • Change the size, structure and functioning of your brain;

  • Shrink and kill brain cells;

  • Cause premature aging in the brain;

  • Contribute to memory loss and lack of concentration;

  • Slow down our ability to grow new brain cells; and

  • Increase inflammation in the brain (135-140).

Watch this TED-Ed video, How Stress and Cortisol Affect Your Brain,” to learn more: 

Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol also increase activity in the amygdala, the fear centre of the brain. This can create a vicious cycle in which the brain is more likely be get stuck in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

When I did neurofeedback, my practitioner discovered my amygdala was overactive. She trained it back down to normal levels, and my chronic anxiety dissipated.

Anxiety isn’t the only mental condition linked to an abnormal stress response. Here are some others:

Luckily, there are a number of ways to manage and overcome chronic stress, lower cortisol levels, reverse damage done to the brain, and improve your sense of wellbeing. 

This article includes the best foods, nutrients, herbs and supplements that reduce cortisol; as well as the best lifestyle habits, therapies and practices that reduce cortisol.

Let’s go through them.  

The Best Foods, Nutrients, Herbs and Supplements To Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

1. Eat Dark Chocolate

Most people know that dark chocolate is rich in multiple antioxidants, such as flavonols and polyphenols, which reduce oxidative stress.

But it also reduces cortisol. 

This may explain why people love to eat chocolate and experience relaxation when they do. 

Dark chocolate can protect your brain by boosting BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone

You should always try to get raw dark chocolate with the least amount of sugar like this one.

 

2. Drink Tea

Several different types of tea have beneficial effects on cortisol levels. 

Green tea has been shown to inhibit the synthesis of cortisol (18). 

And a study found that individuals who drank 4 cups of black tea daily for six weeks had lower cortisol levels in comparison to others who didn’t drink black tea (2). 

Researchers couldn’t confirm what caused this reduction in cortisol, but they suspected it had something to do with the high content of theanine, an amino acid found in both black and green tea.

A follow-up study published this year confirmed that theanine can reduce cortisol (13).

Theanine produces a calming effect on the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing the production of both GABA and dopamine in the brain (12). 

I personally can’t drink most teas because they tend to contain mycotoxins (mold toxins) and I’m very sensitive to them after living in a moldy home.

If you’ve lived in a moldy home or have found out that you’re genetically susceptible to mycotoxins, you can supplement with straight theanine like I do. 

This supplement includes theanine. 

And if you do decide to drink black tea, you can lower cortisol even more by getting decaffeinated black tea.

Lastly, chamomile tea is another type of tea that can decrease cortisol. It’s been used for centuries as a sleep aid. It contains flavonoids, essential oils, coumarin and other compounds that can help you relax.

Several studies show it can block the precursor hormone of cortisol and improve sleep quality (14, 15). 

This anti-anxiety supplement includes both theanine and chamomile, along with a number of other natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

 

3. Eat Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil has numerous health benefits, particularly because of its strong anti-inflammatory effects.

It also contains a compound called oleuropein, which can reduce cortisol levels (37). 

I add it to my salads and sometimes even take a tablespoon of it straight.

Be careful though. A lot of cheap extra virgin olive oil in grocery stores are not actually “extra virgin.”

Investigations have found that there is a lot of fraud within the olive oil industry and many so-called extra virgin olive oils contains other cheaper, refined vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn and canola. 

This is discussed more in the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

 

4. Take Cortisol-Reducing Nutrients and Herbs

There are a number of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and adaptogenic herbs that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol levels. 

I’ll go over some of my favourites here.

Phosphatidylserine is probably the best option for reducing stress hormone levels. 

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid compound that plays a key role in optimal cognitive function. High amounts of phosphatidylserine can be found within the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention and memory, especially in the elderly (114-116). 

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

On top of all this, phosphatidylserine powerfully lowers cortisol (117-119). 

People who supplement with phosphatidylserine have been shown to have lower average levels of cortisol (120).

I take phosphatidylserine every day. It's part of the Optimal Brain supplement

Ashwagandha is another great cortisol-reducing supplement. It’s a popular Indian herb commonly used to prevent anxiety. Its anti-anxiety effect is synergistic with alcohol.

Its stress-reducing effects are likely because it lowers cortisol levels. 

Multiple studies have concluded that it is a potent stress reliever that can reduce cortisol by anywhere from 14 to 32% (121-123). 

Another adaptogenic herb that can lower cortisol is rhodiola

I’ve discussed rhodiola before. It can really help with symptoms of depression. 

Research has found that it may be doing this by significantly reducing stress hormone levels in the body (124-126). 

Lastly, a number of minerals have been shown to reduce cortisol, including zinc, magnesium and selenium (96, 97, 127-133).

That’s why I take and recommend this multi-mineral supplement every day. 

Overall, ashwagandha, rhodiola, phosphatidylserine and minerals are my favourite ways to keep stress levels low, but there are plenty of other supplements that have been shown to positively affect cortisol levels, including:

 

5. Consume Enough Food, Protein and Water

Eating enough protein and calories, and drinking enough clean, filtered water is also critical to keeping stress hormone levels low.  

Studies show that severely restricting calories elevates cortisol levels (108, 109). 

Restricting protein and depriving yourself of the amino acid leucine can also stimulate the stress response and increase stress hormones (110). 

That’s why I eat plenty of food each day and supplement with creatine and BCAA protein powder throughout the day when I don’t have access to a source of high-quality protein. 

Lastly, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.

Properly-hydrated runners have noticeably lower cortisol levels than dehydrated runners (81).

I use this Berkey system to filter my water so that it’s as pure as possible. You can get it here or here.

Click here to subscribe

6. Consume More Omega-3s and Less Omega-6s

As I’ve discussed before, omega-3s are dietary fats that are needed for the proper functioning of your brain and nervous system. They improve learning and memory, and protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (4-7). 

Researchers have also found that when individuals supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, there is a significant reduction in the release of cortisol (1, 10).

Omega-3 fatty acids also significantly reduce stress hormones in animals (3). 

Krill oil is my favourite source of omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one everyday.

I also eat wild salmon and grass-fed beef on a regular basis. 

On the other hand, consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to increased inflammation and cortisol levels (8, 9, 11).

So make sure to avoid refined vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola oil.

 

7. Get Enough Antioxidants

Not only do antioxidants counteract oxidative stress within the body; they can also help reduce cortisol (19, 25). 

Most of the research has been done in athletes, but supplementation with antioxidants – such as berry powders, greens powders, vitamin C, glutathione and CoQ10 – leads to fairly significant reductions in cortisol and other measures of stress (20-23). 

Dark berries in particular contain antochyanins, which have been shown to lower cortisol (24). 

Acai berries are my favourite, as they are loaded with antochyanins and vitamin C.

Regarding vitamin C, the research is mixed on whether it can consistently lower cortisol levels.

However, in my experience, high doses of vitamin C definitely reduce stress.

One study found that a high dose of vitamin C decreases anxiety and improves mood (29). 

After exercise, it’s also been shown to rapidly reduce cortisol (26, 27). 

And multiple other studies have found that both vitamin C and vitamin E reduce cortisol and anxiety (30-32). 

It’s also well known that chronic stress and high cortisol can deplete vitamin C and other antioxidant enzymes (28). 

In addition to getting vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day. I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily (2 gram doses throughout the day) and it helped me manage stress, but it’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you. 

 

8. Take Curcumin

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

Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds for the brain and mental health.

Thousands of high-quality scientific studies have been published, showing that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and can increase BDNF, your brain’s growth hormone. 

Research shows that curcumin inhibits the increase in cortisol caused by stress (33, 34). 

And animal studies have found that curcumin may reverse elevated cortisol levels after chronic stress (35, 36). 

Unfortunately, curcumin is very inefficient at absorbing into the bloodstream and reaching the brain (54, 55).

Luckily, science and technology has been able to concentrate significant amounts of curcumin into supplement form and increase its bioavailability. 

There are several different patented forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. 

My favourite is the "Longvida" form of curcumin, as I noticed a significant effect from it. You can get it through Amazon. It is one of my favourite supplements and since it is a fat soluble, I take it every day with a fatty meal.

 

9. Eat Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotics are substances in food that humans can't digest, so they pass through our gastrointestinal tract and promote the growth of many different strains of good bacteria in our lower bowel.

They are essentially food for the probiotics in our intestines.

Dr. Phil Burnet, a neurobiologist at Oxford University, published a paper in 2015 showing that people who ingested prebiotics have lower levels of cortisol.

The people who ingested prebiotics also focused more on positive feedback and less on negative stimuli.

Dr. Burnet said the results were very similar to when people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but without the side effects (87).

That’s why I eat prebiotic-rich foods regularly, including sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus and squash. These foods are included in my free grocery shopping guide for optimal brain health. 

Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake. A convenient way to incorporate more of it into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. Other high-quality resistant starches include banana flour, plantain flour and waxy maize. Cooked and cooled white rice and potatoes also contain some resistant starch. 

I previously discussed prebiotics and resistant starch here.

I also created and take Optimal Biotics, which is a premium probiotic supplement that reduces stress and support my mental health. 

 

10. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine have been shown to increase stress hormones, so their consumption should be limited. 

Coffee is definitely good for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia

However, it can also disrupt sleep and make people anxious. I used to not be able to handle any coffee at all. But now that I'm healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of Kicking Horse coffee most mornings.  

But if you’re struggling with high cortisol and chronic stress, I wouldn’t recommend high doses of caffeine.

It’s been shown to directly stimulate the adrenal cortex, release cortisol into the bloodstream and increase stress hormone levels (74-76).

One study found that caffeine increased cortisol by 30% in just one hour, and regular consumption can double your cortisol levels (88, 89). 

So limit it as much as possible.

An alternative solution is to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee fruit doesn’t contain caffeine, but it does contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.

Scientists have discovered that ingesting whole coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. Coffee fruit concentrate can be found in the Optimal Brain supplement

Lastly, excess alcohol consumption over an extended period of time has also been shown to raise cortisol levels. Having a couple drinks here and there likely isn’t a problem though, and you can protect yourself from it by following these steps (90, 91). 

Certain types of alcohol are better to drink than others.

Click here to subscribe

The Best Lifestyle Habits and Practices to Naturally Lower Cortisol Levels

11. Laugh

In the book The Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins explains how he cured himself of ankylosing spondylitis by laughing along with Marx Brothers movies.

I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.
— Norman Cousins

It sounds farfetched, but more and more research is showing that laughter has a powerful effect on our health. 

Researchers have found that laughing and having fun significantly reduces stress hormone levels (65, 66). 

In one study, laughter improved the short-term memory of older adults, and simply anticipating humour decreased their cortisol levels by nearly 50% (64). 

So, next time you’re stressed, try watching a funny TV show or YouTube video

 

12. Play with Animals

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

This is my cat named Puddy. He's annoying but he does reduce my cortisol levels.

Petting your own dog or another person’s dog has been shown to significantly decrease stress hormone levels and increase oxytocin, endorphins, and other healing hormones (71, 73). 

Researchers have also compared 20 minutes of quiet rest to 20 minutes of interaction with a dog, and they found that hanging out with dog contributed to a much more significant decrease in cortisol. This is often why therapy dogs show up on college campuses during exams (71). 

So you should try to hang out with animals as much as possible, and consider getting a house pet if you don’t have one. I have a cat named Puddy. 

Spending time in nature has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels. So you can kill two birds with one stone by taking your pet for a walk in the park (77). 

Hmm perhaps “kill two birds with one stone” wasn’t the best idiom to use in this section, but you get my point. 

 

13. Listen to Music and Dance

Music is actually healing and can have a calming effect on the brain. 

Numerous studies show that music can relax you, especially before a stressful event, by significantly lowering stress hormones. It can also reduce the spike in cortisol during the stressful situation (50-54). 

Music can be even more relaxing when combined with non-strenuous dancing.

Regular dancing has also been shown to greatly decrease cortisol levels (55). 

 

14. Practice Relaxation Techniques and Therapies

Not too surprisingly, simply taking time each day to relax can lower cortisol.  

My favourite relaxation technique is meditation. 

Countless studies show that meditating daily for just 15 minutes can significantly lower stress hormone levels and blunt cortisol spikes (38-43). 

I use the Muse headband to meditate. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback on your brainwaves. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

Yoga has also been shown to lower cortisol. 

In one study, people with depression practiced yoga regularly for 3 months. By the end of the study, their cortisol levels dropped significantly and they experienced relief from their depression (44). 

Massage is another excellent option, as it’s been shown in many studies to significant decrease in cortisol and anxiety (45, 46). 

I get a massage every couple of months. 

Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”, is another tool I use to manage stress

Tapping is based on ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. You can learn how to practice it here

I know it seems hokey, but it works. 

It’s been shown to significantly decrease cortisol levels (47). 

The book The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living goes in more depth about the practice. 

Lastly, deep breathing exercises can help you manage your stress hormone levels. 

Diaphragmatic breathing – consciously breathing from your diaphragm – has been shown to encourage the body’s natural relaxation response and reduce cortisol (48, 49). 

I use the EmWave2 device every day to reduce stress and make sure I’m breathing optimally. I wrote about it before here.

 

15. Exercise (But Not Too Much)

Exercise is definitely good for you. It can balance hormones and reduce stress by releasing endorphins. However, overtraining can actually backfire and increase stress hormone levels (112). 

That’s why I don’t really recommend chronic endurance exercise and prefer weightlifting and high-intensity sprinting over cardio. 

Research shows that prolonged aerobic exercise can increase cortisol levels, and marathon runners have higher levels of cortisol (111, 113). 

Click here to subscribe

16. Get More Deep Sleep

This might be the most important step. 

Getting enough high-quality sleep is critical for your brain and mental health. 

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

Let me explain.

Normally, cortisol increases in the morning and then drops very low at night prior to bed. But if you have chronic stress and high cortisol, you can end up feeling wired and anxious at night, making it more difficult to sleep. 

Unfortunately, staying up late when your body expects to be asleep further increases your stress hormone levels even more. And lack of sleep and interrupted sleep have been shown to significantly increase cortisol throughout the next day and contribute to cognitive problems down the road (56-61, 63). 

So it’s clearly a vicious cycle where high cortisol causes sleep problems, and poor sleep increases stress.  

That’s why it’s so important go to bed at the same time every night and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Without doing that, you can end up with dysregulated daytime cortisol production.

And it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of sleep. In fact, the quality of your sleep is more important than the length of your sleep.

So I would try doing everything you can to maximize the quality of your sleep. 

Here are some things that I do:

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

And if you don’t get enough sleep one night, try to take a nap sometime the next day. Daytime napping after a night of sleep loss has been shown to cause beneficial changes in cortisol levels (62).

 

17. Chew Aspartame-Free Gum

Next time you’re stressed, try chewing a piece of gum

It’s an easy way to lower your stress hormone levels. 

According to one study, chewing gum while under moderate stress reduces mental stress and decreases cortisol by 12 per cent. Previous studies have also shown that chewing can increase alertness, neural activity and blood flow to the brain (82). 

I prefer if the gum is aspartame-free, like this one.

 

18. Stand Tall

Changing your body language can have a powerful effect on your biology. 

Standing tall for just two minutes can lower your cortisol by 25 per cent, according to a famous study led by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy (83). 

Cuddy’s research found that if you switch from low-power body language (arms crossed, hunched over, closed up, slumped shoulders, nervous) to high-power body language (opened up, tall, relaxed, confident), your hormones will change to match your new posture (84). 

So try your best to maintain high-power body language as much as possible as it can reduce stress hormones and increase confidence. You could even try holding a dominant pose for 2 minutes every day. You’ll likely find yourself feeling calmer and more mentally powerful.

And if you haven’t already, check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”.

I also recommend her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

19. Socialize

Social connectivity and positive social interactions also significantly reduce stress hormone levels.

Research shows that the more social support a person has, the lower their cortisol levels will be (67). 

This is likely because you release the hormone oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and oxytocin has been proven to decrease anxiety and block increases in cortisol (68). 

One study states that “the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness during stress” (69). 

Animal studies have also discovered that social isolation leads to higher cortisol and mental health problems (70). 

Make sure to check out my full article about oxytocin to learn more about this powerful neurotransmitter.

 

20. Other Cutting-Edge Therapies

Here are some other therapies that have been shown to reduce stress and cortisol:

  • Bright Light Therapy (85, 86) – I recommend this device.

  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (78)

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (79, 80)

  • Acupuncture (92) – I use this acupressure mat.

 

Conclusion

It’s important to take control of your stress before it takes control over you.

Thankfully, there are so many ways to manage your stress and lower cortisol levels without having to resort to a prescription

Here’s a summary of everything we’ve gone over to reduce stress hormone levels:

A person is squeezing a stress ball. The stress ball looks like and is in the shape of a brain.

I remember when I first discovered all of these tools and strategies, it gave me so much hope that I could get better and overcome my depression and anxiety.

And I thankfully I did.

And you can too. 

Let me know what you think in the comments. Have you ever had high cortisol? Do you have any other tips that have helped you reduce cortisol?

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References

(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12909818

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17013636

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23208960

(4) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/179S.long

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3618203/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC533861/

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12777162

(8) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14579682

(9) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

(10) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20932294

(11) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081099/

(12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26797633

(14) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/

(15) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/

(16) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/pr900607v?prevSearch=kochhar&searchHistoryKey

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350893/

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24404164/

(19) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0020795

(20) http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/11594400-000000000-00000

(21) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761741/

(22) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X03001513

(23) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286306002348

(24)http://www.researchgate.net/publication/227685141_Anthocyanin_Pigments_Comparison_of_Extract_Stability

(25) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16042916

(26) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21069377

(27) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18427418

(28) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC201008/

(29) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12208645

(30) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036190

(31) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(32) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21839761

(33) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853174/

(34) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20920780

(35) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19540859

(36) http://www.cjpt.ac.cn/EN/abstract/abstract1590.shtml

(37) http://www.ergo-log.com/oleuropein-boosts-testosterone-lowers-cortisol-stimulates-anabolism.html

(38) http://www.ergo-log.com/meditationhormones.html

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23724462

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1801007

(41) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22377965

(42) http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1809754

(43) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/030105119505118T

(44) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24049209

(45) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8707483

(46) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16162447

(47) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22986277

(48) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20617660

(49) http://www.ncbi.nl m.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573542/

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15086180

(51) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/258383.php

(52) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110826/

(53) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3734071/

(54) http://medind.nic.in/jau/t10/i2/jaut10i2p70.pdf

(55) http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.403.4566&rep=rep1&type=pdf

(56) http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jcem-33-1-14

(57) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9415946

(58) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0041218

(59) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2010/759234/

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6822642

(61) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10704520

(62) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16940468

(63) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15558991

(64) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24682001

(65) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2556917

(66) http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/22/1_MeetingAbstracts/946.11

(67) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15473629

(68) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15219651

(69) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14675803

(70) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1

(71) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/

(72) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18221981

(73) http://www.sciencealert.com/having-a-dog-can-reduce-anxiety-and-stress-in-children-study-finds

(74) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18458357

(75) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249754/

(76) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16631247

(77) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835

(78) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22626867

(79) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1000194810600044

(80) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181968/

(81) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17006802

(82) http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/aa/876409

(83) http://www.people.hbs.edu/acuddy/in press, carney, cuddy, & yap, psych science.pdf

(84) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20855902

(85) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21199966

(86) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3686562/

(87) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0%20/fulltext.html

(88) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

(89) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2195579

(90) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2266962/

(91) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100907163313.htm

(92) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19765402

(93) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12909818

(94) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23390041

(95) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23726389

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19554276

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(98) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14737017

(99) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304394003003008

(100) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23789222

(101) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23788517

(102) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25141817

(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19323371

(104) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14737017

(105) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11526469

(106) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19865069/

(107) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9142558

(108) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3080766

(109) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19211813

(110) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21719534

(111) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10190775

(112) http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3817754

(114) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22017963

(115) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21103034

(116) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20523044

(117) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1325348

(118) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503954/

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15512856

(120) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18662395

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

(122) http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.324.8921

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

(124) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19170145

(125) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25101546

(126) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578

(127) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02789143

(128) http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/cclm.1984.22.issue-11/cclm.1984.22.11.717/cclm.1984.22.11.717.xml

(129) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6527092

(130) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21835188

(131) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6527092

(132) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19931332

(133) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1702662

(134) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443911000329

(135) http://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/11/chronic-stress-predisposes-brain-to-mental-illness/

(136) http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis#.VN9JHFXF8a4

(137) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312696/

(138) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3186928/

(139) http://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/11/chronic-stress-predisposes-brain-to-mental-illness/

(140) http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/mp2013190a.html%20

(141) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23946275

(142) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12537036

(143) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22564216

(144) http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis#.VN9JHFXF8a4

(145) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10890824

(146) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4576517/

(147) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17028025

(148) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17028025

(149) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothalamic%E2%80%93pituitary%E2%80%93adrenal_axis

(150) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/dc-wmo092412.php

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

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

21 Proven Ways to Increase Brain Blood Flow

Without a doubt, healthy blood flow is absolutely essential for optimal brain function and mental health.

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

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

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

But when blood flow to the brain is hindered, cognitive problems can arise.

Poor brain blood flow and circulation are linked to a number of brain and mental illnesses, including:

Increasing blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s.
— Dr. Robert Vassar

Some of the major causes of poor brain blood flow include abnormal blood pressure, poor circulation, low thyroid, infections, and stress (126-130). 

Besides addressing these major causes, there are a number of ways to directly increase the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain.

Researchers use neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to measure cerebral blood flow.

And they have found that the following 21 methods increase brain blood flow and circulation in humans. 

After suffering multiple concussions, I had severe depression and brain fog, and had no choice but to focus on optimizing brain blood flow and circulation.

A lot of these methods have been significantly helpful to me.

If you want to naturally increase blood flow to your brain, continue reading to learn more.

An illustration of a person’s head, their brain, and blood flowing through the brain.

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best and most accessible ways to increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that moderate exercise increases blood flow to the brain by as much as 15% (1). 

And you don’t even need to work out intensely to increase blood flow to your brain.

Simply walking for 30 minutes at a brisk pace, three or four times each week, is good enough to get more blood and oxygen to your brain and reap the benefits (2). 

In fact, the foot’s impact on the ground while walking sends pressure waves through the arteries, which sends more blood and oxygen to the brain (3). 

There are many studies that suggest that exercise improves brain function in older adults, but we don’t know exactly why the brain improves. Our study indicates it might be tied to an improvement in the supply of blood flow to the brain.
— Dr. Rong Zhang

Exercise has also been shown to protect against cognitive decline and dementia, promote neurogenesis, help reverse brain damage, and promote the regeneration of myelin.

So not surprisingly, exercise is recommended by many brain health experts and it’s often their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

My usual advice is to find a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

2. Cold Exposure

Exposing yourself to cold can also help you get more blood flowing to your brain. 

Research shows that putting your hand in ice water for one minute can significantly increase the speed of blood flow to the brain (6-8). 

A tough looking guy with a mustache with his fists up in the air ready to fight. It says over the image “Have a cold shower? You mean a shower?”

Researchers have also found that cooling the skin during upright tilting maintains the speed of blood flow to the brain (5). 

Animal studies also show that cold exposure significantly increases cerebral blood flow (4). 

I take a cold shower every day, and often go outside with minimal clothing in the winter to increase my brain blood flow and circulation. 

You don’t have to do that right away though.

You can start out by finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water.

See how you feel, and then work your way up to longer.

It can be a bit painful, but you get used to it and the beneficial effects are worth it.

Another way to ease yourself into it is by sticking your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.

Cold exposure also stimulates the vagus nerve and supports the endocannabinoid system

3. Sunlight

A picture of the sun shining through the clouds around it. Sunlight can increase blood flow to the brain.

Research also shows that light stimulates brain blood flow and circulation.

Positron emission technology (PET) measures blood flow to specific areas of the brain.

In one study, researchers used PET scans to monitor cerebral blood flow in patients with season affective disorder (SAD) – before and after light therapy

Before light therapy, the scans show that patients had reduced blood flow to the cerebral cortex, the “executive” part of the brain.

But after just a few days of light therapy, this part of the brain started to light up, indicating greater activity and increased blood flow (9).

And this doesn’t just happen in depressed individuals.

Another study found that 10 minutes of light exposure can increase brain blood flow in healthy people (10). 

Light therapy even increases brain blood flow in pre-term infants (11). 

I personally get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months to support my brain health. It’s a simple way for me to increase blood flow to the brain every day.

Researchers have also found a positive correlation between Vitamin D levels and brain blood flow (94).

So I use this Vitamin D lamp during the winter months when there isn't enough sun.

4. Ginkgo Biloba

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

Today, it’s one of the most popular herbal supplements in the world.

Doctors even prescribe it in Germany!

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health.

Researchers have found that it increases cognitive function, and improves memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (15). 

It has these positive effects mainly by significantly increasing blood flow to the brain and increasing blood circulation in the brain (12-14). 

Gingko biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Click here to subscribe

5. Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that uses red and infrared light to support brain function.

The treatment involved either low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit red and infrared light.

This red and infrared light is applied to the brain, and it stimulates brain cells, helping them helping them function better.

Most doctors are clueless about LLLT; but not every doctor. 

A man wears on LLLT helmet and uses the Vielight intranasal device. LLLT can increase brain blood circulation and increase blood flow to the brain.

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

One way LLLT can help the brain is by increasing brain blood flow and circulation. 

One study found that applying near infrared light to the forehead can help treat depression and anxiety without side effects by increasing frontal regional cerebral blood flow (49).

Another study showed improvement in brain blood flow in healthy elderly women (50). 

Animal research has also found that light can be used to locally increase brain blood circulation (93). 

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

I use the Platinum LED Bio-450 (Combo Red/NIR) and shine the red and infrared light directly on my forehead. It’s a simple way for me to quickly and naturally increase blood flow to the brain. If you decide to buy and try this device yourself, you can use the coupon code OPTIMAL for a 5% discount.

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

LLLT can also support thyroid function and mitochondria function and help with brain fog

6. Vinpocetine

Vinpocetine is a compound from the Periwinkle plant. 

It’s commonly used in Europe to treat cognitive decline, memory impairments, stroke recovery, and epilepsy.

Researchers have found that it increases brain blood flow in both healthy people and stroke victims.

The increase in brain blood flow leads to increased brain oxygen levels and energy production, reduced brain inflammation and improved reaction time (16-25). 

I took this vinpocetine supplement after my last concussion to increase blood flow to the brain and speed up my recovery. 

7. Meditation

Meditation is my favourite relaxation technique and it's linked to increased blood flow in the brain.

In one study, 14 people with memory problems followed a simple 8-week meditation program, and researchers found a significant increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (31). 

Logical memory and verbal fluency also improved after training (31). 

Another study showed that just five days of meditation (30 minutes each day) significantly enhanced brain blood flow (32). 

I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. That way, you know how well you are meditating. It makes meditating much more enjoyable.

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

8. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound.

Many people know that it’s found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

A glass of red wine and red grapes. Red wine and red grapes contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that can increase blood flow to the brain.

Resveratrol is known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can increase BDNF, help restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, and support your mitochondria.

But it can also quickly help you get more blood and oxygen flowing to your brain. 

In one study, after taking either 250 or 500 milligrams of resveratrol, study participants experienced a dose-dependent increase in brain blood flow (26). 

Even just 75 mg has been shown to increase brain circulation and cognition (27, 29). 

And a new study published just this year found that chronic resveratrol supplementation increases brain blood circulation in post-menopausal women, improving their cognition and mood (28, 30). 

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. It’s good to know it naturally increase blood flow in the brain as well. You can get the resveratrol I take here or here

9. Dark Chocolate

Most people love chocolate, and your brain loves it too. 

Dark chocolate contains cocoa, which is known to improve blood flow. 

It's one of my favourite foods. 

Research suggests that the flavonoids found in cocoa beans increase blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours after eating them. And this leads to an improvement in cognitive performance and general alertness (33, 35). 

Certain food components like cocoa flavanols may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function among older adults or for others in situations where they may be cognitively impaired, such as fatigue or sleep deprivation.
— Dr. Ian A. Macdonald, PhD, from the University of Nottingham Medical School in the United Kingdom

One study found that flavanol-rich cocoa significant increases the speed of brain blood flow in healthy elderly people (34). 

Another study showed that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day for 30 days was linked to improved blood flow to the brain and better memory (36). 

Dark chocolate also increases BDNF and reduces cortisol.

It’s important to choose a type of dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa.

Here is one of my favourite high-quality dark chocolates

Click here to subscribe

10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

They are essential, meaning your body cannot create them and you have to get them from food or supplements.

Making sure you get more omega-3s is one of the most important actions you can take to support your brain and nervous system.

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

But they also naturally increase brain blood flow and circulation. 

Research shows that higher omega-3 levels are significantly correlated with higher regional cerebral blood flow (37). 

This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia.
— Dr. Daniel G. Amen, MD, Amen Clinics

And one study found that omega-3 supplementation, in comparison with placebo, significantly increases brain blood flow (38). 

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough of these foods.

So supplementing with krill oil should be considered. Krill oil is a special kind of fish oil that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. I’ve tried tons of fish oil supplements, and I recommend krill oil over all the others.

I take this krill oil supplement. I feel slightly depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

11. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase brain blood flow and circulation.

In a randomized controlled trial, 17 post-stroke patients did acupuncture or sham acupuncture for 20 minutes.

The researchers found that the speed of blood flow to both hemispheres of the brain significantly increased during and after acupuncture treatment (39, 42). 

Research has also shown that acupuncture can significantly improve cerebral blood flow and circulation in animals (40-41, 43). 

I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture, which is when the needles are inserted into ear.

In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I’m not sure why. I just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture. 

I’d recommend trying to find a acupuncturist in your area who provides ear acupuncture.

Ear acupuncture really helped me the first time I weened off antidepressants. I was surprised.

At the end of each appointment, my practitioner would secure these small black seeds on my ear. 

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

Acupuncture also stimulates the vagus nerve

12. Chewing Gum

Research reveals that chewing increases brain blood flow (44). 

As a result, chewing can improve cognitive performance and brain function, including working and spatial memory, and increases the level of arousal and alertness during a cognitive task (45). 

If you chew gum, make sure it’s aspartame-free, like this one.

Chewing gum also reduces cortisol

13. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) 

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

It’s known to help reverse neurological decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain.

It’s often used as a brain booster by people of all ages because it support brain cells and increases alertness.

It’s also been shown to be very effective at alleviating chronic fatigue and improving mood by supporting mitochondrial function.

Considering it does all this, it’s not surprising that researchers found that it can enhance brain blood flow in people who have had a stroke (46-47). 

I personally find ALCAR improves my mental energy and enhances my cognitive function.

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Click here to subscribe

14. Nitrates

Nitrates are both naturally-occurring compounds found in soil and plants.

High levels of nitrates are found in foods such as beets, celery, cabbage, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.

Research shows that a nitrate-rich diet can increase blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, improving cognitive function and protecting against cognitive decline (51-52). 

Beet juice is a particularly rich source of nitrates, and studies have found that it can help widen blood vessels and increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain (53-54, 56). 

A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial even found that beet juice can improve cognitive performance by increasing brain blood flow (55). 

There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain. There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that’s believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition.
— Dr. Daniel Kim-Shapiro, PhD

I don’t really enjoy the taste, but every so often I do drink beet juice during cognitively-demanding tasks. 

Here is a good organic beet juice

15. Drink Less Coffee (Or Take Theanine)

Coffee is generally excellent for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia.

However, studies also show that if you want to get more blood flowing to your brain and within you brain, you’re better off avoiding or limiting caffeine

A cup of coffee on a plate with a spoon. Coffee and caffeine reduce blood flow to the brain. So you should try to limit your intake of them. Or take it with theanine instead.

Researchers have found that caffeine significantly reduces brain blood flow by 20 to 30% depending on the study and dosage (74-77). 

The good news is that taking the amino acid theanine can reduce the negative brain blood flow effects of caffeine (78-79). 

That’s why I take this theanine supplement with my morning coffee

I also sometimes take breaks from drinking coffee to normalize brain blood flow and circulation. 

Taking the herb rhodiola can make quitting caffeine much easier because it helps reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Lastly, you could also try supplementing with the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.

The coffee bean is usually separated from the coffee fruit for roasting. When this happens, the surrounding coffee fruit is then thrown away. 

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

In fact, scientists have discovered that ingesting coffee fruit concentrate significantly increases brain function. 

That’s why it’s included in Optimal Brain.

16. Piracetam

Piracetam is a “nootropic”, which means it’s a supplement that enhances cognition.

It provides a mild boost in brain function, and it’s regularly used in Europe, Asia and South America to treat cognitive impairment. 

A meta-analysis found that piracetam improves general cognition when supplemented by people in a state of cognitive decline (84). 

Research also shows that it can increase brain blood flow in humans and animals (85-91). 

Here is a good piracetam supplement. I used to take it every day but I don’t need it at all anymore.

Phenylpiracetam is an advanced version of piracetam and I found it to be even better because it improves mood and reduces anxiety. It’s also been shown to reverse the depressant effects of benzodiazepines (81-83).

You can get it here

Both piracetam and phenylpiracetam work best if you take them with a source of choline, such as CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC (80). 

17. Ketogenic Dieting

A ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate diet.

To follow it correctly, you need to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

This means you need to avoid all carbohydrate-rich foods, including grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit.

When you restrict carbs this much, your body enters ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body and brain run on fatty acids and “ketones” instead of glucose.

Researchers have found that ketones are a therapeutic option in traumatic brain injury because they can increase brain blood flow by 39% (100). 

Studies have also shown that ketones increase cerebral blood flow by 65% in animals (103-104). 

And caloric restriction also increases ketones, which preserves cerebral blood flow in aging rats (102). 

I follow a ketogenic diet every so often, but not for long stretches of time due to resulting hormone problems.

I do take Optimal Ketones every day, which are exogenous ketones that get your body into a state of ketosis very quickly. They immediately increase my mental clarity, without having to restrict carbs.

Ketones can also support mitochondria health, promote the regeneration of myelin, and increase the growth of new brain cells

18. Citicoline

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

You need to get choline from food, but most people do not get enough because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

That’s why supplementation is often necessary.

Citicoline is a supplemental form of choline that has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

It enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine and dopamine (two neurotransmitters that are critical for optimal brain function) and increases the number of acetylcholine and dopamine receptors in your brain (105-110). 

It’s also been shown to improve cognitive function by increasing the rate of brain blood flow (114-116). 

A double-blind placebo-controlled study concluded that Citicoline improves cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease by increasing brain blood flow (113). 

Citicoline significantly improves my focus and mental energy. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

You can also find some choline in foods such as beef liver and egg yolks, but the effects of Citicoline are much more noticeable and immediate because it quickly passes the blood-brain barrier and supports your brain.  

Citicoline also promote the regeneration of myelin, support the blood-brain barrier, and help reverse brain damage.

19. Blueberry Juice

Drinking blueberry juice improves cognitive function in the elderly, according to research published this year (123-125). 

One way it improved brain health was by increasing oxygen levels and increasing blood flow to the brain.

The participants had improvements in working memory while doing cognitive testing.

In this study we have shown that with just 12 weeks of consuming 30ml of concentrated blueberry juice every day, brain blood flow, brain activation and some aspects of working memory were improved in this group of healthy older adults.
— Dr. Joanna Bowtell

The amount of juice in the study was equivalent to 230g of blueberries.

The researchers believe that the flavonoids in blueberries were responsible for the positive effects.  

 

20. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is a vitamin-like enzyme and potent antioxidant found in plant foods that can improve cognitive function.

Researchers have found that supplementing with PQQ can increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (117-118). 

One study found that PQQ can prevent the reduction of brain function in elderly people, especially in attention and working memory, by increasing brain blood flow (119). 

I cycle this BioPQQ supplement with my other mitochondrial-support supplements

21. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is one of the hormones that significantly affects brain function.

It's been shown to pass the blood-brain barrier and act on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

An elderly man sprays insulin up his nose. Intranasal insulin has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.

In a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support 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 brain blood flow and circulation.

Research shows that intranasal insulin increases regional cerebral blood flow in the insular cortex (120, 122). 

And in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, intranasal insulin improved brain blood flow in older adults (121).  

If you’re interested in learning more, I previously wrote a full article about intranasal insulin.

22. BONUS: Other Promising Nutrients and Herbs

Researchers have found that the following compounds can increase cerebral blood flow in animals, but I couldn’t find any research showing that it will do the same in humans. However, they are worth experimenting with as many of them have supported my brain and mental health over the years.

A picture of the brain and nervous system.
 

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

(1) http://www.the-aps.org/mm/hp/Audiences/Public-Press/Archive/2011/9.html

(2) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110412131921.htm

(3) http://www.nmhu.edu/research-shows-walking-increases-blood-flow-brain/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/754495

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12070190

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8706113

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22104537

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27206903

(9) https://goo.gl/NKCSF1

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3819153/

(11) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8749.2004.tb00460.x/abstract

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

(13) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25966264

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163160/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3679686/

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

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

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

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

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1429914/

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12044859

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4274818/

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23289173

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25548768

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19135345

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20357044

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27105868

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28054939

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27420093

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27005658

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20164557

(32) http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00212/full

(33) http://www.medsci.org/press/cocoa.html

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518374/

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794461

(36) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-08/aaon-cmh073113.php

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28527220

(38) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051111002584

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26569545

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19358505

(41) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0056736

(42) https://goo.gl/XZqLQd

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24006668

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9134116

(45) http://www.medsci.org/v11p0209.htm

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2068049

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2387659

(48) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1673537407600383

(49) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19995444

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25277249

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575935/

(52) http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20101103/beet-juice-good-for-brain#1

(53) https://goo.gl/oeTwfb

(54) http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20101103/beet-juice-good-for-brain#1

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26037632

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27630836

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16912655

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17459424

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12614590

(60) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026286207000258

(61) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ana.410150507/abstract

(62) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140429085116.htm

(63) https://goo.gl/x39wBK

(64) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1038/jcbfm.2011.85

(65) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746283/

(66) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22447676

(67) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0024320509004627

(68) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19925811

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12466053

(70) https://goo.gl/JLo2KP

(71) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23685189

(72) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28325558

(73) https://goo.gl/ffuYWA

(74) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2748160/

(75) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15132312/

(76) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2122148/

(77) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677118/

(78) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4480845/

(79) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25761837

(80) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7301036

(81) https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/11319230-000000000-00000

(82) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21689376

(83) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6403074

(84) https://examine.com/supplements/piracetam/

(85) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3556550

(86) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21183904

(87) https://goo.gl/Uf4XQU

(88) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4026900

(89) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8876930

(90) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10978039

(91) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17523446

(92) https://goo.gl/JYEMNd

(93) https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14191

(94) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22773150

(95) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3810733

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3446252

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20096732

(98) https://goo.gl/rHW2KD

(99) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27156064

(100) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8967461

(101) https://ccforum.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/cc10020

(102) https://goo.gl/KRZ9oy

(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16001018

(104) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1038/sj.jcbfm.9600177

(105) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695184/

(106) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11796739

(107) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1430829/

(108) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1839138

(109) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1098982

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

(111) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4011061/

(112) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16055952

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10669911

(114) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1098982

(115) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7820960

(116) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7913981/

(117) https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-38810-6_29

(118) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27526146

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26782228

(120) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23907764

(121) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5391232/

(122) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.22304/abstract

(123) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28249119

(124) http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_572581_en.html

(125) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170307100356.htm

(126) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20453669

(127) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539653/

(128) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3246784/

(129) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15118175

(130) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14757593

(131) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28155036

(132) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28506213

(133) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15929050

(134) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17088679

(135) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10867218

(136) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9682941

(137) http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/481961

(138) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12742675

(139) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9373423

(140) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21167506

(141) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7496746

(142) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1919689

(143) http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/jnp.15.3.326

(144) http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/783869

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

9 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You More Anxious

When I first started looking for ways to overcome my chronic anxiety, I originally didn’t think nutrition had anything to do with it. 

But I was wrong.

Being deficient in certain nutrients can actually cause or worsen anxiety.

And getting more of the right vitamins and minerals can increase your ability to properly manage stress.

Anxiety itself can also deplete nutrient levels. 

So the more anxious you are, the faster your body will burn through its vitamins and minerals. 

And the lower your nutrient levels, the more anxiety you’ll have.

It can become a never-ending cycle, eventually leading you to a psychiatrist’s office.

But instead of checking your nutrient levels, your psychiatrist is likely to prescribe you anti-anxiety medication.

And what most people don’t realize – including most psychiatrists – is that anti-anxiety medications can further deplete your nutrient levels.

This all might sound like a disaster, but I promise you – it’s not.

It doesn’t have to be this way. 

You can nip the problem in the bud. 

This article lays out nine nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to anxiety.

Making sure you get enough of these vitamins and minerals through food or supplementation can make a profound difference. 

All of them have really helped me at one point or another.  

Note: If you also have depression, check out my other post, 20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

A cartoon little boy looks stressed and anxious.

1. Magnesium

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, and it’s absolutely essential for optimal brain and mental health.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough of it, even if they eat a healthy diet.

In fact, research shows that many people are deficient in magnesium nowadays (1-3). 

This is a big problem because magnesium is needed for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity.

Researchers have found that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including anxiety (18). 

In one study, it was shown that not getting enough magnesium can significantly increase your anxiety (19). 

Magnesium-rich foods on a table, including avocados, bananas, almonds, spinach, dark chocolate, etc. A magnesium deficiency can make you more anxious.

And another study found that a magnesium deficiency can increase anxiety by changing the composition of gut bacteria (23). 

The good news is that nine different studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce anxiety in humans and improve anxiety-related disorders (20-22, 24-25). 

Plenty of researchers have also found that magnesium has a calming effect in animals by activating GABA (A) receptors. These are the same receptors activated by anti-anxiety medication (26-30). 

So if you have anxiety, it’s clearly 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, you should try to eat magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis.

Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

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

Epsom salt baths are another source of magnesium and an excellent way to increase your levels. You can simply throw the salts in your bathtub and take a nice relaxing bed at night before bed.

I also recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement so that you know you’re covering all your bases.

I personally take this magnesium supplement

Magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking

Correcting a magnesium deficiency can also help you overcome trauma, depression, addiction and withdrawal

2. Zinc

Zinc is another important mineral for mental health, and you want to avoid a deficiency at all costs.

Like magnesium, it supports neurotransmitter production and nervous system functioning, and research shows that having a deficiency can worsen your anxiety

More than one study has found that individuals with anxiety have significantly lower levels of zinc (31, 35-36). 

But supplementing with zinc can effectively increase zinc levels and reduce symptoms of anxiety (31).

Zinc-rich foods on a table, including salmon, red meat, nuts and seeds. A zinc deficiency can increase anxiety and make you more anxious.

Other studies have also revealed a link between zinc deficiency and anxiety (32, 34).

And when animals are fed a zinc-deficient diet, they display increased anxiety-like behaviour (33). 

Unfortunately, researchers estimate that there are more than 2 billion people in the world that are deficient in zinc. And studies have shown that even a minor deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (4-6). 

So, if you struggle with anxiety, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient.

And you’ll definitely want to take steps to optimize your zinc levels

Eat zinc-rich foods is a good start.

Some of the best food sources of zinc include oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms and spinach.

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

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

Check out my previous post all about zinc, copper and anxiety if you want to learn more about how zinc impacts your mental health and can contribute to your anxiety.

The article also includes other steps you can taken to increase your zinc levels and lower your anxiety.

Zinc can also stimulate your vagus nerve, which reduces anxiety. 

3. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system. 

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

So having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can definitely increase your anxiety.  

Vitamin B6 levels have been shown to be significantly lower in individuals who have anxiety and panic attacks (37). 

Foods on a table that contain Vitamin B6, including pistachios, chicken, beef, bananas, potatoes, etc. A deficiency in Vitamin B6 can make anxiety worse and make you more anxious.

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

But if you want to see quick improvements, you may want to try supplementing.

Studies have found that Vitamin B6 supplements reduce anxiety (38-40).

When I took antidepressants and benzodiazepines for my chronic anxiety, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with vitamin B6.

This is because psychiatric medication can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing anxiety in the long run. 

If you take a medication to manage your anxiety, or simply have anxiety and want to manage it better, I highly recommend supplementing with Vitamin B6

That’s why I included it in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

Click here to subscribe

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning your body cannot produce them itself.

They are also necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.

So not surprisingly, not eating enough omega-3 fatty acids can increase anxiety. 

Researchers have found low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in anxious individuals (41-42). 

Salmon, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds on a picnic table. Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can make you more anxious.

In fact, people with the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids tend to have most severe anxiety (46-47).

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.

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

That’s why I recommend 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 anxious when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

Researchers have also noticed this, as numerous studies show that supplementing with fish oil can lower inflammation and reduce symptoms of anxiety (43-46, 48). 

Other than reducing anxiety, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to stimulate your endocannabinoid system and lower cortisol.

You can read more about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids here.

5. Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that was only discovered in 1998.

So it’s fairly new.

Your body makes a small amount of choline, but you still need to eat enough of it through your diet.

Otherwise, you can develop a deficiency.

And many people do.

Most people don’t meet the recommended intake for choline because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.

And researchers have found that adults with low levels of choline are more likely to have anxiety (49-50). 

A broken egg and egg yolk. Egg yolks contain choline. A deficiency in choline can increase anxiety and make your anxiety worse.

Animal studies have also shown that choline supplementation during pregnancy can prevent or dramatically reduce the chance of offspring developing anxiety disorders (51). 

The best food sources of choline include grass-fed beef liver and egg yolks, and I definitely recommend eating those foods regularly.

But taking a high-quality choline supplement can have a more noticeable and immediate effect on stress levels. 

Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is my favourite choline supplement. 

I find that it reduces my racing thoughts when I’m stressed or anxious. 

Another good source of choline is Alpha GPC. 

Both Alpha GPC and CDP-Choline are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

Choline can also promote the regeneration of myelin

6. Selenium

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

Research shows that being low or deficient in selenium is associated with a significantly greater incidence of anxiety, and selenium supplementation diminishes anxiety (54). 

Brazil nuts. Brazil nuts are the best course of selenium. A selenium deficiency can increase anxiety and make you more anxious.

In one study, researchers found that individuals with the lowest levels of selenium reported they had increased anxiety (52). 

But then after five weeks of supplementing with selenium, their anxiety decreased (52).

Another study found that selenium supplementation reduced anxiety in HIV+ drug users (53). 

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

I also make sure I’m not deficient by supplementing with it.

Selenomethionine is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.

Click here to subscribe

7. 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.

But research also shows that iron is an important cofactor in the synthesis of serotonin, and an iron deficiency can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder (57). 

In fact, iron levels are significantly lower in individuals with panic disorder (58). 

A spoonful of spirulina. Spirulina is an excellent source of iron. An iron deficiency can increase anxiety and make you more anxious.

And other studies have found that iron-deficient individuals have increased anxiety and increased fearfulness (55-56). 

Animal research also supports the idea that iron deficiency increases anxiety, and normalizing iron levels can reverse anxiety-like behaviour (56). 

Despite all this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems and actually increase anxiety (56). 

It’s definitely a much better idea to test your iron levels and naturally get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough 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 of cooked beef liver, so I go with the capsules instead. 

Some other good sources of iron include spirulina, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, pistachios and raisons

8. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.

It’s actually more accurate to describe it as a hormone because your skins synthesizes it when it’s exposed to sunlight.

Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain.

So developing a deficiency can lead to a number of costly physiological and psychological problems, including anxiety.

And this is backed up by research.

Researchers have discovered significantly lower levels of Vitamin D in individuals with anxiety (60, 62). 

An illustration of the sun. It says Vitamin D in the middle of the sun. Humans get Vitamin D from sunlight. A deficiency in Vitamin D can make you more anxious.

And two studies found that fibromyalgia patients and pregnant women with Vitamin D deficiency have higher levels of anxiety (59, 61). 

Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is very common and a major health problem across the globe (11).

Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (12).

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight, but some people can’t get enough, 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

Increasing your Vitamin D levels can also help with depression, addiction and withdrawal

9. Antioxidant Nutrients (Vitamins A, C, and E)

Lastly, some nutrients have antioxidant effects in the body, and being deficient in them can increase your anxiety. 

One study found that people with generalized anxiety disorder have significantly lower levels of Vitamin A (beta carotene), Vitamin C and Vitamin E, all of which have antioxidant properties (68). 

But after six weeks of supplementing with these vitamins, researchers observed a significant increase in the blood levels of these nutrients, and the anxious patients experienced a significantly reduction in their anxiety (68). 

An image of fruits rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants can reduce anxiety.

Researchers have also found that taking both Vitamin C and Vitamin E together reduces anxiety (15-17).

And several other studies show that high dose Vitamin C decreases anxiety (14, 69-71).

In addiction to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of Vitamin C every day.

I’ve tried taking up to 10 grams of Vitamin C daily, and it helped me manage anxiety. But you don’t need to do that regularly unless you find it really helps you.

Good food sources of Vitamin E include almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil, sunflower seeds and butternut squash.

Vitamin E is also included in the Optimal Antiox supplement, along with Vitamin C.

For Vitamin A, I don’t typically recommend supplementing with it. Instead, you should get enough from food, such as grass-fed beef liver, pastured egg yolks, grass-fed butter/ghee, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach and broccoli. 

Cod liver oil is also a very good source of Vitamin A, and it includes Vitamin D as well. I take cod liver oil throughout the winter. 

Antioxidants can also reduce your body’s main stress hormone

Click here to subscribe

Bringing It All Together: Why You Should Take Them in Combination

The mainstream approach to treating anxiety is through talk therapy and medication.

But you can’t treat a nutrient deficiency with counselling and prescriptions.

And it’s important to note that taking all the above nutrients in combination will provide the greatest relief from anxiety.

Together, they have a synergistic effect.

For example, numerous researchers have found that taking Vitamin B6 and magnesium together is more likely to reduce your anxiety than simply taking a magnesium supplement by itself (64, 66-67). 

At this point, you may be thinking that you could just take a daily multivitamin, and that would cover your bases. 

But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Why? 

Because one-a-day multivitamins often contain too much of the nutrients you don’t need (synthetic folic acid), and not enough of the nutrients you do need (magnesium, Vitamin D). 

Overall, if you have anxiety, I would recommend:

If you need additional support, I also recommend this anti-anxiety supplement. It contains a number of natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to manage my anxiety. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.

And don’t forget to stimulate your vagus nerve regularly and process any emotionally traumatic experiences from your past. 

Nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle. 

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

(1) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00048670802534408

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10746516

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9861593

(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22664333

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939673

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673824

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12493090

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

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

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

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19543765

(12) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/28/vitamin-d-deficiency-signs-symptoms.aspx

(13) https://goo.gl/sK35dL

(14) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12208645

(15) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036190

(16) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560823/

(17) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21839761

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198864/

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2959081/

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27869100

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25773775

(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26591563

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20305593

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15159129

(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18799816

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28389335

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21835188

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25773775

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738454/

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689416

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868572/

(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2954453/

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23754591

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27825785

(37) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23603926

(38) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2572855/

(39) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10746516/

(40) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4161081/

(41) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16243493

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25591045

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2275606/

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21784145

(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3191260/

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19906519

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23945451

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17110827

(49) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/4/1056.full

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19656836/

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25300468

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1873372

(53) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12906343

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4884624/

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10742372/

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4253901/

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3680022/

(58) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23603926

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16850115

(60) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26680471

(61) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089018/

(62) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27827293

(63) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3759100/

(64) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208934/

(65) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23738221

(66) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26978056

(67) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18825946

(68) http://pubmedcentralcanada.ca/pmcc/articles/PMC3512361/

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27932080

(70) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26353411

(71) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24511708

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

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer

27 Powerful Ways to Increase Your IGF-1 Levels

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

It’s produced by the liver.

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

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

But it doesn’t just affect your muscles… 

It also powerfully supports your brain. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve divided this article into four main sections:

  • The benefits of IGF-1

  • Food and nutrients that increase IGF-1

  • Supplements and herbs that increase IGF-1

  • Lifestyle habits and therapies that increase IGF-1

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

Image of brain cell connections.

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

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

Yet many doctors don’t check it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it doesn’t stop there... 

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

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

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

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

But I had no idea for the longest time.  

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

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

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

 

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

 

1. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for brain health. 

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

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

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

Luckily, zinc supplementation can help.  

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

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc and IGF-1 levels are optimal. I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best zinc supplement so that they can experience superior results. I have found that many zinc supplements on the market fall short.  Optimal Zinc includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc. 

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

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

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

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


2. Protein

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

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

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

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

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

It's important to keep in mind that muscle meat (chicken breasts, lean beef) shouldn’t be your only source of animal protein.

Our ancestors didn’t eat this way, so neither should we.  

Your body prefers and expects to receive a balance of amino acids from different parts of whole animals. 

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

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

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

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

3. Vitamin C

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

4. Blueberries

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

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

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

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

I buy wild blueberries every time I go grocery shopping.  

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

Alternatively, you can take a blueberry extract.  

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

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

5. Magnesium

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

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

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Selenium

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

7. Cinnamon

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

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

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

Not all cinnamon is created equal though. 

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

Most cinnamon in grocery stores is cheap and not actually Ceylon

You can usually find Ceylon in health food stores.  

It’s also available through Amazon

8. Vitamin D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Thiamine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

10. Probiotics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Dehydroepiandrosterone

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

It's also available as a supplement

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

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

You can get DHEA here.  

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

12. Taurine

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

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

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

Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement

13. Resveratrol

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

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

And researchers are starting to understand why. 

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

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

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

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

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

You can get it here or here

Click here to subscribe

14. Leucine

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take this BCAA supplement when I lift weights regularly. 

15. Astragalus

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

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

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

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

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

 

16. Colostrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

17. Acetyl-L-Carnitine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. Creatine

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

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

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

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

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

19. Ursolic Acid

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

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

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

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

You can get pure Ursolic Acid through Amazon.

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

20. Hydroxy Methyl Butyrate

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

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

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

You can get HMB through Amazon.  

21. Coenzyme Q10

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

22. Low-Level Laser Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23. Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24. Deep Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

25. Reduce Inflammation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. Avoid or Limit Alcohol

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

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

It also lowers your IGF-1 levels. 

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

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

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

27. Sauna Sessions

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

Using a sauna regularly is one of them. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to subscribe

Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

Connect with me

About the Author

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

References:

(1) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/6/1518.full 

(2) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10284150400020482 

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9876338 

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21295960  

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22664333  

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939673  

(7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673824 

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068/ 

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068/ 

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068/ 

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11712076 

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8532589 

(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7845370 

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068  

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068 

(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068  

(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820068 

(180 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469470/  

(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20416996 

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10413658  

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3631133/ 

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23497226  

(23) https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/ 

(24) https://ast-ss.com/boost-igf-1-levels-by-30-new-research-shows-you-how/  

(25) https://eje.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/eje/169/6/767.xml  

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469470/  

(27) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0955286396000113  

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22714676  

(29) http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0365-05962011000500013&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en  

(30) https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/effects-and-action-mechanism-of-low-level-laser-therapy-lllt-applications-in-periodontology-2161-1122-1000514-104623.html  

(31) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/jcb.26265  

(32) https://www.intechopen.com/books/photomedicine-advances-in-clinical-practice/biological-function-of-low-reactive-level-laser-therapy-lllt-  

(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5127374/  

(34) https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/lactobacillus-acidophilus-modulates-inflammatory-activity-by-regulating-the-tlr4-and-nfb-expression-in-porcine-peripheral-blood-mononuclear-cells-after-lipopolysaccharide-challenge/E12E96E37FEDC02336B7A10ED302628C/core-reader 

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6131626/ 

(36) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6120984/ 

(37) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0045572 

(38) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27596801  

(39) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307885332_Supplementation_with_Lactobacillus_rhamnosus_SP1_normalises_skin_expression_of_genes_implicated_in_insulin_signalling_and_improves_adult_acne  

(40) http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/pdf/10.4141/A00-037  

(41) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5127374/  

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25963419 

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4071367/ 

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/999213 

(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3788622 

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19433898 

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23531502 

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24349472 

(49) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24946862  

(50) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22233457 

(51) https://thescipub.com/PDF/ajbbsp.2010.204.212.pdf  

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25909895  

(53) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267390251_Astragalus_Membranaceus_Supplement_Increased_the_Concentration_of_IGF-1_for_Damaging_Muscle_in_Human 

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29130588  

(55) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2017/6935802/  

(56) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28164139  

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22388791  

(58) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1148968/  

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18443138 

(60) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12133885 

(61) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0039332  

(62) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25352765  

(63) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3379974/  

(64) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21237681  

(65) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537867/  

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

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

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

(69) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24606898  

(70) http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/jco.1999.17.10.3291  

(71) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21590739  

(72) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12223429  

(73) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10708256  

(74) https://www.ijmrhs.com/medical-research/effects-of-high-intensity-interval-training-on-plasma-levels-of-gh-and-igfi.pdf 

(75) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27560704  

(76) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27560704  

(77) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7614245  

(78) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14871886  

(79) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25373853  

(80) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4442222/  

(81) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18325486/  

(82) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10422792 

(83) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20009360 

(84) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8218594/ 

(85) https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/10/4184 

(86) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448087/  

(87) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1909610/ 

(88) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978663/ 

(89) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11720784/ 

(90) https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-lookup/doi/10.1210/jcem.84.2.5455 

(91) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14568359 

(92) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677055/  

(93) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3348499/ 

(94) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14598295/ 

(95) https://www.nature.com/mp/journal/v12/n12/full/4002076a.html 

(96) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10022403  

(97) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10751445  

(98) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8418780 

(99) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10757380 

(100) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26362717 

(101) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7533956 

(102) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18223378 

(103) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492581/ 

(104) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013812/ 

(105) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3314463/ 

(106) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12415260 

(107) https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nm793 

(108) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00221-016-4572-1 

(109) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12067233 

(110) https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3211070 

(111) https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nm793 

(112) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00221-016-4572-1 

(113) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299190/  

(114) https://academic.oup.com/endo/article/149/12/5958/2455262 

(115) https://academic.oup.com/endo/article/149/12/5958/2455262 

(116) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5291552/ 

(117) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25497343 

(118) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4568328/ 

(119) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299190/  

(120) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2015/736104/ 

(121) https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/18/11/2441/htm 

(122) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25497343 

(123) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4568328/ 

(124) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299190/ 

(125) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2015/736104/ 

(126) https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/18/11/2441/htm 

(127) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5285390/  

(128) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27038749 

(129) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4568328/ 

(130) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5285390/ 

(131) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7ead/c0efe7ff3f325ef81e63d992d09d51d5bfee.pdf 

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

Affiliate Disclosure

Disclaimer