I’ve been corresponding with a friend who has a debilitating nerve condition that has him in a wheelchair and seriously limits his activities. He’s committed to doing whatever it takes to generate the fullest recovery possible, and I’ve committed to help him identify some supplements that could help. I’m writing this post in order to consolidate some of the research I’ve done and shared in emails, in the hopes it may be a useful resource for others on a healing journey, or a journey of optimizing human potential.
A brief definition of neurotrophic effects: “neurotrophic effects can be considered a therapeutic strategy intended to augment proliferation, differentiation, growth, and regeneration“. Our neurological health impacts every domain and area of life. This excerpt from Conscious Lifestyle Magazine expresses some of the general benefits well:
To increase neurogenesis is to improve your entire life— how you think, feel, and act.
Research shows that high rates of neurogenesis are associated with:
+ Higher cognitive function
+ Better memory and faster learning
+ Emotional vitality and resilience
+ Protection from stress, anxiety, and depression
+ Elevated immunity
+ Enhanced overall brain function
Here are some of the ways we can improve nerve health. Below are the top contenders I’ve identified for helping renew and restore the nervous system. I’ve linked to a number of top-quality products I’ve curated – some of which I’ve personally used and some not – as well as links to studies or articles if you want to learn more.
Now, a disclaimer: I’ll make clear up front that I am not a doctor or medical professional. Any views I express or information I share is in that context, and no substitute for professional medical advice, or for that matter, for your own research. I’ll simply share the best knowledge I have. Also a disclosure: I’m including affiliate links where possible, so if you click through and buy something, I should get a small percentage commission, which is much appreciated, thank you!
I’d love to write a longer post, but don’t have the bandwidth for it right now – “better done than perfect” is what I’m practicing. To cut to the chase:
- Lion’s Mane [powder][capsules], and other bioactive mushrooms (Chaga, Turkey Tail, Reishi, Maitake, and more) [study]
- “Neuro Shroom blend” includes three sacred mushrooms, plus bacopa, huperzia
- Bacopa monnieri (water hyssop) [capsules]
- Turmeric (curcumin) [powder] [capsules] [study]
- Omega-3 fatty acids, esp. DHA [vegan capsules from algae][another] [fish oil]
- Melatonin (best if you can generate more endogenously through healthy lifestyle, but still effective as a supplement)
- Matcha green tea (low-caffeine)
- Vitamins K2+D3
- Lithium orotate [study]
- Magnesium: threonate capsules (glycinate is a good form, cheap in powder, but a terrible taste IMO)
- Racetams – conflicting research, relatively safe, but caution advised. Noopept may be the leading candidate for neurogenesis [study]
- Blueberries and other anti-oxidant berries [article, article]
- Psilocybin, ibogaine, and other psychoactive compounds (caution – not all psychoactive compounds are beneficial in this regard!!!)
- black pepper (piperine increases bioavailability of many beneficial compounds, best-known in combination with turmeric)
If you want convenience, take a capsule that combines many beneficial compounds:
- NeuroStack 22 capsules – includes Lion’s Mane, Cacao, Bacopa Monnieri, Ginkgo Biloba, Rhodiola Rosea, and more (yes, bioactive extracted lion’s mane in significant quantities)
Of note, the single most effective supplement in the list seems to be lion’s mane mushroom. However, it’s also important to know that while bioactive mushrooms have incredible health benefits, they are largely non-bioavailable without extraction – a process utilizing hot water or ethanol. All of the products I’ve linked are legitimate extracted high-bioavailability products (and this is not the easiest thing to find, most mushroom products are not).
There are many, many other factors that holistically create our overall health. Supplements will never be a cure-all; but they can have powerful effects, depending how they interact with our personal, unique physiology and needs.
For a very cursory overview of other areas of life to address if you want to optimize you neurological function and overall health: exercise is huge. High-intensity exercise (strength or power) has been shown to significantly increase BDNF and other growth hormones, as well as many other markers of health and well-being, while longer-duration cardio exercise has also shown to increase neurogenesis. Sunlight also increases BDNF, as well as generating essential vitamin D3 and reducing stress. Chronic stress has a negative impact across virtually all areas of health, so the practices and mindsets which reduce stress are important medicine (yes, meditation; as well as time in nature, laughter, sex, and fun). Of course, diet is huge – “You are what you eat”, as they say, and the classic admonition from Hippocrates:
“Let food by thy medicine and thy medicine by food.”
Eat whole foods as much as possible; some raw fruits and vegetables. Organic, free-range, grass-fed meats, eggs, poultry. Wild-caught fish. Increasing our omega-3:omega-6 ratio is a big deal; we want around 1:1 or 1:2, whereas our modern diets (and testing in vivo) shows typical ratios in the developed world around 1:20-1:40. We also want to reduce oxidation and inflammation (yes, this can be taken too far, but not likely for most of us). On the flip side of eating good things is not eating bad things: many preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, corrupted fats (hydrogenated, trans, burned, or rancid).
That concludes my brief overview of supplements for neurogenesis; I may write more on this another time, perhaps expanding on the other factors (“enriched environment” is a very powerful potentiator of neurogenesis, and essentially means living a richly stimulating life with active learning and play).
I hope this helps you on your journey of health and human potential! I invite your comments and suggestions for any especially interesting research, things I’ve missed, or excellent products which support brain and nervous system health and regeneration.
Here are a few excerpts from the research:
“Studies show that lithium and valproate increased mRNA and protein levels of neurotrophins such as BDNF, glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), neurotrophin 3 (NT-3), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in cultured cells and brain regions”
“Our results indicate that G. lucidum, L. rhinocerotis, P. giganteus, G. frondosa and C. militaris may be developed as safe and healthy dietary supplements for brain and cognitive health.”
[note: the common names of these mushrooms are Ganoderma Lucidum (Lingzhi, red reishi), Lignosis Rhinocerotis (tiger milk mushroom), Pleurotis Giganteus (Zhudugu, cow’s stomach mushroom), Cordyceps Militaris (winter worm, summer grass, caterpillar fungus), Grifola Frondosa (Maitake, hen of the woods)]
“Sulfites are used as food preservatives and excessive sulfite might disturb the body systems including the brain. Curcumin shows protective effects on the nervous system toxicity.”
Curcumin demonstrates neuroprotective action in Alzheimer’s disease, tardive dyskinesia, major depression, epilepsy, and other related neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.
And a few more articles and resources:
- Grow New Brain Cells: The Neurogenesis Diet
- Dr. Brant Cortright, a professor of psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies
- Dr. Brant Cortright: “The Neurogenesis Diet” | Talks at Google
- Reality Sandwich: Boost Your Brain: Harnessing Neurogenesis
- SelfHacked: 19 Ways to “Grow” Your Brain (And New Hope for Brain Injury)
- This appears to be a well-researched and comprehensive article covering many factors and domains of life
- Supplements In Review: How to Grow Brain Cells – Nootropics & Lifestyle Tips for Neurogenesis
- Similar to above, a research-sourced article that covers many domains
- NaturalStacks: Why BDNF Is Miracle-Gro For Your Brain
- More good info, an emphasis on exercise science
- Heat and cold therapies
- Examine.com – an excellent resource which consolidates a large amount of scientific research on supplements and more
- Supplement-Facts.org on mushroom extracts and bioavailability
- Abstract of a study from Bastyr University on bioactive mushrooms and extracts