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Lactate has some surprising health benefits. This post explains how lactate is beneficial for us, particularly for our brains, and ways in which you can increase lactate levels. Read on to learn how to harness the benefits of lactate for yourself.

Lactate is produced from pyruvate via the enzyme lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in a process of fermentation during normal metabolism and exercise.

Its benefits can be varied depending on your genetic makeup. Go to SelfDecode to find out how your genes may play a role in lactate production and use.

Health Benefits of Lactate

1) Lactate is Neuroprotective and Protects Against Cognitive Diseases

A substance being neuroprotective usually, refers to its ability to prevent glutamate-induced “excitotoxicity.”

Excitotoxicity is when neurons are overactive as a result of excess glutamate.  The overactivations cause a cascade of negative events, leading to a breakdown of our mitochondria and neuronal membranes. As a result, the body has a harder time converting food that we eat to useful energy for the brain and body.

Lactate is an important substance that prevents excitotoxicity by inhibiting excess neuronal activity (R).

Hypoglycemia is the main cause of excitotoxicity. I’ve learned over the years that perhaps the worst thing for the brain is chronic bouts of hypoglycemia.

A rodent study in 2013 has found that modest increments in circulating lactate allow the brain to function normally under acute hypoglycemic conditions and that elevated lactate are also critical for maintaining glucose metabolism under hypoglycemia, which in turn,  preserves neuronal function. (R)

I didn’t chance upon this information by accident.  I investigated lactic acid because I had noticed a trend where I was protected from hypoglycemia when I did specific exercises (high intensity) and ingested certain foods/beverages.

After some time, I realized that the common denominator was lactic acid.  Most fermented foods/beverages contain lactic acid.

Traditional societies have always included lots of fermented foods for good health. I believe lactate was a crucial ingredient for our ancestors, something our current generation doesn’t take advantage of.

Personally, I’ve had to deal with GAD, OCD, dysthymia, brain fogchronic fatigue and anhedonia, which were exacerbated by hypoglycemic-induced glutamate excitotoxicity.

Even though I’ve removed the sources of inflammation and repaired my mitochondria to a large degree, mitochondrial damage can linger.

Hypoglycemic-induced excitotoxicity wouldn’t come about if our brains had an alternative source of energy on which to rely when glucose runs low and we would, therefore, solve a lot of cognitive related problems.

All neurodegenerative diseases (to my knowledge), cognitive decline and mental illnesses are, in part, a result of an excitotoxicity.

However, we shouldn’t only view the positive benefits in the light of prevention of chronic illnesses, since hypoglycemia can also cause us to perform worse in the day without any overt pathological condition.  So having a backup generator should not only be viewed as a prophylactic, but also as a method to increase day to day cognitive and physical performance.

Excitotoxicity is partially responsible for:

2) Lactate Provides An Alternative Fuel to Our Brain

We’ve all heard the familiar refrain: the brain runs on glucose.

Paleo and low carbers like to talk about getting into ketosis and ketones as an alternative source of energy for the brain.

Ketosis is a starvation response to low carbohydrates, where the body burns fat for energy that can directly be used by the brain. Normally, fat needs to be broken down into glucose for the brain to use.  Ketosis has a host of health benefits, especially for some neurological conditions. But ketosis is, after all, a starvation response and isn’t something that most people can easily and comfortably get into.

People differ in their capacity to get into ketosis and there’s a small percentage of the population that would die before they got into ketosis.  I’ve tried to get into ketosis before and failed, but after trying again recently I was successful, yet it gave me a headache, nausea and a flu-like feeling and some GI issues since I had to take in a few tablespoons of MCT oil.  It wasn’t pleasant even though I probably would’ve adjusted more if I gave it time.

In any case, what’s surprisingly never talked about is a completely different alternative to both glucose and ketosis: lactic acid.

There is some indication that not only is lactate a backup, but it can be used preferentially to glucose as a fuel source for the brain and other organs (R, R1).  That’s a significant piece of information.

Additionally, test tube studies have found that glucose is insufficient as an energy source during intense synaptic activity and finally, that lactate can be an efficient energy source capable of sustaining and enhancing brain energy metabolism. (R)

From Wikipedia:

“Although glucose is usually assumed to be the main energy source for living tissues, there are some indications that it is lactate, and not glucose, that is preferentially metabolized by neurons in the brain of several mammals species (the notable ones being mice, rats, and humans)” (R)

Lactate can also be an energy source for various organs, including the liver, where it is burned with oxygen to make ATP. The heart even prefers lactate as a fuel (R).

3) Lactate is a Powerful Mitochondrial Enhancer

A mitochondrial improvement is a critical tool for cognitive and physical enhancement. Improve your mitochondria and you improve the amount of energy you can create and use from food.

Lactate, but not glucose, was found to up-regulate mitochondrial oxygen consumption (R), which means that the mitochondria were producing more energy.

Even if you increase glucose intake, your mitochondria will work at a low level fixed rate because it cannot up-regulate oxygen consumption by the mitochondria. (R)

However, Lactate produces a dose-dependent increase in oxygen uptake, enabling our mitochondria to meet the increased energy needs. (R)

In addition, lactate induces your stress response and up-regulates the expression of genes involved in creating new mitochondria (R).

The world’s best athletes stay competitive by interval training and this is thought to help because the intense exercise generates big lactate loads, and the body adapts by building up mitochondria to clear lactic acid quickly. (R)

Just before a race, coaches often tell athletes to train very hard in brief spurts.  This is because lactate increases the mass of muscle mitochondria, letting them burn more lactic acid and allowing the muscles to work harder and longer. That extra stress increases the mitochondria mass even more and is the reason for improved performance. (R)

4) Lactate Increase Norepinephrine

Researchers recently found that lactate causes cells in the brain to release more norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter which is fundamental for brain function (R).  

Norepinephrine is responsible for concentration, alertness and blood flow to the brain (R).

5) Lactate Increases Orexin

Orexin, also called hypocretin, is a neurotransmitter that regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite.  Narcolepsy is caused by a lack of orexin in the brain due to the destruction of the cells that produce it (R).

Lactate is a critical energy source and a regulator of the orexin system. Lactate release from astrocytes plays an integral part in balancing brain activity and energy supply (R).

Supplying orexin neurons with lactate can stop glucose from blocking orexin neurons (R).

The effect of lactate on firing activity is concentration dependent. Also, lactate disinhibits and sensitizes these orexin neurons for future excitation (R).

One study hypothesized that orexin neurons only ‘see’ glucose changes when the levels of other energy molecules are low, whereas high energy levels can stop glucose from regulating orexin cells (R).

See more ways to activate orexin.

My Top 5 Sources of Lactate

I have my preferred sources of lactate that I like to use for mitochondrial enhancement since I’ve noticed a particular benefit from these sources.

1) Pull-ups, Sprinting, Push-ups

During intense physical exercise, your body produces lactate and this can enter the brain (R).

Endurance training increased the number of lactate transporter molecules in mitochondria, evidently to speed uptake of lactate from the cell into the mitochondria for burning (R).

I like pull-ups over push-ups because the body remains vertical, so it’s not as bad to do after a meal.

Anyone can do this by getting a pull-up bar that hangs on your door post.

I find the perfect time to do it is during periods of fatigue induced by a carb-laden meal, though this very infrequently happens to me these days.  I still like to do it after meals.

The fatigue rapidly goes away and my brain buzzes on lactate after I do a set.  In addition, I build muscle much quicker when I do this because the spike in insulin shuttles the glucose from the blood into my muscles.

Aerobic exercise is not nearly as effective as pull-ups or short bouts of intense exercise regarding lactate production.

2) Kombucha

I like kombucha because it has so many other benefits.  It has all the benefits of green tea but also has butyric acid, acetic acid, glucuronic acid and glutamate.  Each one of these acids is extremely beneficial to the body.  More to come.

3) Sourdough bread

I used to eat sourdough bread, but I stopped as a result of lectin sensitivity.

I used to buy a whole grain, spelt, sourdough bread, which happens to be loaded with lactic acid (subjective experience).

4) Sauer Kraut, Pickles, Olives, Kefir

I try to eat other fermented products as well such as Sauer kraut and pickles (all in the refrigerated section), but I haven’t noticed strong effects from these foods, especially with regard to that feeling I get from lactate.

Kefir and olives are also good, but I don’t like the taste and I’m sensitive to them.

The good bacteria in all of these fermented foods can also increase lactate production in our gut.

5) Fructose

Many people don’t realize that 25% of fructose consumed turns into lactate, which blocks orexin suppression by glucose (R).

Raw honey is my preferred source.

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.


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  • Prokash Roy

    Thanks a lot for the research.
    I would be very glad if you inform me about the research of damaged brain cell recovery.

  • Amy

    Joe, could you also add to this article ways of LOWERING Lactase? For some folks (like me), having chronically high Lactase is a huge problem. It causes chronic inflammation, gut permeability and there also links with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

  • Jenilyn

    Hi Joe, what about Calcium Lactate? I take that and notice a huge difference in my sleep and mood. I know you replied above that it was good, but my question is it comparable? I love it!

  • Jo Mama

    NOT exercising is what will give you anxiety. Athletic people can help you.

  • Ed

    I have just been With als and have done a lot of reading on this subject and I believe that he is correct on what lactate dose , and I believe that lack of it is what plays a big factor in what causes motor neurons and the supporting cells to die, and I also believe that statins play a big factor on depleting lactate, thanks joe. Ed

  • Th

    doesn’t lactate cause anxiety?

  • Alan

    Does lactate affect sleep negatively? I noticed I couldn’t sleep as well on my workout days.

  • Maureen

    Standard Process (which is 20 minutes from my house!) makes a nutraceutical called Min Tran and the first ingredient is Calcium Lactate. It also contains kelp, magnesium citrate, alfalfa, and calcium stearate. It’s for calming the CNS. Your thoughts on the Ca Lactate, etc.?

    1. Joseph M. Cohen


  • Gabriel

    Is ingested lactate digested and decomposed or it can pass to the blood through the BBB? Are there any sorces I can read? Thanks.

    1. Joe

      Yup- based on my experience. If I drink enough kombucha in one shot I start getting a muscle sensation that I get from exercise.

      Not proof, but kombucha can cause lactic acidosis in excess, which suggests that lactate is getting through.

      So it can pass through the gut. It can certainly pass through the BBB and I’ve read that in a study.

      1. Joe

        Just googled it for a source.

        “Because of the relatively slow transport of lactate across the blood-brain barrier (McIlwain and Bachelard, 1985), some lactate produced during and after neural activity probably is used by inactive brain cells.”

  • Yimyam

    I can eat Sourdough and remain balanced and pretty much asymptomatic. It seems to me that I might not be gluten intolerant, but just reacting to the much higher levels of lectins in gluten grains. Am I on the right track?

  • San

    Doesn’t Kombucha contain tons of flouride?

    1. Selfhacked

      Contains only as much as tea contains. So if the tea you’re making it with has fluoride then the kombucha will have fluoride. I make sure my water doesn’t have fluoride and I’m fine with the levels that I get from tea/kombucha. A little fluoride is good as long as you are getting adequate iodine. FLuoride isn’t stored in thyroid and if you’re getting adequate minerals like calcium storage will be reduced in the bones. I drink my kombucha and tea with tamarind. Tastes great and excretes the fluoride.

      Fluoride(-): Iodine, Se(protective and removal), Tamarind, Boron, Ca, Mg (mostly protective, partly removes), Spirulina (protective), Tulsi (protective), Fisetin(protective), EGCG (protective), Ginkgo (protective), Calcium, Magnesium, Aluminium, Phosphorus, Vitamin C, Zn (Protective), RLA, Vit A and E (Protective),

    1. Selfhacked

      This product doesn’t have lactic acid – it’s homeopathic. Right now i don’t get much lactic acid because I took the sourdough bread out of my diet due to gluten and my specific kombucha brew isn’t big on producing lactic acid. My main source of lactate is from interval exercise.

      1. Gadi

        I read that training creates temporary gut permeability and it is not recommended to eat 2 hours after and before exercising. What is your take on it?

        I am really excited about your blog and have some questions I wanted to ask your (probably absolutely unrelated):

        -Where do you get your SCOBY?

        -Is it healthy to eat 30 g of whey daily for protein instead of fish? (I get bad reactions from all fish and egg whites and do not want to be eating chicken/beef/bacon/duck daily)

        -How do you suggest doing elimination diet? how many days per food category?

        -Fish oil – healthy?

        – What is the first thing you would you recommend eliminating for someone like me who is experiencing acne following your otherwise wise great diet?

        1. Selfhacked


          I agree with what you say about exercise. 30g of whey is fine, though some cases of acne have to do with too much protein. Other factors at play, too.

          The rest of your questions will be answered through future posts or a book.


        2. Selfhacked

          You’re following the diet and getting acne…? If that’s truly the case, cut back on the protein. Keep in mind that that might not be good advice for you, but it’s the best I can offer without knowing lots more info. The more protein I have the more likely I am to get acne, due to an in IGF-1. Whey is particularly insulinogenic because of leucine and BCAA’s.

  • TempestTcup

    Wow, this is very interesting about lactic acid and your brain. I’ve been working on my gut flora for a couple of years now after a couple rounds of antibiotics wrecked it and the SAD wrecked it further. I went Paleo 5 or 6 years ago and am now adding more starches like soaked and sprouted beans, rice, etc for the resistant starch.

    I ferment a lot of stuff like salsa, sauerkraut (very easy!), yogurt, and I’m trying fermenting raw local honey. A friend is going to send me a scoby so that I can make kombucha; I tried growing my own, but haven’t seen any progress yet. I’ve heard the makers added an ingredient to prevent one from growing. I also promised my husband that I would make a sourdough starter to bake some fresh bread.

    I just read (somewhere, can’t remember) yesterday that you should eat fermented foods with a meal, and then read this, and that really makes sense when you think about it. Every culture has a fermented food as part of the meal: salsa, hummus, poi, sauerkraut, the list goes on and on.

    I’m also starting to wonder if part of the health problems in the western world is caused from eating hot food. I think that this is something that started with the advent of restaurants becoming the norm for getting a meal, and the health departments making them keep foods at a certain temperature.

    If resistant starches are optimized by being eaten cold, then it makes sense to eat cold or lukewarm food if it contains starch or is fermented. Also, very few restaurants serve fermented what was traditionally fermented; now salsa is fresh and sauerkraut is made with vinegar.

  • Lostfalco

    Great post Joe!

    Sorry, I only had time to skim…have you read this article about different substrates being preferentially used by different regions of rodent brains? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.


      Will read….

  • Pete L

    Hey Joe, where do you get your Kombucha from? I really like the stuff and it seems to have a huge amount of benefits. Only thing is from the sources I’ve found it’s quite expensive. Do you make your own tea or do you buy it ready made? If the latter I’d appreciate if you could link me to your seller. Thanks 🙂


      Future post..

    2. Dave Fellows

      Safeway and Whole Foods sell Kombucha. Safeway normally has these: 2 for $5.

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