Up-Leveling Your Brain
One of the most important proteins in your body is actually in your brain. BDNF (Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor) is a protein that has only recently come on the our radar screen. At high levels, BDNF has been found to:
- Protect the brain from neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Dementia
- Make learning new things easy
- Improve memory retention
- Make you feel happier
- Repair & strengthen existing brain cells
- Create new brain cells
- Help the brain age slower
- Keep your brain mentally alert
- Increases neuroplasticity
- Improves sleep
- Required for good heart health
- Help you suppress your appetite and lose weight
BDNF is not only found in the brain. It has also been found in the retina, kidneys, saliva, prostate, heart, and in motor neurons.
Low BDNF Levels Lead To…
More degenerative disease and depression. As we get older BDNF levels typically go down (like so many other things in our bodies) bringing on many of the symptoms we call “old age”. It gets harder to remember things and your risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Depression and Dementia goes up.
How To Increase BDNF
Here are some of the many ways that you can increase your BDNF levels no matter your age or economic situation:
- Social interaction
- Get outside in the sun
- Hypoxia – Depriving your brain of oxygen
- Intermittent fasting
- Deep sleep
- Reduce stress
- Cold and heat
- Keep to the circadian rhythm
- Diet high in Omega-3’s
This is one of the best ways to increase BDNF levels. There have been a lot of tests run with both people (young and old) and rats. The outcome of the studies shows are pretty mixed. Some show that low to moderate intensity exercise raises levels of BDNF. Other studies show that high intensity raises levels.
One thing they do agree on is that weight lifting doesn’t do it. The levels go up right after the weight lifting but then go down almost as quickly as they went up. So no longer term help.
There does seem to be some agreement that whatever you do you need to do it regularly and to at least mostly enjoy otherwise you won’t continue doing it.
Something else that was mentioned was to choose an exercise where you are using some other part of your brain along with the exercise. For instance go rock climbing or some other kind of activity where you have to use additional motor and brain skills. Some other examples would be tennis, gymnastics, or martial arts.
Connecting with others is a great way to stimulate your brain as well as being active. Learning new things challenge your brain and that increases BDNF. There was a study that found that people who are lonely are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. So, spend more time with family and friends, as long as you like spending time with them. Don’t do anything stressful…
Get Out In The Sun
There is some evidence that being out in the sun can increase BDNF levels. That is because BDNF tends to increase earlier in the day and decreases toward the end of the day – similar to the earth’s circadian rhythm. They haven’t found any connection with Vitamin D being related to increasing BDNF. That is interesting as they will both go up as you spend more time in the sun.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Recent studies are showing that higher Omega-3 levels raise BDNF and increase brain function. Eating fatty fish (salmon is the best for this) is the best way to get those Omega-3 levels up but if you don’t like fish then get your Omegas from a type of supplement. I suggest (and I use) Barlean’s Omega-3 Swirls, they are good tasting and the liquid gets it into your system faster. It also doesn’t go rancid like fish oil capsules.
Meditation & Stress Reduction
Having a meditation practice leads to many positive effects in your brain. There is research data showing that meditating regularly enlarges your brain and it also helps you to focus in your daily life. A correlation between lifespan and brain size has also been shown which would support the theory that meditation increases BDNF levels in the brain.
Stress lowers BDNF levels so it makes sense lowering your stress levels increase the BDNF levels and meditation will do that. Meditation specifically strengthens the areas of your brain related to pain tolerance, memory, happiness, attention, and consciousness awareness of your thinking. All of those are areas that stress negatively affects and BDNF positively affects.
There was a very interesting study done with rats. They bred a type of rats whose hearts did not have any BDNF protein in them. The rats died very quickly of heart failure proving how important that it BDNF proteins are required in order to maintain heart function and health.
Sleep is an important way to increase your BDNF levels along with your brain health. During sleep your brain cleans out the toxins that you have developed during your waking hours. Looking at the levels is seen as a predictor of how well you’re sleeping.
Chronic sleep deprivation on the other hand is correlated with low BDNF levels and immune function. BDNF supports insulin sensitivity and resistance. Occasional, purposeful sleep deprivation, however, is related to higher levels – things like staying up all night working on a project but not something like insomnia.
BDNF is an area of study that is just picking up steam. There is new information and studies coming out all of the time. One other thing that can help with BDNF is taking Coffee Fruit Extract. This is an extract made from the coffee fruit – not the beans which are the seeds of the fruit.
It is only lately that the fruit has been used to create a supplement / product. Before that it was just thrown out – but now they know that it has as much value as the beans do. It is not easily found but it is available in a few supplements on the market. Here are three you can purchase easily:
- 100% Pure Hawaiian Coffeeberry Coffee Fruit Extract
- Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Organic Brain Health Memory & Focus for Adults 40+
- Bulletproof Neuromaster
I hope that you have learned how important increasing your BDNF levels are and can find a few of the ways above to do that easily and enjoyably. Let me know if you try any of these methods and/or any of the supplements.