BDNF – Everything You Need to Know About Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor

Article by: David Gracey

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor is a vital molecule involved in learning, cognition, memory formation, and consolidation.

BDNF helps the brain develop new connections, repair weak brain cells, and protect healthy brain cells.

Maintaining optimum levels of the power-packed protein can protect our brains from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

It is a neurotrophin that encourages the survival of nerve cells by contributing to their growth, maturation, and maintenance by activating tyrosine kinase receptors.

Neurotrophins are a group of proteins belonging to a class of growth factors that can induce neuronal cells to differentiate and grow.

Encoded by the BDNF gene, it is a type of growth factor synthesized by the endoplasmic reticulum in your cells and secreted from the vesicles.

BDNF plays a considerable role in how well we age and perform mentally.

Here are the Primary Roles of BDNF in Your Body:

blood brain and body

It is essential for both short and long-term memory

BDNF is the most active neurotrophin that helps to stimulate and control the growth of new neurons (neurogenesis).

With ideal BDNF levels, acquiring new knowledge becomes easier

In general, people feel happier and more content. Much like exercise and sunlight, higher levels of BDNF can even be thought of as a natural antidepressant.

Low BDNF Levels lead to memory problems

Neuronal cells become more prone to developing degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Depression and mood issues become much more recurrent.

Ever feel like you can’t get up or keep going on a Monday morning? Have you been struggling with brain fog lately? It could quite possibly be your BDNF levels declining.

It is also involved in controlling body weight and appetite, as the BDNF protein is found in regions of the brain that control eating and drinking.

Where is BDNF Found?

The BDNF protein is found in the brain. More specifically, in the regions of the cerebrum that control appetite and body weight.

Can You Control the Production of BDNF in Your Body?

Absolutely! Increased synthesis of BDNF in the human body is affiliated with certain kinds of physical exercise.

This is called exercise-induced neurogenesis and significantly improves cognitive function.

Along with exercise, deep restorative sleep is just as important.

We all know that exercise releases endorphins (aka the feel-good hormones) that instantly lift our moods and help us beat the blues.

What we don’t know is that it is also the most important way of increasing BDNF production in our brains!

Researchers have recently found that exercise activates a gene that signals to produce more BDNF!

Getting a good night’s sleep is an effortless way to improve everything; the prime time for its release is during deep sleep!

Spending time with friends and family is another excellent way to combat stress, and it also releases the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin.

Social isolation is known to drastically reduce BDNF levels, which is a cause of concern for the elderly.

Eating right is the easiest way to encourage a boost in BDNF levels in your body.

Calorie restriction is linked to higher levels of BDNF. This is particularly important for people who tend to overeat and have issues with depression.

Researchers have found that a Mediterranean diet consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, poultry, whole grains, and a large variety of nuts may significantly enhance BDNF levels. 

I like to consider brain boosting foods as brain fuel!

Flavonoids, which occur naturally in plants, are also known to increase the production of BDNF.

Is There Anything That Can Cause BDNF Levels to Decline?

The top three culprits responsible for decreasing BDNF levels (and the ones we’re all very familiar with) are:

  • Sugar
  • Stress
  • Being alone (isolation)

There’s nothing new about sugar interfering with healthy brain function and better performance levels.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are directly linked to high sugar diets.

They’re also directly associated with lower BDNF levels. If you’re looking for ways to fix that issue, your very first step should be to cut out all that sugar!

Excessively high sugar levels can lead to a cognitive decline. High blood glucose levels can affect the brain’s functionality and cause brain atrophy (brain shrinkage).

Overconsumption of sugar triggers imbalances in certain brain chemicals that lead to depression.

Excess sugar impairs not only our cognitive skills but also our self-control, which is why it always leaves you craving for more.

Sugar cravings are real and can make it quite impossible to stop as it triggers the ‘reward center’ in your brain and can quickly become an addiction.

What’s more, a high-sugar diet also directly reduces the production of BDNF.

In the absence of this key protein, the growth, development, and communication between nerve cells become impaired, leading to a decline in multiple neurological functions.

How Exactly Does It Help with Learning and Memory?

There are connections between nerve cells called synapses where cell-to-cell communications occur.

The BDNF protein is active at the synapses. In response to experience and with time, the synapses can change and adapt.

This is an attribute known as synaptic plasticity, and it helps the connections between nerve cells get stronger.

As these connections are maintained, they aid in learning and help to improve brain function.

The BDNF protein helps regulate synaptic plasticity, crucial for learning and memory. Changes in synaptic connections are also believed to support memory storage.

What is The Relation Between Neurotrophic Factors and Depression?

Many studies have demonstrated that BDNF plays a vital role in the pathophysiology of several psychiatric disorders and the mechanism of action of psychotropic drugs.

The expression of neurotrophic factors is decreased in patients suffering from depression.

It has been demonstrated that alterations in functional neurotrophic factors can attenuate neuronal plasticity and consequently lead to depression.

Hence it is clear that optimal levels of BDNF must be maintained in the body for the healthy functioning of the human brain.

Many antidepressants work by increasing BDNF levels (like the natural nootropic ant-depressant known as rhodiola rosea) to help reverse the shrinkage of the brain.

BDNF Supplements

After hearing about all the potential benefits that come with high BDNF levels, you might be left wondering if there’s any way that it came in a pill because that would be great!

You could be able to reap all the amazing benefits by just popping a pill! Sadly, it doesn’t.

It is not available as a pill because it can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, whether taken orally or by injection directly into your bloodstream.

Researchers haven’t yet found a way of developing a pill that can make it happen, so until that happens, the best way to get your BDNF levels up and running is by making healthy lifestyle changes.

There are no BDNF supplements that you can take directly. 

However other supplements can help to increase BDNF levels.

Here are some supplements that may support healthy BDNF levels:

Drugs that Increase BDNF:

There are certain drugs available that can help boost BDNF levels, the most common being SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).

It is still unclear how they work exactly, but the general idea is that they either increase the amount of serotonin available or reduce brain inflammation.

Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) Final Thoughts…

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that promotes the formation of new brain cells and protects existing ones.

Lower levels of BDNF are associated with a long list of mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Boosting BDNF levels isn’t complicated at all; you just have to stick to a healthy lifestyle, and you’re good to go!

Fortunately, there are also some supplements available (mentioned above) that can improve BDNF levels in your body.  They’re readily available and have minimum side effects.

Check out these Other Popular Nootropics:


About David:

Hey! I’m so glad you’re here. My name is David Gracey. I am a cognitive brain function researcher, avid biohacker, and self-proclaimed nootropic junkie of sorts! (And, yes, a bit of a nerd as well...) I created this website as an outlet to share my passion for self improvement and cognitive brain enhancement. Got questions? Shoot me a message!










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