Learn about BDNF, its role in brain health, and how to increase it to support cognitive function and slow down brain aging. Read to learn more today.!
We often associate aging with a cognitive mental decline: the grandpa who can’t remember where he put the car keys, the grandma who asks the same questions over and over again, and so on. As a society, we have accepted that these forgetful moments are a natural part of aging. However, new scientific research shows that we may be able to keep our mind and memory sharp as we age.
This is because of a little protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that may be the key to keeping your brain robust for life.
Many experts say to think of BDNF as fertilizer for your brain. We have billions of brain cells, or neurons, in the brain and BDNF helps keep them flourishing and strong. This is because when BDNF is released, it triggers a series of genes to grow new brain cells and pathways. (The creation of new pathways in the brain is how we continue to learn quickly and think critically.)
Additionally, the release of BDNF strengthens the neurons already present in the brain. As a result, high levels of BDNF have been linked to improving memory, mental alertness, and more.
Brain plasticity is considered the ability of the nervous system to respond to stimuli by reorganizing its structure, function, or connections. Thus, it is basically how adaptable the brain is. High levels of BDNF help protect brain cells that get damaged in a stressful situation, preserving the brain's plasticity.
Because high levels of BDNF are linked to neural flexibility they help the brain adjust rather than shutting down in difficult situations, warding off symptoms of depression.
Studies show a correlation between low levels of BDNF and unhealthy metabolic function. Some researchers believe that low levels of BDNF increase the chances of obesity.
BDNF helps increase the slow brain waves experienced during the deepest stages of sleep, promoting more restful sleep.
High levels of BDNF are linked to a lower risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. One study tracked a group of adults for ten years and found that those with the highest levels of BDNF developed dementia and Alzheimers 50% less than those with a lower level of this protein.
Endurance exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase BDNF levels. This is because endurance exercise releases a protein called FNDC5 (fibronectin type III domain-containing protein 5), which in turn increases levels of BDNF by 200-300%.
Strength training also increases BDNF but only for a couple of minutes post-workout, thus adding a little bit of cardio to your workout routine can have significant benefits for your brain in the long run.
Stress is one of the biggest inhibitors of BDNF. Therefore, stress-relieving activities such as mediation and quality sleep strengthen the body’s awareness, memory, emotional control, attention, and more.
Sleep is also important because we release BDNF during the deeper stages of sleep. Thus, the better quality of sleep, the more BDNF you can potentially release, protecting the health of your brain.
Intermittent fasting is currently being utilized by many for numerous benefits including promoting longevity, energy, metabolic function, and more. Intermittent fasting, in short, is when you eat all your daily calories within a set period of time. This eating style is linked to increasing levels of BDNF, particularly in animal studies. One study put mice with Huntington’s disease (a neurodegenerative disorder) on an intermittent fasting diet. When compared with the control group, mice on the intermittent fasting had higher levels of BDNF, protecting against brain atrophy.
Studies show sunlight is linked to increased levels of vitamin D, improved mood, and higher levels of BDNF. Experts suggest just spending 10-20 minutes a day in direct sunlight to experience these benefits.
A key inhibitor of BDNF is loneliness and social isolation. Research suggests that this is because a lack of meaningful mental stimulation leads to lower levels of BDNF. Moreover, social isolation is also linked to depression, which has also been shown to decrease levels of BDNF. Set aside time in your weekly schedule to engage with friends, family, and your community. Not only will it be fulfilling emotionally, but it will help promote the longevity of your brain.
In many ways, we are our brain. It is the center of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When memory, cognitive clarity, and alertness decrease, it can feel as though we are losing ourselves.
Luckily, at the forefront of medicine, there are so many ways we can increase BDNF levels and support the health of our brain. At Next Health, we have tons of resources for improving brain health such as our Brain IV, NAD+ Therapy, Ozone Therapy, and more.
To find out what service may be best for boosting your brainpower or to book an appointment, request a complimentary consult.