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How To Increase Your BDNF Production

How To Increase Your BDNF Production

There is an advertisement that appears from time to time on my youtube feed that my partner and I love to ridicule.

In it there’s this 55 year old guy complaining about how dull his brain is getting. In true overly melodramatic style, he’s there in poor lighting, with his lank hair hanging down all over his face and wearing crappy clothes. Then he discovers and starts taking a magic supplement and everything changes. Why the fuck this meant the lighting got better, he decided to comb his fucking hair and put on a sports jacket after that I don’t know. I weep for America if they are that dumb that this passes for anything like a decent advert over there.

He tells a gormless audience that the improvement came about due to a magic compound called “BDNF”. Don’t know what that is? Well never you mind your pretty little head about that, neither did he. He then tells you it’s brain derived neurotropic factor, and there are hundreds of scientific studies linking it to brain health… ah backed by science. The number one claim made by hucksters all over the world.

Of couse all you have to do is have a scoop of this magic supplement every day and your brain is going to be as sharp as Einstein’s.

Now I don’t know if this supplement can do what the advert claims. Frankly I don’t care. I don’t like the ad and as a result I won’t buy the product – on principle.

However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. BDNF is in fact everything the advert says it is when it comes to brain function.

BDNF has a major role in the promotion of neurogenesis. I have written about neurogenesis before. It is the brain’s ability to grow new brain cells.

Yes, it is possible. I, like most people, was brought up on the idea that once the brain reaches maturity, that’s it for new brain cells. That was the accepted science for many years. However, science moves on, and we now acknowledge that we can indeed grow new brain cells.

Higher levels of BDNF are associated with:

  • intelligence
  • Mood
  • Productivity
  • Memory

On the flip side, low levels of BDNF have been associated with:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • accelerated aging
  • poor neural development
  • neurotransmitter dysfunction
  • Obesity
  • Depression


So, clearly the hucksters were onto something. However, the way to increase your levels of BDNF are not by taking a scoop of magic powder. The powder might be very good for all I know; I haven’t looked into it. It’s just that in my experience claims of miraculous results are generally over hyped or even bogus. Nootropics are big business these days. I have looked into them, but not too deeply. In my view, the best substances are the everyday substances that hucksters can’t actually make much money from: cofee and tea.

The ways you can increase BDNF levels are generally in line with what I have discovered in my amateur study (I won’t call it research; that is reserved for anti-vaxxers on Facebook) into what I can do to improve my healthspan (the number of years of your life in which you are healthy).

The thing with this stuff is that you get synergies with health. One thing fixes many things. Similarly, if you make poor lifestyle choices, when one thing goes wrong, it all goes wrong.

The way you can increase your levels are:

Exercise. It depends what you read as to what kind of exercise is best for BDNF production. Some people suggest that high intensity interval training is the best way (it probably is), while other people suggest that any exercise that elevates your heart rate and gets you breathing a bit will do it. My view? Any exercise is good. Do what you like, it will all help. Far better than doing nothing.

Intermittent fasting. This one is a cure all. If you’re not doing it, you should be. It’s not that hard really. You just go without an evening meal one night, and a morning meal the next morning. That should get you to a 20 hour fast. Do that twice a week and job done.

Meditation. An absolutely essential tool, not just for brain function, but also for anti ageing.

Sleep. Once again, a cure all. Sleep, sleep,sleep; It’s not a luxury, it’s essential.

Sunlight. Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins when it comes to health. Get out in the sun for 15 minutes a day – without sunscreen. Yeah I know this flies in the face of everything we are told in Australia about sunscreen whenever we go out in the sun, but since you can’t synthesise vitamin D when you have sunscreen on, you need to allow yourself a brief window before you slap it on. I’m not saying go out for 3 hours in the summer sun without sunscreen. Just 10 to 15 minutes.

Diet (and supplements) : Wow, what a surprise that improving your diet can help your brain. In particular, polyphenols. The best foods are colourful fruits and vegetables. Singled out for special mention are blueberries, an incredibly healthy food that I personally try to eat a serve of every day. Coffee is also good; no complaints from me there. Also green tea, but I won’t ever experience the health benefits of green tea – I won’t drink  it under any circumstance. One of my rules is do what you can for health that you ENJOY.  I can’t stand green tea, so the health benefits of the compounds it contains are unavailable to me. Fortunately black tea is suspected to also be beneficial.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial. This is where we cross over into supplementation for me. I don’t really like eating fish, so I get my DHA and EPA (two of the 3 omega 3 fatty acids) from fish oil capsules. The third – ALA – I get from flax seeds. Important to get all 3.

I also supplement with magnesium.  Some sources suggest it has a beneficial effect on BDNF. I hope so, because I am supplementing anyway.

By the way, when it comes to diet the bad stuff is still bad. Sugar inhibits BDNF production.

Psychedelics. At this point in the article I am supposed to say.. oooh, but these are illegal and I can not condone their use. However I am not. I’m not someone who give a shit about illegality personally. I believe they are illegal for the wrong reasons, made illegal by alcohol sodden politicians from the 60s who were afraid of their ability to make people think outside of the box. So in my view, if you have access to psychedelics, go for it.

Finally an interesting one. Hypoxia. The depriving of your brain of oxygen for short periods – eg holding your breath. The type of thing you do when you practise pranayama (yoga breathing).

To summarise all of these, I would say an overall healthy lifestyle. All of these things are things that I have advocated for years.

I would note also that the ancient practitioners of yoga got so much right. Diet, exercise, fasting, meditation and even hypoxia.



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