If you want to maximize your brain performance, proper nutrition definitely plays a key role. In addition, several other different lifestyle factors can be decisive as well. When you want to increase your BDNF production, you should take into account both of these components. But what is it exactly, why is it beneficial to you and how can you you support your brain to produce more of it?
What is BDNF? Why is it beneficial?
BDNF stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It is a protein, that help grow memory-forming neurons and protect existing brain cells. Optimal levels of it can offer you a wide variety of benefits.
Firstly, it can make you smarter. As far as the short term effects are concerned, researchers associate the higher levels of BDNF with improved memory, and executive function. With regards to the long-term advantages, it can bolster brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change. (1)
Secondly, in case of common brain degenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, the BDNF level of the affected person is usually lower. For instance, a healthy person can have twice as much BDNF, than somebody who has Alzheimer’s disease. Researches also suggest that, raising the level of this protein can slow down the progression of the condition. (2)
Thirdly, it can also help to improve your mood. According to a study, lower levels of it can result in depression, and increasing it can ease the symptoms. Researchers also found associations between low BDNF, anxiety and drinking problems (3)
Furthermore, it can assist your weight-loss endeavours. Studies suggest that the lower your BDNF levels are, the more likely you prone to gaining weight. (4)
Finally, it can improve the quality of your sleep too. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor can increase the slow brain waves, during the deepest stage of your rest time. (5)
Which foods can boost BDNF production?
The regular consumption of Omega-3 fats, and especially DHA, is one of the best ways to support the BDNF supply of your brain. Actually researchers suggest that this type of fat even played a decisive role in the growth of the brain of our ancestors. Consequently, it is probably not surprising that increased DHA levels are correlated with bigger overall brain volume. (6)
The best food sources are (g/100g of product) :
- Black Caviar 6.8
- Salmon Roe 6.7
- Wild Salmon 2.2
- Herring 2.0
- Mackerel 1.9
- Sardine 1.7
- Anchovy 1.5
- Canned Sardine 1.0
- Trout 0.9
- Shark 0.8 (7)
Polyphenols are a category of compounds that you can find naturally in several plant foods. They function as antioxidants, so they can neutralize harmful free radicals, and protect your cells. In addition, according to researches they can also stimulate your brain’s BDNF production. (8)
Foods that are high in polyphenols:
- Blueberries 535 mg per hal cup
- Cloves 542 mg per ounce
- Cocoa powder 512 mg per tablespoon
- Chestnut 347 mg per ounce
- Flaxseeds 229 mg per tablespoon
- Artichoke 260 mg in a smaller piece
- Olives 113 mg in about 5 pieces of olive
- Coffee 35 mg in about 20 grams (9)
Researchers examined the BDNF levels of mice based on groups with different nutritional intake. As a result, they were able to conclude that higher protein consumption increased the production of BDNF. The explanation behind this, is the building blocks of proteins, the amino acids which are crucial for neurotransmitter production. (10) (11)
This list probably won’t be too surprising for you, but let’s see a couple of good protein sources as well:
- Lean chicken breast 54.5 g in 6 ounces
- Lean pork chops 52.7 g in 6 ounces
- Tuna 50.8 g in 6 ounces
- Beef 48.7 g in 6 ounces
- Tofu 43.5g per cup
- Lentils 17.9 g per cup
- Low-fat yogurt 14 g per cup
- Grated parmesan 10.2 g per ounce
- Squash and pumpkin seeds 8.5 g per ounce
- Eggs 6.3 g in one large egg (12)
Turmeric, the relative of ginger is definitely more than just being a component of a tasty curry. This ancient superfood offers several different proven health benefits, due to it’s anti-inflamatory and antioxidant properties. Above all, it’s extremely beneficial to your brain. (13)
The active ingredient of turmeric is curcumin, and scientists have been examining the effects of it for a long time. According to the researches, curcumin can significantly increase BDNF production, which results in improved cognitive function and memory. Moreover, based on the results it is especially beneficial for people who had brain injury. (14)
There are many ways to add turmeric to your diet. For instance, I personally prefer to use a turmeric powder and make latte with a plant based milk. This way I can add ginger and cinamon to it, which will further enhance the brain boosting effects. It’s a perfect beverage when you have to work late and you don’t want to drink any kind of caffeineted drinks, but still want to somehow promote your focus and energy. Last but not least, it is delicious!
Other lifestyle factors to increase BDNF levels
Beside proper nutrition, physical exercise is probably the best overall way to support your BDNF production. You can often read that strength training can be beneficial to your brain too, however the evidence is kind of anecdotal. Let’s see a more scientific approach that can explain this phenomenon.
Researchers from the Journal of Applied Physiology examined twenty younger participants, who had trained four times per week. Their training program included the most fundamental barbell exercises, like squats, bench press and deadlifts. The experimenters collected blood samples from the partakers immediately after the first training session. As a result, they were able to conclude that the BDNF concentrations were significantly higher. They kept checking the participant’s blood after the later trainings as well, and their BDNF levels became even higher. (15)
So, if all the other more well-known benefits were not enough convincing, hopefully this can give you some additional motivation to work out regularly.
During the deeper stages of sleep, your brain can produce more BDNF. I probably don’t really have to convince you about this, since everybody can feel the effects of not enough quality rest. It can decrease focus, memory and your overall mental performance. In addition, if you are often stressed, you will likely need more sleep to optimize your BDNF levels. (16) (17)
Getting enough fresh air and sunlight
You can decrease the positive BDNF related effects of physical exercise, if you do it near heavy traffic. However, if choose an environment where you can breath fresh air, you can actually further boost it. (It will be presumably more fun too, right?) Researchers have already proved this with several studies. (18) (19) (20)
If you want to do an outdoor workout and you have found a perfect place, where you can breath clean air, you can further rise your BDNF levels if you choose the right time too. That being said, try to go out when it is sunny, since UV exposure can also promote BDNF production.(21)
While too much clean air probably won’t do anything bad for you, but as far as sunlight is concerned moderation will be important due to the potential risk factors.
Intermittent fasting, when you consume all of your meals during a certain time period every day, might also result in higher BDNF production. (22)
Quieting your mind, even only for a couple of minutes a day, can have a lot of benefits. For instance, it can significantly increase your BDNF levels. (23)
What can hurt your BDNF production?
In addition to all of the other general health related issues, consuming too much added sugar can decrease your BDNF levels too. (24)
Remember, the intention of nature was to eat sugars in small amounts combined with fiber, water, minerals and vitamins. In other words, via whole fruits. Fortunately, at this point nutrition labels are mandated to show the amount of sugar added to the products. Opt for the optimal number, which would be zero.
Too much stress
Chronic stress is one of the biggest BDNF blockage. Try to do things every day , that can help you manage nervousness. Spending time in the nature, meditating, doing yoga, drinking herbal tea can be all extremely useful. (25)
Social interaction can stimulate the brain and it can help keep it adaptable. Consequently, too much isolation may result in brain related issues, including lower BDNF levels. If you are extremely busy, at least try to make time for phone calls or chatting with your friends and family. (26)
Too much blue light exposure
Eye strain, headaches, blurry vision and dry eyes are not the only downsides of too much screen time. In addition to that, it can also decrease your BDNF levels. Try to limit your blue light exposure, especially close before bed time. Also, a high quality monitor that has an on screen blue light cancellation option can be very useful. The HP EliteDisplay E243 and HP EliteDisplay E273 are two good examples. (27)
It doesn’t matter how old you are, optimizing your BDNF levels is crucial for an outstanding mental performance and a healthy brain. Provide your body with adequate nutrition, and pick up healthy habits to make sure you will always have enough of this invaluable protein. Furthermore, try to limit your added sugar consumption, manage excessive stress, and don’t spend too much time alone.
All of these things will be beneficial for your general health and well-being as well.