BDNF: The Key to Maintaining Cognitive Health as You Age

December 12, 2023 6 mins to read
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As a student of integrative nutrition, I find nutrition for mental health particularly interesting and have done considerable research into nutritional psychology (orthomolecular psychiatry). In this article I go over BDNF vital for brain health as we age! BDNF helps to maintain cognitive performance and reduce risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

What is BDNF?

BDNF stands for Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, a protein essential to brain function. Imagine it as a miracle grow for your brain cells. It plays a key role in keeping neurons (your brain cells) healthy, aiding their growth, and ensuring they function optimally. High levels of BDNF are linked to sharp memory, better mood, and overall optimal brain health. On the flip side, low BDNF levels have been associated with various neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s​​ (to name a few).

The Brain’s Remarkable Plasticity

Scientists used to think our brain cells were a fixed number, but they now know that is no longer the truth – our brains actually constantly produce new cells throughout our lives, in a process known as neurogenesis. BDNF is like a cog in the wheel of this process helping to form new brain cells and adapting them to tackle specific tasks…without BDNF that process is severely crippled.

Boosting Your BDNF Levels – How?

Fortunately there are many natural ways – through lifestyle and diet – to help elevate your BDNF levels, which includes:

Exercise Your Way to a Healthier Brain

Physical activity is amazing for increasing BDNF. High-intensity workouts, in particular, not only spike BDNF levels but also enhance memory and there is loads of research to support this. And guess what? These benefits linger in your body for weeks post-workout​​. Roughly 30 minutes of high intensity exposure 3 times per week is a minimum to enjoy these benefits.

Soak Up Some Sunshine

Vitamin D from sunlight is (despite it’s name) a hormone involved in heling to balance many other hormones, therefore it not only boosts your mood but also plays a role in BDNF production. Research shows a correlation between sun exposure and higher BDNF levels, especially in sunnier seasons​​. So just get outside and get some sunlight…Just don’t overdo it!

Sleep – Don’t Skimp on It

Quality sleep is a cornerstone of brain health. Poor sleep patterns are linked to lower BDNF levels, while good sleep helps manage stress and maintains healthy brain function​​. Sleep is the greatest brain performance hack that people neglect. If you want better memory and cognitive performance at school or work…sleep is #1, then diet and exercise along with it.

The Power of Fasting

Fasting is useful for so many health issues! Both intermittent and long-term fasting have been shown to significantly increase BDNF levels. This simple practice can be a game-changer in boosting your brain health​​. I often do the One Meal a Day or 16-8 Method of intermittent fasting with the occassional 24hr fast…and I quickly notice improvements in my brain performance, mood and just feeling over-all physically better. It’s a mind over matter to overcome hunger pains, until they goes away (which they often do) until you begin to feel the benefits later into the fast.

Manage Stress Wisely

Modern lifestyles can be very stressful, and often without us knowing it. A part of this is not being present in our bodies and attuned to what they are telling us about our health…often we neglect and medicate with things like alcohol and drugs like coffee or cannabis, sure they can help… but the sources of stress need to be addressed and we need to develop more robust tools to deal with them. Why is stress such a big deal?

Chronic and acute stress can decrease BDNF levels. Engaging in stress-reduction activities and maintaining a balanced lifestyle is crucial for keeping your BDNF levels in check​​. Try to find what is causing you stress and reduce exposure e.g. If work is stressful take more time of (if you can afford it), or if finances are a stressor for you, investing more time in work might help reduce your stress…whatever the solution is find it. A few activities that can help with stress include: deep breathing, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), meditation, exercise, nature walks, prayer and qi dong.

Nourish with Brain-Boosting Nutrients

Certain foods and supplements can significantly influence your BDNF levels. Healthy fats like omega-3s, compounds like curcumin, as well as vitamin A, vitamin D are great for this. A study even found that whole coffee cherry extract significantly increased BDNF levels​​​​. Nutritionally there is allot you can do to naturally increase BDNF! Book an appointment with a holistic nutritionist or nutritional counselor, to get set up on an anti-aging nutrition plan to boost your BDNF, give you more energy and make you feel better as you age.

Final Thoughts | Conclusion

Brain health is paramount as we age! Being pro-active to support our brain and it’s delicate neurons, we must make an active effort involving a healthy diet and lifestyle. Following these tips can help to naturally increase BDNF, and may provide mountains of other health benefits. If this all seems confusing or you just want help getting starting on an anti-aging and BDNF boosting diet, Book an online videocall appointment with a holistic nutritionist now! We take patients from anywhere in the world and all you need is a smartphone or a computer with a webcam and mic, for your appointment.


References:

  1. The Epoch Times – BDNF: The Neurochemical That Can Boost Brain Health as We Age
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information
  3. Frontiers
  4. ScienceDirect
  5. PLOS
  6. PubMed
  7. Wiley Online Library

Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any health care agency or government entity in Canada or the United States.

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