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Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor

In Summary

BDNF in Short

BDNF is a growth hormone produced by the brain which plays a role in the growth and development of new neurons. As a result, BDNF is heavily involved in learning and memory.

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Decreasing BDNF

Certain lifestyle factors which may decrease BDNF levels such as high sugar diets, sleep deprivation, and stress should be avoided.

Lacking BDNF?

Decreased levels of BDNF have been associated with a variety of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders.

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Increasing BDNF

To improve your brain health, focus on incorporating healthy lifestyle factors that can increase BDNF levels like fasting, exercise, meditation, and supplementing with curcumin.

Associated Positive Effects of BDNF

Increased BDNF levels have been associated with improvements in the symptoms related to neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders.

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Implementing Curcumin for BDNF

To enhance the effectiveness of Curcumin in the brain, research shows that it makes sense to combine it with Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) or eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). They are “synergistic” (12)

What is the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and How Does it Relate to Brain Health

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a growth hormone that supports the growth and development of new neurons in the brain and aids in neuron survival and synaptic transmission. BDNF is mainly concentrated in the hippocampus region of the brain, so it’s no surprise that it heavily affects learning, memory, aging, and mental health (1).

Decreased BDNF levels are a concern because they have been associated with neurogenerative and psychiatric diseases, so researchers have spent a tremendous amount of time further studying the health effects of decreased BDNF levels and looking for ways to increase BDNF concentrations.


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Factors That Decrease BDNF

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Research has shown that rats fed a high sugar diet for eight months demonstrated impaired spatial learning and reductions in BDNF (3). So, if you’re trying to maximize your BDNF levels you want was to steer away from sugar.

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Sleep Deprivation

Researchers have identified that sleep deprivation can reduce BDNF levels (4). Do your brain a favor and make sure you’re getting an average of 8 hours of sleep each night.

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The same study revealed that elevated stress can reduce BDNF levels as well. Yet another reason to reduce stress in your life!

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What Are the Effects of Decreased BDNF Levels?

Since BDNF plays a vital role in the formation of new neurons, if BDNF levels become compromised this can lead to a cascade of negative effects throughout the brain. For example, decreased BDNF levels have been reported across a variety of neurodegenerative issues (5) (6). Outside of neurodegenerative diseases, low BDNF levels have also been associated with depression.

Think of BDNF like fuel supply – if BDNF levels are low, the brain is low in fuel and loses its own ability to generate new neurons and heal itself.

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What Are the Effects of Increased BDNF Levels?

While decreased BDNF levels may cause severe cognitive deficits, increased BDNF levels may improve these symptoms.

Increasing endogenous BDNF concentrations has been shown to improve symptoms associated with neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases. In fact, researchers have demonstrated common anti-depressants may indirectly work by increasing BDNF levels. What’s even more interesting is that one meta-analysis demonstrated a significant correlation between improvements in depression scores and BDNF levels (7).

What Are the Most Effective Ways to Increase BDNF Levels?

There are a variety of ways in which you can increase your BDNF levels, but some are more effective than others.


One of the most effective ways to increase BDNF levels is through exercise. There’s an acute effect, meaning that BDNF spikes immediately post workout, but over time, regular exercise has been shown to significantly increase resting BDNF levels (7). The effect appears to vary with different types of exercise, and it appears that moderately intense endurance exercise may be more effective for increasing BDNF levels compared to heavy strength training (8).


Meditation has been shown to increase BDNF levels as well. Although it is difficult to point out the exact mechanism by which meditation can increase BDNF levels, one group of researchers suggest that meditation may reduce stress induced cortisol secretion which may in-turn increase levels of BDNF (9).


Another way you can increase BDNF levels is through the supplement curcumin. Curcumin has been shown to offer anti-depressant effects as it may alleviate hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis disfunction. One group of researchers demonstrated that when supplementing with curcumin, chronic stress levels were decreased and physical performance increased, and that test subjects given curcumin noted increased BDNF levels (10)! These findings have since been replicated and it appears that curcumin results in a dose dependent increase in BDNF levels (11).