“BDNF is like Miracle-Gro for your brain.”
John Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
One of the key ingredients to a happier, healthier, longer life, and to increased brain performance is to increase your levels of BNDF, brain-derived neurotropic factor. BDNF is a protein that affects the brain in several positive ways including acting as a natural anti-depressant, a catalyst for neurogenesis (the development of new neural connective tissue), increased learning speed, better memory, and an improvement in mental states (mood).
Art De Vany, an anti-aging and evolutionary fitness (Paleo) author wrote this “When BDNF is released, new connections form in the brain as the BDNF attracts new dendrites from nerve cells to connect to other cells or their synapses. As the brain cells "fire together", they "wire together." Wiring together new networks is how memory is formed and consolidated. A neural network is a thought, a memory, or a new skill. This "fast" form of learning is essential in emergency situations where fight or flight may be the only means of coping. Evolution would seem to require that fast learning takes precedence in fight or flight situations and the release of BDNF and stress hormones during such episodes almost assures that the event takes on salience and weight.”
Scientific research has shown that there are many ways to increase BDNF, and here are some of the most effective ways.
The best way to increase BDNF production is through exercise (1). Some of the best results in this area are achieved through HIIT training. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT training consists of short bursts of near maximum effort followed by short rests. One of the best know HIIT workouts is the Tabata (2) workout, which consists of 8 rounds of 30 seconds 100% effort followed by a 10 second rest. Remember to warm up and cool down properly!
A close second for increasing your BDNF is to reduce the amount of sugar you consume. High sugar consumption, especially High Fructose Corn Syrup impairs synaptic function and can cause atrophy of neural networks. In simple terms, it causes your neural networks to stop working which leads to poor mental performance. (3)
Get enough high-quality sleep. BDNF is naturally released during deep sleep. In today’s busy society getting enough sleep can be hard to do, but Dave Asprey, Biohacker and author of Headstrong recommends several ways to improve the quality of your sleep, so even if you can’t get 10 hours of sleep a night, you can still get the restorative value of deep sleep.
Get PEMF treatments. PEMF stands for Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Fields. PEMF devices produce pulsed magnetic fields that stimulates the electrons inside your cells causing the cells to pulse, or exercise. It is as if all your cells, not just muscle cells are exercising. This exercise increases oxygenation, improves sodium/potassium pump (increasing ATP and therefore energy), and can even stimulate autophagy (your cells cleaning house and taking out the trash) (4). One study PEMF increased levels of BDNF (5) and in another it even restored abnormal neuronal activity (6).
Get outside and get some sun. Start by taking off your sunglasses and do not apply sunscreen for maximum benefit. When exposed to direct sunlight, the photoreceptors of your eyes, and your skin itself trigger a cascade of positive effects including increased Vitamin D and BDNF, both of which improve feelings of well-being, increased Nitric Oxide (which lowers blood-pressure)(7) and can fight certain types of depression. Remember that the minimum effective dose of sunlight to get a tan is 14 minutes, maybe a little more if you gave darker skin. Limit your exposure to less than 20 minutes for safety if you have a fair complexion.