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15 Proven Ways to Increase Your Brain’s Growth Hormones

15 Proven Ways to Increase Your Brain’s Growth Hormones

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophin, which is a family of proteins involved in the growth and survival of neurons. BDNF works differently in the developing or adult (fully-formed) brain as follows:

  • Developing Brain: BDNF regulates brain neuron survival and growth in the growing brain.
  • Adult Brain: BDNF plays an important role in learning and memory processing.

Increasing BDNF can significantly enhance cognitive abilities and is a possible additional treatment in neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, taking natural steps towards enhancing BDNF can significantly improve memory, learning and outcomes.

In this article we’ll explore 15 scientifically proven ways to naturally up-regulate your BDNF production. Let's do this.

1) Green Tea

Green tea contains polyphenols that are known to protect the brain. Additionally, green tea is rich in antioxidants that are neuroprotective.

Even low doses of green tea have been shown to enhance BDNF.

Of course, the caffeine in green tea is useful in blocking the inhibitory neurotransmitter Adenosine and enhancing the firing of important neurons.

2) Curcumin

Curcumin (curcuma longa) is the bioactive, fat-soluble nutrient derived from turmeric root that has been shown to boost BDNF levels.

The surge of BDNF promotes the growth of new, healthy brain cells, improving cognitive function, protecting the brain and enhancing mood.

To get the most out of curcumin, select a highly bioavailable source such as CurcuWIN, the key ingredient in our formula Maximized Turmeric 46x.

3) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids (PUFAs) are required for the brain and central nervous system to function correctly. Unfortunately, most people don’t consume enough omega-3s from their diet.

To reach the required intake of EPA and DHA from omega-3, Americans would have to consume four times as much fish. Fish oil or vegan omega-3 supplements (from algae), meanwhile, are a suitable alternative.

Omega-3 has been shown to increase BDNF levels in many studies, and has even proven successful in helping with traumatic brain injuries. In animal models, oxidative damage and omega-3 levels were only balanced out by omega-3 supplementation.

Omega-3s have been found to promote brain function and calm the stress response in patients with bipolar disorder (BD), too. PUFAs are a promising therapy for people suffering from BD.

4) Prebiotics

Prebiotics are considered food for probiotics. Prebiotics are therefore required for a healthy microbiome.

Healthy gut microbiota influences brain activity and boosts BDNF levels. You can take prebiotics and probiotics as a supplement or eat prebiotic-rich foods.

Foods rich in prebiotics include: Asparagus, banana, leek, garlic, onion and dandelion greens.

For more information on prebiotics, read our article Prebiotic Supplements: What Are They and Who Needs Them?.

5) Resveratrol

Resveratrol has gained popularity for its neuroprotective effects and the fact that it is found in red wine. Resveratrol increases BDNF and, as a consequence, reduces fatigue.

In a study conducted on mice, which examined chronic fatigue, the hippocampus enlarged and an improvement in expression of BDNF was observed. It is thought that these factors account for resveratrol improving brain activity and mobility in brucella abortus induced fatigue in mice.

6. Magnesium

Antidepressant-like activity was found in animal models when they were administered magnesium. The results were associated with higher BDNF activation.

Studies have shown that 48% of Americans don’t consume the RDA of magnesium (Mg), which puts them at risk for many diseases.

Alongside genetic and environmental factors, poor nutrition has been attributed to the onset of many psychiatric disorders, in particular low plasma or serum folate, B12 and magnesium (Mg).

Elevation of brain magnesium increases synaptic plasticity (its ability to grow and change) and BDNF expression.

Did you know that magnesium is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies?

7. Dark chocolate

You’ll be delighted to know that dark chocolate is food for your brain. Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) should be consumed to benefit from the neuroprotection offered when the BDNF pathway is activated. The polyphenols in dark chocolate produce the brain-healthy results.

Tip: Chose a pure dark chocolate, avoid milk chocolate and select chocolate that is low in sugar.

8. N-Acetyl-Cysteine

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a semi-essential amino acid. Your body can produce N-Acetyl-Cysteine from other amino acids in ideal circumstances. NAC helps to regulate glutamate which is the brains main excitatory neurotransmitter.

BDNF is directly involved in the therapeutic effects of NAC.

9. L-Theanine

L-Theanine balances glutamate by blocking the receptors from getting over-excited. Found in green and black tea and also in supplement form, L-Theanine is increasingly used to help with relaxation, stress and as a sleep aid.

L-theanine up-regulates BDNF levels which improves mood and is being tested as an antipsychotic therapy.

10. Adaptogenic herbs

Adaptogenic herbs contain bioactive compounds that support the brain, allowing your body to adapt to stressful situations or increase energy as required. These are our top 5 adaptogenic herbs:

Rhodiola – Increases BDNF in the brain and has been found to have anti-depressant effects in animal studies.

Bacopa – Chronic stress in animal models was alleviated with the administration of bacopa. BDNF levels were also enhanced.

Ginseng – Has an anti-stress effect on the brain. BDNF is one of the recognised neuroprotective agents in this process.

Baicalin – Has neuroprotective effects due in part to the enhanced expression of BDNF.

Ashwagandha – promotes neuroplasticity and up-regulation of BDNF.

11. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in the proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system. Studies have shown that zinc increases the expression of BDNF, providing an anti-depressant effect.

Zinc deficiency is extremely common; in fact according to WHO one third of the world is estimated to be zinc deficient.

Zinc deficiency has detrimental effects on the brains function.

12. Exercise

Exercise at any stage of life is the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to quickly boost BDNF levels and improve cognitive function.

In fact, cognitive decline in animal models was reversed with short bouts of mild exercise. Exercise boosts brain activity, growing the brain and improving memory.

Get moving!

13. Sunlight / Vitamin D

BDNF levels have been found to increase in the summer months and decrease in the winter months. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why that is.

What’s more, low levels of BDNF correlate with seasonally affective disorder (SAD).

Vitamin D supplementation is essential in the northern hemisphere during the winter months.

14. Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) can increase BDNF levels. Eating all of your food inside an 8 hour window in any 24 hour period is the easiest way to follow the IF protocol.

Related: Amplifying the Benefits of Keto with Intermittent Fasting

15. Ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet was developed to treat people with epilepsy.  So its benefits to mental health have long been known.

When the body doesn’t have access to glucose as a form of fuel (from carbohydrates, fruit or sugars) then it turns to fat. This is known as ketosis.

Ketosis boosts BDNF levels. Some people have trouble entering ketosis or sustaining a ketogenic diet. For this reason, it is possible to consume ketones instantly as a supplement.

Conclusion

Omega-3 has been shown to increase BDNF levels in many studies, and has even proven successful in helping with traumatic brain injuries. In animal models, oxidative damage and omega-3 levels were only balanced out by omega-3 supplementation.

There are many natural ways to enhance your BDNF levels and improve cognition. Many of the foods that boost BDNF are rich in “polyphenols” which are antioxidants that protect the body against oxidative stress and inflammation.

This protection allows the brain to produce stem cells, BDNF and promotes conditions that improve brain health.

Many people are not aware of the fact that our brains can grow and develop, even as adults. Share this article with anyone you feel could benefit from learning about the scientifically-proven, brain-enhancing nutrients that can promote BDNF to improve mood and brain function.

Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification and personal development.