How to Increase BDNF in the Brain

There are many ways to increase your BDNF that are easy and good for you besides improving and protecting your brain.

How to Increase BDNF in the Brain | Real Food RN

The topic of this post is very personal to me as I am a carrier of the APOE4/4 gene SNP. This predisposes me to things like Alzheimer’s, neurocognitive decline, and chronic low-grade inflammation. But as they say: genetics loads the gun, and lifestyle pulls the trigger. So with the correct lifestyle choices, I have a solid chance of not developing these diseases later in life! You don’t have to have the APOE4/4 gene SNP to succumb to these diseases, it can happen to any of us, which is why the information is so important and relevant to us all. After all, we all age.

If you struggle with depression or are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s, you’re definitely in the right place. There are ways to combat these ubiquitous mental health issues, and one of the best ways is to increase your brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). I’m going to give you the down-low on how to do this. These simple solutions can reverse depression and protect you from an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

What Does BDNF Do in the Brain?

BDNF is a naturally occurring brain protein that improves brain function:

  • Protects and repairs brain cells
  • Increases the growth of new brain cells
  • Improves learning, memory, and mood
  • Lowers risk of mental diseases
  • Increases brain plasticity
  • Suppresses brain inflammation
  • Offsets adverse effects of stress on the brain
  • Protects the brain from neurodegeneration
  • Acts as a natural antidepressant
  • Improves sleep

Medical research has found that low levels of BDNF results in a wide variety of brain-related disorders, including:

  • Dementia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Poor cognition
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obesity
  • Burnout syndrome
  • Sleep disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders

How to Increase BDNF in the Brain

By now, you are probably excited to find out how to increase BDNF naturally. You may be hoping I will tell you that one little supplement will boost this vital brain protein. Unfortunately, due to the low brain barrier penetration of BDNF, one pill isn’t going to do it. But, there are supplements that can help! The good news is that many of the ways to increase your BDNF are easy and good for you in so many ways besides improving and protecting your brain. So, let’s get on with the list of how to increase BDNF in your brain.


  • Coffee Fruit Extract

Coffee fruit is the red berry surrounding the coffee bean used for roasting. While many studies show drinking coffee is healthy for you, coffee fruit contains several brain-healthy compounds not found in the coffee bean.

Research shows that coffee fruit extract is one of the most potent supplements to raise your BDNF levels. A study published in the Food and Nutrition Sciences journal discovered that 100 mg of coffee fruit extract could increase levels of BDNF in the blood by almost 200% within just one hour of consumption.

  • Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane is a giant, white, shaggy mushroom that just happens to be one of the best natural brain-enhancing compounds (nootropic) that exist in nature. Studies show that lion’s mane can improve your mood and boost your BDNF, enhance your memory, and stimulate brain neurons’ growth and regeneration.

I take THIS lion’s mane supplement daily to stay focused and keep my BDNF high. Bonus: it also includes 100 mg of coffee fruit extract, so you get the two most powerful BDNF-inducing compounds in just one capsule.

  • Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are vital for overall health, helping you maintain healthy blood pressure, lowering the risk of heart disease, and reducing inflammation. As Omega fats are vital for the proper functioning of your brain and nervous system, it makes sense that there’s now evidence that Omega-3 fats can also enhance your BDNF levels by helping battle depression, reverse the harmful effects of obesity, and normalize BDNF levels in the brain. Research shows that Omega-3 fats improve mood, sleep, and memory and protect you against mental disorders such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. My favorite omega-3, recommended by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, is Promega-2000. The best price I have found is Fullscript — if you don’t have a Fullscript account, you can create one and get my 10% discount HERE.

  • Curcumin (turmeric)

Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric. Functional doctors use curcumin to lower inflammation in the body, and it has therefore been widely researched. Studies show that curcumin can also increase BDNF production and protect the brain by activating BDNF. In fact, one such study found that curcumin improved BDNF in rats who were under chronic stress. This supplement should be in your brain-enhancing regimen if you are under frequent stress since stress considerably lowers BDNF in the brain. There are a few supplements that I love with turmeric: Turmeric Complex (15% off link) and this Saffron Turmeric supplement that has another boost for brain health with added saffron! (get a free Fullscript account HERE)

  • Polyphenols
    Polyphenols are naturally occurring mega antioxidants in plants, specifically superfoods like flaxseeds, cocoa, and berries. There are many health benefits to getting plenty of polyphenols in your diet, and now we can add increasing your BDNF levels to that list. Clinical research discovered that grape seed extract, high in polyphenols, increased BDNF levels in the blood by 30%. I personally take red polyphenols because they work synergistically with bifidobacterium in the gut, and we all know how closely tied gut health is to brain health. So it’s a double-duty supplement. If you buy them HERE use coupon code: 9613541 for $10 off

Healthy Lifestyle for Increased BDNF

  • Exercise
    Of course, we all know that exercise is essential for our bodies, but did you know it’s one of the best ways to increase your BDNF? Scientists have known about the positive link between exercise and BDNF for a while, but recently, researchers discovered that exercise turns on the gene that signals your brain to create more BDNF. The hippocampus, the part of the brain commonly associated with learning and memory, is particularly receptive to new brain cell construction brought about by exercise. Studies show that even one exercise session elevates BDNF in the brain. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is particularly beneficial for BDNF. I do HIIT workouts every week on my Peloton.
  • Stress management
    Chronic or frequent stress has been found to depress BDNF in the brain significantly. Stress frequently leads to poor sleep, which also lowers BDNF. In our constantly moving world, most of us deal with more stress than is healthy. Finding a few ways to manage chronic stress is vital for our physical and mental health, including increasing our BDNF levels. For example, several studies report that a daily meditation practice can reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels in the body. Since cortisol negatively impacts BDNF in the brain, meditation is a great way to relax and improve BDNF levels. Besides meditation, breathwork, relaxing in a sauna, spending time socializing, and getting enough quality sleep are ways to destress and help increase your BDNF.
  • Cut out processed foods and refined sugar
    Many studies suggest that a diet high in processed foods, saturated fats, and sugar significantly lowers BDNF readings. One way to optimize BDNF in your brain is to follow the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on whole foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, seafood, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. While diets high in saturated fat decrease BDNF, healthy fats, as found in the Keto diet, actually increase BDNF in the brain—just one more reason for us all to focus on eating real food to stay healthy and happy. One of the best cookbooks I have in my stack is Trim Healthy Table, their recipes are mostly keto and feed large families. It’s a very easy and delicious way to go low sugar and still enjoy every meal!
  • Bonus tip: Track your metabolic health to be able to see, in metrics, how your body is doing. I try to stay low carb, take proper supplements, exercise, and intermittent fast. But I do not really know how my body is doing unless I track it. Studies show that carbohydrate-restricted exercise increases BDNF. So I track this using my Lumen (a metabolic device that tracks your metabolism based on CO2 measurements). Every morning before I get onto my Peloton (fasted) I take a measurement to see if I am burning carbs or fats, then I work out (I do a lot of HIIT workouts on my bike) and measure after my ride. 95% of the time if I am not in fat burn I will convert after my ride. But that took tweaking and tracking to get me to this point. Lumen helped me achieve that with specific daily dietary macro recommendations to keep me on track (they also have customized food plans within the app). It also tracks sleep, activity, metabolic flexibility, and more. If you are serious about really dialing in your diet and lifestyle to improve brain health (and overall metabolic health) this tool is a must! You can learn more about the Lumen HERE, and use coupon code REALFOODRN for $50 off!

Finally, there is one more technology that I want to add in: stem cell activation patches. This technology is wearable and activates the GHK copper peptide in our bodies using photobiomodulation. To put it in simple terms: it works with our body’s own infrared light to stimulate stem cell activity, which basically reverse ages you from a cellular level. I have been using this technology for a while and really love it. If you want to learn more, you can read about them HERE, and you can read the scientific studies HERE.

Here is the scientific explanation:

“Among compounds that have a protective effect and can
reduce oxidative damage are some neurotrophic factors such
as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) [47]. There
is evidence that GHK increases production of neurotrophic
factors. Both Sensenbrenner et al. and Lindner et al. found
that GHK stimulates the outgrowth of cultured nerves [48,
49]. Ahmed et al. established that nerve stubs placed in a
collagen tube impregnated with GHK (used without copper)
had an increased production of nerve growth factor and
the neurotrophins NT-3 and NT-4 increased migration of
cells into collagen tube and sped up the regeneration of
nerve fibers. In addition, GHK also increased axon count and
proliferation of the Schwann cells compared to the control
group [50]” (source)

Now, this might be a lot to take in. But remember that several things on the list above are important in multiple ways to ensure you live your best, healthiest life. I encourage you to choose one or two ways to increase BDNF. Then, once those have been worked into your daily routine, come back and try more. You don’t have to do all these things at once to start increasing BDNF in your brain.

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How to Increase BDNF in the Brain | Real Food RN
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