Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet
What you eat has a direct effect on BDNF levels. Diets high in unhealthy fats and sugar (like the Standard American Diet) have been shown to decrease BDNF.
On the other hand, diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins have all been shown to increase BDNF.
Some of the best brain-healthy foods include:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
- Green, leafy veggies
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
- Olive oil
- Probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kimchi
Learn more about the gut-brain connection.
Reduce Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is one of the biggest enemies of a healthy brain. When you’re constantly in fight-or-flight mode, your body produces less BDNF. In functional medicine, supporting a healthy HPA axis is key to longevity and quality of life.
Unfortunately, chronic stress is becoming more and more common in our society. If you feel like you’re constantly under pressure, here are a few things you can do to bring your stress levels down.
Connect with Others
Humans are social creatures, and social connection is crucial for maintaining cognitive function. One study found that loneliness and social isolation can lead to a decline in BDNF levels.
Make an effort to connect with others on a regular basis, whether that means scheduling regular calls with friends and family, attending a group class or hobby meetup, or volunteering for a local organization.
Sunlight itself is a powerful way to increase BDNF production. In one study, BDNF levels were correlated with time spent in the sun—which were higher during spring and summer, and lower during fall and winter. During this time, researchers also noticed that during the fall and winter, depression scores were higher than during spring and summer, when participants spent more time in the sun and had higher levels of serum BDNF (8).
So, make sure to get outside for at least 20 minutes each day, especially first thing in the morning.
A low-carb diet has been shown to increase BDNF levels, cognitive speed, and mental flexibility (9). In one study, participants who followed a low-carbohydrate diet (16% carbs, 62% fat, and 22% protein) showed increased BDNF after just four weeks. In this same study, researchers also noted improvement in cardiometabolic markers, such as reduced triglycerides and body fat percentage, and improved insulin sensitivity.
Learn more: The Keto Diet & Functional Guide to Low-Carb Eating
Mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness practices can not only improve BDNF levels, but also increase brain size, working memory, and cognitive flexibility (10). These activities can be either mindfulness-based exercise, which emphasizes body movement, such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong, or meditation.
To get started with meditation, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to your breath. You can meditate for as little as five minutes per day.
Nootropics are cognitive-enhancing drugs or supplements that can increase BDNF levels. Some of the most popular nootropics include:
- Bacopa monnieri
- Lion’s Mane mushroom
- Rhodiola rosea
- Vitamin B Complex
Prebiotic fiber is a type of dietary fiber that acts as food for beneficial probiotics that inhabit the gut. When supported properly, probiotic bacteria produce crucial byproducts such as butyrate which enhances BDNF expression (11).
Some good sources of prebiotic fiber include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Chicory root
Read: Incredible Benefits of SCFA in Your Gut
Functional medicine protects against age-related cognitive decline
BDNF is a protein that’s essential for cognitive health, and luckily, incorporating these lifestyle changes into your daily routine will help to increase BDNF levels, keeping your brain healthy and sharp well into your golden years. From following a healthy diet to taking the right supplements, these tips will help keep your brain sharp as you age. If you want an extra edge in keeping your mind healthy and performing at its best, start implementing these strategies today!