Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that circulates in the brain. BDNF encourages neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to grow and change. Increased BDNF levels are associated with increased cognitive function. Conversely, lower levels of BDNF are associated with neurodegenerative disease and depression.
BDNF plays a crucial role in the developing brain. In the adult brain, BDNF’s presence is considered neuroprotective. BDNF helps support the function of neurons.
Additionally, BDNF circulates throughout your blood, so scientists can measure levels of it by taking blood samples. It is believed that BDNF can cross the blood-brain barrier. It’s unclear, however, if blood levels of BDNF correlate directly with brain levels of BDNF.
It appears that BDNF naturally declines with age. Decreased levels of BDNF accompany many neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s. BDNF levels are also implicated in depression.
Can You Increase BDNF?
BDNF is unique because its production appears to be influenced by certain lifestyle practices. The following behaviors have been shown to influence BDNF levels:
- Yoga and meditation
- Regular sleep
- Aerobic exercise
- Sun exposure
BDNF appears to respond well to some supplements as well. Certain natural substances have a reputation for helping to increase BDNF in the body, like:
- DHA (short for docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid)