Our memory, emotional responses, and critical thinking all work by firing neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) through linked neurons (brain cells). This process allows us to respond to the world around us which is why these neurons are highly important. Thankfully our brains are constantly producing new neurons through a process called neurogenesis.
Adult neurogenesis is known to occur in three areas of the brain: the hippocampus, amygdala, and subventricular zone. These areas drive our memory, learning, and emotional responses. Neurogenesis is driven by the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF is a protein that plays a key role in the creation of new neurons.
BDNF works by supporting existing neurons and encouraging the growth of new neurons and synapses. This critical protein is naturally produced by DNA, but exciting new research shows that we can actually take actions to increase BDNF levels! BDNF is influenced by factors like exercise, calorie reduction, and dietary nutrients.
Here are some ways you can boost your natural BDNF levels:
- Coffee Fruit Extract: Whole coffee fruit extract can positively impact BDNF levels in humans. Common coffee beans, such as Coffea arabica, contain unique polyphenols and procyanidins which may protect the brain, but also improve BDNF levels. Studies show that BDNF levels increase significantly after consuming whole coffee fruit extract.
- Curcumin: The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin is being studied for its relationship to the brain and BDNF levels. This important biochemical has antioxidant properties and supports a healthy inflammatory response that may contribute to brain health. Regular consumption of curcumin may help support higher levels BDNF and a healthy brain!
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid naturally occurring in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna, in addition to certain types of algae. In the body, higher concentrations of DHA are found in the eyes and brain. DHA has been long studied for its impact as a brain nutrient and is highly prized for its ability to support cognitive function and a healthy inflammatory response. DHA reduces the activity of the pro-inflammatory COX-2 enzyme, which could help control inflammation in the brain. One study showed that BDNF levels increase when consuming this omega-3 fatty acid.
- A Healthy Lifestyle: Research has also shown two more important factors to encourage BDNF levels – exercise and a healthy diet! In a study, voluntary exercise was shown to produce more BDNF than being sedentary. Just 20 minutes of exercise a day can dramatically improve memory, language ability, attention, and other cognitive functions. Calorie reduction may have a positive impact on BDNF as well. The Standard American Diet (SAD) includes lots of high calorie, low nutrient foods. Replacing these options with lower calorie, high nutrient foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lean proteins may help increase BDNF levels by increasing overall calorie intake.
This exciting new research into BDNF and its impact in our brains may help us take better control of our brain health, leading to longer and healthier lives!