If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety symptoms, I’ll bet you’re all in when it comes to relief options. I’ve been wanting to write about BDNF for some time, and I think you’ll be glad I finally got around to it.

Dr. Phillips states there’s a well-established body of evidence implicating the involvement of BDNF in the biological generation of MDD.

This article was reviewed and updated 4.10.23.

You may be saying to yourself, “Geez, this guy’s all worked up over writing about BDNF, whatever that is. Dude, get a life.”

Tell you what, I’ll lay it out and you can decide if I need to go life shopping. Deal?

Let’s go…

What is BDNF?

BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein, is a member of the neurotrophin family.

Neurotrophins are important to everyone, but they’re huge for those of us chin-deep in depression and anxiety symptoms. That’s because they induce the development, function, and survival of neurons.

And given how we blow through them in vital brain structures and networks, the significance of neurotrophins can’t be overstated.

BDNFs action

BDNF, which acts upon specific neurons, is found in the brain and peripheral nervous system. And being the good neurotrophin that it is, yes, it helps support the survival of existing neurons.

More than that, BDNF encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons, as well as their synapses.

So that means BDNF drives the healing dynamics neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. Maybe that’s why it’s been called “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”

In the brain, BDNF is especially active in the hippocampi, cortex, and basal forebrain. They’re all stars in learning, memory, and higher thinking.

BDNF and disease

Assorted studies have shown BDNFs involvement in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Rett syndrome, epilepsy, and dementia.

And we wouldn’t be talking about BDNF if it wasn’t a factor in emotional and mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and schizophrenia. It’s even a regulator of substance addiction and psychological dependence.

BDNF and depression

how to increase bdnf levels

The Limbic System

Let’s take a look at the action of BDNF within the context of a disorder near and dear to our hearts, major depressive disorder (MDD).

My source is the article Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Depression, and Physical Activity: Making the Neuroplastic Connection, written by Cristy Phillips, EdD. The piece was published on the open access research journal site, Hindawi.

Dr. Phillips states there’s a well-established body of evidence implicating the involvement of BDNF in the biological generation of MDD. She states that reductions in mature BDNF have been noted in persons with the disorder, as well as suicide victims.

Psychosocial stress appears to play a role in BDNF deficits as well.

How it goes down

According to Phillips, here’s how it’s thought to go down. Stress-related alterations in BDNF levels take place in key limbic (primarily responsible for emotional and behavioral expression) structures, which generate the symptoms associated with MDD.

The hippocampi and medial prefrontal cortex are particularly impacted. Fact is, atrophy of these structures may occur. And if that wasn’t enough, BDNF abnormalities contribute to the dysfunction of vital neurons in depression circuits.

But fret not, optimization of BDNF levels facilitates resilience of neurons, as well as synaptic plasticity and remodeling. And we’re going to discuss how we can do that in a short.

One quick note –  sure, we’re using depression for purposes of example, but BDNF enhancement also has a positive impact on anxiety.

How to increase BDNF levels

bdnf and depression

“It’s not my favorite thing to do, but if this is what it takes – let’s roll.”

Again, BDNF levels can be increased.

Better yet, some of the interventions can reverse limbic structure atrophy, as well as protect against it.

Now, before we get into the information from our next “reliable source,” I want to mention several things that can work toward normalizing BDNF levels that the source doesn’t include. It’s interesting that two of them involve electrical stimulation of the brain.

Take a look…

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Increased glutamate (neurotransmitter) levels
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

Let’s move on.

8 ways to increase BDNF levels

Okay, the following highlights come from 8 Ways to Increase BDNF Levels (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), posted on Mental Health Daily.

Keep in mind, they aren’t overnight sensations and they’re not for everyone. And I’m not a doc, nor am I making recommendations. You bet, check in with your physician before you make a move…

  1. Exercise: The more intense and frequent, the better.
  2. Intermittent fasting or caloric restriction: Especially important if you don’t want to exercise frequently.
  3. Dietary modifications: Cut refined sugar and saturated fat.
  4. Sunlight: If you aren’t getting enough sun, think about Vitamin D supplements.
  5. Supplements: Curcumin, green tea, omega-3 fatty acids, resveratrol.
  6. Lose weight: What more can I say?
  7. Prescription meds: The article mentions several, but I’ll highlight the SSRIs. They increase BDNF levels, which in turn can counteract neuronal atrophy in key limbic structures, as well as tidy-up dysfunctional neuronal networks.
  8. Social enrichment: Stay socially engaged.

How ‘bout a bonus? I was chatting with my psychiatrist several years ago. Out of nowhere he said I needed to boost my BDNF levels. He told me to eat a cup of blueberries everyday. Red grapes are right up there with them.

Do your own research. See what you can find that fits.

Give it some thought

I can be a skeptic when it comes to relief and healing interventions. However, if it’s done safely, working with BDNF is the real deal.

Why wouldn’t we want to explore something that’s known to reduce our depression and anxiety symptoms?

Give it some thought.

The links…

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Depression, and Physical Activity: Making the Neuroplastic Connection

8 Ways to Increase BDNF Levels (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor)

And don’t forget about those Chipur mood and anxiety info and inspiration articles. Peruse the titles.

Limbic System image: Illustration from Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site.  The file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.  No changes made.

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