- 0.1 1. 7, 8-dihydroxyflavone
- 0.2 2. Ampakines
- 0.3 3. LM22A-4
- 0.4 4. Thyroid hormone
- 0.5 5. Melatonin
- 0.6 6. Intranasal insulin
- 0.7 7. Intranasal oxytocin
- 0.8 8. Testosterone
- 0.9 9. Progesterone
- 0.10 10. 17β-estradiol
- 0.11 11. Adenosine
- 0.12 12. High-Frequency Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)
- 0.13 13. Electroconvulsive therapy
- 0.14 14. Acupuncture
- 0.15 15. Deep brain stimulation
- 0.16 16. Physical therapy
- 0.17 17. Vitamin D
- 0.18 18. Resveratrol
- 0.19 19. Schisandra chinensis
- 0.20 20. Folic acid
- 0.21 21. Piperine
- 0.22 22. Panax ginseng
- 0.23 23. Omega-3
- 0.24 24. Nobiletin
- 0.25 25. Fingolimod
- 0.26 26. Quercetin
- 0.27 27. Magnolol
- 0.28 28. Zinc
- 0.29 29. Oroxylin A
- 0.30 30. Bright light therapy
- 0.31 31. Exercise
- 0.32 32. Sunlight
- 0.33 33. Sex
- 0.34 34. Calorie restriction
- 0.35 35. Meditation
- 0.36 36. Ketone bodies
- 0.37 37. Socialization
- 0.38 38. “Enriched housing”
- 0.39 39. Blueberries
- 0.40 40. Cacao or dark chocolate
- 0.41 41. Curcumin
- 0.42 42. Agomelatine
- 0.43 43. Fluoxetine
- 0.44 44. Citalopram
- 0.45 45. Reboxetine
- 0.46 46. Sertraline
- 0.47 47. Mirtazepine
- 0.48 48. Duloxetine
- 0.49 49. Nicotine
- 0.50 50. Sodium butyrate
- 0.51 51. Ketamine
- 0.52 52. Venlafaxine
- 0.53 53. Memantine
- 0.54 54. GABA(A) receptor blockade
- 0.55 1. Exercise
- 0.56 2. Sunlight
- 0.57 3. Intermittent Fasting
- 0.58 4. Curcumin
- 0.59 5. Avoid Processed Food and Refined Sugar
- 0.60 6. Green Tea
- 0.61 7. Lose Fat
- 0.62 8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Krill Oil)
- 0.63 9. Socialize
- 0.64 10. Resveratrol
- 0.65 11. Deep Sleep
- 0.66 12. Prebiotics and Resistant Starch
- 0.67 13. Reduce Stress (Neurofeedback/Meditation)
- 0.68 14. Ketogenic Diet
- 0.69 15. Magnesium
- 0.70 16. Lithium Orotate
- 0.71 17. Dark Chocolate
- 0.72 18. N-Acetyl-Cysteine
- 0.73 19. Theanine
- 0.74 20. Adaptogenic Herbs
- 0.75 21. Zinc
- 0.76 Conclusion
- 1 Neural Plasticity
- 2 8 Ways to Increase BDNF and Keep Your Brain from Aging
Low-dose methamphetamine likely increases BDNF but that does not mean you should start using crystal.
1. 7, 8-dihydroxyflavone
Type: research chemical
7,8-dihydroxylfavone is a BDNF mimetic, and may not increase BDNF itself. It binds the Trk B receptor in the brain.
- Biochemical and biophysical investigation of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor mimetic 7,8-dihydroxyflavone in the binding and activation of the TrkB receptor.
Type: research chemical
Ampakines are potentially high-risk research compounds. More research is needed to assess the risk of neurotoxicity. See this discussion on Sunifiram.
- Combined ampakine and BDNF treatments enhance poststroke functional recovery in aged mice via AKT-CREB signaling.
Type: research chemical
LM22A-4 is a partial agonist of TrkB, the primary receptor for BDNF. LM22A-4 fails to cross the blood-brain-barrier when administered systemically, so LM22A-4 has been given to animals instead via intranasally, which results in TrkB activation. The compound produces neurogenic and neuroprotective effects in animals.
- BDNF mimetic compound LM22A-4 regulates cementoblast differentiation via the TrkB-ERK/Akt signaling cascade.
4. Thyroid hormone
Thyroid hormone regulates the metabolism of every cell in the body. Thyroid increases neurogenesis and BDNF.
- Developmental thyroid hormone insufficiency reduces expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in adults but not in neonates.
Even if you don’t suffer from insomnia, the neuroprotective effects of melatonin cannot be dismissed. Melatonin is among the most potent antioxidants.
- Effect of Melatonin on Glutamate: BDNF Signaling in the Cerebral Cortex of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)-Exposed Adult Male Rats.
6. Intranasal insulin
- Intranasal insulin exerts beneficial effects by improving cerebral blood flow, Nrf-2 expression and BDNF in STZ (ICV) induced memory-impaired rats.
7. Intranasal oxytocin
- The effects of oxytocin on cognitive defect caused by chronic restraint stress applied to adolescent rats and on hippocampal VEGF and BDNF levels.
- Adolescent testosterone influences BDNF and TrkB mRNA and neurotrophin-interneuron marker relationships in mammalian frontal cortex.
- 17β-estradiol replacement in young, adult and middle-aged female ovariectomized rats promotes improvement of spatial reference memory and an antidepressant effect and alters monoamines and BDNF levels in memory- and depression-related brain areas.
Since coffee is an adenosine antagonist, should we therefore drink less coffee? This result seems to imply that caffeine could inhibit BDNF expression via adenosine blockade.
12. High-Frequency Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)
- High-Frequency Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) Improves Functional Recovery by Enhancing Neurogenesis and Activating BDNF/TrkB Signaling in Ischemic Rats.
13. Electroconvulsive therapy
Not recommended unless you have severe, treatment-resistant depression.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and aerobic exercise training (AET) increased plasma BDNF and ameliorated depressive symptoms in patients suffering from major depressive disorder.
15. Deep brain stimulation
16. Physical therapy
- Physical therapy intervention (PTI) increases plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in non-frail and pre-frail elderly women.
17. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is the one supplement I think everyone should take.
- Effects of vitamin D supplementation on neuroplasticity in older adults: a double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomised trial.
- Resveratrol Increases Serum BDNF Concentrations and Reduces Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells Contractility via a NOS-3-Independent Mechanism.
19. Schisandra chinensis
- Schisandra chinensis produces the antidepressant-like effects in repeated corticosterone-induced mice via the BDNF/TrkB/CREB signaling pathway.
20. Folic acid
Piperine also enhances the bioavailability of curcumin.
- Piperine reverses the effects of corticosterone on behavior and hippocampal BDNF expression in mice.
22. Panax ginseng
- Effects of ginsenoside Rb1 on the stress-induced changes of BDNF and HSP70 expression in rat hippocampus.
Studies on omega-3 have been equivocal. At the very least, omega-3 polyunsattured fatty acids are unlikely to be harmful, provided that they’re not contaminated with mercury.
- Omega-3 deficiency and neurodegeneration in the substantia nigra: involvement of increased nitric oxide production and reduced BDNF expression.
Nobiletin is a very promising cognitive enhancer that does not receive the attention that it should.
- Nobiletin Ameliorates the Deficits in Hippocampal BDNF, TrkB, and Synapsin I Induced by Chronic Unpredictable Mild Stress.
- Fingolimod, a sphingosine-1 phosphate receptor modulator, increases BDNF levels and improves symptoms of a mouse model of Rett syndrome.
I’d avoid quercetin supplementation.
Instead, here are some quercetin-rich foods: apples; peppers; red wine; dark cherries and berries (blueberries, bilberries, blackberries and others); tomatoes; cruciferous veggies, including broccoli, cabbage and sprouts; leafy green veggies, including spinach, kale; citrus fruits.
- Quercetin attenuates cell apoptosis in focal cerebral ischemia rat brain via activation of BDNF-TrkB-PI3K/Akt signaling pathway.
- Antidepressant-like effect of magnolol on BDNF up-regulation and serotonergic system activity in unpredictable chronic mild stress treated rats.
Zinc is a double-edged sword. See [Zinc: the brain’s dark horse](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19623531
- Dietary zinc supplementation of 3xTg-AD mice increases BDNF levels and prevents cognitive deficits as well as mitochondrial dysfunction.
29. Oroxylin A
- Oroxylin A Induces BDNF Expression on Cortical Neurons through Adenosine A2A Receptor Stimulation: A Possible Role in Neuroprotection.
30. Bright light therapy
Bright light therapy in the morning is beneficial on multiple levels. It entrains your biological clock, improves mood, and enhances sleep quality.
If there’s a “magic bullet” then it’s exercise.
- The effect of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function.
Even if sunlight doesn’t increase BDNF you should get some sun and fresh air.
- Serum BDNF concentrations show strong seasonal variation and correlations with the amount of ambient sunlight.
Sex is an environmental novelty that increases BDNF.
- Sex and stress hormone influences on the expression and activity of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
34. Calorie restriction
Eating less and more than needed on alternate days prolongs life.
- Effect of Food Deprivation or Short-term Western Diet Feeding on BDNF Protein Expression in the Hypothalamic Arcuate, Paraventricular, and Ventromedial Nuclei.
- The Pilot Study of the Effect of Meditation to the Serum Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) of Medical Students, Srinakharinvirot University.
36. Ketone bodies
Both exercise and a high-fat diet will stimulate ketone bodies Beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate are produced by the liver in periods of carbohydrate restriction. Under usual conditions, the brain exclusively uses glucose for energy. But ketone bodies can provide an alternative energy source.
- Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through the action of the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate.
Just in case you needed an excuse to go talk to some people.
38. “Enriched housing”
- Enriched housing reverses age-associated impairment of cognitive functions and tPA-dependent maturation of BDNF.
Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials have demonstrated that blueberries improve cognitive ability in older adults.
- Blueberry-induced changes in spatial working memory correlate with changes in hippocampal CREB phosphorylation and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels.
40. Cacao or dark chocolate
Cacao also increases cerebral blood flow, neurogenesis, and improves cognitive ability in older adults.
- An Antioxidant Dietary Supplement Improves Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Levels in Serum of Aged Dogs: Preliminary Results.
Curcumin is a promiscuous ligand; it binds a lot of protein targets. This can make it difficult to pin down its true mechanism due to off-target effects.
- Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB.
Agomelatine is a melatonergic antidepressant developed by Servier. Rarely, agomelatine can impair liver function and is contraindicated in patients with hepatic impairment.
- Agomelatine Increases BDNF Serum Levels in Depressed Patients in Correlation with the Improvement of Depressive Symptoms.
- Effects of fluoxetine on brain-derived neurotrophic factor serum concentration and cognition in patients with vascular dementia.
- Hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression following treatment with reboxetine, citalopram, and physical exercise.
- Hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression following treatment with reboxetine, citalopram, and physical exercise.
- Changes in BDNF serum levels in patients with major depression disorder (MDD) after 6 months treatment with sertraline, escitalopram, or venlafaxine.
Mirtazapine is an atypical antidepressant with serotonergic and noradrenergic activity. It’s highly sedating, which can improve sleep quality but result in an undesirable hangover effect.
Mirtazepine increases both BDNF and neurogenesis.
Mirtazepine is an ingredient in Californian rocket fuel.
- Effect of Mirtazapine Treatment on Serum Levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Tumor Necrosis Factor-α in Patients of Major Depressive Disorder with Severe Depression.
- Effects of Duloxetine Treatment on Cognitive Flexibility and BDNF Expression in the mPFC of Adult Male Mice Exposed to Social Stress during Adolescence.
Nicotine has also been reported to impair hippocampal neuroplasticity, so tread lightly.
- Acute nicotine treatment attenuates lipopolysaccharide-induced cognitive dysfunction by increasing BDNF expression and inhibiting neuroinflammation in the rat hippocampus.
50. Sodium butyrate
Sodium butyrate (GHB) is an interesting drug. One the one hand, it’s one of the most powerful sleep aids in existence. It increases slow wave sleep while concomitantly increasing growth hormone secretion; most other sedatives knock you out while actually impairing sleep quality.
However, GHB is likely neurotoxic.
- Sodium butyrate and mood stabilizers block ouabain-induced hyperlocomotion and increase BDNF, NGF and GDNF levels in brain of Wistar rats.
It’s interesting that the biomedical establishment changes their tenor about ketamine in the last decade. Pre-2000, there are studies suggesting that ketamine suppresses BDNF expression. But after the recognition that ketamine may be a useful antidepressant, you find more and more studies suggesting that ketamine promotes BDNF expression. Hm…
- Acute administration of ketamine in rats increases hippocampal BDNF and mTOR levels during forced swimming test.
- Changes of serum concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) during treatment with venlafaxine and mirtazapine: role of medication and response to treatment.
Memantine behaves similarly to magnesium by blocking NMDA-type glutamate receptors in a voltage-gated manner.
- Memantine treatment reverses anhedonia, normalizes corticosterone levels and increases BDNF levels in the prefrontal cortex induced by chronic mild stress in rats.
54. GABA(A) receptor blockade
The downside risk of GABAergic blockade is increased anxiety and seizures. Always be walkin’ the line.
Exercise is the fastest and most effective way to boost BDNF levels, and improve learning, memory and mood (1, 2, 3, 4).
In just 5 weeks, mild-intensity exercise significantly increased BDNF levels and reversed cognitive decline in old rats (62).
And it’s not just old brains that benefit from regular exercise. High-intensity exercise increases BDNF and improves memory in young sedentary men (63).
You should choose a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.
I plan on discussing my exercise routine in more depth soon, but for now, this is the general gist of it:
• Lift heavy weights 1-4 times per week
• High-intensity interval sprinting 1-2 times per week
• Walk as much as I can (ideally 30-60 minutes every day)
Exercise has a number of benefits besides increasing BDNF. Many of the experts I’ve interviewed think it’s the most important thing you can do for your brain.
So you should try to exercise as much as you can.
Exposing yourself to sunshine each day can also increase BDNF.
One study found that BDNF increased in the summer and spring, and decreased in the fall and winter. They also found that participants with the lowest BDNF levels were more likely to be depressed, which likely explains why some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (5).
I try to get 30 minutes every day during the spring and summer months here in Canada.
On top of increasing BDNF, the sun also providesVitamin D, which is very important for optimal brain and mental health.
Vitamin D3 is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should take for their brain because most people don’t get enough sun exposure on a regular basis.
3. Intermittent Fasting
Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break, and triggers a number of hormones that boost your body’s ability to repair itself.
I personally do not eat breakfast at all, and then “break my fast” by eating my first meal of the day around 2 or 3 p.m. That means I eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window.
That may sound ridiculous and shocking to you. But there are huge health benefits from doing this.
One benefit is that it increases BDNF signalling, which can improve heart and brain health (7, 8).
And studies show that limiting yourself to only 600 calories every other day boosts BDNF up to 400 per cent (9, 10).
You don’t necessarily need to be this extreme and fast for 16 hours like I usually do. Even a 12-hour fast shows some benefits (11). All you need to do is avoid eating anything after dinner, and then eat a regular breakfast the next day.
Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.
Curcumin is one of my favourite compounds. I discussed it previously in “3 Foods That Make Your Brain Work Remarkably Better”.
Studies show that it can increase BDNF production in the brain, leading to improved cognition and mood (18- 20, 22).
It also protects the brain by activating BDNF (21).
There are several different patented forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I’ve tried most of them.
5. Avoid Processed Food and Refined Sugar
While some habits can raise BDNF, others can lower it.
Many studies suggest that if you eat processed food and sugar (The Standard American Diet), you’ll have lower levels of BDNF and neurotransmitters, and impaired cognition (23, 24).
Ideally, you should stick with the whole foods from my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health and you can be sure that you’re supporting optimal BDNF levels.
6. Green Tea
Drinking green tea is another way you can increase BDNF.
The antioxidants within it have been shown to increase BDNF (25).
You can either drink green tea on a regular basis or consider supplementation. I take this concentrated green tea extract a few times each week.
Green tea extract is also included in this supplement, which I recommend if you want an all-in-one supplement for optimal brain health. You can use the coupon code OPTIMALLIVING for a 10% discount.
7. Lose Fat
The fatter you are, the lower your BDNF levels will be. Research has shown that BDNF is lower in obese adults and children (26, 27, 28).
This may be because overweight and obese individuals are less likely to eat healthy and exercise.
Regardless, if you’re holding onto extra weight, it’d be best to lose it. Your BDNF will increase as a result, which will lead to improved brain and mental health.
One study showed that weight loss in obese men improved depressive symptoms by increasing BDNF levels, and females with higher levels of BDNF are in better shape and perform better on cognitive tests (29, 30).
8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Krill Oil)
A large number of people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids today, and they are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system (70).
They’ve also been shown to improve mood, sleep, learning and memory, and protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (31-33).
This is likely because they’ve been shown to increase BDNF levels (71).
After traumatic brain injury, omega-3s normalize BDNF levels in rats. Without supplementation, levels did not return to baseline (68).
And omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help patients with bipolar, likely because they support optimal BDNF levels (69).
Yet most people don’t consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet. As mentioned in “Think More Effectively With These 3 Important Nutrients”, that’s why I recommend people supplement with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. I take this one. You can get it here or here.
Talk to people whenever you get the chance. If you suffer from anxiety, push yourself outside your comfort zone and try starting a conversation with a stranger – even if it’s just the cashier at the supermarket.
Your brain will thank you.
I’m an introvert, so I find this difficult. But I try to socialize as much as I can.
Research has shown that a stimulating social environment increases BDNF and reduces depression and anxiety (34, 36).
Women who are friendlier to strangers also have higher BDNF levels (35).
Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant compound found in red wine.
Resveratrol is also known to help prevent the development neurodegenerative diseases.
And science is starting to understand why.
For one, it has neuroprotective effects by elevating BDNF (37).
Because of this increase, it can be effective at improving fatigue symptoms (38).
I supplement with this resveratrol every other day.
11. Deep Sleep
Getting high-quality, deep sleep is critical for the health of your brain. My sleep used to be terrible and it was one of main factors that contributed to my poor mental health.
Not surprisingly, sleep deprivation reduces BDNF (39).
And it’s been shown that insomniacs have lower BDNF levels, and higher levels of BDNF are often a sign that a person is sleeping well (41, 42).
Luckily, regular exercise can maintain BDNF levels when you don’t get enough sleep (40).
You should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night. But it’s not just the amount of sleep you get that’s important. It’s also the quality of sleep. In fact, the quality of your sleep is more important than the length of your sleep.
I’ll be writing more about how to improve the quality of your sleep soon. In the meantime, I recommend this sleep supplement, which contains magnesium and a number of other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.
Prebiotics are substances that humans can’t digest, so they pass through our gastrointestinal tract and promote the growth of many different strains of good bacteria in our lower bowel. They are essentially food for the good bacteria in our intestines.
Bacteria convert prebiotics into butyrate, a substance that has been shown to increase BDNF (43, 44)
Prebiotic-rich foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, asparagus and squash. These foods are included in my free grocery shopping guide for optimal brain health and you should try to eat them as much as possible.
Resistant starch is one of the most potent ways to boost your prebiotic intake.
A convenient way to incorporate more resistant starch into your diet is by using Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch. I take it on a regular basis and you can get it through Amazon. It’s one of the easiest and cheapest ways to incorporate more resistant starch into your diet. It is bland so you can simply add it to beverages, smoothies and meals. It has to stay raw though, so you shouldn’t cook it.
I’ve previously discussed prebiotics and resistant starch in “5 Ways to Increase Your Good Gut Bacteria For A Healthier Brain.”
Cooked and cooled white rice and potatoes also contain some resistant starch.
13. Reduce Stress (Neurofeedback/Meditation)
People who experience a lot of stress produce less BDNF, and both acute and chronic stress has been shown to significantly decrease existing BDNF levels (45-48).
Stress can also ruin your sleep, which as I mentioned earlier, decreases BDNF. As you can see, everything is connected. Ignoring one area of your health will often affect other areas (41).
I highly recommend you try to do something every day to manage your stress.
The most effective way to significantly and permanently reduce stress and anxiety is neurofeedback. It’s advanced, guided meditation and I previously wrote about my experience with it here.
If you can’t access neurofeedback, taking up a daily meditation practice is an excellent idea.
I’m also a big fan of the Muse headband. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. I’ve used the Muse for the past few months, and I’ve written an entire review about it. You can get it through Amazon or the Muse website.
I often use this acupressure mat as well. Lying on it for just 10 minutes can relax your entire body and mind. I also use it before bed. It helps me fall asleep faster.
Lastly, this anti-anxiety supplement includes several natural compounds that have helped me manage my stress and anxiety over the years.
14. Ketogenic Diet
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body runs on fatty acids. This happens when there is limited access to glucose, the body’s main source of energy. Ketosis often results from following a very low-carb diet (49).
To get into ketosis, you need to eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day, meaning you have to avoid grains, sugar, and even potatoes, legumes and fruit.
I don’t recommend following a low-carb ketogenic diet for long periods of time, unless you witness huge beneficial changes in your health.
However, going in and out of ketosis may have some beneficial effects on your brain. One study found that it can increase BDNF (50).
It’s one of the three nutrients that everyone should be taking for their brain, as most people are deficient.
The good news is that you can easily correct magnesium deficiency yourself. Supplementation is cheap and can restore the mineral to healthy levels.
I take 200-400mg daily before bed. Magnesium glycinate, magnesium malate, or magnesium taurate are the best forms. I take this one.
Magnesium is also included in this supplement, which I recommend if you want an all-in-one supplement for optimal brain health. You can use the coupon code OPTIMALLIVING for a 10% discount.
I discuss magnesium in more depth in “Think More Effectively with These 3 Important Nutrients.”
16. Lithium Orotate
Lithium is predominantly known as a medication given to bipolar patients to manage their symptoms.
However, it’s also an essential mineral.
Bipolar patients are often given high doses of lithium carbonate.
But low doses of lithium orotate has been shown to improve mood and have neuroprotective effects in people without bipolar disorder, and some studies have shown that it increases BDNF (54, 55).
I don’t take it anymore but I did feel calmer and more stable when I supplemented with it.
If you’re interested in trying it, you can get the one I took here.
It’s also included in this supplement.
17. Dark Chocolate
I’m sure you’re smiling right now.
Everyone loves chocolate.
And thankfully, it’s really good for your brain.
The antioxidants in dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) trigger neuroprotection by activating the BDNF survival pathway (56).
You should try to eat dark chocolate with the least amount of sugar.
Lindt (90%) is a really good high-quality dark chocolate.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a cheap amino acid and antioxidant, and a very safe and effective way to deal with the root cause of your mental illness or sub-optimal cognition.
It has personally played a huge role in my recovery from mental illness and post-concussion syndrome, which is not surprising, considering that it’s been shown to boost BDNF (57).
I take 1200 mg of NAC every other day to manage my long-term mental health. Studies show that people benefit from anywhere between 500 mg to 3000 mg daily or every other day. I recommend this brand and you can get it here.
L-Theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in tea. It’s known to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Unlike prescription anti-anxiety medication, it does not cause sedation and drowsiness.
One study also found that it increases BDNF (58).
My personal experience with theanine is that it mixes really well with caffeine. Coffee can make a lot of people jittery and unfocused. Theanine reduces that side effect. I still take it from time to time when I drink coffee.
You can get it here.
It’s also available in this supplement, alongside a number of other natural compounds that have supported my cognitive function over the years.
20. Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogens are plants and herbs containing bioactive compounds that can support your brain. They increase your resilience to physical and mental stress, calm you down, or increase your energy, depending on what your body needs.
Bacopa is another adaptogenic herb I’ve experimented with. It’s effective at improving memory and cognition, and reducing anxiety. And research shows that it increases BDNF in rats that are undergoing chronic stress (60).
This nootropic supplement includes bacopa, along with other cognitive-enhancing compounds.
Lastly, panax ginseng is another herb that supports mood and cognition, and can prevent stress-induced decline of BDNF (61).
Last but not least, supplementing with zinc can also increase your BDNF.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates several hundred enzymatic reactions, including brain and nervous system function and neurotransmission.
Several studies have shown that zinc has antidepressant effects because it causes a significant increase in BDNF levels and BDNF gene expression (76-79).
Yet it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in the mineral, and six different studies show that subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (72, 73, 74).
If you struggle with depression and anxiety, you are likely deficient in zinc, and therefore likely to have depleted BDNF levels.
I used to suffer from GAD and depression, and increasing my intake of zinc is one of the most impactful actions I have taken to overcome them. You can read more about my research and experience with zinc here.
Zinc picolinate is also included in this supplement, which I recommend if you want an all-in-one supplement for optimal brain health. You can use the coupon code OPTIMALLIVING for a 10% discount.
As you can see, there are so many ways to increase your brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to promote healing and the growth of new brain cells.
I’ve implemented and experimented with all these treatments with good results. My brain wouldn’t be as healthy today without them.
It’s been tough to overcome my chronic depression, anxiety and concussion symptoms. I’m not going to act like it’s been very easy. But you (and your brain) can definitely grow stronger over time.
- research chemical
- endogenous substance, e.g., already present in your body
- intervention, e.g., electroconvulsive therapy
- lifestyle, e.g., diet and exercise
These categories are not particularly neat and there’s often overlap. For example, melatonin is both a supplement, an endogenous substance, and is also found in food (like walnuts).
- Not everything on this list is safe.
- Not all the entries directly increase BDNF, some entries prevent a decrease in BDNF.
- Some entries activate the Trk B receptor without necessarily affecting BDNF.