21 Ways to Increase BDNF for a Supercharged Brain

Cameron Hooper Mind 0 Comments

BDNF optimized brain with colorful doodles

BDNF is like fertilizer for the brain.

BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is an incredible protein that supercharges your brain. It’s one of the most important molecules for keeping you mentally sharp through all stages of your life.

The problem is, BDNF levels naturally decline as you get older (1). BDNF levels also decrease with things like chronic stress, eating too many processed foods, depression, and anxiety.

Which means many of us are at-risk for low BDNF. That’s why taking steps to increase your BDNF is an excellent idea if you want to optimize the function of your brain.

Before we get into the different ways to increase your BDNF levels, let’s take a look at how BDNF can benefit you.

What are the Benefits of Increasing BDNF?

Smart man studying at a library

For the most part, BDNF benefits your cognitive function. In other words, it can improve your how well your brain works.

Studies have found that BDNF specifically…

  • Promotes Neurogenesis: BDNF is one of the few known compounds that can stimulate the production of new brain cells. In doing so, it helps maintain healthy nervous tissue in the brain (2).
  • Enhances Learning and Memory: By promoting brain plasticity, BDNF may increase your capacity to learn new skills and improve your memory (3, 4).
  • Prevents Brain-Related Disease: Since BDNF helps grow and maintain healthy brain cells, it plays a big role in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s (5). This is why it also helps keep your brain young.
  • Improves Your Mood: Scientists have found that brain-derived neurotrophic factor is low in people with mood disorders like depression. Increasing BDNF levels may therefore have positive effects on your mood (6, 7).
  • Enhances Sleep: Some evidence suggests that BDNF can help you get more deep and restorative sleep (8). This, in turn, can help further improve your cognitive function and overall health.

Now that you know how BDNF can benefit you, let’s take a look at the best ways to increase BDNF.

The Best BDNF Supplements


Get The Best BDNF Supplements

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1. Coffee Fruit Extract

Coffee fruit for a BDNF supplement

Coffee fruit is a red fruit that surrounds coffee beans while they grow on the plant.

Research suggests that coffee fruit extract is one of the most powerful supplements to boost your levels of BDNF.

One study published in the journal Food and Nutrition Sciences, found that 100 mg of coffee fruit extract increased the levels of BDNF in blood by almost 200% within 60 minutes of consumption (9). That’s a massive increase in BDNF to say the least.

Another study echoed these findings and discovered that those who consumed coffee fruit extract experienced a 143% increase in their blood values of BDNF (10).

The Bottom Line:

Evidence suggests that coffee fruit extract can substantially boost BDNF levels by up to 200%. This makes coffee fruit extract the single most effective supplement for BDNF.

2. Lion’s Mane

lion's mane mushroom in the woods

Lion’s mane is a large edible mushroom that is famous for its white, shaggy appearance.

This incredible mushroom is one of the best natural nootropics (brain-enhancing compounds) that exists.

Studies have found that lion’s mane can…

  • Improve your mood and boost BDNF (11).
  • Stimulates the growth and regeneration of new neurons (12)
  • Enhance your memory (13).

So if you’re looking to increase your BDNF and overall brain function, adding a high-quality lion’s mane powder to your supplement stack is a must.

The Bottom Line:

Lion’s mane is a popular brain-enhancing mushroom that is shown to boost BDNF and enhance your memory.

3. Polyphenols

organic blueberries

Polyphenols are powerful antioxidant naturally found in plants. They are largely found in superfoods like berries, cocoa, cloves, peppermint, and flaxseeds.

Among their many other benefits, studies indicate that polyphenols can raise your BDNF levels.

In one animal study, scientists isolated the polyphenols from olives and found that the consumption of these polyphenols increased the amount of BDNF in the hippocampus of the brain—a region associated with the formation of new memories and learning (14).

The evidence isn’t just limited to animal studies either. Clinical research also found that a polyphenol-rich grape seed extract increased the blood levels of BDNF by 30% (15).

If you’re looking to stack (combine) BDNF supplements, I recommend picking up one of the following:

The Bottom Line:

Polyphenols are powerful plant compounds that are shown to boost BDNF levels by around 30%.

4. Omega-3 Fats

different types of omega-3 supplements

Getting plenty of omega-3 fats in your diet is critical for your overall health. They can help you maintain healthy blood pressure, combat inflammation, reduce the chance of heart disease, help manage autoimmune disease, and even prevent cancer (16, 17).

There’s also a growing body of evidence that shows that getting omega-3 fats in your diet can boost your BDNF levels in a number of ways.

  • Omega-3 fats can improve mental health and fight depression which are intimately tied to your BDNF levels (18, 19).
  • Animal and human studies show omega-3 supplementation can normalize levels of BDNF in the brain, improve cognition, enhance brain plasticity, and protect the brain from oxidative damage (20, 21).
  • Obesity is suggested to down-regulate BDNF gene expression. Animal studies show that omega-3 supplementation is shown to reverse the negative effects of obesity on BDNF (22).

The Bottom Line:

Getting omega-3 fats through food or supplementation can normalize BDNF, improve cognition, and help manage several conditions that are known to negatively affect BDNF.

5. CBD Oil

CBD oil

CBD oil is a widely popular supplement thanks to the rapidly growing body of evidence that supports its benefits.

A few studies have found that CBD oil can increase BDNF expression and decrease inflammation in the central region of the brain (23). Since inflammation is shown to decrease BDNF gene expression, it’s possible that CBD oil increases BDNF by decreasing inflammation in the brain (24).

Another study with mice found that CBD could moderately reduce the symptoms of depression by elevating levels of BDNF (25).

The Bottom Line:

CBD oil may increase BDNF levels by decreasing inflammation in the brain. Inflammation decreases BDNF gene expression.  

6. Curcumin (Turmeric)

A few studies indicate that the curcumin in turmeric can increase BDNF.

One study, for example, found that supplementing curcumin exerted anti-depressant actions and increased BDNF in the brain (26).

Another study with rats found that curcumin could counteract the BDNF-lowering effects of chronic stress (27). This means curcumin supplementation could be a great choice if you’re under frequent stress.

For maximum absorption, just make sure you get a curcumin supplement that contains bioperine. Or even better, get a micellized curcumin supplement—since bioperine can interact with many medications.

The Bottom Line:

Curcumin may increase BDNF by fighting depression, inflammation, and reducing the effects of chronic stress. At this point, most studies on the topic are with animals, so more research is needed.

7. Vitamin B12

foods rich in vitamin b12 or cobalamin

Scientists believe that vitamin B12 might be an important cofactor involved in the production of BDNF (28).

This could explain why vitamin B12 and omega-3 supplementation was found to increase BDNF and improve cognitive performance in rats (29).

Another study proposed that vitamin B12 deficiencies play a role in reduced BDNF levels (30).

While the evidence isn’t strong, it makes sense that vitamin B12 would play a role in BDNF since it’s involved in DNA production and nerve health.

Many people have genetic mutations that prevent them from making use of several B vitamins, so I’m a huge fan of taking a methylated vitamin B complex.

The Bottom Line:

Vitamin B12 could play an important role in BDNF production. So if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, your body could have a difficult time making BDNF.

8. Honorable Mentions

There are several other compounds that are shown to increase BDNF, but the evidence is still in its early stages.

But if you want to go full throttle with BDNF, here are a few additional supplements worth considering:

  • Magnesium: A large number of people (up to 80%) are deficient in magnesium. Animal studies suggest magnesium supplementation can increase BDNF (31).
  • Taurine: An amino acid that plays a role in mental disorders like depression. Some evidence suggests it may help improve mood disorders which can deplete BDNF. One study also found that taurine could increase BDNF in rats (32, 33).
  • L-Theanine: An amino acid commonly found in green tea. L-theanine boosts BDNF, which is shown to ease depression and anxiety in studies with mice (34).
  • Cordyceps: A popular mushroom supplement that is known for its ability to boost physical endurance and enhance brain function by increasing BDNF expression (35). Cordyceps can be a bit expensive though, so I recommend trying some of the others first.
  • Bacopa: Another popular herb that is well-known for its ability to enhance cognitive function. One study found bacopa increased BDNF by around 30% (36).

Magnesium, L-theanine, and bacopa are my favorites on this list.

Get The Best BDNF Supplements

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9. Exercise

deadlift exercise

Without taking supplements into consideration, exercise is one of the single best ways to boost BDNF. And there’s a solid amount of research to support this connection as well.

Researchers have discovered that exercise increases the release of an endogenous molecule called β-hydroxybutyrate. This molecule is shown to switch on genes that are responsible for the production of BDNF (37).

Even a single session of exercise increases BDNF, so every little bit helps (38).

But if you’re looking to get the best results, you should try high-intensity workouts that bring you to the point of exhaustion.

That’s because the amount of BDNF released from exercise seems to be intensity dependent (39). In other words, higher intensity workouts release more BDNF.

Additionally, BDNF mRNA expression peaks in recovery after exercise, suggesting consistent exercise is ideal for a cumulative effect (40).

The Bottom Line:

High-intensity exercise to the point of exhaustion produces the biggest increases of BDNF. To get even better results, it’s important to exercise on a regular basis.

10. Master Stress Management

relaxing completely stress free people with coffee and a pug

Stress is the #1 enemy of BDNF.

But it’s not just any type of stress.

Studies indicate that chronic or constant stress can substantially lower BDNF (41, 42).

Acute or short-term stress, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on BDNF (43).

This suggests that it’s okay to get stressed from time to time. But if you’re always stressed out, it can plummet your BDNF levels.

So if you’re chronically stressed, it’s essential that you look into some stress reduction techniques.

The Bottom Line:

Constant stress can plummet your BDNF levels. If you want to maximize your BDNF, learning some stress management tricks is a must.

11. Sun Exposure

Man sitting on mountain top sun bathing

Daily sun exposure is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of wellness. Which is a shame considering the fact that something so simple can increase your vitamin D production, improve your mood, enhance the immune system, and even decrease the risk of skin cancer—granted you don’t get too much sun (44).

Scientists have also discovered that sun exposure is directly correlated with how much BDNF your body has (45).

Of course, if you live in a cold climate, this can be a huge challenge during the winter. If this is the case, try to get some exposure by taking a walk outside, going snowshoeing, or participating any other activity that will force you to get some sun exposure.

That being said, even if you can manage to get outside in the winter, it often isn’t enough. That’s why I personally take a high-quality vitamin D supplement because it’s a huge challenge for me to get enough sun in the winter months.

The Bottom Line:

Evidence suggest sun exposure is directly correlated with how much BDNF you have. Be sure to get at least 15 minutes of direct sun exposure every day. If you live in a colder climate, you may need to supplement vitamin D during the winter months.

12. Socialize

couple holding hands

If you want to keep your BDNF levels as high as possible, spending time with friends, family, or loved ones is another important factor.

Specifically, evidence seems to suggest that social isolation decreases the levels of BDNF in the brain.

One animal study, for example, found that socially isolated rats had a decreased ability to learn, slower brain cell generation, and had significantly lower BDNF levels in the brain (46).

Social isolation also can be a big contributor to depression, which is strongly associated with decreased BDNF levels (47, 48).

The Bottom Line:

Social isolation decreases BDNF. Try to socialize with family, friends, or loved ones at least once a week.

13. Wim Hoff Breathing

There’s some evidence that temporary hypoxia or oxygen deprivation can spike your BDNF levels (49, 50).

One of the best ways to do this is with Wim Hof breathing. This process involves controlled breathing cycles that bring a large amount of oxygen into your body. At the end of a cycle, you then hold your breath for a couple minutes which causes temporary hypoxia

The Bottom Line:

Wim Hoff breathing can result in temporary oxygen deprivation which may increase BDNF.

14. Meditation

Hiker meditating on a mountain

Much like exercise, a consistent meditation practice can also provide a considerable boost to your BDNF levels.

One study followed 38 people on a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. The researchers found that the participants experienced a notable increase in BDNF following the retreat (51).

It’s possible that this increase of BDNF was due to the effects meditation has on stress and cortisol.

Several studies support the notion that meditation reduces stress as measured by decreased levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol can have a negative impact on BDNF (52, 53). So it makes sense that decreasing cortisol with meditation results in higher levels of BDNF.

To get the benefits, you must meditate at least once a day. Meditating every now and then will probably not provide much of an effect on BDNF.

The Bottom Line:

Meditation may provide a minor boost in BDNF by improving your ability to cope with stress.

15. Get Quality Sleep

quality sleep

Sleep impairment and insomnia are associated with decreased levels of BDNF (54). Interestingly enough, the study also found that partial sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can result in a spike of BDNF in the blood.

I imagine this means that you should take whatever steps you can to improve the quality of your sleep. But don’t get upset if you get disrupted sleep from time to time since it is shown to positively affect your BDNF levels.

Read more on how to improve the quality of your sleep here.

The Bottom Line:

Low quality sleep can cause your BDNF levels to take a nosedive. Take steps to improve the quality of your sleep by avoiding blue-spectrum light at night, exercising, and avoiding caffeine after 2:00 pm.

16. Cold & Heat Therapy

Cold and heat therapy are rapidly becoming widely popular in the ‘biohacking’ and beauty communities due to its ability to help with weight loss, inflammation, and muscle tension.

There’s limited evidence with animal studies that suggests cold and hot therapy (saunas) can increase BDNF (55).

But the jury is still out since there aren’t any studies that involve humans (that I’m aware of). Given that cold and heat therapy provide several other benefits though, it’s certainly worth giving a try unless you have any medical conditions that would make it dangerous.

The Bottom Line:

While more research is needed, cold and hot therapy could provide a minor boost to your BDNF levels. Consider taking cold showers and regular infrared sauna treatments.

Increasing BDNF Through Your Diet


17. Eat or Supplement Prebiotics

garlic

Prebiotics are specific types of dietary fiber that feed and support the friendly bacteria in your gut. This includes foods like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, asparagus, and jicama.

There’s some evidence out there that suggests prebiotics can increase the amount of BDNF in the brain (56). Polyphenols, as covered earlier, can also serve as effective BDNF-boosting prebiotics as well (57).

It’s possible that prebiotics have this effect on BDNF because your gut microbiome can influence BDNF function and expression (58).

To get this benefit, consider taking a prebiotic supplement like this one or consume more of the prebiotic foods mentioned above.

The Bottom Line:

Prebiotics may increase your BDNF by nourishing the healthy bacteria in your gut.

18. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is when you don’t eat for a set amount of time every day. Most experts seem to believe that 16 hours without eating produces the best results. This means if you finished eating dinner at 6:30 pm, you wouldn’t eat again until around 10:30 am.

Among the many benefits of intermittent fasting, it appears that the practice can help elevate your levels of BDNF (59). One study with mice put on an intermittent fasting diet found that it normalized glucose metabolism, increased BDNF, and prolonged their lifespan (60).

One of the primary ways in which intermittent fasting produces its benefits is through increasing the body’s production of β-hydroxybutyrate—a compound used as an energy source by the brain when blood sugar levels are low (61).

A large scientific review revealed that β-hydroxybutyrate has a powerful effect on BDNF (62). More specifically, it induces BDNF expression in hippocampal and cortical neurons.

The Bottom Line:

Restricting the window of time you eat can spike BDNF levels by increasing a compound called β-hydroxybutyrate.

19. Consider the Ketogenic Diet

macronutrient basics of the ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet is a high fat and low carbohydrate diet.

Among its many other benefits, the ketogenic diet is shown to have positive effects on BDNF.

A study that evaluated the effects of the ketogenic diet found that it could increase BDNF expression, decrease inflammation in the brain, and improve mitochondrial function (63).

Much like intermittent fasting and exercise, the ketogenic diet increases β-hydroxybutyrate. In doing so, it can boost BDNF.

The Bottom Line:

A high fat and low carbohydrate diet like keto can increase BDNF expression and decrease inflammation (which inhibits BDNF).

20. Reduce Sugar Intake

There is some evidence that suggests consuming too much sugar can decrease BDNF production.

Animal studies have found that just two months of a diet high in fat and refined sugars resulted in reduced levels of BDNF in the brain (64).

So how do you know it’s the sugar and not the fat that affects BDNF?

Another study found that a diet high in fat actually increases BDNF (65). So sugar is most likely the culprit.

Things can get even worse when you eat high amounts of refined sugar over long periods of time. That’s because long-term refined sugar consumption can contribute to insulin resistance which leads to type 2 diabetes (66).

When the body cannot properly metabolize glucose (sugar) as is the case with type 2 diabetes, it could lead to even lower levels of BDNF (67).

The Bottom Line:

A diet high in refined or processed sugars can have a negative impact on your BDNF production. Limit your intake of refined sugar whenever possible. 

21. Dietary Zinc

roasted almonds in a cup

Zinc is an important mineral that’s involved in healthy neuronal and brain activity.

The research out there is a bit of a mixed bag at the moment. Some research suggests that zinc supplementation can increase BDNF levels, whereas other studies have found that high doses of zinc can actually decrease BDNF in the brain (68, 69).

Most of the studies are also done with rats or mice. With that in mind, I don’t think there’s enough research out there to recommend zinc supplementation. Especially since higher doses are shown to decrease BDNF.

So your best bet is to make sure you include foods that naturally contain zinc in your diet. Try eating foods like 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, shellfish, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

The Bottom Line:

Low doses of zinc can provide a minor boost in BDNF. Since high doses can have the opposite effect, you should only get zinc through food.

One Last Fringe Way to Boost BDNF

Psychedelics

While they may be controversial, more and more scientists are beginning to look at the responsible use of psychedelics for their therapeutic uses. For the most part, this includes psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and LSD.

Among the several different therapeutic benefits, scientists have found that…

  • Psilocybin may be able to combat depression by “resetting” the activity of key brain circuits involved in depression (70). As explained earlier, depression is associated with decreased BDNF levels.
  • Psilocybin and LSD increase the expression of BDNF by activating 5-HT2A receptors (71).
  • Psychedelics promote brain plasticity which is the ability for the brain to rewire and learn. They were found to have a dose-response relationship with BDNF (72).

Of course, it’s important to note that psychedelics are illegal in many regions. So it’s probably not a good option for you unless you are able to become a participant in a scientific study. Irresponsible misuse can also cause psychological harm.

But for scientific purposes, I felt it was important to mention this one either way.

Making the Most of Your Increased BDNF

Once you take steps to increase your BDNF levels, you’re not done.

There’s one more thing you need to do to maximize the effects.

Make sure you’re mentally stimulated every single day.

If not, all that increased learning and memory potential will be put to waste. This means you should invest time into learning a new skill, read a book, study, or participate in anything else that is mentally engaging.

BDNF is a molecule that will make you smarter and learn better whether you\'re a student, in school, or want to crush it at work. Here are 21 powerful ways to improve your brain function by boosting your BDNF levels--all backed by scientific evidence!

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