Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
We hear about some of the 'happy' chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins that can influence the state of our mood and happiness. However, a certain balance of foods can elevate something called BDNF in our systems. BDNF is like fertilizer for our brains, enhancing the activity of our neurons, communication signals, and dendritic branches. This powerful little protein stimulates the production of new brain cells and can effect the expression of genes for neurogenesis. In layman's terms, it can enhance learning and memory...while also rapidly rewiring your brain. By increasing our plasticity, BDNF can slow down cellular aging and protect brain cells from damage. As a result, our neural pathways become more flexible (instead of shutting down) which is why this protein is also a strong defense against depression.
I'm going to share a few habits that can elevate BDNF, improving brain longevity and resiliency in the face of stress.
Exercise, specifically endurance exercise, releases a protein called FNDC5 which can increase BDNF by 200-300%. Strength training has, unfortunately, a much more short-lived increase of BDNF after workout. Some examples of prime endurance exercise includes swimming, cycling, or anything that gets your heart rate going.
Meditation is one of the most potent medicines against stress, without the need for any medication. Mindfulness, whether in the form of meditation or yoga, strengthens areas of the brain that correlate with pain tolerance, proprioception, memory, happiness, and attention. Whether you're meditating for five minutes or 30 minutes, consistency is more important than length or accuracy. Also, be patient with yourself. Quieting the mind takes discipline and can improve with practice.
These antixoxidants protect the brain from stress, and include the following: coffee, green tea, dark chocolate, and blueberries. Be mindful that polyphenols unfortunately are not easily absorbed in our system and have a short shelf life.
Sun exposure can be another natural method to elevate BDNF. Get outside for10-20 minutes a day (when there's sunlight). In order for the UV rays to hit the photoreceptors on your skin and in your retinas, leave the sunscreen and sunglasses at home.