8 science-based food sources to boost BDNF
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a widely known neurotrophin improves brain plasticity (1).
Brain plasticity is important for learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage (2).
Therefore, BDNF plays an important role in healthy brain function.
Inflammation caused by inflammatory factors such as IL-6 decreases the levels of BDNF (3).
Research shows that Alzheimer’s disease patients have lower serum levels of BDNF compared to healthy individuals (4).
Lifestyle changes can help increase the levels of BDNF. Food is an important lifestyle aspect.
In this article, we describe different foods that have been scientifically studied. Research for respective food items/groups shows an increase in the levels of BDNF.
There are some common sources of food while others are supplements.
1) Rye based products
Rye-based products have been shown to increase the BDNF levels after consumption as soon as 10.5 hrs. In this study, 85% whole rye kernels bread compared to 100% white bread promoted a significant increase in BDNF level (5).
Therefore, eating whole rye bread is good to increase the BDNF levels.
Zinc supplementation is shown to improve BDNF levels by several research studies. One study used a 12-week Zinc supplementation period. The zinc supplementation significantly increased the BDNF levels. The study was performed with overweight individuals who also saw an improvement in their mood after zinc supplementation (6).
Seafood that includes Oysters, Crabs, Beef, and lobsters are excellent sources of Zinc (7).
Probiotic supplementation also increases BDNF levels. Research shows that Bifidobacterium bifidum BGN4 and Bifidobacterium longum BORI supplementation significantly increase serum BDNF levels in healthy albeit elderly individuals (8).
A combination of prebiotics and probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus T16, Bifidobacterium bifidum BIA-6, Bifidobacterium lactis BIA-7, and Bifidobacterium longum BIA-8) has been shown to increase the BDNF compared to probiotics only (9).
Therefore, the use of prebiotics in addition to probiotics is beneficial to improving the BDNF levels. Examples of prebiotics are high-quality fiber fruits such as apple, banana, flax seeds, and barley.
Research shows that curcumin in turmeric can enhance the level of BDNF.
500 mg curcumin capsules used for the 6 weeks significantly increase the BDNF levels in a double-blind randomized control test (10).
Long-term use of turmeric in food can help with improving BDNF levels. Taking turmeric with black pepper or coconut oil increases curcumin absorption.
5) Mold Fermented Cheese
Research in older women with mildly impaired cognition shows that people who consumed mold fermented cheese, Camembert cheese, had significantly increased BDNF levels compared to people who consumed processed cheese.
However, Camembert cheese consumption did not result in better mental test scores (11).
6) Leafy green vegetables
Dietary carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin are important antioxidants.
Collectively, these are called macular xanthophylls because human macula accumulates these carotenoids.
Dietary supplementation with these xanthophylls has been shown to increase the BDNF levels depending on the dose (12).
Leafy green vegetables are the prime source of these dietary carotenoids. Lutein is present in spinach, kale, and broccoli. Corn-based products are sources of zeaxanthin (13).
7) Dark Chocolate
Theobromine is one of the chemicals in dark chocolate.
Research in humans has shown no effect of dark chocolate in increasing the BDNF however, NGF concentration increased significantly (16).
This difference in animal and human research could be due to the availability of theobromine. Long-term regular consumption of dark chocolate may be required for a significant increase in the BDNF levels.
8) Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids that are abundantly present in seafood and oily fish have brain-protective properties.
Human research shows an increase in BDNF after regular consumption of omega-3 (17).
Has also been observed in animal studies (18).
However, other research has found no change in BDNF after dietary omega-3 consumption (19).
More studies are needed to definitively understand if omega-3 increases BDNF levels or not.
Not so common food sources
9) Seaweed Laminaria japonica
This one is not strictly a food source, but seaweed is being regularly consumed in East Asia. Recent research shows that fermented Seaweed, Laminaria japonica use in the elderly, is beneficial. Laminaria japonica is one of many kinds of brown seaweed.
It significantly increases serum BDNF levels in individuals who consumed it as a supplement compared to placebo. The fermented seaweed supplementation also improved cognition (20).
Ayahuasca is a traditional amazonian drink prepared from Banisteriopsis caapi vine and leaves of the Psychotria Viridis bush. It was used by South American indigenous people for religious and social ceremonies (21).
Recent research shows that Ayahuasca is beneficial BDNF levels. That is why it is also shown to be effective against depression. Ingestion of Ayahuasca significantly increased BDNF level (22).
11) Caviarlieri, a protein gel derived from caviar
Research on a caviar-based protein gel called Caviarlieri showed a significant increase in BDNF after ingestion in middle-aged individuals compared to placebo (23).
BDNF is an important player in keeping our brains healthy. It is important for learning, memory, and healing. There are certain foods that can help with improving the BDNF levels.
The food groups include rye-based products, seafood, prebiotics, turmeric, fermented cheese, leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, and omega-3. More supplements of Laminaria japonica, Ayahuasca and fish egg gel (Caviarlieri) increase the BDNF levels.