How to Increase BDNF: 10 Ways to Rescue Your Brain

How to Increase BDNF: 10 Ways to Rescue Your Brain

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How to Increase BDNF: 10 Ways to Rescue Your Brain

  • What Is Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)?
  • The Science Behind BDNF
  • How to Increase BDNF: 10 Ways to Raise Your BDNF Levels
  • Why Strong Coffe Is Like Winning the BDNF Lottery
  • Conclusion: Higher BDNF for Better Brain Function


Have you heard of BDNF? Relax, you don’t need to choose a safe word.

Actually, BDNF is more like aftercare for your brain, helping your neurons heal and form new connections despite the pounding they take during your daily grind.

Read on to learn why BDNF is incredibly important for brain health, how to immediately increase your BDNF levels, and the easiest way of all to boost BDNF on a daily basis.

What Is Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)?

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF for short, is a growth factor and peptide (long-chain protein).

The name comes from the Greek neuro for “nerve” and trophis “pertaining to food, nourishment, or growth.”

What does BDNF do?

In a nutshell, BDNF supports the survival of neurons and brain cells, promotes synaptic connections between neurons, and is essential for learning and long-term memory storage[1][2][3]. 

For adults, BDNF also plays a vital role in neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons from stem cells)[4].

BDNF also occurs in the kidneys, blood plasma, and saliva, but its most important functions take place in the brain and central nervous system[5][6].

The Science Behind BDNF 

What is the role of BDNF in the brain? Here’s what cutting-edge science tells us about BDNF and its role in brain health and more.

Check out this list of fast facts:

  • Aging leads to lower levels of BDNF, which appear to cause shrinkage of gray matter and reductions in the number of synapses, making learning and forming memories harder[7]. 
  • Antidepressants may work by increasing BDNF[8][9]. Depression and anxiety correlate with lower BDNF levels, but antidepressants may increase BDNF expression and reverse shrinkage of the hippocampus[9][10].
  • Cannabinoids like THC increase BDNF levels in people who don’t smoke cannabis regularly, but not in chronic smokers, which could be why weed can wreck your memory (sorry, stoners)[11].
  • People with low BDNF levels may be more likely to have drinking problems, according to a 2019 study (Gorka et al.) that found associations between low BDNF, anxiety, and binge drinking.
  • Alzheimer’s and dementia patients have severely low BDNF[13][14]. Some scientists think that boosting BDNF levels could help preserve their brain function[15]. Other evidence suggests the higher your BDNF, the lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia[16].

To sum up, BDNF plays active roles in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and other brain areas[17].

As these areas are associated with memory and cognition, BDNF appears to be critical for higher brain functions as well as maintaining the health of brain cells.

The BDNF Gene

Like most proteins in your body, BDNF is encoded by a gene. 

The BDNF gene provides your cells instructions for making BDNF[18].

In some people (about 30% of Europeans), a mutation known as rs6265 or the Val66Met polymorphism results in lower BDNF levels[7]. 

People with this mutation have structural differences in their hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus, and amygdala[7]. 

They also tend to perform poorly on verbal tasks, working memory tests, and spatial tasks[7].

A 2011 study of middle-aged pilots also found Val66Met carriers experienced more skill decline and age-related decreases in hippocampal volume (the area of the brain associated with memory) compared to people without the mutation[19].


Should you get tested for Val66Met?

That’s up to you. But it’s probably not worth it to turn your DNA over to a big corporation just to find out your memory is shit.

Besides, some evidence suggests Val66Met carries can compensate in other ways for their shortcomings[7]

Bottom line: regardless of which BDNF gene you carry, prioritize taking good care of your brain and doing everything possible to increase BDNF levels.

How to Increase BDNF: 10 Ways to Raise Your BDNF Levels 

Now that you understand how valuable and essential BDNF is, you’re probably wondering: “How can I increase my BDNF?

We’ve dug deep into the peer-reviewed research. Here’s everything you need to do to keep your BDNF levels high for life.

1. Control Stress and Inflammation Levels

Let’s begin with the basics. Chronic stress and inflammation are terrible for your overall health, and BDNF is no exception.

Before you get too fancy, start here:

  • Avoid processed foods and sugar[20].
  • Manage stress[21].
  • Get plenty of sleep[22]

Obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes are all associated with lower BDNF levels[23][24]. If you’re dealing with these issues, your very first step should be to cut out crap foods. 

Even if you aren’t overweight or insulin resistant, sugary processed foods may still tank your BDNF[20].

Yoga and meditation are effective ways to manage stress and increase BDNF levels, according to a 2017 paper (Cahn et al.)[21].

And getting enough sleep is essential for a healthy brain and healthy BDNF levels[22]. But when you’re stressed, your need for sleep may be even higher[23].

2. Exercise Regularly 

Studies suggest that intense aerobic exercise is the most effective physical activity to increase your BDNF levels[25][26].

Although exercise increases BDNF immediately, the results appear to be better when you exercise regularly[25].

A 2018 mini-review found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may also be effective at increasing BDNF, but current data is very limited[27].

And a 2017 study discovered that resistance training can also elevate BDNF levels[28]. 

The researchers found that hypertrophy (bodybuilding-style) training to muscular fatigue raised BDNF more than pure strength training[28].

But if you’re not already in the habit of exercising, one of the best ways to increase your BDNF levels may be to simply move more.

A 2018 study in Neuroscience found that compared to sedentary people, physically active people had higher BDNF levels[29]. 

How does exercise increase BDNF?

So far, very few researchers have tried to explain how exactly exercise increases circulating BDNF.

According to a 2018 review (Walsh et al.), BDNF may be released during exercise from the brain, skeletal muscle, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), vascular endothelial cells, and platelets[30]. 

The authors suggest that shear stress from increased blood flow during exercise causes many of these cells to release more stored BDNF than they would otherwise[30]. 

3. Prioritize Your Social Connections

Social isolation and loneliness raise the risk of depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues[31][32].

Not coincidentally, they also appear to lower your BDNF levels[33].

For a healthy brain, do your best to maintain solid connections with your family and friends.

4. Breath Fresh Air and Get Naked in the Sun

Fresh air and sun? Really? Yep. 

Clichéd advice often turns out to be true. The question is, are you following it or not? 

Here’s how important air quality is for BDNF: multiple studies have found that unlike people who exercise in clean air, those who exercise in air pollution (such as jogging or cycling near heavy traffic) don’t experience the increase in BDNF levels that would otherwise accompany physical activity[34][35][36].

Along with exercising away from pollution, you can also make sure to open a window as often as possible. If you’re somewhere with poor air quality, use an air filter at home or in the office.

A 2012 study of over 2,800 people found that seasonal variations in sunlight affected BDNF levels, and ambient sun exposure also correlated with BDNF[37]. 

Now that you know sun affects BDNF, you can raise your BDNF levels by going outside regularly and getting sun on your skin.

5. Drink Coffee and Take Coffee Berry Supplements

Plants that are rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants are beneficial for your BDNF levels[38].

One such plant is the Coffea arabica or coffee plant[38]. 

The coffee bean is rich in chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and caffeine, all of which may increase BDNF expression[38].

And the coffee fruit, also known as coffee cherry or cascara, may be even more effective at increasing BDNF.

A 2013 clinical trial (Reyes-Izquierdo et al.) found that 100 milligrams of cascara extract increased BDNF levels by 143%[39].

6. Consume a High-Protein Diet 

Eating plenty of high-quality protein can help your brain stay healthy as you age[40].

A mouse study also found that mice fed a high-protein diet had higher BDNF levels, especially when combined with exercise[42].

One reason is that amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are necessary for the production of neurotransmitters--including BDNF[41].

7. Restrict Carbohydrate Intake (Sometimes)

Carbs aren’t always bad, but there are benefits to going low-carb sometimes.

Beta-hydroxybutyrate, a ketone your liver produces when you eat a very-low-carb diet or ketogenic diet, appears to increase brain BDNF levels[43].

A 2019 trial found that people with metabolic syndrome (severe insulin resistance) had higher BDNF levels after eating a paleo-keto diet with less than 50 grams of carbs per day and doing HIIT for four weeks[24].

If you don’t want to go keto all the time, you can try temporary carb restriction or cyclical keto for a BDNF boost.

8. Fast Correctly 

Does fasting increase BDNF? It depends on how you fast.

“Intermittent fasting” or fasting every day by skipping breakfast probably won’t do the trick.

Current research suggests that occasional, prolonged fast periods are a better choice for boosting BDNF.

For example, in one study, a 48-hour fast boosted skeletal muscle BDNF levels by a whopping 350%[44].

The reason may be ketone production[45]. When you go long enough without eating, your body goes into a state of ketosis.

Similar to carb restriction, ketosis and beta-hydroxybutyrate production could be one reason extended fasting windows can increase BDNF while shorter fasts don’t do it as effectively[43]

9. Eat These BDNF Foods

As we already covered, polyphenol antioxidants are excellent for your BDNF levels[38].

Dark chocolate, blueberries, and extra-virgin olive oil are high-polyphenol foods that are proven to increase BDNF and support brain health[10][38][46][46].

Butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid found in butter also appears to raise BDNF[47].

Lastly, people in countries that eat more fish are less depressed, probably because omega-3s in fatty fish increase BDNF levels[48][49].

10. Other BDNF Supplements

These supplements may support healthy BDNF levels:

  • Omega-3 supplements[49]
  • Magnesium, especially magnesium threonate[50]
  • Zinc[51]
  • Niacin[52]
  • Curcumin[53]
  • Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, by increasing beta-hydroxybutyrate levels[43][54].
  • L-theanine, a calming amino acid found in green tea[55]
  • Resveratrol[56][57]

The best use of supplements is to round out your BDNF regimen. 

Unless you suspect your BDNF levels are low, or you have a deficiency in omega-3s, magnesium, or zinc, there’s probably no need to prioritize supplementation.

Why STRONG Coffee is Like Winning the BDNF Lottery

The best way to build up your BDNF levels is to develop a daily routine around BDNF-boosting activities. 

Stress management, exercise, and quality time with your friends and family are essential.

Along with that, you can also use STRONG Coffee Daybreaker or Morning Fix every A.M. to support higher BDNF levels.

Strong Coffee contains six hand-picked ingredients proven to support BDNF expression:

  • Coffea arabica (coffee) beans[38]
  • Caffeine[38]
  • Cascara (coffee fruit) extract as Neurofactor®[39
  • L-theanine[55]
  • MCT oil[43][54]  
  • 15 grams of collagen protein with added tryptophan[41][58][59]

Not only that, but our proprietary STRONGMind Blend is synergistic. All the ingredients work together to promote elevated BDNF throughout your brain and central nervous system.

Conclusion: Higher BDNF for Better Brain Function

Regardless of your age, your BDNF levels have a huge effect on your mental abilities, mood, and overall brain health. 

Aging and stress lower BDNF levels, but you can preserve your brain health by managing stress, exercising, and forming close relationships.

STRONG Coffee is an easy, delicious way to incorporate six proven BDNF boosters into your morning routine.

Our formula is unlike any other, and it not only supports brain health, but also makes you feel amazing. 

A precise blend of 120 mg caffeine and 120 milligrams theanine means smooth, consistent energy with no crash, while the protein and MCTs keep your brain and body fueled and functioning optimally. 

Want to discover what you’ve been missing out on by not drinking STRONG Coffee? For a limited time only, receive 15% off your first order. Please use code STRONGSCIENCE at checkout.