One of the paradoxes of brain health is that while your body can make its own brain and memory-boosting chemicals, it often won’t if you don’t have the right lifestyle habits.
But that’s the way the human body is designed. You have to be smart about your daily habits if you want to make your brain smarter. Otherwise you face a good chance of losing your mental abilities as you get older.
Fortunately, there’s one particular protein you can easily encourage your brain to produce that makes a huge difference in its ability to function. . .
The Brain’s Vital Growth Factor
In recent years, many brain researchers have focused on a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor). We’ve written about it often. This natural molecule supports the health of the brain’s neurons and helps them maintain the strong connections that enable better learning and memory.
Tests show that older people who have more BDNF in their brain tissue keep their mental faculties at a higher level than seniors with low levels. And that’s true even among people who have started to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
One study shows that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s AND have greater amounts of BDNF experience only about half the memory loss, year-by-year, than others who lack the protein.1
Up to this point, just about the only known way to boost your BDNF levels was exercise. And a lot of people find it hard to summon the discipline to do this. Or they have a handicap and can’t. I’ve got some good news today for these folks, but first let me just say another word to those who CAN exercise.
According to a study at the University of California San Francisco, after you exercise, your liver releases a chemical (β-hydroxybutyrate) that travels to the hippocampus in the brain and stimulates the creation of BDNF.2 And an investigation at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore shows that on top of that, your muscles release at least two hormones that also push the hippocampus to secrete BDNF.3
Yoga and Meditation Boost BDNF
Now the good word for non-exercisers: other studies show you don’t necessarily have to raise a sweat to raise your BDNF. Simply maneuvering yourself into a yoga position or calmly meditating may also do the trick.
Research at the University of Southern California demonstrates that yoga and meditation increases BDNF and also makes you feel better about yourself.
In this study, about forty people, most of them in their 30s, spent time in an intensive three-month yoga and meditation retreat. During this time, they ate a vegetarian diet while practicing various daily yoga poses coupled with controlled breathing exercises. They focused on repeating mantras, mindfully inhaling and exhaling, emptying the mind and tuning in to their bodily sensations.
At the end of the three months, their BDNF levels climbed and they also reported feeling less anxiety and depression.4
Food and Sun Can Help, Too
Other ways to increase your BDNF include:
- Eat fish and take fish oil supplements. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been shown to help support the production of extra amounts of BDNF.5
- Get out in the sun every day. Research indicates that when we sit inside most of the time, our BDNF levels decline. But getting at least 30 minutes of daily sunshine brings our BDNF levels up. This also explains why our BDNF levels tend to be higher in the spring and summer months. Tests also show that taking vitamin D can’t substitute for the sun and has little effect on BDNF levels.6
- Eat blueberries. Natural chemicals in blueberries called polyphenols are believed to help stimulate the production of BDNF.7