54 Ways To Increase BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor)

In order to investigate ways to increase BDNF, I conducted a literature search on PubMed. I saved abstracts that mentioned nootropics or habits that increase BDNF or prevent a decrease in BDNF. Scroll down to see the complete list of 54 ways to increase BDNF.

I've classified each entry as one of the following:

  • research chemical
  • endogenous substance, e.g., already present in your body
  • intervention, e.g., electroconvulsive therapy
  • supplement
  • food
  • drug
  • lifestyle, e.g., diet and exercise

These categories are not particularly neat and there's often overlap. For example, melatonin is both a supplement, an endogenous substance, and is also found in food (like walnuts).

Caveats

  • Not everything on this list is safe.
  • Not all the entries directly increase BDNF, some entries prevent a decrease in BDNF.
  • Some entries activate the Trk B receptor without necessarily affecting BDNF.

Stepping Back - What's BDNF?

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophic factor that regulates plasticity and cell survival in the brain. It's of tremendous interest to researchers because abnormal BDNF signaling plays a role in everything from depression to Alzheimer's disease.

Specifically, BDNF is a *pro-survival signal *in the central nervous system.

This means that the local expression of BDNF signals the brain to maintain synapses. BDNF also provides trophic support for neurons. Some researchers think that BDNF is the common endpoint of most antidepressant drugs. For example, most SSRIs ultimately converge on increased BDNF and neurogenesis despite individual differences at the neurotransmitter level.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that just because a substance increases BDNF does not necessarily imply that its effects are beneficial.

Low-dose methamphetamine likely increases BDNF but that does not mean you should start using crystal.

1. 7, 8-dihydroxyflavone

Type: research chemical

7,8-dihydroxylfavone is a BDNF mimetic, and may not increase BDNF itself. It binds the Trk B receptor in the brain.

Further reading:

2. Ampakines

Type: research chemical

Ampakines are potentially high-risk research compounds. More research is needed to assess the risk of neurotoxicity. See this discussion on Sunifiram.

Further reading:

3. LM22A-4

Type: research chemical

LM22A-4 is a partial agonist of TrkB, the primary receptor for BDNF. LM22A-4 fails to cross the blood-brain-barrier when administered systemically, so LM22A-4 has been given to animals instead via intranasally, which results in TrkB activation. The compound produces neurogenic and neuroprotective effects in animals.

Further reading:

4. Thyroid hormone

Type: endogenous

Thyroid hormone regulates the metabolism of every cell in the body. Thyroid increases neurogenesis and BDNF.

Further reading:

5. Melatonin

Type: endogenous

Even if you don't suffer from insomnia, the neuroprotective effects of melatonin cannot be dismissed. Melatonin is among the most potent antioxidants.

Further reading:

6. Intranasal insulin

Type: endogenous

Further reading:

7. Intranasal oxytocin

Type: endogenous

Further reading:

8. Testosterone

Type: endogenous

Further reading:

9. Progesterone

Type: endogenous

Further reading:

10. 17β-estradiol

Type: endogenous

Further reading:

11. Adenosine

Type: endogenous

Since coffee is an adenosine antagonist, should we therefore drink less coffee? This result seems to imply that caffeine could inhibit BDNF expression via adenosine blockade.

Further reading:

12. High-Frequency Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)

Type: intervention

Further reading:

13. Electroconvulsive therapy

Type: intervention

Not recommended unless you have severe, treatment-resistant depression.

Further reading:

14. Acupuncture

Type: intervention

Further reading:

15. Deep brain stimulation

Type: intervention

Further reading:

16. Physical therapy

Type: intervention

Further reading:

17. Vitamin D

Type: supplement

Vitamin D is the one supplement I think everyone should take.

Further reading:

18. Resveratrol

Type: supplement

Further reading:

19. Schisandra chinensis

Type: supplement

Further reading:

20. Folic acid

Type: supplement

Further reading:

21. Piperine

Type: supplement

Piperine also enhances the bioavailability of curcumin.

Further reading:

22. Panax ginseng

Type: supplement

Further reading:

23. Omega-3

Type: supplement

Studies on omega-3 have been equivocal. At the very least, omega-3 polyunsattured fatty acids are unlikely to be harmful, provided that they're not contaminated with mercury.

Further reading:

24. Nobiletin

Type: supplement

Nobiletin is a very promising cognitive enhancer that does not receive the attention that it should.

Further reading:

25. Fingolimod

Type: supplement

Further reading:

26. Quercetin

Type: supplement

I'd avoid quercetin supplementation.

Instead, here are some quercetin-rich foods: apples; peppers; red wine; dark cherries and berries (blueberries, bilberries, blackberries and others); tomatoes; cruciferous veggies, including broccoli, cabbage and sprouts; leafy green veggies, including spinach, kale; citrus fruits.

Further reading:

27. Magnolol

Type: supplement

Further reading:

28. Zinc

Type: supplement

Zinc is a double-edged sword. See [Zinc: the brain's dark horse](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19623531
).

Further reading:

29. Oroxylin A

Type: supplement

Further reading:

30. Bright light therapy

Type: lifestyle

Bright light therapy in the morning is beneficial on multiple levels. It entrains your biological clock, improves mood, and enhances sleep quality.

Further reading:

31. Exercise

Type: lifestyle

If there's a "magic bullet" then it's exercise.

Further reading:

32. Sunlight

Type: lifestyle

Even if sunlight doesn't increase BDNF you should get some sun and fresh air.

Further reading:

33. Sex

Type: lifestyle

Sex is an environmental novelty that increases BDNF.

Further reading:

34. Calorie restriction

Type: lifestyle

Eating less and more than needed on alternate days prolongs life.

Further reading:

35. Meditation

Type: lifestyle

Further reading:

36. Ketone bodies

Type: lifestyle

Both exercise and a high-fat diet will stimulate ketone bodies Beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate are produced by the liver in periods of carbohydrate restriction. Under usual conditions, the brain exclusively uses glucose for energy. But ketone bodies can provide an alternative energy source.

Further reading:

37. Socialization

Type: lifestyle

Just in case you needed an excuse to go talk to some people.

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38. "Enriched housing"

Type: lifestyle

Further reading:

39. Blueberries

Type: food

Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials have demonstrated that blueberries improve cognitive ability in older adults.

Further reading:

40. Cacao or dark chocolate

Type: food

Cacao also increases cerebral blood flow, neurogenesis, and improves cognitive ability in older adults.

Further reading:

41. Curcumin

Type: food

Curcumin is a promiscuous ligand; it binds a lot of protein targets. This can make it difficult to pin down its true mechanism due to off-target effects.

Further reading:

42. Agomelatine

Type: drug

Agomelatine is a melatonergic antidepressant developed by Servier. Rarely, agomelatine can impair liver function and is contraindicated in patients with hepatic impairment.

Further reading:

43. Fluoxetine

Type: drug

Further reading:

44. Citalopram

Type: drug

Further reading:

45. Reboxetine

Type: drug

Further reading:

46. Sertraline

Type: drug

Further reading:

47. Mirtazepine

Type: drug

Mirtazapine is an atypical antidepressant with serotonergic and noradrenergic activity. It's highly sedating, which can improve sleep quality but result in an undesirable hangover effect.

Mirtazepine increases both BDNF and neurogenesis.

Mirtazepine is an ingredient in Californian rocket fuel.

Further reading:

48. Duloxetine

Type: drug

Further reading:

49. Nicotine

Type: drug

Nicotine has also been reported to impair hippocampal neuroplasticity, so tread lightly.

Further reading:

50. Sodium butyrate

Type: drug

Sodium butyrate (GHB) is an interesting drug. One the one hand, it's one of the most powerful sleep aids in existence. It increases slow wave sleep while concomitantly increasing growth hormone secretion; most other sedatives knock you out while actually impairing sleep quality.

However, GHB is likely neurotoxic.

Further reading:

51. Ketamine

Type: drug

It's interesting that the biomedical establishment changes their tenor about ketamine in the last decade. Pre-2000, there are studies suggesting that ketamine suppresses BDNF expression. But after the recognition that ketamine may be a useful antidepressant, you find more and more studies suggesting that ketamine promotes BDNF expression. Hm...

Further reading:

52. Venlafaxine

Type: drug

Further reading:

53. Memantine

Type: drug

Memantine behaves similarly to magnesium by blocking NMDA-type glutamate receptors in a voltage-gated manner.

Further reading:

54. GABA(A) receptor blockade

Type: drug

The downside risk of GABAergic blockade is increased anxiety and seizures. Always be walkin' the line.

Further reading:

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Ben Gardner

I'm interested in nutrition, nootropics, and javascript. I'm a firm believer in getting really good at one thing.

Maryland

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