“Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center recently reported intriguing evidence that people with higher levels of an important nerve growth factor called BDNF tended to keep more of their cognitive functions even as amyloid built up...In fact people who had more BDNF activity saw 50% slower rate of cognitive decline over the study’s six years than those with lower activity.” - Alzheimer's From a New Angle (Time Magazine, Feb 2016)
With a growing body of scientific evidence like the quote above, it is no wonder that brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is quickly becoming one of the hottest compounds in brain health. As a neuroprotein, BDNF is responsible for growing new neurons and repairing broken ones.
Exercise is the most commonly known way of increasing BDNF, but people have also started looking towards other ways that they can increase this key protein for brain health. Unfortunately, many of the supplements that are touted for having the ability to increase BNDF, come up short due to their lack of research in humans when the science behind the claims are examined more throughly.
Here are 4 supplements for increasing BNDF levels in your body.
1. Fish oil - There are several studies (Ref, Ref) in animals that show when researchers induce dramatic brain injuries, the addition of omega-3 fats (like those found in fish oil) help to normalize levels of BDNF in these animals. Unfortunately, there are no human studies showing that taking a fish oil supplement will increase BDNF levels.
2. Curcumin - Curcumin, an extract from turmeric, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but some animal research suggests that curcumin can play a role in increasing BDNF levels. In one study, researchers took brain cells from mice and treated them with curcumin. This treatment with curcumin led to increases in BDNF levels. Unfortunately, there are no human studies showing that supplementing with curcumin will increase levels of BDNF. We also do not know how relevant these animal studies are to humans, however, there does seem to be a cellular pathway in which curcumin could help brain health.
3. Cocoa - Cocoa is known to be a powerful antioxidant, but research from Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, and Center for Biotechnology at Temple University is starting to show that these antioxidants may have a novel use. In a 2013 study, researchers took cells that behaved as if they were inflicted with Alzheimer's disease and treated them with extracted antioxidants from cocoa. They found that the cocoa antioxidants turned on the cell's protective mechanism by activating the BDNF survival pathway. This research is very interesting, however, it is still a stretch to say that consuming cocoa (while I do love dark chocolate!) will lead to increases in BDNF. It is an exciting area of research to watch for future developments.
4. Coffee Fruit (NeuroFactor™) - The fruit from a coffee plant contains a powerful blend of antioxidants. The concentrated form of these antioxidants, called NeuroFactor™, has been shown - in two separate clinical studies - to increase BDNF levels in humans in less than 2 hours.
This is the only supplement that I have found which has been clinically shown to increase BDNF levels in humans. As you have seen from the other supplements we looked at, there may be a plausible cellular mechanism for some of them to increase BDNF, but their ability to do so in humans has yet to be shown.