Home » Blog » Nutrition » How to Increase BDNF? Brain Food Snacks

How to Increase BDNF? Brain Food Snacks

How to increase BDNF?

Brain food snacks may be beneficial.

What foods and nutrients increase BDNF?

This article will discuss all about BDNF, why BDNF is important, the BDNF gene, and how to increase BDNF.

What is Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)?

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is an important growth factor (protein) in brain neuroplasticity and brain development playing a key role in learning and memory (1, 2).

BDNF can be thought of as fertilizer for the brain to help grow new brain connections and protect healthy brain cells.

Why is BDNF Important?

Recent studies show BDNF plays a role in depression (3). Dr John J. Ratey, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, termed BDNF as “miracle-gro” for the brain in his book, Spark, when discussing how exercise increases BDNF (4).

You can increase your BDNF through nutrition and lifestyle modifications (5). Increasing evidence is showing improvement in gut health affects brain health (6). 

BDNF is essential for learning and memory.

What About the BDNF Gene?

Research has shown that genetic variations in the BDNF gene may contribute to neuropsychiatric disorders (7, 8). Lower BDNF levels may be linked to mood disorders, schizophrenia, and ADHD (9, 10, 11).

What Foods May Increase BDNF? Brain Food Snacks

There are many nutrients that have an impact on neurogenesis and brain health including omega 3-fatty acids, curcumin, flavonoids, vitamins B, C, D, and E, selenium, and iron (12).  Green tea, resveratrol, sulforaphane, and many other nutritional components also improve brain health (13).

Omegas and Mental Health

Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to influence the gut-brain axis by affecting the gut microbiota, decreasing cognitive decline, and improving mood disorders. (14)

Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids increased BDNF and decreased depressive symptoms in a 2021 study in children and adolescents (15). 

Choose fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Look for “wild” fish so there are fewer contaminants. 

Brain Boost Green Tea

Some botanicals have shown to be beneficial to increase BDNF (16). Green tea is one botanical that has been well studied in brain health (17, 18 ). Tea polyphenols are a promising compound in prevention of brain aging (19).

Having a cup of green tea (which contains caffeine and theanine) in the morning can increase alertness and attention.

Red Grapes for Resveratrol

Resveratrol found in red grapes is showing promise in anti-aging (20).

Try some red grapes containing resveratrol to protect against aging.

Blueberries for the Brain

In a study, blueberry extract was beneficial on memory and learning in mouse models possibly due to the regulation of BDNF (21). These polyphenol rich berries may improve cognitive performance.

Choose organic blueberries as a snack.

Curcumin Increases BDNF

Curcumin supplementation has shown to increase BDNF levels and may be beneficial for neurological disorders (22). Be sure to add black pepper to your turmeric/curcumin as it can maximize absorption by 2000% (23). 

Coffee and Inflammation

Coffee has many health benefits including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties as well as improvements in gut-brain health (24). Remember to choose organic or biodynamic coffee to reduce toxins and chemicals.

Leafy Green Vegetables for BDNF

Lutein and zeaxanthin found in dark green leafy, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables were found to increase BDNF with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (25).

Try some spinach, kale, or broccoli.

Cacao Benefits for the Brain

Recent research revealed that dark chocolate containing theobromine improved memory and cognition. Look for high levels of cacao in your chocolate (26, 27).

Sulforaphane Enhances BDNF 

Sulforaphane with its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties enhances BDNF expression, possibly reducing neuronal disorders (28, 29).

Eat cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cabbage lightly cooked. Use mustard seed or use the hack and hold method (cut veggies and let sit for 40 minutes before cooking) to increase available sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane supplements can also optimize your intake.

Olive Oil for Polyphenols

A link has been found between a polyphenol in olive oil and neurodegenerative diseases (30).

Recent studies review the benefits of olive oil on gut-brain health and cognitive function (31, 32).

Sprinkle olive oil on protein foods and vegetables.


Lifestyle Changes: How to Increase BDNF?

Intermittent Fasting for Brain Repair

Intermittent fasting involves limiting calories for an extended period to allow the gut to rest. A popular intermittent fasting program is 16:8 where you fast for 16 hours followed by an 8-hour eating window (for example eat from 12 noon to 8pm).

Clinical studies show intermittent fasting may benefit those with brain disorders like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Animal studies conclude possible benefits of intermittent fasting with Parkinson’s disease, autism spectrum disorder, mood, and anxiety (33). 

82 papers were reviewed which consistently reported an increase in BDNF and improved cognition in animal models with intermittent fasting. More studies are needed on humans. (34).

Try intermittent fasting with guidance from your healthcare practitioner.

Intermittent Fasting for BDNF
Intermittent Fasting for BDNF

Exercise is Good for the Brain

Exercise improves cognition and brain plasticity by increasing BDNF levels (35). General recommendations include exercising about 150 minutes every week.

Sleep to Clean the Brain

Sleep is important for resting and repairing the body.  

A study in 2019 showed that waste in the brain and spinal cord gets “washed out” during sleep (36). Think of sleep as a time when garbage in the brain is removed. We need sleep.

Chronic sleep deprivation, insomnia, and depression have been associated with low levels of BDNF (37, 38).

Target 7-9 hours of sleep for an adult.

Stress Reduction for BDNF

Changes in BDNF have been shown in people experiencing stress (39). Finding ways to reduce stress with meditation and mindfulness can be helpful in maintaining brain health (40).

Select a mindfulness practice you enjoy like deep breathing or meditation.

Sunshine and Nature for Mental Health

In a study, BDNF levels were higher in the spring and summer when people were exposed to the sun (41). Get out in the sun for a short time daily and be in nature every day. 

Nature is good for the brain and mental health (42, 43).

Final Thoughts

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is an important growth factor (protein) in brain neuroplasticity and brain development playing a key role in learning and memory.

Lower BDNF levels may be linked to mood disorders, schizophrenia, and ADHD.

Food and nutrients that may increase BDNF include:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring)
  • Green Tea
  • Resveratrol in red grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Curcumin
  • Coffee
  • Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Cacao
  • Sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables
  • Olive Oil

Lifestyle changes to optimize BDNF may be:

  • Intermittent Fasting
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Stress Reduction
  • Sunshine and being in nature

Remember, what you eat is important for health and disease prevention. 

What you absorb (breaking down the food) and assimilate (gets into the cells) is critical. 

Test don’t guess.

Contact me to schedule an appointment to review your personalized nutritional health.

© Amy Archer RDN, CLT, CHWC




Similar Posts