BDNF: How the growth factor stimulates our brains

BDNF: Wie der Wachstumsfaktor unser Gehirn auf Trab bringt

It sounds like someone randomly stringed four letters together. However, the letter combination BDNF does have a meaning and it is even extremely important for our body and mental health.

The B rain- D erived N eurotrophic F actor influences different functions of a brain. Translated from English, BDNF means "brain-derived neurotrophic factor".

In this article we explain what the growth factor BDNF is all about. You will also learn how to increase your BDFN levels naturally. After reading this, you know how to optimize your memory while reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

the essentials in brief

  • The BDNF influences different functions of your brain. It prevents existing brain cells from dying and promotes the growth of new synapses and neurons. A good BDNF level is of particular importance for your long-term memory.
  • Various malfunctions and diseases are often associated with a low BDNF level. Examples include learning difficulties, memory problems, Alzheimer's or even depression.
  • You can actively increase your BDNF levels. Sufficient endurance sports and a balanced, healthy diet are the be-all and end-all! With the right diet and/or additional supplements, you can further increase your BDNF levels.

Background: What is BDNF and what can you do with optimal BDNF levels?

In the following section we explain what BDNF is and how too high or too low a BDNF level affects your body. You will also learn how to optimize your BDNF level.

What is BDNF?

BDNF is a naturally occurring growth hormone. It is formed in the brain, where it acts on neurons in the central and peripheral nervous system (1). There it is very important for long-term memory, abstract thinking, logical reasoning and organizational thinking (1,2).

What are the tasks of BDNF?

The protection of already existing neurons and synapses is the most important task of BDNF. In addition, BDNF regulates the growth and further development of new nerve cells, neuronal pathways and synapses (3). BDNF is not only found in the nervous system or brain, it also has various functions in the retina, kidneys, prostate and skeletal muscles (4). In this article, however, we only focus on the BDNF in the brain or nervous system.

During thought processes that are stored in your long-term memory, new neural pathways are formed and synaptic connections are tightened. These are processes controlled by BDNF (4).

So, BDNF is a growth hormone in the brain that helps you get the most out of your memory.

Why is BDNF important?

As you already know, the task of BDNF in the brain is to build new neuronal structures and maintain existing structures. So BDNF is extremely important for your mental fitness, mental energy and productivity (1,2,3,4).

Researchers found in animal experiments that mice without BDNF showed major developmental deficits in the brain. Very many of the mice without BDNF even died shortly after birth (5).

memory ability

Optimal levels of the growth hormone BDNF help you to use your memory optimally and keep your concentration efficient for longer. (Image Source: Green Chameleon / Unsplash)

As with almost everything in life, BDNF also comes down to the right amount. The same applies to BDNF: neither too high nor too low levels of growth hormone are good for you and your body. You can find more detailed information on this further down in the article.

What does the BDNF level say?

The BDNF level gives information about the concentration of BDNF in your blood. BDNF is a protein that allows the determination of BDNF levels by taking a blood sample.

In a laboratory, the blood sample is broken down into its individual components and processed with antibodies. The result is then a BDNF value. The determined BDNF value can then be classified using guide values. (6)

In the following section you will find out what a low or high BDNF level can mean.

Low BDNF level

A low BDNF level can have various causes. For example, an unhealthy lifestyle or brain-related diseases can be decisive for low BDNF levels (2,8).

The most common causes include:

Caused Example
an unhealthy lifestyle a lot of stress, unhealthy diet with a lot of fat and sugar, a lot of alcohol, cigarette consumption, drug consumption (9)
disturbances Sleep disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, personality disorders (schizophrenia)(8)
mental stress Chronic everyday stress, insomnia due to worry and exhaustion, depression (9)

In the diseases associated with BDNF (disorders, depression, etc.), it is unclear whether low BDNF levels are part of the cause or one of the consequences of the possible diseases (7).

Age can also be a cause of low BDNF levels. Like many other things that change with age, BDNF levels also decrease with old age (10).

When BDNF levels are low, less BDNF is produced. As a result, fewer nerve cells, neurons and synapses are produced and maintained. Even if it does not have to lead to dramatic diseases or disorders, a too low BDNF level is noticeable.

The lack of the protein can cause poor mental performance, such as a learning disability (5).

BDNF excess

In addition to a BDNF level that is too low, the BDNF values ​​in your blood sample can also be significantly increased. For example, if you suffer from the skin disease neurodermatitis, your BDNF level depends on the severity of your current itching (11).

Your BDNF level will be very high if you are currently suffering from severe neurodermatitis. The same applies to other skin diseases such as psoriasis (12).

How can BDNF levels be increased?

There are many different ways and ways to increase your BDNF levels. You can use a variety of natural BDNF pushers for this. In addition to natural methods, you can also raise BDNF levels with supplements or even medicines (11).

To get the most out of you and your brain, here are the best ways to increase your BDNF levels naturally.

  • Sports
  • Sunlight / Vitamin D
  • Nourishment
  • Intermittent Fasting

You can optimize your BDNF levels naturally with the help of the four tips and at the same time increase neurogenesis in your brain. You can also prevent a BDNF deficiency thanks to the tips (7,8,12).


With sufficient physical activity, you not only do something good for your body. Regular, intense exercise reduces the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and improves your mental performance. One way to make BDNF is by contracting muscle cells(13).

sports and fitness

With regular and high-intensity sports units, you can increase your BDNF level. If you keep at it, you will improve your physical and mental fitness. (Image Source: 5132824 / Pixaby)

German scientists prove this with a study carried out in 2007. They were able to show scientifically that just two short sprint units improve the learning speed of the sprint group by 20%. Endurance athletes and resting groups, which could not show this improvement, served as comparison groups. The result of the study is clear. High-intensity training sessions not only increase important neurotransmitters, but also BDNF levels (14).

The more intense and frequent your activity, the more likely your BDNF production will increase (15). So if you want to increase your BDNF levels through exercise, it is important that your exercise sessions are of high intensity. Especially at the beginning you certainly have to overcome your weaker self often. But your body and your BDNF level will thank you if you can do it.

Sunlight / Vitamin D

You don't have to be a scientist to know that sunlight is good for you. It produces serotonin and melatonin, is crucial for the phases between sleeping and being awake and ensures the formation of vitamin D. Vitamin D in turn has a direct positive effect on your BDNF level, which is why the vitamin is also directly important for your memory (16 ).

So if you enjoy an hour or two more in the sun, it not only helps your mood, but will certainly drive your BDNF value up.


Your diet provides your body with energy. It ensures that your body gets going in the first place and has a significant impact on your performance and on your BDNF levels (17). This is exactly why a healthy and balanced diet is extremely important.

Your body needs carbohydrates to generate energy. However, sugar and refined carbohydrates provide too much energy at once, causing a hormone imbalance.

Healthy food like salmon

A healthy and conscious diet contributes fundamentally to your well-being. A sensible diet can also be beneficial with regard to the BDNF level and raise the level. (Image Source: Caroline Attwood / Unsplash)

A 2002 study showed a link between high sugar consumption and lower BDNF levels (18).

So you should definitely avoid ready meals, empty calories and lots of sugar. Instead, rely on vegetables, healthy fats, berries, fruits, nuts, and high-quality meat to increase your performance levels and your BDNF levels.

Intermittent Fasting

With intermittent fasting, you skip meals at regular intervals. Skipping meals has an impact on your metabolism, among other things, since your body draws on existing fat reserves during these phases.

This will bring your body into ketosis. Ketosis is a form of metabolism in which ketone bodies are formed from medium-chain fats. The ketone bodies are an excellent source of energy for your brain. (19).

You're probably wondering what skipping meals has to do with BDNF. Intermittent fasting significantly increases your BDNF levels. The resulting ketones act directly on the nerve cells and thus stimulate BDNF production. Just like exercise, the effect of increasing BDNF will wear off if you don't keep up with it regularly (20).

Which supplements can optimize BDNF levels?

In this article you have already learned in detail how you can increase your BDNF level naturally. In this section, we also explain which supplements you can use to increase your BDNF value.

If you search the Internet for supplements to increase BDNF levels, you will find an unmanageable number of possible supplements. Below we have listed our 4 favorites:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids through e.g. krill oil,
  • zinc
  • Vitamin D
  • Turmeric / Curcumin

So that we don't just give you the name and options for supply, we explain briefly and concisely what's behind the substances.

Of course you should not use all supplements at the same time, but limit yourself to a healthy amount!

cabbage nicolas

You can increase the BDNF level and thus your mental energy with supplements. But there are also a variety of natural methods, which is why the supplements should only be used as a supplement. (Image source: Kabselnnicolas Solerieu / Unsplash)

Omega-3 fatty acid

Your brain is mostly made up of fat. 30% of the fat consists of the omega-3 acid DHA. The omega-3 fatty acid is therefore an essential part of your brain structure and the functioning of your brain.

If there is too little omega-3 in your brain, the permeability of the brain membrane cells is reduced and the communication speed between brain cells decreases (21).

In a study, the intake of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA was associated with an increase in the BDNF level. So, if you consume enough DHA, it will have a powerful impact on your BDNF levels (22).


Zinc is an important component of brain enzymes and is responsible for the formation and metabolism of neurotransmitters. A US study shows that zinc improves brain performance. The test subjects who also took zinc as a dietary supplement showed better concentration, learning ability and better memory performance than the test subjects without the additional intake of zinc.(23,24)

Consequently, supplementing with zinc also noticeably increases BDNF levels.

Vitamin D

As we explained to you in the previous section, vitamin D also increases your BDNF levels significantly (16).

That's right, you need time or a job outside to get out in the sun and enjoy the sun's rays. If you are not able to absorb enough vitamin D naturally (sunrays, diet), you can also take it in the form of vitamin D supplements in addition to your diet.

Turmeric / Curcumin

You think turmeric is a spice? Then you are absolutely correct. Turmeric is also said to be pain-relieving, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, among other things. It is not just a spice, but is used in many ways as a medicinal herb (25,26).

Curcumin is the phytochemical from turmeric and gives the tuber its intense colour. Curcumin also gives turmeric some of its health-promoting properties.

Researchers have been studying curcumin as a drug to treat cancer. They were able to find out that it even affects the growth, development and spread of cancer cells at the molecular level (25).

Thanks to its antioxidant effects, curcumin can also promote BDNF production in the hippocampus. Thus, by taking turmeric or curcumin, you can additionally increase your BDNF level (26)


There are not only a variety of different supplements. You can take our four favorites alone in different ways. To give you an overview, we have prepared a table with examples below.

natural examples nutritional examples
Omega-3 fatty acid DHA Salmon, Atlantic herring, fortified foods (oil, margarine) capsules, fish oil
zinc Oysters, shrimp, beef, lamb, oats, Edam, pumpkin and sunflower seeds Capsules , drops, tablets
Vitamin D Salmon, herring, mackerel, egg yolk, edible mushrooms, margarine Capsules, drops, tablets
Turmeric / Curcumin as a spice or oil Capsules, drops, powder/tr>

As already mentioned, you should avoid basing your diet on the supplements. These are meant to complement your meals, not replace them.


You got some information about Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in this article. Now you know that you can improve your mental performance with an optimized BDNF level.

We have also explained to you which clinical pictures are often associated with a BDNF deficiency. Depression and dementia in particular are favored by a low BDNF level.

Intensive sport and a conscious diet are essential for optimizing the BDNF level. With HIIT workouts (high-intensity training), interval fasting and a targeted diet, you can not only do something for your body weight. You can also use these tips to increase your BDNF levels, effectively boosting your mental fitness, mental energy, and productivity.

If you change your physical activity and your diet, don't expect miracles. A noticeable increase in BDNF levels takes time. But if you consistently implement our tips over several weeks and longer, nothing stands in the way of a better performance level.


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