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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Blackburn

Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor: A Pathway Through Depression

What is BDNF?

Maybe you’ve heard about brain plasticity - the ability of the brain to adapt and form new connections. The brains of children are highly plastic, busy with developing all sorts of new neural connections, which is part of the reason they learn so fast. As we age, our brains become less plastic, more set in their ways - but this doesn’t mean that neuroplasticity goes away entirely. Like many other things in life, brain function follows the well-trodden path of “use it or lose it”. The good news is that even if you feel like your brain has been stuck in a certain mode for years - whether that shows up as depression, anxiety, stress, or anger - there’s something that can help you become unstuck.

To simplify a very complex topic, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in neuroplasticity - the ability of your brain to adapt and make new connections. BDNF has been found to be active in areas of the brain which govern memory, learning, and higher levels of thinking, and it acts throughout the brain to preserve neurons, while also encouraging the growth and regeneration of new neurons and synapses. When it comes to depression and other mental ailments, this is big news.

What happens if your BDNF is low?

Low levels of BDNF are associated with many adverse health outcomes, such as:

● Overweight and obesity

● Type II Diabetes

● Parkinson’s Disease

● Alzheimer’s Disease

● Multiple Sclerosis

● Bipolar Disorder

● Depression

● Anxiety

The reasons for low BDNF are many, and not yet fully understood. Genetic factors play a role, but so does lifestyle and habit, and this is where we start cooking with gas. While we can’t control our genetics, we can control aspects of our lifestyle and daily habits, which can give us the power to greatly increase the expression of BDNF. By increasing BDNF, we can take a stand against many forms of mental illness and, in addition to therapy, begin to see improvements in our lives.

How can we increase BDNF?

● Exercise is one of the best ways to increase BDNF

● Quality sleep and optimized circadian rhythm

● Stress reduction

● Sun exposure on the skin - but make sure not to burn

● 24-48 Hour Fasts

● High protein, low carbohydrate diets

● Reduce and/or eliminate sugar consumption

● Spend time socializing

● High-quality polyphenol-rich foods such as dark chocolate, blueberries, and olive oil

● Consume fish and/or supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids

Remember that these are just some ways that you can empower yourself and take your health into your own hands. They are not meant to invalidate the experience of mental illness, or to blame you for whatever troubles you may be facing because you’re ‘not doing enough’. Depression and mental adversity are great challenges, and if you suffer with them, they aren’t your fault! These struggles often convince us that we have no control, or worse, no hope for improvement. Part of mental illness is believing in this lie, and the first step on the pathway out of it is to open ourselves to the possibility that things could be different, and that maybe we do have the power to change. Increasing BDNF is one way we can take back a little bit of agency, and therapy is another, because you don’t have to do this alone. Book with us here (insert link) to talk to a therapist and get started on your journey.

As always, progress over perfection, and perfection is the enemy of ‘good enough’.

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