BDNF and Neurogenesis- Growing New Brain Cells with Brain Derived Neurotrophic factor

BDNF Neurogenesis

Did you know that the adult brain continues to grow new brains cells in a process called neurogenesis? This is due to a very important protein called  brain derived neurotrohic factor or BDNF. This article will blow your mind by teaching you about about this amazing brain fertilizer protein how to increase neurogenesis in your brain by boosting your BDNF levels naturally.

Adult neurogenesis

It turns out, the brain is much more adaptable and resilient than we initially thought. Up until the 1990s/early 2000s, conventional belief in neuroscience was that after a certain age, the brain stopped producing fresh neurons. It was widely believed that as an adult, you were stuck with what you had in your noggin, and any brain cells that you lost to head injuries or binge drinking were just gone forever.

Thank goodness we were wrong! There’s hope for that special someone in your life who you know that has maybe lost one-too-many brain cells.

Turns out, there’s actually 2 areas of the adult brain where neural stem cells exist and prompt neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons. The 2 areas are the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb. Now, it’s not too surprising that there is adult neurogenesis happening in the hippocampus, given it’s importance in memory consolidation and emotional processing. However, it’s much more intriguing that the olfactory bulb creates new neurons, considering it’s main identified role is in the processing of smells and tastes. Fascinating right?

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What does BDNF do?

BDNF or brain derived neurotrophic factor is an important protein that mediates the growth, repair and survival of existing neurons, as well as prompting the growth of whole new neurons. BDNF is basically like miracle grow fertilizer for your brain.

It basically serves 2 functions.

1) to preserve and maintain the survival of existing neurons and

2) to initiate the formation of novel neural networks through neuroplasticity as a means of adapting to stress in the environment that may require enhanced learning and cognition to ensure survival of the animal.

Low levels of BDNF are associated with anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease. Drugs and interventions that increase BDNF show great promise as a treatment for many of these conditions.

Okay, bear with me, I’m about to get a little sciencey on you guys.

BDNF mechanism of action

BDNF is encoded by the gene called BDNF. It is created in the endoplasmic reticulum of nerve cells.

BDNF directly binds postsynaptically to trkB and p75 receptors on receiving neurons. The BDNF-trkB pathway appears to be importance for short-term memory development and the growth of new neurons. The role of P75 receptors is not as clear.

Interestingly, when BDNF and other neurotrophic factors bind to just P75, it activates cytokine nfkB and actually induces cell apoptosis or death. However, when BDNF binds to TrkB in addition to P75, it appears to override this signal and protect the neuron.

BDNF expression is prompted by the stimulation of the NMDA glutamate receptor which allows calcium to enter the cell. Calcium influx is essential for instigating the activation of BDNF gene expression. In this way, NMDA glutamate receptor activation is crucial for initiating neuroplasticity and neurogenesis via BDNF expression. This is a fundamental mechanism for learning and memory formation.

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BDNF can also interact directly with NMDA-glutamate receptors affecting receptor function and initiating downstream chemical cascades that are important for spatial memory in the hippocampus.

BDNF gene mutations


Now unfortunately, some of us have a gene polymorphism or mutation that changes the way BDNF functions in the brain.  Not gonna mention any names but, a certain blog author may have this BDNF single nucleotide polymorphism(SNP). This mutation is called Val66Met, indicating that a valine is switched to methionine at codon 66 in the BDNF protein formation. This mutation results in the BDNF RNA being more prone to degradation as well an having issues with trafficking and secreting BDNF molecules appropriately.

Those with this polymorphism have reduced volume of tissue in the hippocampus, and are associated with learning and memory disorders, anxiety and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Gee, that explains a lot…

Okay, I think I’m done getting too sciencey  on you for now.

How to increase BDNF levels and neurogenesis naturally

So luckily, the really cool thing is, you can actually influence the expression of BDNF in a number of natural, safe and healthy ways.

Here are the top ways to increase BDNF levels:


Intermittent fasting has been found to increase adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Intermittent fasting is usually done abstaining from eating for anywhere from 12-24 hours. Some people can do it daily, while others may do it on different schedules with off days in between. 

Ketogenic diet

A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet that causes your body to switch into burning ketones from fatty acids as energy, instead of glucose from sugar. A ketogenic diet can mimick fasting in the body is some ways, including  in it’s ability to increase neurogensis and promote growth of new brain cells and neural networks.

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Mindfulness meditation and yoga have been found to increase BDNF levels as well as reduce anxiety and depression. One study examined a participants on a 3-month meditation retreat and found that the increase in BDNF levels was inversely correlated with anxiety scores.

Psychedelic drugs

Psychedelic compounds such as LSD, Psilocybin, DMT, ayahuasca and ketamine have been found to dramatically increase BDNF levels in the brain. Some studies have shown an increase in brain grey matter density after using the traditional psychedelic brew, ayahuasca. Clinical application of ketamine has become increasingly popular, in part for it’s ability to rapidly disrupt depression. This may be related to ketamine’s immediate ability to upregulate BDNF signaling in the brain.


Studies show that even 35 minutes of aerobic exercise can boost BDNF levels in adults. When compared to cognitive training or mindfulness practice, physical exercise showed a significantly larger impact on serum BDNF levels, meaning exercise is one of the most powerful ways to naturally boost BDNF.


There are a number of nutrients and plants that have been found to stimulate BDNF production including curcumin, blueberry, uridine, L-theanine, resveratrol and omega-3 fatty acids.

Looking for an easy and simple way to boost your BDNF levels?

TransZen, contains several ingredients that have been scientifically studied to upregulate BDNf in the hippocampus. Blueberry extract, turmeric extract and L-theanine to name a few. So if you’re looking for a BDNF boosting supplement to boost your neurogenesis and optimize your mood and memory, check out TransZen. It’s neuroscientist-formulated with 17 different carefully selected ingredients.

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