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Educational information

BDNF: What You Should Know

Andrea Stonecipher, M.D.

What is BDNF?

 Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor is a protein which has activity on neurons (nerve cells) in the central and the peripheral nervous system. It helps to support the survival of existing neurons, and encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons. In the brain, it is active in areas vital to learning, memory, and higher thinking.

 Production of BDNF is reduced in both Alzheimer's and Huntington disease patients.

BDNF plays a role in the regulation of the body’s response to stress and in the biology of mood disorders. Exposure to stressors and the release of the stress hormone corticosterone has been shown to decrease the expression of BDNF in rats, and leads to an eventual atrophy (reduction in size) of the hippocampus if exposure is persistent. Similar atrophy has been shown to take place in humans suffering from chronic depression.

 Levels of BDNF have found to be reduced during both manic and depressive phases of Bipolar Disorder.

 BDNF levels may also be involved in other mental health disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, Epilepsy, and Migraines.

What are some things that increase BDNF levels?

Physical Activity

Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (LNA, EPA, DHA)

Fish/Fish Oil (especially salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies)

Flaxseed or Flaxseed Oil



Some antidepressants

Some mood stabilizers

What are some things that decrease BDNF levels?

Perceived and physiological stress

Sucrose (table sugar)

Saturated Fats (found in meats)

Alcohol (regular use)

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