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BDNF the learning and memory vitamin • Dr. Sylvia Mendel – brain researcher

Maintaining brain function and improving memory over the years

What do the four letters mean? BDNF? Its literal definition is:

brain-derived neurotrophic factor  And it belongs to a broad family of protein growth factors called neurotrophins. BDNF is essential for the protection and support of the brain as it plays a key role in the development of the fetal brain, in the growth and survival of nerve cells (neurons) in the adult and in the regeneration of nerve cells from stem cells (neurogenesis) in defined areas of the brain. Also, BDNF plays an extremely important role in learning and memory processes due to its activity on the hippocampus, an extremely important organ responsible for the creation and preservation of short- and long-term memories, for events and actions. For example, memories that are burned into us such as births, bat/bar mitzvah, first love, wedding, etc.

Experiments using brain imaging methods showed that people with high BDNF in the blood preserved brain volume and cognitive abilities. A decrease in its levels, especially among old adults, has been found to be associated with hippocampus atrophy that may contribute to memory impairment such as that experienced in Alzheimer's. One of the most researched effects of BDNF is the increase in the number of connections between nerve cells called "synapses", which leads to the strengthening of communication between them and an improvement in the transmission and reception of information. This phenomenon is called brain flexibility or Neuroplasticity. 

How can we increase BDNF in the brain?

"A healthy soul in a healthy body" The saying goes and indeed many will testify that performing physical activity raises the mood. Today, there is a lot of scientific evidence showing that a physical training routine has a variety of positive effects on the brain, such as improving memory, cognitive function, and learning abilities. Indeed, it was found that the gene that regulates the levels of BDNF is driven by a variety of habits such as physical activity and diet.

Regular aerobic activity and persistence over time leads to an increase in BDNF levels in the blood

A study published about a year ago in the form of a meta-analysis that reviewed 29 scientific publications from all over the world in humans, found that regular aerobic activity and persistence over time leads to an increase in BDNF levels in the blood, which is a measure of brain production. The important findings in humans were preceded by a large number of experiments in mice and rats that demonstrated a close relationship between vigorous activity (such as training on a running wheel or a treadmill) and a significant increase in BDNF and the number of new neurons in the hippocampus. When the neurons "sense" stressful situations such as decreased blood supply, fasting or trauma, the brain gives an order to the cells to produce it in high quantities.

Dr. Sylvia Mendel, "Regular aerobic activity and persistence over time leads to an increase in BDNF levels in the blood" (photo: personal album)
Dr. Sylvia Mandel, "Regular aerobic activity and persistence over time results in an increase in BDNF levels in the blood" (Photo: personal album)

In contrast to the clear effects of physical training on BDNF production, the effect of dietary supplements such as curcumin, omega-3, resveratrol and others on its production in the brain is more controversial, as it is difficult to prove a factual relationship between them in humans. On the other hand, animal studies do show this along with cognitive improvement. Also, another factor that changes BDNF levels in the brain is a reduction in food consumption. In a review published in the prestigious journal Nature Reviews in Neuroscience, it was reported that a reduction in the number of calories in a meal or periods of intermittent fasting (intermittent fasting) caused an increase in BDNF production in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex in experimental animals, along with an increase in energy production and improved cognitive abilities. These phenomena are attributed to the creation of ketosis in the body and therefore, ketogenic diets may be beneficial in some cases.

Is it possible to add BDNF to the diet?

Unlike vitamins that are consumed from the outside, its main production plant is our brain. The scientific evidence shows that BDNF can be increased in humans with regular and varied physical activity. A few experiments have linked types of nutrition or foods and increases in its levels, but most of the work has been done in animals. Another factor to which great importance is attached is managing an active social lifestyle, cognitive training, learning a language or a musical instrument...that is, activities that challenge the brain.

In conclusion, high BDNF levels are associated with maintaining brain function and improving memory over the years. It seems that an increase in BDNF production is a result of moderate physical activity in humans. This understanding is based on research knowledge accumulated in the last decade dealing with the relationship between physical activity and memory and information processing, brain volume and structure, aging, pain and more. It is likely that BDNF also mediates hippocampal neurogenesis in humans, although this is difficult to determine definitively since human brain samples cannot be collected.

Dr. Sylvia Mandel: "BDNF plays an extremely important role in learning and memory processes due to its activity on the hippocampus" (photo: personal album)
Dr. Sylvia Mandel: "BDNF plays an extremely important role in learning and memory processes due to its activity on the hippocampus" (photo: personal album)

Contact Chai here: At watsapBy email

Dr. Sylvia Mandel
Dr. Sylvia Mandel
A neuroscientist lectures and conducts workshops to preserve memory and cognition with the help of a healthy lifestyle. To book a lecture or join brain training workshops: 054-8886184 | [email protected]

Articles related to this topic

24 תגובות

  1. Hello Sylvia.
    I saw an advertisement about nutritional supplements that increase the concentration of bdnf.
    Are they effective?
    Is it safe to use?

    • Hello Niv

      As I said in the article, BDNF is a protein that only the body, and especially the brain produces, is essential for supporting the functioning of the brain and nervous system.

      Physical activity, a healthy diet and a positive attitude and learning new areas is all that is required. Empathy smile and giving will even increase BDNF even more?


  2. Hello to Dr. Sylvia Mandel
    1. I read that in Japan they were able to remove some of the beta amyloid deposits, which were in excessive concentration in Alzheimer's patients, but not the TAU protein that causes neuron splitting and cell death.
    Is there progress in the field?
    2. Green tea - you talked about its help in regeneration processes, but also about the danger of excessive drinking? what is
    3. Will a reduction in free radicals in the brain delay degenerative processes?
    Is it only in improving substances like catalase and glutathione peroxidase or also.... ?
    What about antioxidants as additives? For example selenium, alpha lipoic acid, green tea, and pomegranate seed oil?
    4. There is a recommendation for taking 1 gram of omega 3 per day. What is his help in the brain?
    I have nothing but to thank you for the great interest and thought-provoking content in your articles.
    After the corona virus - would you be ready to give a lecture in a small southern village called Tel Aviv?

  3. Hello Nathan
    As I mentioned in the article BDNF is not a supplement but the body must produce it, the use of the word vitamin in the title, as explained, was only to illustrate that it is essential for the brain just as vitamins are for the existence of the body

  4. Thanks for the information but unfortunately in my 84 year old father's case it didn't work. For decades, every morning at 5 o'clock my father would get up and go to the sea where he would play tag with his friends and take a walk on the beach. Alzheimer's did not pass him by

  5. Thank you, Dr. Silva. A very important article. It is obvious that we are at the beginning of the scientific path, in order to include all the symptoms and diseases related to the brain, the behavior of cognition, the body and the mind. In my understanding, we will still understand the contribution of quantum physics, and the morphological chemistry of the anatomical structure of the brain.

    • Hello Orit
      I haven't started reading yet, but the summary sounds fascinating and you can certainly get some insights and recommendations for adoption

  6. I have been doing fitness for 30 years consistently 5, 6 days a week and also folk dancing 3 times a week.
    In spite of all this, I feel that my memory often deteriorates for certain things. I am 65 years old, in terms of nutrition, I am diabetic and I keep mainly catatonic, except for moments of crisis or hogwash. How does this explain the interesting article to my reality? Thanks

    • Hello Esther
      I am not qualified to answer this question, it belongs to the field of neurology, holistic medicine!

    • I loved and learned from the learned article. Thank you for sharing your conclusions from the article. I will try to continue following your recommendations. Thank you.

  7. Very interested in knowing if high levels of BDNF will affect children with learning disabilities and increase motivation for studies? Thank you. The article is exceptionally fascinating.

  8. Greetings,
    Very interesting and fascinating article.
    It is very interesting how memory can be improved in a teenage girl who, after a diagnosis, is told that her short-term memory is poor.

  9. Good morning, I opened my eyes in the morning reading the fascinating article, we will try as much as possible to keep the things you said, thank you from the bottom of my heart

  10. Sylvia, the article that describes your research is fascinating... I will not pretend to understand how all this works or how the hormones secreted affect the improvement in the human brain... Can these processes improve learning in children with disabilities in thinking and their learning ability? Thanks

    • Shalom discovered

      According to the scientific literature, studies with children with ADHD who persisted in physical activity showed a significant improvement in executive functions, attention and concentration. The researchers reported a direct relationship with neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline and physical exercise. The connection to BDNF is indirect and attributed to its effect on dopamine levels. In general, physical activity can benefit learning in children because of increased blood supply to the brain, glucose, oxygen and changing levels of neural chemicals.


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