Strengthen your microbiome, build up your BDNF: Live Better and Enrich Your Relationships
Feel sluggish…like your brain is falling down on the job? “Why did I come into the kitchen?” “Where are my keys?” “I’m so overwhelmed…!” Wishing you had more physical and mental energy… and feel kind of foggy..?
It’s not surprising if you do. It can happen to anyone, but there are things you can do about it.
BDNF Grows Brain Cell Connections
We’ve talked before about BDNF (brain-derived-neurotrophic-factor) and how it works like a rich compost causing brain cells to branch prolifically creating a dense network of connections to move signals around and through the brain.
We talked about how the abundance of signals help you think more clearly and understand with more depth. In turn, you have more neuroplasticity to change your perspective and your outlook to improve your enjoyment of life and the meaning you draw from it.
Did you know there are things you can actually do to increase your BDNF, and in so doing, improve your sleep, your memory, cognition, and outlook?
We’ve talked about the impact stress can have. How it prunes away signaling structures in the brain, wearing down and destroying synapses, and leaves you with a sparse number of connections between brain cells that slows down thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and hope.
Brain Cell Connections Empower Life Connections
Dr. Hannah Critchlow is a Cambridge neuroscientist whose work shows us how we form our own subjective views of the world. She weighed in on the effect of stress on your function as a leader in the workplace which also applies to your role in important relationships in your life, and basically your own well-being, as well.
In a NYT article by David Donaldson April 4, 2018, she made the point that stress “seeps into the brain, and basically starts to damage the dendritic spines — the connections in the brain — so you get a much less connected brain and it becomes much more difficult to think flexibly and creatively.”
She points out that research has shown that working out at the gym or going for a jog can help reduce the effects of stress on the body, and mental and physical activity can reduce the effects of stress on the brain’s functioning.
And…since BDNF is such a huge boost for building synapses — those connections between brain cells — and improves resistance against stress – doing things that increase BDNF is the ticket.
Dr Critchlow says that some people have high levels of BDNF naturally. This certainly helps them with productivity when they’re under stress. But for those who don’t, regular exercise can actually boost their own BDNF levels.
But there’s more.
BDNF and Microbiome: There’s More To It than Exercise
She emphasizes that beyond exercise, engaging in meaningful socialization and getting a full night’s sleep also boost BDNF. Things like going to new places, exploring new environments, exchanging new ideas — both listening and expressing — also give more synapses a jump start.
But here’s the rub. It’s tough to discipline yourself to regular exercise, go to new places, stretch your boundaries, and have stimulating conversations when you’re depressed and lack the energy to do anything. Even if you’re just feeling a bit blue.
So Dr. Critchlow recommends developing an attitude of positivity, to keep those synapses growing.
Her own hack is to maintain a gratitude journal…and she writes down 3 things at the end of every day she’s grateful for. Doing that helps her keep her mind focused to help herself think with more positivity as well as think about how she might pay it forward and help others have more positive days ahead.
It’s also helpful to listen to your own emotions, and use them to try to pick up on key alerts within you… and try to make sense of them. It’s not always easy, but it helps to learn to let them inform our decisions, rather than pulling us down into a dark pit.
Sometimes the alert is about something or someone in our environment, and other times it’s about our own “slightly flawed view of reality.” Either way, it gives us something to work on or make new decisions about how to live better and help others, too.
What Makes BDNF Increase?
So…since you and I want to live better lives, and enjoy richer relationships by deeply engaging in stimulating conversations… and reaching out to show interest in others, how can we increase our BDNF to help us have the energy to want to?
Harvard neuropsychiatrist John Ratey is the author of, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He stresses the importance of exercise for release of BDNF. From his point of view, exercise is more for the brain than the body. (Think about this and how important this might to you!) He says that it turns the power switch in the brain to ON.
But, if exercise isn’t the only way to cultivate the release of BDNF, what else can you do?
Well, one suggestion is to reduce your intake of sugar. Because it so happens that high glucose decreases BDNF release, the neuroplasticity fuel in your brain that helps you learn and change, and stimulates the very ability to learn itself.
Most of us are either trying to lose weight or avoid gaining it. (So we already have a guilt trip in place about our waist size.)
Try this instead of self-reproach:
Reach for a clearer mind, success in your work, and fulfillment in your relationships…. Make your diet decisions in light of your desire to enjoy your friends, your spouse, and your children. And to find work meaningful, to work more effectively with your coworkers, and to enjoy the success that goes with better team building.
No guilt here. Just rewards.
Give Your Pancreas a Break!
Another method is to use short periods of fasting now and again. You can work it into your schedule daily like some do, or just plan it for once a week. For example, if you stop eating at 8pm, then go to bed and sleep from 10pm-6am and put off breakfast til 8am, you’ve given yourself a 12-hour fast and hardly notice it.
A 12-16 hour reprieve like this gives your pancreas some off-duty time and boosts BDNF.
There have been a number of studies focused on what happens to BDNF following intense exercise. One example involved a 3 minute sprint, followed by 2 minutes of rest, then another 3 minute sprint.
Participants enjoyed a 20% increase in their learning ability immediately afterwards.
You can, too.
Rich Socialization = Higher BDNF
Did you know that children who grow up in a highly stimulating and engaging social environment display less anxiety and higher levels of BDNF? In addition, they develop better social behavior in adulthood as a result.
You can probably think of someone this describes.
Children involved in team sports with social activities that occur around their team are an example that comes to mind. The exercise, the sense of accomplishment, and the great times with their friends increases their BDNF — and their synapses — and their sense of well-being.
But, this need for rich social interactions — and their benefits! — applies to all of us, even the introverts. Rich socialization is about the quality, more than the quantity, of your relationships. And as long as there is quality engagement with people you enjoy stimulating your emotions and your mental performance, BDNF increases.
The Benefit of Supplements
Supplements can boost BDNF, too, and including them in your diet or supplement regimen can play an important role in your sense of well-being, emotional balance, and bright outlook.
Krill oil, for instance, increases the omega-3 levels in your body, and one of the omega-3 fatty acids can help increase BDNF.
Resveratrol is found in dark grapes and red wine. It can also help increase BDNF, as can components found in green tea.
And, curcumin can increase BDNF, so it’s not surprising that it’s being studied for its antidepressant as well as anti-inflammatory benefits. We’re learning that it may help prevent cognitive decline as you age.
BDNF and the Microbiome
Add to those nutrients a regular dose of broad-spectrum multi-strain probiotics to strengthen your microbiome and your gut-brain axis, and you have the set-up to greatly improve your brain’s ability to produce and release BDNF, your sense of wellbeing, and your fulfillment in important relationships.
When diet is not enough…
But what if you do all these things — really do them –and still don’t feel well? In that case, you may need treatment to gain enough function so you can improve your outlook.
And if you’ve suffered with depressive symptoms for months or years and no doctor has been able to help you feel better, you may need a different type of treatment than pills.
Some people need something novel…more advanced than pills.
Ketamine treatment is a series of IV infusions that can turbo boost your BDNF to stimulate dense branching and new connections between the neurons in your brain. Its actions are so rapid, so robust, that you can begin to feel improvement within a couple of hours.
If you suffer with little to no improvement and need a real solution that can help you enjoy a rewarding life and fulfilling relationships, call us.
We can help you find the you that seems lost and forgotten. The you that has ached for a chance to live … and love.
We’re in your corner. And we want to help you live the life you long for.
To the igniting of your very best self,