What is BDNF? It’s Like Fertilizer for the Brain

Published: May 14, 2019

What is BDNF: It’s Like Fertilizer for The Brain

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF, sounds like something that’s super complicated and sciencey to the point where you probably want to turn off this video. But I’m going to bring it back to Earth, and I’m going to make it simple. First up, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor is literally like our brain’s fertilizer. It’s a specific gene that relates with a specific protein that grows new neurons and grows new synapses within our brain and just recently has been discovered. But the reality is BDNF is sort of the epicenter for growth and development within the adult brain and a child brain. I’m Thomas DeLauer with Keto-Mojo and we’re going to break down how the ketogenic diet actually has an effect on this brain fertilizer.

The Role of BDNF

You see, the role of BDNF isn’t just to grow new neurons or to grow new synapses. It also has a role when it comes down to protecting our existing synapses and protecting our existing neurons. It’s a protective and growth mechanism and we need it for survival. It’s usually an adaptation to some form of stress and whenever we’re fasting or exercising, where we’re putting our body or our brains under significant stress, BDNF upregulates as a result. Because our brains get exposed to stress, the body senses that and says we need more BDNF to allow the brain to be able to adapt. It’s literally a growth factor because of that.

Understanding the Science

When you start looking at the science, you realize that fasting causes the same effect. When the body and the brain are under stress because there’s no food coming in, suddenly BDNF goes up. So we start wondering. Is it simply because we’re starving? Is it simply because we’re under stress that BDNF goes up? Or is there actually a physiological sort of chemical relationship with the ketones that are produced when we’re fasting? Studies started looking at the result of specific neurons from the hippocampus portion of the brain and how they relate to the ketones, specifically. What’s really interesting is that when these cells or neurons were exposed to ketones, they ended up having the upregulation of BDNF.

We could potentially have a twofold situation going on where we have the stress from fasting, or the stress from ketosis, or the stress from working out causing an influx of BDNF. But we also have the increase of ketones actually having an effect too. What’s possibly going on, and this is somewhat of just a hypothesis, is that the neurons are starting to get adapted to using the ketones. In the beginning phase when the brain is recognizing glucose and has to suddenly start seeing ketones come in, it gets a little bit confused, a little bit stressed out, so it forms some resistance. Studies have shown that in the first six hours of these neurons being exposed to ketones, there’s an upregulation of reactive oxygen species, called oxidative stressors. It’s probably a result of these neurons just getting adapted to using ketones. But then after six hours it found that reactive oxygen species went down, but mitochondrial respiration increased. What that means is that the mitochondria, found within cells and neurons, all got more efficient after being exposed to the stress from the influx of ketones in the beginning. What I mean by this is, exposing the brain to ketones through the ketogenic diet or through periods of fasting actually triggers an initial influx of stress on the brain that forces the brain to adapt and get larger and smarter and more developed. We can actually, literally say, that ketones in the blood and ketones in the body can help us produce more BDNF. So if we have more mitochondrial respiration, the brain can fire faster. It can recognize things faster. You can memorize things faster. And all in all, it’s just a great scenario to be in.

Why You Should Test with the Keto-Mojo Meter

It’s important to make sure that you’re always having your ketones in the prime position. You want to make sure that you’re getting them elevated up over at least 1.5 millimoles to have this effect. And this is going to allow your brain to constantly be exposed to just enough ketones to trigger just enough of the chain reaction with reactive oxygen species, followed by the adaptation. If you want to test your ketones and make sure that you’re right in the optimal state, you’re going to want to use the gold standard when it comes to meters, and that’s the Keto-Mojo meter. This way you can check not only your glucose levels, but your ketone levels too, and see that you are right where you need to be to get those optimal levels of BDNF. I’m Thomas Delauer with Keto-Mojo and I’ll see you in the next video.


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