BDNF: Neurodegenerative Problems and Natural Neurology – Part 3

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

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BDNF and Some Illness Conditions

With all of the evidence showing the beneficial effects of BDNF, some discussion of this protein’s effects on certain illness conditions is needed.

Movement Related Illness Conditions

Parkinson's Disease and BDNFThe positive effect of BDNF on movement related illness conditions is a focal point for natural neurology. One of the movement related illness conditions that affect approximately one percent of the U.S. population over 55 years of age is Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Impairments of movement brought on by neuronal loss in the substantia nigra is a likely cause.

Another function that is sometimes substantially decreased in this condition is cognition. BDNF positively affects both movement and cognition. It helps neurogenesis in the substantia nigra and works as a neuromodulator to help with cognition.

Its role in increasing the survival of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra is documented through research. It is the loss of these neurons that brings on the movement issues in PD.

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is another of the movement related illness conditions that appear to be positively affected by BDNF. A mutant gene, huntingtin, may be responsible for the loss of neurons in the striatum, a brain area that affects movement. Excitotoxicity is the process through which the neurons die after stimulation. This appears to be connected to huntingtin in some way.

The process through which this mutant gene leads to the death of neurons isn’t clear yet, but appears to be related to lower levels of BDNF. These lower levels leave neurons susceptible to injury and death, possibly through the excitotoxicity related to huntingtin. Thus, increasing BDNF levels may increase the survivability of these neurons and decrease symptoms of HD.

Memory and Cognition-Related Illness Conditions

One of the most commonly thought-of memory related illness conditions is Alzheimer’s Disease (AZ), another focus of natural neurology. Dementia is another of this type of condition. BDNF has been studied as a method of ameliorating the symptoms of these conditions.

Exercise and the corresponding increase in BDNF have been shown to decrease the cognitive effects and thus lower the severity of dementia. A good exercise program also lowers the risk of developing dementia.

Research with mice and exercise showed an increase in BDNF in the group of mice who engaged in relatively vigorous exercise. Furthermore, this increase was shown in the hippocampus, the brain area partially responsible for new learning and memory. Adding to the amount of exercise also appeared to increase the amount of BDNF available.

Dementia and BDNFAn interesting finding from the Framingham Heart Study showed those subjects with high levels of BDNF had a lower risk of developing dementia. However, this finding was only with certain sub-groups in the study.

Women, subjects 80 years of age or older, and those with college degrees were the sub-groups that showed this finding. The researchers reported BDNF to be an active part of the mechanism underlying dementia and Alzheimer’s rather than only a risk marker. BDNF levels were predictors of the development of these two illness conditions.

The suggestion was also made by the researchers that BDNF could mediate the effects of other factors associated with dementia risk, including such factors as activity level, diet, and mood.


Another illness condition related to cognition and movement disorders is one that affects children mostly, but has been found with increasing frequency in adults: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The possibility of BDNF bringing some relief from the symptoms of ADHD has been suggested by some researchers.

They point to the fact that the common medications used to help ADHD sufferers, psychostimulants and antidepressants, also tend to increase the level of BDNF. Natural neurology researchers look at this finding as a possible new way to ameliorate the symptoms of ADHD.

Exercise has been shown to benefit students with ADHD. It also is a very good way to increase levels of BDNF. Exercise not only improves mood and an overall state of mind, it also directly affects learning. It heightens opportunities for brain cells to make connections among themselves, which is the foundation for learning. This is the same thing that BDNF does as well.

Not only does exercise give more opportunities for connections among neurons, it also stimulates neurogenesis, the making of new neurons. It improves the environment for these neurons, making it more likely they will survive. Again, the same thing that BDNF does.

Exercise likewise helps the body deal with stress and its effects. When students with ADHD are physically fit, they are better able to handle not just the stress of dealing with their condition, but any other stressors that hit as well.

Exercise stresses cells in the body, making them more resilient when other stresses hit. It helps us build up the antioxidant enzymes and repair proteins in our bodies. We are also better able to rid the body of toxic wastes when we’re physically fit. Increasing levels of BDNF aid in this endeavor.


Standard American Diet and BDNFThe incidence of neurodegenerative illness conditions is increasing, possibly due to several factors. More people are living longer, so the prevalence increases among the population. The standard American diet of high sugar content and lots of additives from the processing of the foods leads to more leaky gut symptoms. These symptoms include increased inflammation and immune response. Both of these factors are implicated in neurodegeneration. They also are directly tied to lower levels of BDNF.

Natural neurology is a growing scientific approach to dealing with these neurodegenerative illness conditions. It seeks to find the initial, subtle changes in the body that signal loss of neurons – those changes that often elude traditionally trained practitioners.

Once the natural neurologist finds such changes, the next step is making natural changes in nutrition and lifestyle that will slow or stop the loss of neurons. Current research has shown repeatedly that the brain can heal and regenerate itself. To do so requires the right combination of nutrients and lifestyle changes to provide the environment for the regeneration, growth, and survival of these new neurons.

At this point, research indicates Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) could be a key factor in this type of environment. Increasing the levels of BDNF in the brain appears to benefit neurogenesis and survivability of new neurons. Since the loss of neuron structure and function is the basis of many neurodegenerative illness conditions, increasing the chances of new neurons surviving should decrease the impact of these terrible conditions.

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