Want to feel better, learn new things more easily, and improve your cognitive function — all by drinking something?
I know. You’re thinking that simply drinking something can’t do all that. Can it? Well, let me explain.
BDNF, or brain-derived neurotropic factor, is a critical neurotransmitter. It allows neurons to not only make new connections and repair nerve cells that have been damaged, but also allows for sustainable brain health and cognitive function.
BDNF has also been found to help with memory function — which if you’re predisposed to the Alzheimer’s gene (apolipoprotein E, or APOE) could be tremendously helpful in slowing things down. It also helps with the function and preservation of the hippocampus, which begins to shrink after the age of 20.
The greatest benefit, however, is the increased level of neuroplasticity that it creates — the process by which you can learn new things and literally rewire your brain.
Not to mention, all this BDNF goodness has another positive effect: it makes you feel good and gives you a sustainable, high-value, and not-over-stimulating natural dopamine hit.
Increasing BDNF Naturally
So how can you increase your BDNF levels? Well, certainly things like exercise or intermittent fasting (if they are amenable for your lifestyle) can help. But a recent study also found that there is a direct correlation between gut microbiota diversity and brain function.
This connection is thanks to something called butyrate. It’s a short-chain fatty acid secreted by your gut microbes as it processes non-digestible dietary fiber. Most importantly for our purposes, it activates BDNF. In other words, a diverse and healthy microbiome, rich in bacterium, helps protect the stuff between your ears.
One excellent way to keep your microbiome on the more diverse side (aside from playing in dirt! I’m being serious!) is eating a wide variety of foods!
The BDNF Smoothie Way to Start Your Morning
One of my favorite ways to do that is to start my summer (or spring or fall) mornings with a thick, green, BDNF-super-charging smoothie.
Not only is it a hydrating and delicious way to start the day, but it also allows you to get in a few servings of greens, veggies, flavonoids, and omega 3’s — something Cheerio’s just can’t stand up to! (Not to mention, it’s a great way to break up that breakfast rut!)
I’ll admit that it’s not QUITE the same as a warm cup of coffee, but it gives me energy, boosts my mood, fires up my brain, and sets the nourishment tone for the rest of my day. Plus, by blending, rather than juicing, I get all of the fiberous goodness that keeps me more satisfied and regular.
And let’s be honest, we should all be making more regular visits to the porcelain throne. (Fun side note: we’re actually working on an entire online program on pooping. I kid you not!)
I love this as a morning nourishment option because it’s fast, easy, and doesn’t feel quite as heavy for me as a bowl of oats. And I find it more refreshing than an egg-centric breakfast!
Of course, when it comes to all food, you should explore how it makes you feel, emotionally, physically, and mentally. What works for your favorite influencer (6-pack abs or not), may not necessarily be best for you! So listen to your body, and check out this mindful eating journal to put this to the test!
Now go make this recipe and fire up your BDNF machine!
The Green BDNF Machine
3 cups of leafy greens (spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, and kale are my favorites to switch between – #teamdiversification!)
1 Avocado (I often buy in bulk, halve, and freeze so I always have good fat on hand!)
1 cup of blueberries, blackberries, cherries, or raspberries – yay anthocyanins!
3 tsp chia seeds
2 tsp flax seeds, ground or whole, your choice.
a sprinkle of cinnamon
Mix in the blender just until everything has been macerated. I personally like to keep blend-time short so there’s more “chewing” to do. Pour, sip, and visualize that butyrate being secreted, and thanks to BDNF, your brain becoming more plastic.
28 grams fat
85 mg sodium
45 g carb
19 grams of sugar