BDNF stands for Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF, is a neurotrophin. Neurotrophins are important for the survival, repair and growth of neurons. Neurons are nerve cells that process, transmit or process information in the brain or nervous system. Neurons can be thought of as the data cables between parts of the brain and the body. An average body has about 100,000,000,000 neurons (100 billion).

neuron -The relationship between BDNF, depression, diet, exercise and magic mushrooms
The construction of a Neuron

Too little BDNF

A lack of neurotrophins such as BDNF contributes to the development of neurodegenerative diseases. The lack of BDNF prevents neurons from recovering from damage. This can cause Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and/or Huntington's disease to develop. Furthermore, depression can occur when too little BDNF is present for an extended period of time. The degeneration of neurons in the frontal lobe of the brain seems to be the culprit of this. Also, too low serotonin levels contribute to depression. Depression is worsened because low serotonin levels cause a lack of BDNF release via the 5HT2A receptor (see also the picture below and keep in mind that the 5-HT receptor is not stimulated or not stimulated enough).

5htp BDNF -The relationship between BDNF, depression, diet, exercise and magic mushrooms
Serotonin and, for example, psilocin from magic mushrooms increase BDNF via the 5HT receptor. Proper exercise also increases BDNF.


So creating more BDNF can be done by stimulating the 5HT receptor. When the body releases more BDNF, it flips the switch on a set of genes that grows brand new brain cells, nerve cell connections. Even slightly higher BDNF makes you learn faster, remember better, age slower and your brain quickly rearranges connections to different parts of the brain and body.

BDNF also increases the plasticity of your brain. When your brain cells are damaged or put into a stressful situation, BDNF protects them and helps them come back stronger. The neural pathways become more flexible instead of broken down, which could explain why higher levels of BDNF are associated with warding off depression.

With a few changes in daily habits, the brain can be set up to release more and more BDNF, making it more resilient and stronger in the face of any setbacks that come with life.

BDNF and serotonin

So more serotonin causes an increased release of BDNF through the 5HT2A receptor. So if we are going to look at how to stimulate the serotonin receptor more, we need to look at how to increase serotonin and how to keep the receptor sensitive to stimulation.

Also check out our earlier post on increasing serotonin for more tips

Nutrition and lower BDNF

The foods listed below are known to trigger inflammatory responses and lower serotonin which also lowers BDNF.

Sugar: Eating sugar and particularly fructose directly inhibits BDNF production and causes cognitive decline. Fructose along with glucose in one molecule is what we call table sugar. Avoid added sugar as much as possible. Also, sugar causes inflammatory responses in the body which reduces serotonin release.

Bad fats: Bad fats create inflammatory responses in the body and that causes a reduction in serotonin release via inflammatory factors. The bad fats are usually vegetable omega 6 fats used for frying such as sunflower, soybean and peanut oil. Hardened (vegetable) fats are also bad fats.

Dairy: Dairy can also be pro-inflammatory when consumed at high levels. It is best not to consume sweetened or unleavened dairy products. So unsweetened kefir or yogurt can be eaten in moderation.

Gluten: Eat as few grain-based products as possible. Gluten can also cause inflammation, especially in allergic reactions. However, oats and thus oatmeal can be eaten.

Alcohol: Alcohol is fermented sugar and is best avoided entirely. If alcohol is drunk anyway, half to a full glass of wine a day can be consumed without too much harm. Above that, alcohol already becomes an inflammation promoter.

Meat: Game, grass-fed meat and wild fish are not a problem provided red meat is eaten on a limited basis (recommendation is max. 2 times per week). Any fish that has not been wild-caught or fed other than natural is best not eaten. Grain- and corn-fed animal products are also not recommended.

Nutrition and higher BDNF

All anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients indirectly help increase BDNF. So all antioxidants, polyphenols and omega 3 are BDNF increasing. The building blocks of serotonin must also be in the diet, of course. Below are the BDNF increasing foods.

brainfood -The relationship between BDNF, depression, diet, exercise and magic mushrooms
Healthy foods for the brain

Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates are slow digesting and ensure stable blood sugar levels which reduces the need for insulin. This prevents insulin insensitivity and thus various inflammatory responses in the body. Also, most sources of complex carbohydrates also contain a lot of antioxidants and dietary fiber. It is advisable to take vegetables for half of all diet with 2 pieces of fruit per day and a little oats. Also, a handful of nuts a day can have a positive effect on serotonin production.

Omega-3: Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA play important roles around the serotonin receptor. For example, EPA is an important anti-inflammatory and DHA makes the cell membrane of the 5HT receptor more sensitive to serotonin. DHA and EPA rich foods are fish, seafood and shellfish. Also, algae and krill are also high in EPA and DHA and the human body can also make them from the Omega 3 fatty acid ALA, which is commonly found in flaxseed oil and walnuts (oil).

Omega-6: Whereas we take in omega 6 in abundance and we really should limit intake, GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an omega 6 fatty acid can help us against inflammation. This infrequent omega 6 fatty acid the body has limited ability to produce. Supplementation can be with Borage Oil (Borogo Officinales), Middle Evening Primrose Oil (Oenothera Biennis) or Blackcurrant Seed Oil (Ribis Nigrem).

Polyphenols and antioxidants: Antioxidants and especially the polyphenols work very well against oxidizing body molecules because they can absorb free radicals such as free oxygen. With this, the body prevents inflammation from oxidation (like iron can rust). Almost all natural plant foods are full of polyphenols and antioxidants. The better a food absorbs free radicals, the higher its ORAC value, which stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity.

View a list of ORAC values here

Tryptophan-rich foods: Tryptophan is the precursor to 5-HTP and serotonin and thus must come in through food. foods high in tryptophan include oatmeal, nuts, seeds, spirulina, cocoa (pure), sesame seeds, chickpeas, spinach, sunflower seeds, parsley, asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, beans, nuts, seeds, soybeans and turkey.

Vitamin B: Vitamins B3, B6 and B12 are excipients in the formation of serotonin. Foods that can provide the B vitamins are (grass-fed) meat, fish, (acidified) dairy, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, potatoes, legumes, eggs, and (cashew) nuts. A vegan should supplement B12 because B12 is found only in animal foods.

Minerals: Minerals such as zinc, iron and magnesium play an important role in very many biochemical processes in the body, including the formation of serotonin. Eat as many vegetables as possible, and if you cook vegetables, cook them as briefly as possible. Combine with as many vegetables as you can get in. Vary with nuts such as cashews, pistachios, walnuts and pecans. Cocoa in pure unprocessed form is very mineral-rich. Whole grain cereals such as brown rice and oats (malt) are also good sources of minerals.

MAO inhibiting food: MAO is an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, among other things. This is a natural process that is supposed to take place. However, certain foods can inhibit MAO activity in a healthy way and in moderation so that serotonin is not broken down as quickly. Seaweed, turmeric, passion flower and rhodiola are mild MAO inhibitors.

Supplements and BDNF

We previously wrote about supplements that can increase serotonin and thus BDNF. If nutrition is not enough, you can also supplement.

View serotonin-boosting supplements here

Gut flora and BDNF

The right nutrients are needed to make BDNF via serotonin. In the intestines, it is the bacteria that pre-digest many of the important substances for you. Without the pre-digestion, we cannot get all the substances the body needs. So first, make sure you have the right bacteria in your intestines by taking a probiotic that contains one or more of the following strains: Lactobacillusacidophilus, Lactobacilluscasei and Bifidobacteriumbifidum. Then give those bacteria and yourself proper nutrition and dietary fiber from mostly vegetables, legumes, moderate fruits and a little whole grain products such as oatmeal.

Physical activity and BDNF

Cardiotraining triggers the production of a protein called FNDC5 ( ibronectin type III domain-containing protein 5). FNDC5, in turn, increases BDNF by 200-300%. The increase is long-lasting. In a study of men who cycled daily for 3 months, BDNF levels nearly quadrupled.

Regular strength training also increases BDNF, but that only lasts until only a few minutes after exercise. A better form of training is interval training or any sport where high intensity and rest are alternated.

Sleep and BDNF

Deep sleep causes a release of DMT, which resembles serotonin and thus also activates the 5HT2a receptor. As a result, the body releases BDNF during the deeper stages of sleep. There are four sleep stages that repeat every 90 minutes. On average, you spend about a third to half the night in stages 3 and 4. During this stage, the activity of DMT and BDNF is highest.

Meditation and BDNF

Meditation reduces stress and thus it increases BDNF. A good and deep meditation causes the body to "think" it is asleep and releases DMT. DMT through the stimulation of the 5HT2a receptor causes more BDNF to be released. The same goes for breathing techniques where it appears to the body that it is sleeping.

Sunlight and BDNF

Sun exposure increases BDNF by increasing vitamin D. It also improves mood, and actually reduces your risk of skin cancer, provided you don't burn yourself. Go outside in direct sunlight for 15 minutes a day. Unfortunately, in winter the sun is not strong enough. Supplementing with vitamin D or eating fatty fish, liver, cheese (least good choice) or egg yolks can help you get vitamin D in winter.

Social contact and BDNF

Lack of meaningful mental stimulation leads to lower BDNF levels. Social isolation also contributes to depression, reducing BDNF. Reduce social media use and connect in real life. Conversations with strangers does BDNF very well and makes you feel good afterwards.

Psychedelics and BDNF

Psychedelics increase BDNF production and neurogenesis. This explains why so many studies have emerged recently about psychedelic-assisted therapy helping with depression and PTSD.

The highest possible stimulation of the 5HT2a receptor to release BDNF is the use of psychedelics. So these are really mind-altering drugs (English for medication). Psilocin from magic mushrooms, DMT from ayahuasca or LSD stimulates the 5HT2a receptor such that BDNF also goes up significantly. This combination causes neurogenesis, which means the creation of new neurons, at a level unprecedented.

psilocybin and 5htp receptor -The relationship between BDNF, depression, diet, exercise and magic mushrooms
Shrooms (psilocin), Ayahuasca (DMT) and LSD very effectively increase BDNF causing brain and nerve cells to repair and form new connections

Our trip therapy and BDNF

We use psilocybin containing mushrooms or magic truffles in our trip therapy. Psilocybin causes a very high stimulation of the 5HT-2a receptor after conversion of the body to psilocin. Because of this stimulation and the release of BDNF from the stimulation of the 5HT2a receptor, the brain goes into a state of hyperconnectivity (see image).

psylocybin brain connections -The relationship between BDNF, depression, diet, exercise and magic mushrooms
Schematic representation of connections in the brain before and after ingestion of psilocybin

During this state of hyperconnectivity, neurogenesis takes place and the conscious brain connects with the subconscious. This allows problems in the subconscious to be remedied, reducing stress, which inhibits BDNF.Also, new permanent connections are also made and repair work takes place to remedy the damage of depression. Even neurodegenerative diseases can be controlled by the activity of BDNF, as new neurons and thus connections are re-established.

Support from us

It is clear that psilocybin is a very powerful and natural medicine against neurodegenerative diseases and depression. High stimulation by psilocybin is called tripping and hallucinations can occur at higher doses. For the elaboration of this trip, it is highly advisable to hire a professional "trip sitter". We can act as a trip coach where we ensure an overall good experience and elaboration.

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