There are a surprising range of benefits to using nootropic supplements. Long gone are the days when nootropics were exclusively for making you an ultra-focused, jittery productivity machine. High-quality brain supplements today can enhance practically every conceivable aspect of brain performance and mental health, and the best nootropics for BDNF are among the most effective for delivering lasting cognitive enhancements.
One of the more interesting mechanisms of action of modern nootropics is the raising of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). This neurotrophic factor controls the growth and proliferation of your neurons, which is why researchers from across the pharmaceutical industry have been very interested in developing a reliable way to boost BDNF for decades.
Amazingly, there are some nootropics available for purchase over the counter right now which are known to dramatically increase BDNF levels in the brain. Unsurprisingly, consumption of these nootropics is linked with significant improvements in cognitive performance, reduced anxiety, and improved mood.
So what are the best nootropics for raising BDNF levels and promoting neurogenesis?
Read on to see our list of the most effective BDNF-boosting nootropics you can buy over the counter right now.
13 Most Effective Nootropics For Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
Below is our list of the 13 top nootropics for increasing BDNF and stimulating neurogenesis. All of these nootropics have real backing from good quality clinical trials, and all have been found to be broadly safe for regular consumption.
Here’s our list:
- Bacopa monnieri
- DHA (Omega 3s)
- Gotu Kola
- Rhodiola rosea
We’ll now go through each of these BDNF nootropics in more detail, explaining what they do and how they work.
Ashwagandha is one the most powerful adaptogens. It has been used for centuries to aid the body in adapting to stress. Ashwagandha has been proven to be a brain stimulant that can help rebuild synapses and regenerate dendrites.
Ashwagandha can boost levels of BDNF in the brain and some of that magic is done by Ashwagandha. Research has shown that Ashwagandha can prevent brain BDNF levels from falling.
Bacopa Monnieri helps to increase levels of BDNF within your brain. Bacopa has been used for centuries to improve memory and fight depression. Bacopa was recommended by the Ayurvedic texts to aid in memorizing long passages.
Study results show that Bacopa Monnieri increases word recall and attention. It also improves focus and reduces anxiety. In India, a study showed that Bacopa Monnieri extract promoted hippocampus neuralgenesis by increasing BDNF levels.
As well as boosting BDNF, Bacopa monnieri stimulates the growth of dendritic spines or “branches” (also known as dendritic arborization). This increases the amount of connections between your neurons and helps protect them from damage. This makes Bacopa monnieri one of the best nootropics for neurogenesis in existence.
DHA(Omega-3) helps to increase levels of BDNF within your brain. DHA is a large part of the grey matter in the brain. DHA regulates gene expression and signaling in the brain. DHA affects neurotransmitters that influence memory, learning, and focus.
A University of California at Los Angeles study showed that DHA can restore BDNF levels to their normal levels even after traumatic brain injuries.
Ginseng has been used for years to enhance memory and learning. Many neurohackers who use ginseng report feeling more alert. Stress can lower brain BDNF levels, as we know. This is where ginseng comes into play.
One study found that ginseng extract had a positive effect on memory and learning, by boosting nerve growth factor and neurite growth in brains.
Gotu Kola is often referred to as the “student herb” of Bali, because it sharpens your mind. Gotu Kola extract boosts the brain’s dendrite growth and axon development, which can help improve memory.
This was proven in a Chinese study. This was demonstrated in a study that was conducted in China.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that naturally occurs in green tea and oolong. L-Theanine can be used in nootropic to alleviate anxiety, learning, mood and focus.
Tokyo University conducted a study to determine the mechanisms of L-Theanine’s brain action. And why it provides “antipsychotic-like” and “antidepressant-like” effects. The researchers concluded that L.-Theanine has antianxiety-like and antidepressant properties “through the induction of BDNF by the hippocampus, and the agonistic effect of L-Theanine upon the NMDA receptor”..
Magnesium are essential for all your body’s electrochemical and electrical activities. It is involved in muscle contractions and nerve function.
Research has shown that Magnesium-Threonate crosses the blood brain barrier more easily than other forms. magnesium is found in the brain and increases NMDA receptor signaling, BDNF expression and synaptic flexibility in pre-frontal . Enhances learning and memory, while reducing fear memories.
N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC)
N-Acetyl L -Cysteine (NAC) can be used as an anti-oxidant to boost mood, anxiety, memory and reduce compulsive behaviors. A growing body of scientific literature is exploring the potential use of NAC in the treatment and prevention of psychiatric illnesses.
NAC has been shown to increase dopamine release. NAC decreases inflammation cytokines. NAC also aids in glutathione synthesis.
Scientists believe that this convergence of mechanisms is due to NAC’s ability promote cell survival and growth factors synthesis, which leads to increased neurite formation. Partly by activating the BDNF/TrkB sign pathway.
Noopept, an ampakine nootropic, is similar to the racetam class of compounds. It is well-known for its ability to improve cognition, memory and learning as well as perception, logical thinking, and mood.
The Russian Academy of Medical Sciences published a study that showed Noopept stimulates Nerve Growth Factor and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor.
Rhodiola rosea is a adaptogenic herbal and nootropic. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicine in Russia, Scandinavian countries and other parts of the world. This herb improves alertness, energy and mood. It also reduces fatigue and increases cognition by helping to make the body physically and mentally better at coping with acute stress.
Researchers discovered that Salidroside (the primary bioactive compound in Rhodiola Rosea Extract) significantly increased BDNF levels within the hippocampus.
Pterostilbene is a naturally occurring polyphenol antioxidant that can be found in blueberries, grapes and the bark of the Indian Kino Tree. This powerful antioxidant stimulates BDNF expression levels in the brain. It also promotes Neuroplasticity. It is anti-anxiety and boosts dopamine. It aids in cognition, learning, and memory.
In multiple studies, Pterostilbene was shown to modulate gene transcription. upregulates genes that promote apoptosis. Down-regulation is for genes that enable cancer cells to invade and spread, such as those that are responsible for the occurrence of metastasis.
This gene modulation is associated with increases in CREB, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic factor (BDNF). An increase in BDNF is necessary for long-term potentiation.
The phytoalexin and polyphenol stilbenoid Resveratrol are produced by certain plants in response to stress such as injury or fungal infections. This powerful antioxidant boosts and BDNF cerebral circulation, improves memory and energy, and may even promote longevity by reducing oxidative stress.
Iranian researchers discovered that Resveratrol significantly increased mRNA levels and BDNF expression in the hippocampus. And concluded that Resveratrol’s neuroprotective effects may have been at least partially due to its ability to increase the expression of the BDNF mRNA .
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) has been shown in studies to increase Brain-Derived neurotrophic Factor, fight depression, improve cognition and focus, and protect the brain against inflammation.
Curcumin is the primary bioactive compound in Turmeric that produces all of its beneficial effects. Studies show that curcumin has neuroprotective effects by increasing BDNF and by mediating the BDNF/TrkB-MAPK/PI-3K-CREB signaling pathway in the brain.[xv]
What’s Brain-Derived Neurotrophic factor?
Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a neurotrophic protein, supports the maintenance and survival neurons, particularly within the central nervous system and the peripheral. It is essential for neurogenesis (the development of cells) as well as cell regulation in order to foster cognition and behavior.
The BDNF protein targets the synapses and neurons, specifically to promote neuroplasticity. It regulates the response to stimuli by helping to moderate neuronal excitability.
Higher levels of Brain Derived Neurotropohic Factor in the brain leads to an increase in neuron generation and maintenance. Short-term effects of brain derived neurotrophic factor increases include antidepressant effects, reduced anxiety, increased synaptic function, and greater activity in the prefrontal cortex (which is responsible for analytical thinking).
What is Synaptic Plasticity?
Synaptic Plasticity refers to the effectiveness of communication between cell synapses. It’s actually their ability to adapt.
In response to stimuli, synapses tend to weaken and grow . This plastic-like property allows cell synapses communicate well, which aids in maintaining cognitive balance.
One study, for example, suggests that the adaptability of synapses is key to memory storage.
Synapses allow neurons to communicate with each other.
The stimuli that trigger the communication can cause them to communicate at different frequencies. We may be prompted to take an action or not depending on how strong our synaptic connections are.
What are the benefits of raising BDNF?
BDNF supports neurogenesis and neural synapses, which helps to maintain cognitive balance. These effects can aid in memory, learning, and mood. Below is how it works.
BDNF has been shown to play a crucial role in long-term memories and long term potentiation .
Long-term potentiation, which is the long-term strengthening and maintenance of synapses among neurons, refers to more specifically. It is important in memory formation, and retrieval within the hippocampus. Studies have shown that increasing BDNF is beneficial for memory maintenance.
One study, for example, shows that manipulating BDNF pathways may be able to counter age-related memory loss.
Another study shows that BDNF is a key factor in long-term memory storage.
Learning can be defined as the ability to acquire new knowledge. Learning is dependent on BDNF, which is essential for long-term memory storage.
Learning and memory are interconnected in the brain and body. Learning requires adequate memory storage and retrieval to improve.
A single animal study showed that increasing BDNF levels significantly improved learning when faced with different learning and memory tasks.
Further studies showed that BDNF stimulates “cortical cell” growth and prevents them from dying. This can improve memory and learning.
Neurogenesis, which is the creation of new neurons by using chemical reactions, has also been shown to play an important role when it comes to acquiring new knowledge or motor processes.
Low BDNF and neuronal plasticity have been shown to be linked to mood problems. In this regard, increasing BDNF might be beneficial in alleviating mood issues.
Studies have shown that low BDNF levels are associated with severe mood problems.
Additionally, mood-altering medications have been shown to increase neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, which suggests that BDNF may play a role in reversing mood problems.
A second study supports this conclusion. It states that patients with mood problems may benefit from “new agents capable enhancing BDNF”.
Taking nootropics that raise BDNF levels will often have the secondary effect of improving your sleep quality.
Rats have higher levels of BDNF after awakening than they do after sleeping, and BDNF is more active after sleep deprivation.
BDNF induces slow-wave sleep through the promotion of “synaptic potentialentiation”. BDNF is inducible by mice when they experience exploratory behavior, which refers to psychological and physical stimulation. BDNF is the signaling molecule responsible for an increase in slow-wave sleeping.
Scientists believe that animals who are more sleep-deprived or stimulated than others need more slow-wave sleep. The molecular link to BDNF is the molecular one. These theories are still being tested in humans.
Side Effects of BDNF Nootropics
There are few side effects associated with BDNF-boosting nootropics. Increasing BDNF using the nootropics listed above should not cause any adverse effects or long-term health risks.
All of the substances on our list have been tested in robust clinical trials and have been deemed safe for regular consumption. Nor have any of the substances on our list been known to cause even mild, short-term side effects beyond some digestive discomfort.
The best nootropics for BDNF cause significant but safe rises in cerebral BDNF levels. This should be neuroprotective, not damaging to the brain. Having higher levels of BDNF is associated with better cognitive performance, reduced anxiety and better brain health; it is not linked with any notable side effects.
What is the Best Nootropic Stack for BDNF and Neurogenesis?
So what is the single best brain supplement you can take to increase BDNF levels and promote neurogenesis over the long-term?
We think the best nootropic for promoting BDNF levels is undoubtedly Mind Lab Pro.
Mind Lab Pro is a complete nootropic stack designed to deliver total brain optimization. A huge part of the Mind Lab Pro formula is dedicated to boosting neurotrophic factors, including BDNF and NGF. The large dose of Lion’s Mane in Mind Lab Pro rapidly increases NGF, while the Bacopa monnieri, Rhodiola rosea and Theanine combine to boost BDNF production.
Mind Lab Pro not only supports healthy BDNF production, but it also promotes neuron dendrite growth and offers heavy duty brain cell protection with a large dose of a brain specific antioxidant.
BDNF Nootropics FAQs
What foods increase BDNF?
Several foods increase Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). Consuming foods such as blueberries, dark chocolate and fatty fish will increase BDNF availability in the brain. That said, no foods can raise BDNF levels as significantly as smart drugs such as Noopept, or even to the same extent as natural supplements like Lion’s Mane.
How can I raise my BDNF naturally?
There are lots of ways you can raise your BDNF levels naturally; doing so should improve focus and memory, reduce anxiety and help protect long-term cognitive function. Some good ways to boost BDNF include lowering stress and inflammation, exercising, drinking coffee, fasting, and getting eating foods known to promote BDNF expression.
What drugs increase BDNF?
Antidepressant drugs, e.g. SSRIs, increase BDNF in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. And as already mentioned, some nootropic smart drugs such as Noopept and Piracetam also increase BDNF levels in the brain.
Does Noopept increase BDNF?
Yes, Noopept does increase BDNF. Clinical trials show that BDNF levels in the brain increase dramatically following Noopept consumption. It is believed that this is the mechanism by which Noopept enhances cognitive function.
Does Piracetam increase BDNF?
Piracetam does produce some of its beneficial effects, at least partially, by stimulating a release of BDNF in the brain. However, levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor have not been found to rise dramatically as a result of piracetam consumption; Noopept produces a far stronger response.
Topics covered in this article:
- mental health
- brain health
- brain function
- cognitive decline
- brain-derived neurotrophic factor
- dendritic spines
- neuronal populations
- cognitive function
- executive function
- age-related decline
- chronic stress
Learn more about the best nootropics:
- Best nootropics for energy
- Best natural nootropics
- Best nootropics for social anxiety
- Best nootropics for anxiety
- Best nootropics for creativity
- Best nootropics for motivation
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.