… Stress causes depression and bipolar…
-How to Regenertate your Broken Brain-
BDNF protects brain cells from damage and stimulates them to make new connections and new research has found low levels of BDNF leads to loss of function in key areas of the brain involved in:
- bipolar syndrome,
- cognitive decline/Alzheimer’s,
- and possibly chronic fatigue syndrome
The good news is you can regrow and regenerate your synapses and brain pathways by increasing the production of the brains natural growth factor called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor).
Below I’m going to show you how to use natural remedies to boost BDNF and stimulate regeneration of your brain.
In addition to the above conditions boosting BDNF may assist the recovery from brain injury or stroke and recovery form drug withdrawal.
In terms of mental illness stimulating brain regeneration goes beyond simply propping up inadequate neurotransmitters and I believe is one of the most exciting breakthroughs in in mental illness in decades. I’ve used my BDNF boosting protocol on myself and in my practice with great results.
So What is BDNF ?
- BDNF is a protein naturally produced in our brains, it’s a desirable thing you want more of it.
- BDNF protects brain cells from shrinkage and death from stress, toxins free radicals etc it prolongs the life of brain cells.
- Not only does BDNF protects brain cells from becoming damaged but also acts like a fertiliser or growth stimulant; it stimulates nerve cells to sprout new connections with their neighbours, these connections are the synapses it’s where neurotransmitters are produced and transmitted.
- BDNF also stimulates the growth of completely new brain cells something that used to be thought impossible.
- BDNF levels are suppressed by the stress hormone cortisol.
I’ll go into it in more detail later but in brief the new BDNF research suggests that depression for example is not a deficit of serotonin within the synapses it’s a deficit of the number of synapses that transmit serotonin. BDNF literally stimulates our brain cells to grow new synapses and boosting BDNF production offers a completely new approach to treating mental illness that goes beyond boosting deficient neurotransmitters. Furthermore as I’ll explain later on believe the way stress depresses BDNF damages the physical brain seems to unite psychotherapy/psychology and physical brain treatments for the first time.
You can think of BDNF like a rooting-fertiliser that stimulates plant roots to grow and branch out, BDNF is miracle-grow for the brain.
How can you get more BDNF in our Brain?We can increase BDNF levels naturally with specific cocktail supplements, fasting, specific exercises and relaxation response brain training exercises. Below I’ll show you my BDNF treatment protocol to regenerate your brain.
The BDNF Model of Mental IllnessWhen our body has a stress response we release the hormone cortisol which is diminishes the of protective BDNF and increase the level of inflammation in the brain; the new understanding is that the combination of reduced BDNF levels combined with increased inflammation results in damage and loss of function in the parts of the brain that control our mood and happiness, this diminished function then causes a depresses mood and mental health problems. The same phenomenon is thought to operate in bipolar and possibly OCD.
When our brain produces stress response whatever the cause it sends the stress signal to the hypothalamus which tells the pituitary to tell the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal pathway is called the HPA-axis and studies have shown that people with depression and bipolar have hyper-activity in the HPA-axis, it’s unclear why this occurs but the effect of overactivity in the HPA-axis is damage to key structures in the brain involved in maintaining mental health.
Numerous studies have observed that the brains of people with chronic depression, bipolar syndrome, OCD and possibly other anxiety disorders:-
- have an overactive HPA-axis causing them to overproduce stress responses and cortisol,
- have diminished levels of BDNF,
- have degeneration of neural pathways in key areas that affect mood and behaviour. It looks like this degeneration is the result of increased levels of inflammation and low levels of BDNF [i] [ii].
Reduced BDNF levels of BDNF and increased inflammation can cause either loss of the branch like connections between nerve cells called dendrites which diminishes the number of synaptic connections between brain cells forming neural networks or it can cause actual death of the brain cells.
When I first heard about chronic depression and bipolar syndrome (which I have) causing shrinkage and loss of brain function I was quite upset about it, my initial understanding was that the damage involved death of the cells and permanent loss of function however I was pleased to discover a lot of new research shows that this is not the case and that the cells are in fact still alive and can regenerate. It seems just their dendritic branches have shrunk, like a tree that’s had its branches trimmed by a tree surgeon, it’s still very much alive and the branches can regrow.
Scans of the brains of people with depression and bipolar syndrome before and after receiving treatment show significant regrowth of dendrites and synapses (see figure).
In the figure opposite you can see how the image in the middle of a depressed brain cell has a decreased number of dendrites(the branches that extend from one nerve cell to its neighbours), in the top of the picture you can clearly see a diminished number of synapses (each of the little buds would have a synaptic connection to another cell, not all the connections are shown to simplify the picture), on the right you can see how treatment has stimulated regrowth and increased the number of dendrites and synapses. The same effect has been observed in brains of people with bipolar syndrome and as soon as I saw this I decided I was going to move the health of my own brain from the situation depicted in the middle image to the one on the right; I began to research how can raise BDNF levels and regenerate my brain. I started working on my BDNF increasing protocol in 2013, I applied it first to myself then introduced it to my practice in 2014 and straightaway it seemed to be changing lives; and perfectly well aware my personal experiences and observations in my practice do not constitute a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover clinical trial, if you’d like to invest a couple hundred thousand pounds conducting such a trial I’ll share everything I learnt with you for free; but in the meantime neither my patients or I have the time to wait, we want to improve our lives and live well with our mental illness straightaway, we want effective practical solutions that don’t produce toxic side-effects will make us feel unwell and as long as what we’re trying is safe to take and it’s a safe period in our life to be experimenting we can conduct our own personal treatment trials to look for better solutions.
To formulate my BDNF increasing protocol is sourced each of the individual components (turmeric, lithium, calendula, zinc et. al.) I sourced from the scientific literature, my contribution was to try putting all the BDNF increasing techniques together at the same time applying the relaxation response brain training techniques have been developing for the past couple of decades, and also either at the same time or beforehand paving the way for increased BDNF levels to regrow and regenerate the brain by targeting and treating anything that could get in the way such as high blood sugar imbalances, an unhealthy inflammation promoting diet, food sensitivities particularly gluten from grains, and unhealthy intestinal flora et al. So each of the individual components I recommend to boost BDNF has been scientifically researched however the combined protocol I propose is experimental, if you try this protocol please share your experiences on my forum, Facebook or Twitter accounts which I be starting in summer 2015.
Which specific regions of the brain become damaged and the extent of the damage caused by a high stress/low BDNF environment will vary in different people resulting in different conditions; for example if there’s loss of serotonin or dopamine/norepinephrine carrying synapses in key pathways in the limbic system involved in feelings of pleasure and happiness your capacity for generating feelings of happiness can become all but switched off. As an analogy imagine the thousands of individual neurones that are bundled together to form a major pathway giving you the capacity to generate healthy happy emotions like it was a bundle of individual wires forming a thick cable under the street, when fully operational the cable can supply high-speed broadband internet to the whole street, however if rats chew through many of the individual wires it could reduce the carrying capacity of the cable so that now it can only deliver low-speed dial-up internet; in a simplistic way you can imagine damaged neurological pathways mean your capacity for generating and conveying happiness has been reduced from high-speed broadband to dial-up. If an engineer was called out to fix the problem when they discovered the cause of the problem was rats partially chewing through the cable what a good engineer would do is firstly exterminate the rats, secondly repair the cable and finally bolster up the protection around the cable to prevent further rat damage. What a good engineer wouldnot do is just boost the current through the cable; in the brain when we experience this type of loss of function rather than just going straight into the synapses with drugs and trying to boost the level of neurotransmitters in the remaining synapses I believe a superior approach should start with eliminating the source of the damage (principally overactivity in the HPA-axis), then stimulate the damaged neurological fibres/pathways to repair themselves and also include treatments to protect the brain from the ravages of excessive stress responses in the future.
As already mentioned excessive stress responses can be a major source of harmful chronic inflammation that damages neuronal networks however there are several other sources of chronic inflammation in the brain including: exposure to free radicals (from smoking, poor diet particularly rich in fried foods and exposure to environmental toxins), food allergies and sensitivities (gluten should be particularly singled out in this regard), high blood sugar, unhealthy intestines with a leaky intestinal wall that permits half-digested food to enter the bloodstream and provoke an inflammatory immune response, if a leaky gut wall is also coupled with a leaky blood brain barrier so that half-digested food molecules can not only enter the bloodstream across the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain this can cause very harmful persistent inflammation; each of these sources of inflammation could potentially be capable of preventing the brain regenerating protocol from working and so must eliminate them all.
The way overactivity in the HPA-axis produces inflammation is one of the actions of the stress hormone cortisol is to aggressively activate our immune system including immune cells in our brain that then release inflammation promoting chemicals into our brain called cytokines. A short-term elevation in cytokine levels to fight off the cold for a few days is not a problem but when cytokine levels remain persistently elevated it wears down and neural networks to the point where we can break down for no apparent reason seemingly unrelated to external sources of stress or a neural pathways may be pushed to the verge of breaking down and with a little extra external sources of stress we break down.
You can think of the cytokines as the rats that chew through the cables in the analogy.
Chronic stress responses are doubly bad, firstly they produce chronic inflammatory cytokines levels that damage the brain and secondly they decrease the production of BDNF the very thing we need more of to protect ourselves from the chronic inflammation in the first place.
I’m not going give any references because the science is changing so rapidly but it now seems that there are also genetic differences in the way peoples brains respond to stress, in some people chronic stress responses reduce BDNF levels resulting mental health problems whereas other people may possess brains that are more resilient to elevated stress levels.
It may not be great to have a brain that “breaks down” due to chronic stress but if that’s what you’ve got it’s good to know because there are things you can do to stop it calling you health problems in the future; this is the type of thing that holistic functional medicine does really well, and mainstream medicine doesn’t. Elsewhere on my site I discuss how to permanently hardwired new ways of dealing with stress responses seethe stress solution.
As I’ve already mentioned above studies have shown that people chronic depression and bipolar syndrome overproduce stress responses compared to people without mental illness, hypothetically it’s possible that having a brain that over produces stress responses and having a brain that’s easily damaged by stress hormones are two independent things i.e. a person could have a brain that over produces stress responses but is quite resilient to the effects, alternatively a person could have a brain that doesn’t excessively produce stress responses but nevertheless is highly vulnerable to damage from stress, or you could have a highly stressed and highly vulnerable brain.
Another phenomenon is that we can become completely habituated to chronic stress responses so that we no longer feel we’re stressed, I often meet such people in my practice, they have long since lost any sensations or awareness that they are heavily over-producing stress responses which can make it hard for them to believe this issue relates to their condition, but exaggerated stress responses are an integral part of the physiology that causes these problems and changing this physiology is an essential part of your recovery. You have to do the relaxation response brain training exercise for the brain regenerating protocol to work, not doing so is likely to lead to failure, it’s a dealbreaker.
Depression and BDNFAs explained above people with depression and bipolar syndrome overproduce stress responses whether they know it or not, the stress hormone cortisol reduces the level of protective BDNF and at the same time increases the level of damaging inflammation, this combination causes loss of healthy function in the parts of the brain involved in feelings of happiness and depression.
Interestingly antidepressant drugs have been shown to increase BDNF levels and the BDNF hypothesis of depression suggests an alternative explanation of how these drugs work. The new thinking is that antidepressant drugs treat depression by stimulating regeneration[iii] rather than the traditional theory that they work because they boost neurotransmitter levels.
Actually the moral that antidepressants work because they increase BDNF explains how antidepressants workbetter than the theory that they increase neurotransmitters. There’s a well-known flaw in the neurotransmitter model which is that neurotransmitter levels rise rapidly within the next day but antidepressants generally take one and a half to three weeks before they begin to relieve symptoms; if the principal therapeutic action of antidepressants is to increase BDNF levels however that fits what we observe because it takes some time for increased BDNF levels to regenerate brain cells sufficiently to affect symptoms and the timelag of one and a half to three weeks fits perfectly.
In reality antidepressants drugs probably work by both mechanisms of boosting neurotransmitters and brain regeneration.
An obvious question at this point is if antidepressant drugs boost BDNF levels and regenerate the brain why don’t I recommend them in my brain regenerating protocol and the answer is side-effects. For example many people experience a loss of libido when they take antidepressant drugs however they may experience a healthy return of libido when they take natural antidepressant remedies and then there’s the weight gain side effect which the natural remedies don’t cause; I could go on but I think with erectile dysfunction and weight gain I’ve probably made my point to both men and women.
I only work with non-toxic side-effect free remedies derived from naturally occurring substances, I understand that not all naturally occurring substances are non-toxic but herbal and nutritional compounds are part of the body’s normal economy, we ingested and evolved with these substances, our digestive system, hormonal system, metabolic pathways and the livers detoxifying enzymes are used to handling these naturally occurring compounds.
Having said that if antidepressants were used for a limited period of time as part of a focused anti-inflammatory and brain regenerating protocol which included dietary change, psychotherapy and relaxation response brain training I could see a place for them, but sadly this is not generally the way they are used in mainstream medical practice.
Chronic depression can take a toll on the health of the brain, many of my patients complain of diminished mental and cognitive abilities after a bout of depression, these problems often only become apparent once the depression breaks. People can find it harder to concentrate, study and perform the mental tasks they used to be able to do, all of which can make it hard for them to resume their life; if this happens to you try my brain regenerating protocol in combination with huperzine A, alpha GPC, citicholine and DMAE.
Bipolar and BDNFThere has been some contradictory research finding increased levels of serum BDNF at least in periods of bipolar mania [iv], however I do not think that we should be concerned about small number of studies showing elevated BDNF levels because the consensus is studies finds low levels of BDNF in people with bipolar syndrome[v] [vi] [vii] [viii] [ix]. There is also robust evidence that the HPA axis is hyperactive in people with bipolar syndrome [x] [xi] so if you have bipolar syndrome you should train your brain to compensate for this with relaxation response brain training.
I suppose hypothetically you might be concerned that boosting BDNF in the middle of a hyper-manic episode could grow and develop the (dopaminergic pathways of the brain that are already hyperactive however another concern is we want to protect the brain from the damage inflicted on it during this stressful time. Another way of looking at this is that in general boosting BDNF tend to have an antidepressant effect and remember that treatments have the potential to intensify and precipitate mania.
If you currently have bipolar mania, bipolar mixed state or ultra-rapid cycling as I’ve said elsewhere the place to start is always getting the mania under control first, with aggressive treatment you can typically bring mania under control quite quickly then as soon as you’ve set up preventative anti-mania measures such as sleeping in total darkness you could start boosting BDNF. Initially you could begin by only taking the Lithium orotate (if you’re not already taking it) and high doses of supplemental zinc, these remedies not only boost BDNF but also help stabilise mood and encourage sleep which is a great antidote to bipolar mania.
There’s a good reason why you would want to undergo a brain regeneration protocol if you have bipolar syndrome and that is that the long-term combination of high inflammation from a hyperactive HPA-axis and low BDNF levels with repeated bouts of mania and depression takes a big toll on the health of the bipolar brain scans of which show shrinkage in both the grey matter and white matter, interestingly BDNF levels improve following successful treatment of bipolar syndrome with pharmaceutical lithium carbonates or valproate [xii].
I believe boosting BDNF is not only a good thing to do for people with bipolar syndrome because it regenerates damage inflicted on brain but also because it treats and improves the long-term stability of the condition itself. Before I performed my own BDNF boosting protocol I used to have to take both Rhodiola and tyrosine on a daily basis to boost my dopamine levels and manage my bipolar depression, the problem with boosting dopamine is that it can quite easily flip you up into mania. My treatment regime would involve a juggling act of applying the ‘gas’ when I was depressed, lifting my foot off the gas and applying the anti-mania breaks when I started moving in a manic direction; however since performing the BDNF boosting protocol are no longer need to take Rhodiola and rarely tyrosine.
My Personal BDNF Versus Bipolar StoryDuring my late 30s and into my 40s my bipolar syndrome was becoming increasingly intense with stronger and more frequent mania, in response I learned to be more proficient at manage it with a regime of lifting myself out of depression or switching off manias as they arose, eventually I learned how to keep my condition completely under control and remain essentially well as long as I maintained a very hands-on regime of controlling my dopamine levels like driving a car you apply the gas or restricted gas and apply the brakes. My rapid cycling bipolar however was ever present and stronger than it had ever been, I could feel it more or less constantly trying to destabilise me and at least once a day a week I would need to quickly alter my prescription to stop things getting out of control. About every 2 months or so it would break free like a horse escaping its stable and I would have to jump on it by taking up to 50 pills a day for a few days which would quickly bring it back under control. To an outsider this may seem like a lot of work but untreated bipolar syndrome can be a life-threatening nightmare so I was just really happy to have solutions that worked.
Eventually further research led me to the new concept of regenerating damaged neurological pathways by boosting BDNF. I put together a basic BDNF boosting protocol and applied it to myself twice, initially for 3 months then for a 2nd 6 week treatment and the effects have been tremendous:
The first thing I noticed was just I spontaneously stopped taking Rhodiola which was a remedy I absolutely could not do without, whenever I discontinued it within 5 days I would rapidly start descending into a low grade depression with a loss of motivation, pleasure and tiredness strong enough to restrict my activities; I’d been dependent on Rhodiola for 3 or 4 years and just halfway through my first brain regenerating treatment I could stop taking it.
Next I spontaneously stopped taking tryptophan and I’d been dependent on that for about 15 years to top up my serotonin levels. I only had to take 3-4 days a week so it wasn’t much of a hardship but whenever I stopped taking I would begin to become depressed with painful, antsy feelings.
I used to have to take tyrosine first thing every morning 7 days a week, now however I take it only once or twice.
Not only was I able to give up these antidepressant remedies but there was also a noticeable improvement in my mood, I felt more upbeat and positive but not in a manic way which has a distinctive speedy quality.
We are far from fully understand what goes on in the brain so I’m only speculating about what caused these benefits but I believe the reason I was able to give up the above remedies is because I’ve grown new synapses, so I no longer have to take tryptophan to top the level of serotonin in my synapses because I now have more serotonin carrying synapses, going back to the analogy I used above previously have upgraded my serotonin pathways from low speed dial-up to broadband. The same thing appears to have happened to my dopamine pathways enabling me to give up Rhodiola and significantly reduce my reliance on tyrosine. Whether or not this explanation is correct is less important than the fact that worked.
Since taking the BDNF boosting protocol I now go for a week or week and a half without being able to feel the bipolar syndrome at all compared to the past where even when I had it under control I could still feel it there ever present in the background. Despite now having days or weeks when I feel totally cured I know from bitter experience that I still have bipolar syndrome and maintain continue treatment.
I think the BDNF boosting protocol also may have reduced my rapid cycling although I mainly attributed this to trying the new approach of taking a low dose of lithium orotate on a daily basis, either way I’m happy to report that I’ve had a two thirds reduction (from 6 times a year to twice a year) in my rapid cycling, diagnostically this means I no longer have rapid cycling.
In addition to the above improvements in my bipolar syndrome there was another very impressive effect on my brain. The five-year depression I had during my early 40s had damaged my brain, I noticed a decline in my facial recognition and hearing in particular indicating degeneration within my brain :-( however after performing my BDNF brain regenerating protocol not only did these things returned to where they had been before that long depression but my hearing is actually better now than it was in my 20s! The way I know my hearing is better now than it was in my 20s is that there are many songs that I’ve been listening to on the radio since the 1980s and I’ve never been able to understand the lyrics but it didn’t matter I just liked the sound, after doing the BDNF boosting protocol I started to understand the lyrics to many songs and unfortunately in many cases this ruined the song for me, in this regard ignorance was bliss. I haven’t upgraded my hi-fi since 1997 so it must be because I regenerated the parts involved in hearing and upgraded my brain.
Performing the BDNF boosting protocol hasn’t cured my bipolar syndrome but it has made it easier to manage and I now have the best mental health I’ve ever had. It’s also helping my patients, I hope it helps you.
Anxiety and BDNFFrom the research it is not clear yet how much BDNF is involved in anxiety disorders[xiii], or even if it involved at all. One confusing issue was that results varied depending on whether or not the study measured BDNF levels in the blood plasma or blood serum. OCD was the exception and it looks certain that low levels of BDNF are involved in OCD.
Vigourous exercise reversed low levels of BDNF in people with panic disorders and improved symptoms[xiv], not all exercises raise BDNF to the extent, below I’ll tell you the most effective form of exercise.
Even if the research is unclear about BDNFs involvement in anxiety disorders I still recommend regime to improve the fundamental health of the brain.
Other conditions involving BDNFIt’s not my area of speciality but low levels of BDNF have been observed in schizophrenia and eating disorders implying it may play a role.
Suicide: Low BDNF Levels Can Kill YouLow levels of BDNF have been found to be associated with suicidal behaviour [xv] and improving your BDNF levels could save your life.
Mental illness kills people, people with mental illness that commit suicide don’t choose to take their own life the illness killed them; a mistake many people make is thinking that mental illness especially depression is just in the mind, but it isn’t it’s a physical illness in the brain in which a person’s mind and behaviour are altered and hijacked by the chemical and physiological imbalances in the brain.
If you are suicidal right now understand that you have a chemical imbalance in your brain altering your psychology, that you have a life threatening illness that’s trying to kill you and if you can hold on while you treat the imbalance in your brain the painful psychology driving you suicidal thinking can disappear, the illness can alter your thinking in a way that tells you that nothing can help change the reality of how you feel but your perception of reality is altered, that’s the illness talking and it gives you a distorted view of your world.
As someone that’s lived with bipolar syndrome since the 70s I know this from personal experience my illness has nearly killed me many times. When you are in remission suicidal feelings completely go away and boosting BDNF levels together with hardwiring into the brain healthier ways of managing stress responses is the most effective way I’ve discovered so far of maintaining long-term remission.
For the Best Outcome Use a Mind & Body Approach
Something I really like about the BDNF hypothesis of depression is that for the first time there seemed to be a good model that can bring together the psychologists/psychotherapists on the one hand and the brain/neuro scientists on the other. Both sides can agree that it is chronic stress responses that cause depression by damaging the brain. The BDNF hypothesis seems to finally explain how talking therapies can be effective even for serious mental illness, by reducing psychological trauma they can reduce the level of stress responses which increases BDNF levels and brain repair.
On their own neither Psychological or Chemical treatments may be enough resolve a mental health problem and prevent it recurring.
(Insert diagram): Stressful Thinking and Psychology à Chronic Stress Responses à Decreased BDNF Levels àDecreased Brain Cell Protection and Repair à Lesions/Breaks in Neuronal Pathways in the Limbic (emotional) Centre of the Brain à Depression
This may seem to imply that psychotherapy treatments are superior to chemical therapies because they treat the origin of the problem, unfortunately however all too often psychotherapy on its own is not enough to cure real mental health problems because there are real structural and chemical conditions in the brains of people with mental illness and although psychotherapy may remove original triggers of ongoing stress responses this alone may not increase BDNF levels enough to regenerate the brain without additional physical assistance of chemical remedies.
The new science of BDNF shows us that depression and bipolar syndrome are in fact brain illnesses but that they may have their origin in psychological trauma, however there are of course many people that go through extremely stressful and traumatic experiences without developing mental health problems so it’s the combination of stress responses and brain vulnerable to break down and not just the presence of stress per se.
I believe the BDNF hypothesis of mental illness should refocus both psychotherapists and psychiatrists, I believe it tells the psychotherapists that when they are treating real mental illness the goal of the therapy is to unearth and resolve psychological trauma that’s causing excessive stress responses, low BDNF levels, brain damage and the mental illness; and it should tell psychiatrists that unless if you only treat a person with chemical approaches and they don’t make any fundamental shifts in their psychology and/or the way they deal with stress they are likely to repeatedly relapse, what psychiatrists call the revolving door syndrome.
I believe strongly in the healing powers of psychotherapy even just as little as a dozen CBT sessions should be considered as an essential component of the treatment for depression. Imagine repairing the brain by replenishing BDNF with drugs or natural remedies but leaving in place unchanged the type of stressful psychology and thinking that depleted your BDNF levels and damaged your brain in the first place, what will probably happen is gradually over time continued stress responses will recreate the problem. Even if the stressful psychology that depleted BDNF levels was more external in origin rather than deeply ingrained in the your psychology from childhood and traumatic experience, the fact that external stress resulted in brain damage and depression implies you have the brain that can break down under stress and you would be well advised take steps to prevent this happening again in the future; with a bit of work over a three-month period you could install new ‘software’ in your psychology with psychotherapy and ‘hardwire’ the ability to switch off stress responses by performing my relaxation response brain training protocol.
If you are having psychotherapy as soon as or whenever you feel you make a significant breakthrough in your therapy you could take BDNF boosting protocol below to enhance your transformation.
Cognitive Decline Alzheimer’s and BDNF
My expertise lies in mental illness and I have not attempted to treat Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline however in researching the role of BDNF and neuroplasticity for mental health problems I constantly found scientific literature alluding to their significant role in Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline, BDNF protects brain cells from degeneration and increases the brain’s capacity to regenerate and make new connections. In the past I deliberately avoided commenting on Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline because I didn’t feel there was anything useful or practical to say either in terms of treatment or prevention apart from intermittent fasting and not overeating is the best prevention. In 2014 this situation changed when for the first time cognitive decline was reversed in humans [i] by a Dr Bredesen using what mainstream medicine describes as a novel approach but interestingly for me the approach was individualised functional medicine which is what I do. I now think finally there are some currently available techniques we that may help at least the early stages of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. I would suggest combining the techniques used by Dr Bredesen with my BDNF boosting protocols to increase neuroplasticity. At the moment I’m engaged in writing up my therapeutic methods for mental health problems however at some point in the future (2016) I’ll be putting up pages on nondrug approaches to cognitive decline.
BDNFs other roles in the BodyBDNF performs many other functions in the body outside the brain. It is involved in stabilising blood sugar and insulin metabolism, preventing insulin resistance and type II diabetes, IBS, healing the intestines and intestinal movement.
See Blood Sugar and Mental Health.
The New Science of NeuroplasticityThe ability of the brain to regrow and regenerate is called neuroplasticity and below I’m going to show you how to increase your neuroplasticity using natural remedies.
Neurones come in different shapes and sizes
it’s all about number of dendrites and synaptic connections…
We could for example meditate on happiness, love, detached mindfulness, forgiveness
Although this chapter is about how to boost BDNF to repair damaged brain pathways you can also use the BDNF boosting protocol any time you want to learn or develop a new mental ability to accelerate the process of the brain making new connections, if you do try using it with learning languages, improving maths abilities etc. let me know he get on. For mental health problems what I’m proposing is that let’s say you had depression in the past and you’ve already done the BDNF protocol once along with taken remedies to rebalance your neurotransmitters and you’ll now feeling much better but you still have for example low self-esteem you could then redo the BDNF boosting protocol whilst at the same time undergoing intensive therapy and or using meditations that promote positive self-esteem at the same time. The therapy/meditation will stimulate the development of new positive self-esteem pathways in the brain and the extra BDNF will increase the results. Another example I frequently see and have experienced myself is when people emerged from a prolonged period of depression discover they have experienced a loss of mental function, they may find they can’t study or concentrate as well as they used to, what they could do is redo the BDNF increasing protocol whilst engaging in daily brain training exercises that challenge the brain to perform the thing that it’s now finding difficult to do. I’m only just beginning to experiment with this possibility but what I’m hoping is that the combination of boosting BDNF at the same time as performing brain training therapy exercises and meditations to target qualities we want more of in a life may be a useful therapy enabling us to literally sculpt our brain to become better at doing the things we want more of in a life.
The pictures opposite[i] are great illustrations of the brains ability to change.
These are images of real neurons from rats either kept in a standard cage with little stimulation or from rats living in a more stimulating activity enriched environment. In the first picture you can clearly see an increased number of dendrite branches in the cell on the right from the brain of a rat living in an enriched environment compared to the cell on the left of a rat living in an under-stimulated environment.
The second picture shows close-ups of the dendrites, the images are in pairs on the left of each pair is from a rat housed in a standard environment and on the right we see the effects of just 3 weeks living in an enriched more s develop timulating environment. We can clearly see more tiny little buds called dendrite spines on the neurones on the rat living in an enriched stimulating environment, each of these dendrite spines forms a synapse connection with a dendrite branch from a neighbouring neuron, imagine millions of neurones sprouting hundreds of millions of new dendrite branches and spines, the result is a much more densely networked and connected brain.
By using the techniques below you could produce even better results than the rats in this experiment, the only thing that changed for them was the amount of external stimulating activity, but for optimum results you can combine focused brain training exercise with a diet, exercise and supplement protocol to increase BDNF levels at the same time.
Part of the physiology of bipolar syndrome (I have bipolar syndrome type II) is hyperactivity in the body’s stress responses (HPA axis) which simultaneously causes an increase in the production of inflammation in the brain and a decrease in the production of protective BDNF.
Chronic inflammation combined with decreased protection from BDNF can take a toll on the health of the brain and by my mid 40s I noticed signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with a decline in my hearing, facial recognition and ability to do mental arithmetic; remembering faces and mental arithmetic had been always been things I was good at.
My ongoing research into more effective ways to treat mental health problems both my own and my patients led me to BDNF; discovering that BDNF not only offered the potential to improve my mental health condition but it also had the potential to combat the MCI I was starting to notice was very exciting, I remember immediately thinking what is this BDNF and how I get a hold of it.
I was delighted to discover that there was quite a bit of research identifying natural remedies that have BDNF boosting properties and I decided to experiment on myself and see what would happen if I took all the known natural remedies boots BDNF at the same time combined with another course of relaxation brain training and an anti-inflammatory diet
Originally my focus was entirely developing a new technique to treat the underlying physiology of bipolar syndrome however I was delighted to experience the unexpected side-effects of full reversal in my mild cognitive impairment. Within a few months my facial recognition felt completely normal how it used to be, doing mental arithmetic felt like something I could do whereas it had become something I felt was beyond me, although still feel I need to do a bit more practice on the latter to fully regrow the neural pathways associated with this ability and the improvements in my hearing were dramatic. Not only did I notice my hearing returned to normal but seems to have improved to become better than it was in my 20s! I believe this to be so because while I was on my BDNF boosting prescription I started to understand for the first time the lyrics of many songs that I’ve been listening to since my 20s (in the 1980s) but previously never understood the words; unfortunately understanding the lyrics has ruined many of the songs I’ve been happily listening to since the 1980s. Nothing else has changed, I have not for example upgraded my hi-fi since 1997 and so I believe I’m hearing the lyrics for the first time because boosting BDNF has upgraded my brain.
Following my personal success I began using the technique in my practice in 2014 initially for my patients with intractable mental health problems and problems resulting from long-term prescription medication use, it quickly began to change lives and today I routinely recommend BDNF boosting prescriptions.
If you’re interested in treatments for mental health problems including depression, bipolar syndrome and OCD I have an alternative book on boosting BDNF for these problems.
While studying the scientific research on BDNF as it related to mental illness I repeatedly came across research relating BDNF to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
It was seeing improvements in cognitive performance of my patients and experiencing first-hand reversal of MCI in myself together with the breakthrough reversal of cognitive impairment with Dr Bredesen’s treatment that gave rise to this book.
I’d like to make a disclaimer here so that you can make an informed decision:
My BDNF boosting brain regenerating technique has not been scientifically tested and therefore from a scientific point of view all the improvements I’m claiming are purely anecdotal; furthermore the breakthrough study by Dr Bredesen only involved 10 people and was not placebo-controlled.
All the techniques and remedies used in both Dr Bredesen’s and my BDNF boosting treatments are natural and safe, however you are responsible for your own health and must consult with your doctor before considering discontinuing any prescription medication or combining it with any of the treatments discussed in this book. The information in this book is for people that don’t want to wait for further scientific study into these methods, but instead want to go ahead with self-help personal experimentation. Unfortunately scientific investigation into the use of naturally remedies and holistic functional medicine techniques progresses at a snails pace because it never attracts the same financial backing that research into patentable and potentially profitable drugs attracts; it’s entirely possible that because of this simple economics the techniques described in this book may never become mainstream.
BDNF Isn’t Snake OilWhen you first hear about neuroplasticity you may wonder how far you can take it, well unfortunately there are limitations and you can’t completely grow a new brain! We need to be realistic with our expectations, you couldn’t for example grow new brain a child with autism or someone with schizophrenia by combining brain training and BDNF boosting remedies, BDNF isn’t snake oil or a miracle cure. There are genetic constraints imposed upon the way the brain is structured and person with autism will retain their autism through life; I’ve used my BDNF boosting protocol on myself twice but I still have bipolar syndrome, however doing this treatment did significantly improve my mental health. So far I’ve experienced a two thirds reduction in my cycling rate so that now would no longer be classified as even having rapid cycling, I was also able to give up several remedies I used to depend on and noticed significant improvement in various aspects of my brain function [REPEAT]; I’ve also had positive feedback from my patients, particularly patients with drawing and recovering from the side effects of prescription medication.
How to regrow lost synapses and repair depleted pathways SynapsesFirstly we’ll look how you would with the way we to boost BDNF.
Secondly we’ll look at additional remedies that promote regeneration and brain health.
Lastly will look at how to tailor make a protocol for your own individual condition.
Natural Remedies that Specifically Raise BDNF
Once you’ve got everything above in place you ready to take the remedies and grow new synapses :-)
Curcumin (Turmeric) & Piperine CombinationLots of research has shown the active ingredient in turmeric called curcumin raises BDNF levels [i] [ii] [iii] and produce an antidepressant effect. Curcumin always held this tantalising promise of being a useful antidepressant but it never delivered because whole turmeric also contains compounds that drastically block the absorption, to get around this problem in most of the animal studies the curcumin was injected of curcumin but for many years I could never get enough of it into the human brain using supplements to reproduce the therapeutic antidepressant effects produced in animals studies; this problem is now a thing of the past.
An effective way to improve curcumin absorption is to preload your body with an extract from black pepper called piperine.