Taken from an earlier article from World at Large…
A growth-factor compound produced in our brains and muscles is emerging as having potentially mitigative effects on neurological disease, metabolic dysfunction, and even mood irregularities.
Furthermore, the methods for increasing the production and circulation of this growth factor, known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are often simple and straightforward.
Research on how to extend lifespans and healthspans, and how to avoid the dozens of chronic diseases that kill millions every year is now more and more centered around how to augment the production of naturally-occurring compounds in our bodies, particularly through activities like sleep or exercise.
One such compound is BDNF, which effects not only pathology in the brain, but elsewhere as well.
BDNF literature has shown positive affects on mental health disorders and addiction, a reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease, and an increased proficiency in memory retention and learning.
Other strange and unexpected effects have also been shown, such as reduced appetite, improved markers for diabetes, and more.
In the second part of this 2 article series on BDNF, World at Large will examine sources to determine how simple lifestyle factors and activities can increase BDNF as a sort of manual therapeutic process.
Exercising makes BDNF
Exercise is one of the great all-angle preventative lifestyle factors in neurodegenerative diseases. A hypothesis as to why comes in the form of exercise’s generally powerful factor as a stimulator of BDNF production. Animal models have consistently shown that exercise increases BDNF in the brain, while human studies generally conclude the same, with some variation.
In a trial of 45 males aged 18-25, 40 minutes of vigorous or moderate exercise produced “substantially greater” increases in BDNF than participants who exercised for just 20 minutes, vigorously or moderately. Overall the mean increase of BDNF across the four exercise groups compared to participants that remained seated was 32%.
In the previous article in this series, BDNF was shown to alleviate a number of neurological pathologies that are shown to be improved or prevented by exercise, such as depression, but also Alzheimer’s.
Therefore the link between those conclusions could be drawn through the BDNF pathway. But elevated BDNF through exercise is transient, remaining often less than an hour after exercise has concluded.
This could suggest a number of things for people looking to utilize endogenous BDNF production as a form of therapy or enhancement. First, it suggests that the benefit of exercise is there when you do it, full stop, and therefore shouldn’t be relied on to improve cognition or mood for days.
Another study that looked at aged patients attending a 6-month weekly dance course experienced significantly more BDNF production, and more amazingly, more actual brain volume in a greater number of different regions, than those of a similar age performing repetitive exercise.
Surprisingly, while both groups demonstrated improved spatial memory and attention, neither had a benefit in overall cognition greater than the other, even though the dancers were the only ones with a significantly increased level of BDNF.
This hearkens back to a training modality which Arnold Schwarzenegger used when he was competing in body building. When rapidly changing his exercise program and starting a session with the highest number of reps first, it served he felt, to “shock the muscles” into developing at a much faster rate.
Since brain-derived neurotrophic factor builds new synapses, it makes sense that greater neurological and synaptic plasticity would be developed with a greater induction of BDNF, and that combining exercise with something requiring intense focus and memorization, such as partner dancing, might yield the most significant increases.
Sauna or hot water and BDNF
People use sauna bathing or immersion in hot water as a therapeutic strategy for many different ailments. Head out of water bathing in water above 102°F or 42°C, resulted in a 66% increase in blood serum BDNF levels over room-temp bathers for 20 minutes following the soak, found one Japanese study.
Sauna bathing has been investigated by Finnish scientists recently as a risk reducer for all manner of disease, including cardiovascular disease, and even neurological diseases. In fact the diseases sauna bathing was able to combat are many of the same which exercise is confirmed to combat as well.
In fact, sauna bathing 4-7 times a week was associated among the thousands of participants in a famous Finnish study cohort, with a 66% drop in the risk of developing dementia.
It’s probably a coincidence that that percentage-reductions found in the two different bathing studies are identical, however in the previous article in this series we did find that BDNF is largely thought to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s.
But more importantly the similarities hint at another possible link between disease and lifestyle factors that may simplify even further the explanations found in this series’ various sources — heat.
Heat and disease
If exercise and hot water or air both increase BDNF, and BDNF is associated with lower risks of various diseases, what do exercise and hot water have in common? The answer is that they both increase our body temperature.
Taken from an earlier article on World at Large…
One of the reasons sauna bathing works to reduce the risks for the diseases mentioned earlier is that as blood moves from your core to your skin to facilitate sweating in the hot environment of the sauna, your heart starts to beat faster – up to 150 beats per minute to encourage the sanguine migration – about the same as moderate intensity exercise.
Functional medicine advocate and general longevity researcher Dr. Rhonda Patrick, notes that the head temperature rises higher than other parts of the body during exercise.
Even though the average duration of Finnish sauna bathing was about 19 minutes, and the heartbeats per minute stay at around 150, which as determined in the earlier study on exercise wasn’t enough to significantly raise BDNF levels, it could be that the increased temperature in the head was enough to facilitate a large increase.
Regardless BDNF represents a powerful body of research. It links exercise, heat, heart-rate, mediation, and mental training to potent disease mitigation rates in the domains of cardiovascular health, mental health, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Understanding why it’s released in your body, for how long, and under what conditions, can often be the key to someone taking steps to improve their health and well-being, by being able to have precise facts like beats per minutes, body temperatures, exercise duration, and more.
Continue exploring this topic — Sauna Use For Longevity, Heart Disease, And Injury Recovery – A Game Changer
Continue exploring this topic — BDNF — Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor is a Major Cognitive Enhancer and Functional Medicine Goldmine