June 05, 2014

Brain Derived Neurotrohpic Factor

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

A few weekends ago I took a continuing education class titled “Validating Chiropractic; using cutting edge research to improve patient outcomes.” I spent 12 hours listening to the latest chiropractic related research. This week I’m going to pick a few astounding findings coming to light.

The first topic is Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). This may get a little deep in the weeds, but stick with me, it’s cool information. BDNF is made by a part of the brain called the hippocampus and by muscle cells. It is a protein that acts to support the survival of brain cells and nerve cells. It is vital to learning, memory, and higher thinking. It is essential for long term memory.

The more mass you have in the hippocampus and muscles, the more BDNF you secrete. There are many things that are known to decrease the size of the hippocampus: back pain, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and any chronic pain syndrome. Look at any one on that list and think about what their memories and learning are like. When you have any of those problems, isn’t it difficult to think straight or control certain impulses like a normal brain would? Take PTSD for instance. That disease is known for quick, snap judgments and ferocious anger and outbursts. Why? Because there is a shrunken hippocampus, which actually controls the amygdala of the brain with a turning off effect. The amygdala controls quick response mechanisms, like when you see a snake and you jump back without thinking. In PTSD, there is less ability to control the violent outbursts because the hippocampus is shrunken. Those same effects are found in patients with back pain or other bad pain syndromes, to different degrees.

So what affects BDNF production? High intensity exercises increase BDNF production. Shock therapy actually increases BDNF.

Guess what causes a smaller hippocampus, thereby decreasing BDNF production?  The obese and overweight classes of people have this problem.

Another study examined 94 people in their 70’s. None had dementia or cognitive impairment initially. They were followed for 5 years. After 5 years, the obese (A BMI over 30) subjects’ brains looked 16 years older, and the overweight (a BMI of 25 to 30) subjects’ brains looked 8 years older than normal weight people. The obese people had 8% less brain tissue, and the overweight people had 4% less brain tissue than normal weight people. Most of the brain tissue lost was in the areas where we make decisions and store memories. The moral of the study is if you want to stay as mentally sharp as you can, keep your weight normal.

People with higher waist to hip ratios actually have smaller brain size and decreased memory. That’s a good reason to keep the weight off.

Another disease related to weight is osteoarthritis of the knees (OA). As long as I can remember, it was thought to be caused by breakdown due to excess weight. The latest research has shown it is much more than mechanical; it is also a problem at the cellular level. The low grade inflammatory state in an obese person produces inflammation. Fat cells actually produce cytokines called “adipokines.” They produce inflammation in the body, which causes arthritic symptoms. In fact, a recent study found that obese people who lost 11 pounds, no matter what their weight was, reduced their risk of knee OA by 50%. Just lose 11 pounds and your knees will thank you.

Adipokines, secreted by fat cells, directly promote the mediators that cause increased blood pressure. The heavier you get, the greater the likelihood of high blood pressure.

On the other hand, muscle cells produce myokines. These substances counteract the adipokines. Putting on muscle tissue, or simply keeping the muscle tissue you have, will positively impact cognitive decline as we age. Keeping your muscle also helps you keep your memory and ability to think. Does that sound like something you want to do? I’d guess so.