Brain and Memory Care Weight Loss

Low BDNF makes you fat (learn how to fix it!)

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: February 27, 2019
low BDNF makes you fat

First of all, what is BDNF?

Certainly, if I’m going to share how low BDNF makes you fat or should I say “have more body-fat than you’d like,” the first thing you probably want to know is what BDNF is. BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) is a vital protein which influences brain and peripheral nervous system health. BDNF has a positive influence on a range of neurological functions.

low BDNF makes you fatIt can prevent the death of existing brain cells (apoptosis). It is an essential link in what is called neuroplasticity—helping to induce the growth of new brain cells (neurons), neural connections (synapses), and supporting key cognitive functions.

Low levels of BDNF are associated with Alzheimer’s, accelerated aging, poor neural development, neurotransmitter dysfunction, depression, and even schizophrenia. Now, we even know why it’s associated with obesity. There are other brain neurotrophins, but BDNF is (at this juncture) more important than the combination of all others.

The Myriad of things that cause weight gain:

When I discuss the accumulation of body-fat, the topic of many articles, I cover the many influences affecting weight. This includes metabolism, the amount of muscle mass, quality of diet (super important), exercise regimen and other things I’ll bet you already know.

Then there are things you may be unaware of such as how your brain controls cravings. By the way, that is fixable. An example of this is eating when you feel tired or crave sugar. Low dopamine is the likely culprit, and you can fix this with l-tyrosine and SAMe supplements. Another example is you might have an inadequate “SIRT1” pathway, and the supplements mentioned in my sirtfood diet plan might be in order.


Next, there are your hormones. Low testosterone and/or estrogen cause weight gain. High cortisol (usually due to stress or early adrenal fatigue) causes weight gain and notably belly fat. This is typically turned around with adrenal fatigue supplements. We also delve into things like insulin and adiponectin—both are hormones which are “disordered” when you have systemic inflammation, diabetes, pre-diabetes, or you’re just overweight.

Lastly, we have ghrelin and leptin. These are both your “hunger hormones” which become “dysregulated” when you gain weight. A combination of high ghrelin and leptin levels will cause you to continue eating when you “should” be satiated due to your brain “not getting the message.” In my opinion, leptin is the more important hormone in this role, and we know it’s harder to get leptin levels down.

We also know leptin regulates how efficiently your body’s fat cells hang onto fat. Ghrelin issues are often reversed by intermittent fasting, intermittent ketosis and just “eating healthfully.” Then we have leptin. Leptin levels go up, and your leptin receptors become less sensitive, leading to leptin resistance. This brings me to the topic at hand. Yes, it’s all about leptin. Yes, I’ll get to BDNF shortly too.

Leptin Resistance:

Without a doubt, despite all of the reasons you might be overweight, no one escapes the impact of leptin resistance either causing or compounding the problem. If you are overweight, you have “leptin resistance.” This means your appetite is over-stimulated, you have cravings, and your body stores fat much more efficiently than when you were younger. Not to mention, thinner. It’s truly not your imagination that you are eating less and still gaining weight. It’s the leptin—every time.

So, if it’s leptin, let’s first cover how to lower it before we get into the BDNF news. Recall I mentioned inflammation above? Well, guess what? Lowering inflammation also lowers leptin. The first steps for lowering inflammation are to follow an anti-inflammatory diet plan and to add a strong curcumin or turmeric weight loss supplement to your regimen. You can find the anti-inflammatory diet plan and the “keto” version (to also lower ghrelin and help curb cravings) at the end of this article in my best selling weight loss ebook.

Guess what else reduces leptin? Well, lowering cortisol as discussed above. What else? Yes, indeedy, amping up your SIRT1 pathway. Also, lowering your blood sugar and insulin levels. While you are waiting for weight loss, you can add berberine supplements to assist with this one.

I haven’t discussed the role of “lectins” which include grains and beans in the leptin story. These foods can drive leptin up too- especially gluten. I’m not too fond of gluten for many reasons, but one of the problems with gluten is, of all lectins, it’s the one most likely to drive up leptin. This brings me to our friend, BDNF.

Exactly how low BDNF makes you fat:

Let me answer this question and tell you that we don’t exactly know the whole story. However, we know what I feel is important. There is a direct correlation between your BDNF level and your leptin level. Studies reveal people with low BDNF levels are more likely than those with normal or high BDNF levels to be overweight and over-fat.

The rate of both diabetes and Alzheimer’s is climbing as is the rate of being over-fat. I don’t like the term obesity—you “got” the over-fat term, right? No one has yet studied the rate of Alzheimer’s versus leptin resistance, but all of the intermediary studies point to the correlation. Indeed, Alzheimer’s patients all have very low BDNF levels.

How to increase BDNF and therefore lower leptin:

Dietary Improvements:

A typical American “bad diet” which is high in refined sugar and saturated fat definitively impacts negative structural changes in the brain primarily via neurotrophins like BDNF. Translation: We see a marked decrease in all neurotrophins if you eat an inflammatory diet. It is crucial for overall health and brain health that you cut out refined sugar and eat only “good” saturated fats. Please note that “good fats” (think avocado and coconut) help you lose weight and are good for your health!

Levels of BDNF can be impacted by a diet after two months, whether it is good or bad. When you are consuming a healthy diet your beneficial neurotransmitter levels will measurably increase and so will your testable cognitive performance. The opposite is true as well-proven over and over again, too.

Intermittent Fasting or Caloric Restriction

Reducing your daily caloric intake or practicing various proven ways to do intermittent fasting can increase levels of BDNF.  When this occurs, we see many improvements in overall brain health, lower glucose levels, and improved cardiovascular functioning. If you cannot make it to the gym frequently, you can still elevate your BDNF levels and receive the “brain benefits” of aerobic exercise. This increase in BDNF is not immediate—same timing as with exercise, actually! However, that doesn’t mean don’t exercise!

Intense Exercise:

First of all, if you don’t exercise, then you’ll have a decreased amount of BDNF.  So, just know that exercise “in general” will indeed boost BDNF. High-intensity training (HIT) that super-boosts your heart rate will exponentially increase your production of BDNF. Consistency is important as just one intense exercise session once in a while will not make any difference. To reap the full benefits of increasing your BDNF levels through HIT, you need to train this way a minimum of once per week—gotcha! That’s right! The up-to-the-minute research conveys once per week for as little as ten minutes! An easy technique to do this is to run full out on a treadmill for 90 seconds, walk slowly for 90 seconds and so on for ten minutes. 

Weight Loss:

Yes, I am aware that I am creating a chicken-egg situation here. By now, you just might be interested in the health of your brain—not simply weight loss. So, I thought I’d give you a little more incentive for fixing that leptin and using the BDNF connection to do it. When you are overweight, both your body and your brain undergo metabolic changes. BDNF will decrease when you have a high body weight or are over-fat.  When you reduce your weight, you not only improve your mood and overall health but also increase your BDNF levels and help your brain perform its functions of making you more awesome!


In our modern world where we’re concerned about skin cancer and wrinkles, sunlight exposure is decreasing. Due to this, we are getting less vitamin D in our bodies. Adequate sunlight exposure is the most efficient way to increase your level of Vitamin D. However to get enough sun exposure to raise your Vitamin D level to what we call “therapeutic” (50-70 ng/ml) you are endangering your skin.

I’ll tell you I rarely find a patient or an AWS consultation client who does not need vitamin D supplementation. A lot of people think the “sun is enough,” but for the vast majority of people, it just isn’t. Inadequate Vitamin D bottoms out BDNF levels down within just a few months. Virtually everyone needs vitamin D + Vitamin K (for absorption) supplementation.  Now, that said, there are mitochondrial (read: energy) enhancement benefits to exposing your skin to sunlight for 5-10 minutes per day.

Specific Drugs:

There are some drugs which can raise BDNF levels. Short term they are probably safe, but their long-term use is entirely unclear. I will only list one of the classes of drugs here as I do NOT support the use of pharmaceuticals to raise BDNF. I will explain the mechanism of this one class of medication below only because there is a healthy alternative.


Selective-serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) have been shown to increase levels of BDNF when they are used to treat depression. They work by elevating levels of the happy neurotransmitter serotonin. However, we need more evidence and it is unclear how these drugs affect us with long term use. The healthy way to increase serotonin is to take the building block, 5-OH tryptophan. If you want to do that, go right ahead. Just don’t do it if you are taking other anti-depressants or if you have bipolar illness.

A “Rich” Social Life: 

No, I’m not talking about money. Social enrichment for adults increases levels of BDNF. Studies show when children are exposed to socially enriched environments, it has long-lasting cognitive and behavioral benefits.

One amazing conclusion that has been made from examining animal studies is a socially enriched environment is also beneficial for animals too. Rodents, for example, have been shown to have a lifelong increase in levels of BDNF, as well as positive social behaviors, decreased anxiety, and reduced risk of depression when they are raised in a stimulating and “rich” social environment.

Your shortcut to success: Supplements that Increase BDNF

Now you are aware how low BDNF makes you fat. You might have read the above and thought “I’m already exercising correctly” or “my social life is great” and felt like you wanted a way to super-charge your BDNF without tons of effort. Well, your wish is granted. If you are a fan of brain boosting in the form of activities or nootropic, brain boosting supplements, you definitely want to increase your BDNF for your brain as well as your weight.

I’ll review the leptin lowering supplements A.K.A. (by many of my patients and clients) their personal brain boosters as well as their weight loss solutions. If you are looking for the best brain supplements to make your brain (and therefore you) more awesome, you want amped up BDNF. However, you also will want to add some other things, so please search the blog. Better yet, read my FREE brain book at the end of this article. Next, let’s discuss the supplements you can add to your regimen.

Green Tea:

Green tea has EGCG as it’s active ingredient which both increases BDNF and improves mental focus. Drinking authentic (not teabag-derived) green tea or using an EGCG-rich decaf green tea supplement will improve BDNF production. You do know what goes down when we increase the BDNF, don’t you?


Curcumin has shown in various studies to promote BDNF production within the memory storage center of the brain called the hippocampus. If you have read any of my comprehensive weight loss articles, I often cite curcumin as a necessary anti-inflammatory supplement for not just those with excess weight, but for the vast majority of people who all have silent inflammation. This lowers leptin through not just BDNF elevation but the SIRT1 pathway as well. I can say the same about the next supplement on the list which is something everyone needs for optimal health, anyway.


The health benefits of resveratrol are nothing short of amazing. This is a supplement everyone should be taking, and if you’re not, here’s how it fits into this article. This supplement has been studied for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. It is a great BNDF booster and might also have other brain-healthy functions. Besides boosting SIRT1, you should know it helps inhibit many “bad” innate immune pathways, such as those involved in tumor production—notably TNF-alpha. It’s another great leptin lowering supplement.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

These fatty acids receive many mentions in this “blog” as they improve overall health by decreasing inflammation and much more. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are called DHA and EPA, but it is specifically the DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which is responsible for increasing levels of BDNF.  When you take therapeutic doses of high DHA fish oils (or eat high DHA fish 3x/daily), you’ll have enough extra BDNF to decrease your leptin levels.


This is a great energy-boosting amino acid. We now know that it performs this function via our ATP-producing mitochondrial cells. ALC shows to increase levels of BDNF in several clinical studies. It is one of the most commonly used weight lifting supplements to build muscle mass. Imagine if any top bodybuilding experts read this article and found they can shed fat while improving their weight training focus via BDNF!

Vitamin D:

Yes, I mentioned the sunshine and vitamin D above, but I want to again emphasize to you that for health, BDNF and leptin reasons, you need supplemental vitamin D + vitamin K. Most people need a minimum of 4000 IU’s of vitamin D3 per day. I take 6000 IU. If you can measure your level, that’s the best way to go.

2019 update: The heat map, blended epigenetic supplement that is my go-to for increasing BDNF, decreasing oxidative stress, inflammation and cortisol is found here; and on monthly auto-ship (contact me) is an amazing all-in-one value.


Those of you reading this are interested in losing weight, so yes, I’ll leave you my weight loss book. But I’ll bet that, for some of you, your interest is now piqued regarding the health of your brain. For those of you who are now with me on the “have a better brain” bandwagon, look for the many articles on brain health in this website.


  1. Awesome article and I learned a lot about BDNF. This information also gave me confirmation that I am on the right track with my mental and physical fitness when it comes to making great choices for my eating lifestyle. I started drinking green tea because I like it without sugar although I do use raw sugar I wanted less intake of sugar. I’ve been taking grape seed & resveratrol pills for years, keeps my skin youthful and I have a ton of energy. There are some other supplements you have mentioned and i”m going to get an emial consult from you for specific questions, Dr.Kim

  2. I hear THAT Sallie!

  3. Perfect blog for me as I want to sharpen my senses AND lose weight!

  4. Sallie you said it best!My cart is filled with resveratrol and I am hoping it’s a featured product on the next newsletter-hint hint to Dr Kim!

    • Marva- you’ll get a newsletter tomorrow and the two featured products at 25% off are amazing-promise! Will do resveratrol in the future. Best, Dr.Kim

  5. So I get smarter and lose weight too? Good deal, am gonna give a try.

  6. Brilliant article, can’t wait to try the HIT and the supplements!Thanks for your expertise!

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