Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a fascinating growth hormone that does a lot in our brains.
So what does BDNF do? Quite a bit! It is involved in supporting neurons and neuronal growth in the brain; it also plays a role in long-term memory and in obesity.
Why focus on obesity when everyone knows that fat people are lazy and eat too much? It turns out that our genes may play a larger role in obesity that a lot of people want to concede.
Sidetrack to talk about genetics and weight:
A study of over 10000 twins in the UK found that BMI and waist circumference are highly heritable (77%), with a smaller environmental effect (e.g. sedentary, food choices, sleep) in children.[study] Other, even larger twin studies, have also shown a large genetic component to weight.[study]
So while genetics is undoubtedly involved in obesity, personal choice comes in to play also. Obviously, cutting down on junk food and French fries is important. Additionally, taking the responsibility for understanding and working with your own genetics is another personal choice. Instead of blaming genetics, take an active role in learning and understanding the influence and role that it plays in your own personal biochemistry.
Back to BDNF and obesity: Mouse studies have shown that not enough BDNF in the hippocampus causes ‘hyperphagic behavior’, which is a fancy way of saying that they were driven to overeat.[study] (Like when you aren’t really hungry but start munching on some Doritos and then the bag is suddenly half empty – hyperphagic behavior.) Mouse studies also show that increased or overexpression of BDNF in the hypothalamus increases the conversion of white fat to brown fat. Brown fat increases energy metabolism, and mice with more BDNF stay lean.[study]
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