Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a fascinating growth hormone that performs many functions in our brain. Its involvement helps to support neurons and neuronal growth. In addition, it plays a role in long-term memory -- and it also is important in obesity. Researchers refer to weight as 'highly heritable'. This means that genetics - along with diet and lifestyle - plays a big role in your propensity to gain weight.[ref][ref]
BDNF and its link to weight:So why are we talking about the brain and BDNF when it comes to your weight? When genetics researchers look at the genes linked to weight gain, many of those genes happen to be involved with the way your brain controls your appetite. This makes sense when you think about it. If you are driven by your brain to eat more - even if it is just a little more each day - you will eventually gain weight. Your appetite control center is in the brain, and genetics points to several different mechanisms here for weight gain. Animal studies show that low BDNF in the hippocampus causes ‘hyperphagic behavior’, or in other words, they were driven to overeat.[ref] Mouse studies also show that increased or over-expression of BDNF in the hypothalamus causes an increase in the conversion of white fat to brown fat. Brown fat is full of mitochondria that are burning energy. More brown fat increases overall energy metabolism, and, thus, mice with more BDNF stay lean.[ref] So again, the BDNF level in the brain is controlling energy expenditure in the body as well as driving eating behavior. This holds true in human research as well - lower BDNF levels relate to higher appetite and increased food consumption. There are environmental factors (diet, lifestyle) that impact BDNF, but there are also genetic variants that impact your basal BDNF levels as well.
Genetic variants that affect BDNF and weight:
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