Brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) is a protein that helps brain cells healthy and growing. It improves neuronal functions, encourages neurons to grow, helps guard against premature cell death, and improves communication between neurons. When your brain has more BDNF, it works better. When there’s less . . . there are more issues.
Lower levels of BDNF are associated with impaired learning, Alzheimers disease, epilepsy, depression, and a variety of other mental and cognitive conditions. While increasing BDNF levels in the brain is very likely an oversimplification of what will help, the evidence points to more BDNF in the brain as being a good thing overall. So, how do we get more BDNF?
Diet and . . . Exercise!
If you’ve been reading my posts long enough, you’ll know what’s coming here. Any condition that can be improved through exercise means there’s a role for KAATSU. Specifically, the ability for KAATSU to boost the physiological effect of light exercise means it can be an important tool to help people gain the effects of higher-intensity exercise without needing the same level of effort. Less pain, more gain, so to speak.
What’s the Evidence?
There have been a variety of studies demonstrating the link between exercise and increased levels of BDNF (click here for a good place to start reading). It seems that the mechanisms of action of HOW exercise increases BDNF levels are not clearly understood, but the correlation between exercise and increases in BDNF is well established. One mechanism of action that has been hypothesized to increase BDNF after exercise is the increase in blood lactate levels that can be found after high intensity exercise. Lactate has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier and when it does so, it can induce BDNF expression in the hippocampus (i.e. increase BDNF levels – reference here).
KAATSU Increases Lactate at Low Exercise Intensity
This is where I think KAATSU shines. Even at lower exercise intensity, KAATSU stimulates the production of lactate by creating a slight hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in the muscle cells. This causes the cells to switch to anaerobic energy production which results in lactate building up in the cells. Normally, higher levels of exercise activity are required to get muscles shift primarily to anaerobic energy production. This is why we say KAATSU helps mimic the physiological conditions of a high intensity workout, even at low intensity.
By building up lactate at lower levels of exercise, KAATSU use could potentially help people unable to achieve higher levels of exercise intensity improve their brain health with less physical effort. This is an area of KAATSU use that represents an area of opportunity for researchers looking to help our aging population stay healthy both physically and mentally. It is my hope that KAATSU will eventually become part of the standard of care for our elders to help keep them mentally and physically able for years to come.