It’s not every day you get to say you’ve listened to a podcast on neuroscience. If you invest the next ten minutes of your life to this podcast. You will not only practise listening to an English conversation in English, to improve your English comprehension. You might also change the way you live to help keep your brain in tip-top condition as you grow older.
If you listened to any of my older podcasts, you will know I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to the human brain. I’ve dedicated much of my life to understanding it and helping others understand why it is they think and do the things they do.
So today I’m going to share some of my knowledge about BDNF, it’s something we should all know about as it has such a big impact on our society, especially as people grow old.
In school, I studied psychology, linguistics, neuroscience. I understand that there is a real lack of respect for the brain.
⭐ Aloe Blacc, Musician
If at this point you are thinking, what on earth am I learning about neuroscience if I just want to improve my spoken English, well trust me, listening to this podcast is perfect brain training for your language comprehension skills. Every podcast lesson and English course we produce uses some very real world science to make our way of learning to speak English work.
Neuroscientist Neurotrophic Cannot
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Hi and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English.
As you may know, I’m a psychotherapist – that’s my main profession, my main job – and in this role, we are encouraged to study all kinds of things to keep our knowledge growing. So we of course continue to study psychotherapy, but what’s really useful to do is to keep up with developments in areas of knowledge around our subject.
So we have some awareness of medicine, psychiatry – that’s medicine for severe difficulties in your mind, your psychology. And psychotherapists are also encouraged to have a ‘lay-understanding of neuroscience.
Clearly we’re not neuroscientists, not even scientists most of us, but we’re encouraged to have some awareness of developments in the neuroscience field. ‘Lay’, L-A-Y in this context just means we’re not in the profession – we’re not neuroscientists. And of course a neuroscientist, is a scientist whose main area of study is the brain.
The brain, B-R-A-I-N – is that really, really important organ of the body, which lives inside your head! And in the brain there are billions, yes, that’s billions with a B of neurons – so it’s complicated in there!
So some of the training that I’ve done for example, looks at how the brain is affected by having bad experiences, or living in bad situations during your childhood. So there is evidence that the brain is affected by this – it develops differently, and perhaps the balance of brain chemicals is different because of this too.
We see evidence of this in our work all the time – the people who struggle most with their mental health are those who’ve had a difficult childhood. When we talk in English about ‘mental health’ – we mean the ‘health of our minds’. And what makes the difference cannot always be seen from the outside.
You can be a child in an affluent, well-off family and still be deprived of love and attention. It still affects the development of your brain – and clearly if you’re a child growing up as a refugee or in a war-zone, or just in poverty – meaning that you’re very poor, then your brain development may be affected too. But if you grow up happy and secure in your relationships, that offers some protection. You’ll probably have have fewer problems, even you if you grow up in poverty or with other disadvantages.
So in therapy we look at your past, what it was like when you were a child, growing up – as well as your current life, whether that makes you happy, or what’s wrong there. We work also with people who take medication for their mental health – so we need to be aware of the effects of this too.
So it’s important for psychotherapists to have some awareness of neuroscience. It’s a big part of the picture. Neuroscience is fascinating and what’s great is that lots of research in neuroscience backs up, supports what we do in psychotherapy.
Neuroscience tells us that to a large extent the brain has ‘plasticity’, P-L-A-S-T-I-C-I-T-Y. This means the brain can change and grow and ‘re-wire’ – and yes, it comes from the word ‘plastic’, P-L-A-S-T-I-C meaning flexible, you can mould it.
There are of course certain things that cannot change, but on the whole, your brain isn’t fixed, it isn’t complete and unchanging. It changes, it re-wires all the time. Technically you are re-wiring your brain as you listen to this podcast – what you hear and what you react to, changes things. You’ve got billions of neurons and they change all the time. If you learn a new word, that will create new neural pathways.
So one of the discoveries which is really interesting is something in your brain called BDNF. Another acronym, I notice! But probably not one you’ll have heard of, unless you are a neuroscientist or like me, you’re trying to understand some neuroscience.
BDNF stands for ‘Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor’. So ‘brain derived’ means ‘it comes from the brain – it’s a substance that your brain naturally makes, it’s derived from the brain. And ‘neurotrophic factor’, N-E-U-R-O-T-R-O-P-H-I-C – scientific words here – ‘neutrophic’. ‘Neurotrophic factor’ means a substance, a protein in fact, that helps the growth of new neurons.
Neurons are like little pathways – billions of them – in your brain. So BDNF is needed so that new neurons can grow. And BDNF is important for that capacity of the brain to be plastic, to grow and change. It’s like ‘fertilizer for your neurons’. BDNF means that you can change your brain! And lower levels of BDNF is [are] associated with problems, like depression and alcoholism.
A photograph of a drunk middle-age housewife drinking during day. An English conversation about your brain.
The problem is BDNF is affected by all kinds of things – you have less of it when you’re older for example! Not good news. And levels of BDNF are affected by all kinds of things which we do in our lives. So our lifestyle – the way we choose to live affects BDNF. We can do things to help it and we can do things that really don’t help it and which reduce it. So being aware of these is important – it might cause you to make different choices.
So I’m giving you this information for interest – but at a very simple level of course. Obviously, do your own research – you’ll find out a lot more than I have time to say in a podcast. But if you don’t want your brain’s ability to grow new neurons to be badly affected by your age, or your lifestyle, then listen on, because there are some things you can do. There are some good things to be aware of.
Before I go on to that, to tell you the good news and the bad news about BDNF, just a reminder that if you want to improve your English with more mainstream topics than this, with information about the UK, discussions about food and education, then you can do that with Adept English by buying our Course One, Activate your Listening.
In this course we cover those topics – the UK, food and education and there is opportunity to work on your understanding of English conversation too – all with full vocabulary explanations of course, as I always do.
So back to BDNF and your brain. Things which negatively affect your...or reduce your BDNF level are:-
- Missing out on sleep – not enough deep sleep
- Stress – high levels of stress reduces your BDNF
- Social isolation
- Being overweight
And things which positively affect your BDNF level, so which raise your BDNF level:-
- Exercise, especially high intensity
- Good sleep, with enough deep sleep
- Meditation and learning to control your stress level
- Curcumin/Turmeric, Omega3, dark chocolate and green tea - all things you can take
- Swimming in cold water or using a sauna
- Being sociable – having enough contact with other people
- And fasting, F-A-S-T-I-N-G – this means going without food intentionally for your health for regular periods of time.
So if you do the bad things in the first list, you are literally ageing your brain. And if you do the right things in the second list, your brain says ‘thankyou’ and continues to grow new neurons. Your brain ages more slowly and you are less likely to have depression. These positive choices in your lifestyle also give you some protection against major illnesses where the brain deteriorates, like Alzheimer's. This stuff really matters then!
So this is a podcast full of lots of information – hopefully it’s something you can understand but it’s interesting at the same time. That’s what we aim to do at Adept English. If you want more mental health or neuroscience type podcasts, to listen to while you’re learning English language at the same time, do let us know! We love your feedback. And please, if you’re a neuroscientist – we’d be really pleased to hear from you as well.
I may make some more podcasts on some of these subject areas – looking perhaps at the effect of sunlight, or fasting, or open water swimming (which is getting really popular in the UK at the moment) or social isolation, perhaps during lockdown. All these effect the brain. Let us know if you would find these topics interesting!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
- Alzheimer's disease
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
- Increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
- Link Between BDNF and Neuroplasticity
- link between sleep, stress and BDNF
- Cold Water Swimming Improves Stress Management
- Saunas the Next Big
- Curcumin 95 Supplements
- Turmeric And Curcumin Supplement
- YouTube Channel *Other listening practice conversations
- English language courses
- Activate Your Listening Course