Turn on Your Smart Gene

Dear Reader,

Did you hear about the discovery of a “smart gene”? It’s called homologene 7245.

Let me tell you what I know. You have a substance in the brain called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). It acts like growth hormone for brain cells – and its effects on brain function are profoundly beneficial to learning, memory, and protection from injury.

BDNF enhances the growth and health of nearly every kind of brain cell, including:

• synapses (the connections between nerve cells)

• synaptic transmission (how neurons talk to each other)

• the formation of the “glial” cells that support brain tissue

• the development of dendrites (your brain cells’ “antennae,” these cells receive signals from other parts of the brain and communicate them to the cell body)

• brain cell formation and protection

But here’s why it’s important to know; A nutrient you can take kicks the gene responsible for BDNF production into high gear. You may recognize it as one of the two main components of animal-derived omega-3 –“docosahexaenoic acid,” or DHA.

Evidence has been mounting over the past several years that highlights just how critical BDNF is to brain function – and DHA’s power to activate it:

• In a landmark study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, researchers showed that breast-fed infants whose mothers who took 200 mg of DHA per day outperformed DHA-deficient infants at every level. They had better hand-eye coordination, as well as enhanced “gross motor skills” like standing up, walking, going up and down stairs, and keeping their balance.1

• Researchers at UCLA found that rats given high levels of DHA enjoyed significantly higher BDNF levels. They were far more resistant to injury from brain trauma. And those who didn’t get enough DHA in their diet suffered from learning disabilities.2

• A recent Japanese study added to the good news: memory and learning ability improved dramatically with boosted BDNF production.3

Turning on the “smart gene” is as easy as taking a supplement rich in DHA. If you’re pregnant, try to get about 400 mg of DHA into your diet every day. You can do this by taking supplements readily available in health food stores or on line.

In the first year of life, continue breast-feeding and getting your DHA. Children also benefit from 100 mg of DHA from six months to about 2 years old. From years 2-5, ramp it up to 200 mg per day.

Cod liver oil is one of the best sources of DHA I know of. Make sure its purity is guaranteed, since environmental toxins get stored in the fat of the fish.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

1 Jensen et al. “Effects of maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on visual function and neurodevelopment in breastfed term infants.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005. 82(1):125-132.

2 Wu et al. “Dietary omega-3 fatty acids normalize BDNF levels, reduce oxidative damage, and counteract learning disability after traumatic brain injury in rats.” Journal of Neurotrauma. 2004. 21(10):1457-67.

3 Yamada et al. “Role for brain-derived neurotrophic factor in learning and memory.” Life Sciences. 2002. 70(7):735-744.