Carbohydrate-restricted Diet and Exercise Increase Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor and Cognitive Function: A Randomized Crossover Trial

Cureus. 2019 Sep 9;11(9):e5604. doi: 10.7759/cureus.5604.


Introduction Metabolic syndrome (MetS) has been recognized as one of the most important clinical challenges and global health issues of today. Growing evidence suggests that mechanisms of energy metabolism may also play a key role in mediating aspects of cognitive function. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is one such factor well known for its critical role in neuronal plasticity, including memory and learning, and more recently metabolic processes. BDNF levels have been shown separately to be dependent on diet and exercise programming. Purpose The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of diet and exercise on BDNF levels and cognitive functioning with any metabolic association in individuals characterized with MetS. Methods Twelve subjects with MetS followed a randomized crossover design with two four-week interventions, including a carbohydrate (CHO)-restricted Paleolithic-based diet (CRPD; <50gCHO) with sedentary activity (CRPD-Sed) and CRPD with high intensity interval training (HIIT; CRPD-Sed), separated by a four-week washout period. The HIIT exercise consisted of 10 x 60 s cycling intervals interspersed with 60 s of active recovery 3 day/week for four-week. Serum BDNF was detected and quantified via enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Cognitive executive function (Stroop Test) and self-perceived cognitive symptoms and function (MOS-CFS) were quantified. A two-way analysis of variance with repeated measures was performed with post-hoc analysis using simple effects analysis with a Bonferroni adjustment. The level of statistical significance was established a priori as P < 0.05. Results Compared to baseline, CRPD-Sed and CRPD-Ex improved variables for cognitive function, including increased peripheral serum BDNF levels (20% and 38%), psychomotor speed and cognitive flexibility (-14%, -14%), and self-perceived cognitive symptoms and functioning (+8%, +16%), respectively. BDNF inversely correlated with %body fat (r = -0.35, P < 0.05), fasting glucose (r = -0.64, P < 0.05), triglycerides (r = -0.55, P < 0.05), and insulin sensitivity (r = -0.25, P < 0.05). Conclusion This study shows the short-term beneficial effects of carbohydrate-restricted diet on serum BDNF and executive function in those individuals characterized with MetS. We have shown that the addition of exercise can further improve neuroprotection and cognitive function beyond the results of diet alone.

Keywords: bdnf; cognitive functioning; high intensity interval training; ketogenic; low carbohydrate diet; metabolic syndrome; metabotrophin; neurotrophic factor; paleolithic diet; restrictive carbohydrate diet.