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Nerve Growth Factor plays an important role in cognitive function, depression, inflammation, autoimmunity, histamine intolerance, western disease, pain, cancer and much more. I list a bunch of ways to increase it and also list genes which affect its level.
What is Nerve Growth Factor?
Nerve growth factor (NGF) is one of a group of small protein like molecules called neurotrophins (BDNF is another) that are responsible for the development of new neurons, and for the health and maintenance of mature ones.
Neurologist and Developmental Biologist, Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, won a Nobel Prize for discovering nerve growth factor in 1986 and she used NGF eye drops to increase her life- and health-span (R).
In a study of 157 normal people, NGF was an average of 194 pg ml. Age didn’t make a significant difference amongst the participants, but NGF was significantly lower in females (112 pg/ml) than in males (243 pg/ml) (R).
NGF is good for many people, and based on your individual issues, you need to decide if it’s better for you to increase or decrease it.
I’d say that for most people, it’s better to increase it.
NGF Improves Depression
Exercise increased NGF (and BDNF & synapsin I), which improved survival of neurons in the hippocampus and simultaneously improved depression by increasing the serotonin-producing cells in the brain stem (R).
NGF May Help Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
NGF also directly controls some the main structural proteins of the myelin sheath (R).
Because of NGF’s abilities to protect the brain and balance the immune system, it is being studied for a number of brain disorders, including Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease (R).
NGF Helps Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
Substances that raise acetylcholine have shown benefit for Alzheimer‘s disease. Recent animal studies show that NGF selectively protects acetylcholine activated neurons, showing positive implications for treatment of Alzheimer’s (R).
In a study of 10 Alzheimer’s patients and NGF gene transfer therapy, degenerating neurons sprouted from their axons, there was tissue growth, and there was an improvement of function (R).
The ability of the brain to convert proNGF to mature NGF is faulty in both Alzheimer’s disease and in Down Syndrome, resulting in neurons that are dysfunctional. Amyloid-β plaque formation and brain inflammation may be causes (R).
NGF and Schizophrenia
NGF Repairs Your Heart and May Prevent Heart Disease
In a mouse model of injury to the artery, NGF regenerated the nerve around the blood vessels and subsequently helped form new blood vessels, supporting their development and stabilization (R).
NGF helps repair the heart after a heart attack (R).
NGF May Be Good For Diabetes
NGF seems to be important for pancreatic health. If NGF is taken away, the pancreatic beta cells die (R).
NGF May Help Some Cancers
NGF Supports Fertility
NGF is very much involved in the reproductive system. It’s so important that it’s also been referred to as Ovulation-inducing factor (OIF) (R).
Recent studies have confirmed that it induces ovulation (the release of the egg from ovaries) in some mammals, which can help with fertility (R).
It is abundant in semen.
While NGF does a lot of good things, it may be problematic in some ways.
The issue with some of these studies is that in certain states of disease, NGF can increase, which doesn’t mean that NGF causes the disease. Rather, it may just be a correlation.
But overall, it seems like NGF can contribute to certain issues.
NGF is High in Inflammation, Pain, and Injury
It’s assumed that NGF can contribute to pain.
In an experiment using human lung cells, high levels of NGF were associated with chronic inflammation (R).
NGF is often high in patients with chronic pain (interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome, osteoarthritis, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and psoriasis) but not in all cases (R).
NGF May Contribute to Histamine Intolerance
This may contribute to histamine intolerance.
NGF May Worsen Autoimmunity
NGF may play a role in regulating the interactions of the nervous system, hormonal system, and immune system, keeping it in balance. A number of autoimmune conditions have high NGF as well as more mast cells (R).
A drug that inhibits NGF is used for arthritic pain; side effects included destruction of joints and bone in some patients (R).
NGF May Contribute to Spread of Cancer
According to research, NGF (as well as BDNF) stimulates the spread and survival of tumor cells and promotes new blood vessel production in tumors (R).
Top Supplements to Increase NGF
Some of my favorite substances to increase NGF include:
How to Increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)
Lifestyle to Increase NGF
- Social Enrichment early in life – Mice reared in a more social environment had higher NGF in selected brain areas (hippocampus and hypothalamus) as adults (R).
- Yoga (even a single 20 minute session) (R, R2)
- Stress reduction– Chronic mild stress decreased the concentration of NGF in the rat hypothalamus (R, R2).
- Exercise: Low Intensity Resistance Training (R), Treadmill exercise (R, R2).
- Falling in love (R)
- Semen and Injaculation (for men)
- Intense Exercise: Allergic and neuro-immune disorders such as ALS tend to occur more frequently among athletes. NGF increases with stressors and allergies in humans and after physical exercise in animals. A study of blood levels of NGF in olympic athletes showed significantly higher levels of NGF than controls (R).
Hormones That Increase NGF
Removal of ovaries (which produce Estrogen & Progesterone) caused a significant decrease of the NGF in the uterus (R).
When mice with their ovaries removed were treated with estrogen and/or progesterone, NGF protein levels restored to normal (R).
Removing the ovaries did not affect the NGF levels in the salivary glands or the heart (R).
Fluctuations in the expression of NGF, in conjunction with other factors, may help to explain gender differences in pain sensation and inflammation (R).
Supplements to Increase NGF
- Nicotine – Activates NGF in cultured spinal cord neurons (R).
- PQQ – An antioxidant that also stimulates NGF. It strongly promotes peripheral nerve regeneration (R).
- ALCAR – Increases levels of neurotrophins such as NGF (R, R2) and improves nerve regeneration in rats (R).
- Rosemary (Carnosic acid) – Induces NGF production (R).
- Quercetin – Promotes nerve growth, and has shown the ability to regenerate peripheral nerves (R, R2).
- Ginkgo Biloba (Has Quercetin) (R)
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) – An edible mushroom that has been shown to boost NGF (R).
- Zinc – Zinc may increase NGF; however, memory was improved only when Vitamin A was sufficient (R). Zinc may also bind to NGF, blocking its effect, but that was lessened under a more acidic pH (R).
- Lithium – A 14-day Lithium trial increased NGF in specific parts of the brain: frontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and limbic forebrain in adult rats (R).
- Vitamin D3 – Treatment with the active form of vitamin D for 24 hours increased the NGF concentration in the brain 2- to 3-fold. Pretreatment with Forskolin doubled the results, so that NGF was multiplied by 6 (R). However, this effect could be impaired if your blood sugar is high (R).
- Melatonin – A 30 day injection of 1 mcg increased NGF in the submandibular gland of mice. These effects were not observed when the dose of melatonin was increased to 10 and 50 microg daily (R).
- DHEA – Might induce overproduction of NGF cortical neurons (R).
- Astragalus – The extract may act as a nerve-growth promoting factor (R).
- Huperzine A – An alkaloid from herbs that seems to boost NGF (R).
- Bupleurum (Chinese herb Radix Bupleuri) – Raises blood levels of NGF (R).
- Ashitaba – 10 ml (Two Teaspoons) Increases NGF production by 20%
- Yohimbine – Increased blood levels of norepinephrine, which upregulates expression of NGF (in rats) (R).
- Chrysin – A flavonoid found in honey and some plants, it increases NGF (R).
- Royal jelly –Topically, royal jelly increases NGF (R, R2).
- Rehmannia – Improves learning and memory in rats, possibly due increased NGF in the hippocampus (R).
- Polygala tenuifolia – The root extract (used in Chinese Medicine) increased NGF secretion in the lab (R).
Drugs to Increase NGF
- Idebenone (R, R2) – Stimulates NGF, antioxidant properties have been disputed (R).
- Selegiline (drug) – A metabolite of Selegiline, desmethylselegiline, elevates NGF, BDNF, and GDNF (R).
- Noopept – A “smart drug” that has been shown to stimulate the expression of NGF in rat hippocampus (R).
- 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) – A compound known to produce ketones. 2-DG significantly increased expression of NGF in mice (R).
- NGF eye drops (rather expensive, but apparently effective) (R).
Supplements That Support NGF Activity
- Sauna/Heat Shock – Enhances NGF-induced nerve growth (R).
- Green Tea/EGCG – Green tea polyphenols increase NGF-induced nerve growth. Among the polyphenols present in green tea, only EGCG significantly enhanced NGF-induced neuronal growth (R, R2).
- Milk Thistle – Enhanced NGF-induced nerve growth and prolonged their survival in the lab (R).
- DHA – Increases NGF-induced neuronal growth (R, R2).
- Vitamin A – Increases NGF receptors and sensitizes cells to the effects of NGF (R).
- Alcohol – Increases NGF-induced neuronal growth (R).
- PS (Phosphatidylserine) – Protects receptors. PS helps older rats retain more quality neurons and a higher density of NGF receptors (R).
- Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) – Caused a marked increase in neurite outgrowth in the presence of NGF (R).
- Alpha-GPC (choline alfoscerate) – May increase the expression of NGF receptors in the brain (R).
- Acetyl-L-carnitine arginate is a patented form of carnitine that stimulates the outgrowth of neurons in the brain. Studies show that ALCA stimulates the growth of neurites by 19.5%, which is almost four times better than acetyl-L-carnitine.
- Uridine + Choline + DHA – Feeding omega-3s (DHA or EPA) to gerbils eating a choline-rich diet improved the nerve membranes, especially when also given with a dietary source of uridine (R). This combination significantly improved performance, implying better brain function (R, R2).
- Uridine converts to a form of choline called GDP-choline when it enters the brain. (R)
- Uridine Monophosphate is the compound used in brain research studies. It is a major component of RNA, which is rich in foods such as organ meats, brewer’s yeast, tomatoes, and broccoli. When these foods are digested, uridine is released from RNA and is absorbed in the gut.
- Forskolin – Further increases NGF (R).
- Genistein – Enhanced the NGF-induced nerve growth in rat cells (R).
- Nardosinone (from Chinese spikenard) Greatly enhances NGF-induced nerve growth (R, R2).
- 4-O-methylhonokiol – A compound from Magnolia officinalis, it promotes the release of NGF and increases nerve growth (R).
NGF Genes – Do You Have These SNPs?
This SNP changes an amino acid in the NGF gene and therefore affects its function (G=Ala, A=Val).
- In females, GG had higher levels of anxiety than AG or AA (R).
- In males, GG had lower levels of anxiety than AG or AA (R).
Vagal activity impacts heart rate variability scores:
Nerve growth factor (NGF) plays a role in the functioning of the basal forebrain cholinergic neurons, which are involved in attentional systems, and are impaired in Alzheimer’s Disease.
- The G allele was significantly more common in people with ADHD (P=.05) (R).
- The “A” allele was associated with a 1.47X increased risk of Alzheimer’s (R).
The T allele is associated with schizophrenia, which is assoicated with decreased blood levels of these Nerve Growth Factor (R).
Although C is the common allele, it increases the risk of Alzheimer’s in people with a family history (R).
Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick
At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.
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- Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
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- SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
- SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
- Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
- Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
- Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
- BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
- SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics
Check out Lab Test Analyzer!
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