Can we, as adults, grow new neurons ? Can brain cells regenerate? Neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret says we can, and offers research and practical advice on how we can help our brains better perform neurogenesis , improve mood, increase memory formation, and prevent deterioration associated with aging along the way.
If you are not deeply involved in the scientific literature, particularly in the field of neurology, the title of this article may seem absurd, exaggerated, and straight out of a 1950s science fiction novel.
But the surprising fact is that older adults are fully capable of growing new brain cells , no matter how old they are.
As the researchers somewhat underestimated in 2005: “The discovery that the brain of an adult mammal creates new neurons from clumps of stem cells was a breakthrough in neuroscience.”
As was once traditionally taught in neurology, the human brain was thought to be “fixed,” meaning, of course, that once brain cells were lost, they could not grow back and / or new ones could not manifest. cells.
Since this has been proven not to be true, you first have to wrap your head around this development before we can continue.
Neurogenesis – process of growing new neurons
To give a brief overview, there are many different regions of the human brain. Neurogenesis is what is called the process of developing or growing new neurons or brain cells .
It is most active during prenatal development, but so far there are two parts of the human brain, where this process has been shown to continue into adulthood.
These two regions are called the hippocampus and the subventricular zone. While further research may show that other regions show neurogenesis, science has yet to articulate such developments.
Credit should be given to Joseph Altman for his groundbreaking work in the field of neurogenesis, with major discoveries in 1962 and 1963. Altman’s work was largely and consistently ignored.
It took until the 1990s for general research to finally begin to consider neurogenesis as a priority and possibility.
Obviously, there is a possibility that learning and memory are important related brain functions that can be affected by neurogenesis.
Besides learning and memory, some putative and probable neural effects are found in the regulation of stress and also in the beneficial mechanisms of some antidepressants.
In addition to these functions, neurogenesis shows promise in the areas of depression, as well as in Alzheimer’s disease .
How to grow new neurons
So this short history of neurogenesis may be interesting to you, but you probably want to know how you can grow new brain cells.
You may be interested to know that none of these measures will require a lot of money and that they do not require any surgical procedures. They are methods that anyone can use to maximize their cognitive potential .
First, exercise, even just walking, has shown a direct link to neurogenesis. The table below, from a study that showed walking for just 45 minutes per day leading to new growth of hippocampal tissue, shows, with surprising simplicity, how movement can make your brain grow.
In addition to the obvious positive physical, mental and emotional benefits of exercise, it is surprising to see the intellectual and neural effects. There are a multitude of other studies, all of which show that exercise is beneficial for neurogenesis . This extends to protection against Alzheimer’s as well.
Diet to grow new neurons
In addition to exercise, there are many dietary measures that can help stimulate brain growth. The first would be curcumin, which is an element of turmeric. As studies have indicated, curcumin has been directly linked to neurogenesis , at least in rats.
Other studies have shown that curcumin also increases the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This is important because BDNF is vital for many neurological functions.
Survival of brain cells in situations where they would normally die has also been shown to occur from caloric restriction and / or intermittent fasting.
Therefore, to put the established methods so far in a working context, it is a good idea to include turmeric in your diet, and then restrict calorie intake intermittently, or intermittently, from time to time.
In addition to neurogenesis, there is also a process called autophagy that is activated when humans fast. Autophagy is loosely described as the process of cleaning cells and removing debris.
Theoretically, you can see how this can be beneficial in enhancing cell and neuronal activation. But in addition to exercise and fasting, there are a few other elements that can help develop new brain cells.
Omega-3 fatty acids
It should come as no surprise to the Paleo community that there are benefits to omega-3 fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid is preferable to all other forms of omega-3s. Unsurprisingly, the scientific literature shows that DHA helps support neurogenesis .
There are many other reasons you may want to supplement with DHA or get large amounts from your daily intake from wild-caught fish, but the specific neurological effects of DHA are intriguing.
Grow new neurons with blueberries
Blueberries are another beneficial food that may be linked to the growth of new brain cells . Studies have talked about the impact of diet on neurogenesis, the flavonoids in blueberries are advantageous.
Since the link between increased neurogenesis and increased mood and cognition is obvious, it makes sense to regularly include blueberries in your diet.
Not only will you enjoy the cognitive effects of food, but you will also be indulging your taste buds and gaining the inherent antioxidant effects.
Low sugar diet
While it’s generally a good idea to stay on a low-sugar diet, especially when looking to boost neuron growth, blueberries are a rare exception because they offer so many other benefits.
And it should be noted that they are low in sugar compared to many other fruits. In fact, the following figure shows the multitude of factors involved in the influence of neurogenesis, where both blueberries and flavonoids are shown individually.
Green tea to develop new brain cells
Besides the methods mentioned above, green tea is another method to increase neurogenesis . Specifically, the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the element that has been linked to the growth of new brain cells.
Researchers have shown that “EGCG treatment significantly increased the number of 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) -labeled cells in adult hippocampal neural progenitor cell (NPC) cultures and in the dentate gyrus of adult mice.”
This means that drinking green tea or supplementing with EGCG in isolation will increase your neuronal growth rate.
Initially, neurogenesis was studied in rats before being transferred to humans. As expected, EGCG was also found to be beneficial for neurogenesis in rats. When comparing rat and human studies, we must always ensure that the data is physiologically relevant.
What does this mean? It means that we must use dose-relevant amounts. The amount of EGCG that has been studied to be beneficial can be obtained by normal means in humans. A few cups of green tea, or a standardized EGCG extract, will do the job. This is not always the same, as seen in the case of resveratrol.
Final words on neurogenesis
Now, it is vital to look at the drawbacks and realistic results of the growth of these new neurons. Although it is an exciting prospect, neurogenesis or the growth of new cells in the brain is subject to the rest of the diet, human body processes, and other activities and stresses that occur in your brain.
As researchers have also pointed out, too much neurogenesis could be just as bad as too little.
It is also important to note that many new neurons transmitted through the neurogenesis process die within 2 weeks. Therefore, it is not a way to replace a barely functioning brain with Einstein’s brain. But, many of the new neurons migrate to the molecular layer.
It’s easy to overstate the importance of new brain cell growth, but science is still emerging on how much control we have over the growth of our adult brain. Of course, there are other theories on how to increase your intelligence.
To conclude, it is important to think that neurogenesis is similar to taking a supplement. Yes, it may be slightly beneficial to increase your intake of foods and supplements to help stimulate neurogenesis .
But if your overall diet and lifestyle are poor, highly stressed, and generally unhealthy, these methods will do little or no benefit. You must always remember the whole image, the whole human body and the whole psyche.