Growing new brain cells—or neurogenesis–is possible for adults.
For a long time the established dogma was that the adult brain couldn’t generate any new brain cells. That is, it was believed that you were born with a certain amount of brain cells, and that was it. And since you naturally lose brain cells as you age, after age 25 it was all downhill for your brain function.
The good news is that scientists have now discovered that you can grow new brain cells throughout your entire life. The process is called neurogenesis. Specifically, new brain cells–which are called neurons–grow in the hippocampus. This is the region of the brain that is responsible for learning information, storing long-term memories, and regulating emotions. This has many different positive implications. Here are some of the most important ways in which taking action to encourage neurogenesis can help you:
- As Dr. Amar Sahay–a neuroscientist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital–explains, developing new brain cells can help enhance cognitive functions. New neurons enhance your ability to learn.
- Growing new neurons can help you stave off Alzheimer’s.
- Neurogenesis will help you to keep your memory sharp.
- The growth of new brain cells can both treat and prevent depression, as well as help to reduce anxiety.
In order to make the most of your brain you need to do the following:
- Take Care of Your Brain Cells
- Grow New Brain Cells
- Keep the New Neurons From Dying
These three points are explained below.
Take Care of Your Brain Cells
Before we get into how to grown new brain cells, it’s important to note that you should take steps to take care of the brain cells you already have. Right now it’s very likely that there are things you’re doing which are damaging your brain cells. These include the following:
- Leaving Stress Unchecked. Stress can damage brain cells over time. Protect your brain cells by managing stress. Do things such as simplifying, meditating, and prioritizing your to-do list.
- Not Getting Enough Sleep. To begin with, scientists now believe that sleep “detoxes” the brain, flushing out waste products linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that sleep deprivation kills a particular type of brain cell called locus ceruleus (LC) neurons, which play an important role in keeping us alert and awake.
- Following a Poor Diet. Eating a poor diet that’s loaded with industrial fats, refined grains, and sugar-sweetened treats is shrinking your brain. Data shows that the more junk food a person reports eating, the smaller their hippocampus tends to be.
If you’re doing any of the things above–leading a high-stress life, being sleep deprived, and eating a poor diet–, stop it. Your brain cells will thank you.
How to Grow New Brain Cells
This is where things get good. In a TED Talk, Doctor Sandrine Thuret, a neuroscientist at King’s College London, explains that until the 1990s people thought that adults couldn’t generate new brain cells. But now we know that they do.
Here, then, are 10 ways to grow new brain cells:
- Eat Blueberries. Blueberries are blue due to anthocyanin dye, a flavonoid which research has linked to neurogenesis.
- Indulge in Dark Chocolate. I’ve already encouraged you to eat dark chocolate in my post about longevity, as well as in my post about giving your mood a boost. Well, now it turns out that those delicious morsels of chocolaty goodness will also help you grow new neurons. This is because dark chocolate, like blueberries, contains flavonoids.
- Keep Yourself Engaged. Cognitive stimulation increases hippocampal neurogenesis. What does this mean? It means that you need to keep your brain engaged: learn new skills, interact with other people, travel, try new things, and keep stepping outside of your comfort zone.
- Eat Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Foods that are rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids — avocados and fatty fish like tuna, salmon, herring, and sardines —promote the growth of neurons. You can also opt for flaxseeds or flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Exercise. We can foster new brain cell growth through regular endurance exercise, such as jogging. Here’s how it works: jogging stimulates the production of a protein called FNDC5. In turn, FNDC5 stimulates the production of another protein in the brain called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which stimulates the growth of new nerves and synapses. If jogging is not your thing, try walking briskly.
- Eat Turmeric. Not only does the yellow spice turmeric help with neurogenesis, but a study conducted relatively recently found that turmeric may contribute to the regeneration of a ‘damaged brain’ and help with neurological disorders. One thing you can try is to add a teaspoon of turmeric to your morning or afternoon smoothie.
- Have Sex. Having frequent sex can help you to repopulate your brain (pardon the pun).
- Drink Green Tea. Specifically, the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea is the element which has been linked to the growth of new brain cells.
- Expose Yourself to Sunlight. When your body is exposed to natural sunlight, it produces Vitamin D. Vitamin D increases levels of BDNF in the brain — as was previously mentioned, BDNF promotes neurogenesis.
- Intermittent Fasting. Dr. Thuret explains that she eats every other day. On the days in which she fasts she’ll grab a big latte and then maybe later an apple and a cereal bar. The other days she eats normally. She explains that when you fast intermittently you’re mildly stressing your brain, and it’s likely that this leads to an increase in neurons so you can search for food more efficiently.
As you can see from the list above, there are lots of simple things you can do to grown new brain cells. Once you’ve grown new brain cells, you need to maintain them. You’ll discover how in the next section of this blog post.
How to Keep the New Brain Cells Alive
Everything mentioned in the section above will help you to grow new brain cells. But growing new neurons is not enough. You also have to keep the new neurons alive.
Studies show that new neurons are kept alive by learning that requires effort; this means a process that involves concentration in the present moment over an extended period of time.
I, on the one hand, feel very optimistic about the fact that I can grow new brain cells. I hope you do too. And now I’m going to have some green tea with two squares of dark chocolate, and then spend some time on my chess game. After all, I have to put my new brain cells to good use. 🙂
Live your best life by growing new brain cells with the tips explained above. You’re in charge of your neurogenesis!