The idea of growing new brain cells may seem like science fiction, or at least a feat that can only be accomplished several more years into the future; however, the truth of the matter is that this incredible notion is feasibly possible here and now. Recently, various studies have found that it is possible to generate new brain cells in a process called neurogenesis. What’s more is that neurogenesis can result in other benefits in addition to forming new brain cells, including improving your mood, increasing memory formation, and preventing some of the declines of the mind associated with aging.
The Study of Neurogenesis
For many years the commonly held belief was that we were all born with a certain number of brain cells, and that was all we were allotted in life: if they died off, then we couldn’t make anymore. Over just the past couple of decades, however, it was discovered that, “At least one part of the brain continues to create new cells throughout a person's lifespan.” Studies using carbon-14 dating found that cells located in the hippocampus, while they continually die off as a person ages, are also quickly replaced by new cells. According to a 2013 study in Cell journal, the brain still produces around 700 new neurons every day, even in old age. In fact, the only way that the hippocampus is able to maintain its central functions is by the formation of these new cells.
This newly discovered research on the science of neurogenesis is groundbreaking for more reasons than just the formation of new brain cells. The research appears to hint at the possibility of using neurogenesis to combat neurological degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s (a disease that is linked, in part, to the death of brain cells), Parkinson’s, and potentially even reversing damage caused by traumatic brain injuries. This is due in part to the fact that the hippocampus is the region of the brain that is responsible for learning new information, regulating emotions, and storing long-term memories.
What Affects Brain Cell Growth?
Conversely, certain habits and natural occurrences can reduce the natural rate of neurogenesis and contribute to the death of brain cells. Stress (as mentioned before), a lack of sleep, and aging are all prime examples. Dietary habits have also been found to play a crucial role in growing neurons as well. Some health practices that may increase neurogenesis include intermittent fasting, restricting your calorie intake by 20 - 30%, eating more Omega-3 fatty acids, and increasing your intake of flavonoids like those found in blueberries and dark chocolate. By the same token, it is important to note that certain dietary habits can have a negative impact on neurogenesis: too much alcohol consumption and a diet rich in highly saturated fatty foods.
The Formation of New Brain Cells
So what are some things that you can do to promote the formation of new brain cells? One of the best and most highly recommended ways is to exercise: more specifically, adding more aerobic exercises into your regimen. Aerobic exercises have been found not only to lead to an increase in cell production in the hippocampus but also to increase the amount of genetic information that is being encoded in the brain. As a result, the brain has seen improved functionality and the individual cells have been able to store information for learning and memory much better than before. Some types of aerobic exercises include jogging, power walking, and swimming.
Surprisingly, sex has also been found to enhance the number of newly generated neurons. However, it is not so much due to the physical act itself, but rather the fact that it is an incredible stress reliever. Chronic stress blocks the process of neurogenesis, so an activity that is both rewarding and lowers stress can have positive effects on the brain.
Another way to promote the production of new brain cells is, of course, by exercising your brain. Xen by Neuvana was designed to stimulate the vagus nerve, promoting wellness and relaxation throughout the body. The more glimpses of relaxation your brain gets, the more time you’ll be able to spend in that state. And the easier it’ll be to get there, that’s thanks to neuroplasticity - your brain’s ability to create and strengthen pathways between neurons.
Finally, enriched learning environments can contribute not only to the production of new cells but to the survival of old cells as well! Practicing neurobics, brain exercises that emphasize unexpected stimuli can do wonders for improving memory. In 2015, The Journal of Neuroscience published a study that found an increase in memory performance by 12% in individuals who played three-dimensional video games as opposed to two-dimensional video games. Even doing something more simple such as using your non-dominant hand for activities like brushing your teeth or stirring your coffee demands more concentration, and as such, exercises your brain.
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