In honor of Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research, lets take a closer look at neurogenesis.
In her lab at King’s College London, neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret studies how new nerve cells are created in the adult brain through a process called neurogenesis. This phenomenon is unique to the hippocampal region of the brain, an area that is involved in memory and mood. Through her research, Thuret hopes to discover how we create new nerve cells throughout our lives, how food, activity and other factors affect this growth, and how diseases such as Alzheimer’s impact our brain’s ability to continue growing new cells.
The primary function of the hippocampus is to consolidate short-term memories into long-term memories, but it also plays an important role in spatial navigation, learning, mood and emotion. It is estimated that 700 new neurons develop in the hippocampus daily; by the time we are 50 years old, all of the neurons in our hippocampus will be completely new, replacing the ones we developed as children.
The creation of these new nerve cells is important for learning new memories, as well as the capacity and quality of memories. Neurogenesis has also been found to lower levels of depression. Antidepressants decrease symptoms of depression while increasing neurogenesis, proving a clear link between the two. This is likely a result of the hippocampus being closely tied to mood and emotions.
So the question to ask is: Can we control how many nerve cells our brain creates? We know from our Balanced Care Method™ that one-third of our healthy longevity is based on genetics and two-thirds on lifestyle factors within our control. Fortunately, the same concept can be applied to neurogenesis. Learning and physical activity increase neurogenesis, while stress and sleep deprivation decrease it.
The quality and quantity of what we eat, along with how often we eat and the food’s texture, can all impact the effectiveness of neurogenesis. Neurogenesis decreases with vitamin E, A or B deficiencies and the consumption of ethanol (alcohol), high saturated fats, or soft foods that don’t require much chewing. Alternatively, neurogenesis increases when the diet includes omega-3 fatty acids, blueberries, folic acid, zinc, flavonoids (compounds in dark chocolate), caffeine and resveratrol, a compound found in red wine. A calorie restriction of 20-30% or intermittent fasting can also boost neurogenesis.
Thuret hopes that studying neurogenesis will be used to prevent cognitive decline in the future. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage, often resulting in memory loss. By preventing the loss of new neurons, scientists may be able to delay or slow the progression of the disease.
Consider these tips to promote optimal brain health over the long-term:
- Stimulate your mind. Mentally engaging activities such as card games, Sudoku or reading help strengthen communication pathways in the brain. Consider making it a goal to challenge your brain with similar activities once a week for at least 20 minutes.
- Exercise your body. Physical activity stimulates the circulatory system, which promotes the removal of toxins and increases blood flow (carrying oxygen and nutrients) to the brain. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every other day.
- Eat a balanced diet. Fish, nuts, dark chocolate, blueberries and olive oil are considered brain super foods because they also promote heart health and blood flow to the brain.
- De-stress. Stress actually shuts down systems in your body including the part of the brain that allows you to learn. Sign up for a yoga class that meets once a week, or try meditating or praying in the comfort of your home to promote inner calm.
- Maintain social ties. Rich, meaningful relationships help reduce stress and depression, and sharpen cognitive abilities. Stay connected with friends and family, and consider joining a community group or club. Set aside one evening a week for a phone call or visit with loved ones.
- The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, which is an in-home activities program that promotes brain health, is another great brain-engaging option.
Generally, neurogenesis does decrease with age, but by being mindful of our diet, exercising, meditating and by regularly engaging our cognitive faculties, we can continue to promote optimal brain health. Our Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ promotes brain health through fun, engaging activities aimed at delaying the onset and slowing the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline.
Our caregivers at Home Care Assistance Prescott are available for daily and hourly care to help support your healthy lifestyle and care for your loved one’s needs. Home Care Assistance Prescott offers different levels of expert care and embraces the belief that aging adults can age in place and remain independent longer, giving you and your family peace of mind. Contact one of our local Client Care Managers at 1-928-771-0105 to see how our caregivers can help your loved one thrive.