Do you think that after a certain age we stop producing new cell brains?
Recent studies reveal that we continue growing brain cells during our entire lives. According to the neuroscientist, Sandrine Thuret, neurogenesis–the process in which new cells are generated in the brain, especially in the hippocampus–continues during adult life. In fact, it generates around seven hundred new neurons each day.
Thuret and her colleagues carried out a lab experiment when noticing that some patients were showing signs of depression after having undergone cancer treatments. The findings are especially interesting because the hippocampus is the area of the brain closely linked to learning, memory, and emotions. And the recent results “could help hunt for treatment for degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and psychiatric problems.”
During the experiment, the group of neuroscientists also examined the consequences of blocking the generation of new neurons, and they realized that they were also blocking the efficacy of antidepressants. This led them to believe that the signs of depression in patients cured of cancer were there because the cancer drug had stopped the new neurons from being generated.
This fascinating study shows the possibilities of neurogenesis in curing specific mental illnesses and improving our memory and learning potential. The following four behaviors and activities are recognized by this group of neuroscientists to help increase neurogenesis:
1. Learning and Staying Curious
Cognitive stimulation increases the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus. It is important to keep the mind engaged and you can do so through the following:
- Learning new skills or languages
- Interacting with other people
- Trying new things
- Stepping outside of our comfort zones.
2. Running and Other Endurance Exercises
Recent discoveries show that “exercise stimulates the production of a protein called FNDC5 that is released into the bloodstream while we’re breaking a sweat.”
What’s more, “over time, FNDC5 stimulates the production of another protein in the brain called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which in turns stimulates the growth of new nerves and synapses – the connection points between nerves – and also preserves the survival of existing brain cells.”
3. Less Stressful Lifestyles and More Regular Sex
Sleep deprivation and stress decrease the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus.
To help the stimulation of neurogenesis, it is essential to avoid a stressful lifestyle and practice regular sex. These two are actually connected because as many studies have found that when having sex, our brain gets a number of hormones including oxytocin (the bonding hormone), dopamine (the feel-good hormone) and serotonin (the serenity hormone).
Our brain shares these feelings with the rest of the body and acts as a powerful mood-enhancer, increasing our sense of relaxing and freeing ourselves from stress.
4. Foods for Neurogenesis
According to neuroscientists, diet, certain foods, and the intake of flavonoids and Omega-3 fatty acids also increase neurogenesis. You can find flavonoids in sources such as dark chocolate, blueberries, and red wine (among others). Omega-3 fatty acids are present in some oily fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines, and herring.
Science shows that eating habits also influence neurogenesis. Reducing your caloric intake by 20-30% and practicing intermittent fasting helps generate new brain cells in the hippocampus.
According to further studies conducted in Japan, food textures can also make a difference. A diet of soft foods impairs neurogenesis, as opposed to food that requires chewing or crunchy food items. These findings could be particularly significant in regards to the aging population. Elderly people can show a decline in cognitive abilities because the weakening of teeth sometimes limits the chewing ability.
Overall, it is all good news. Our brain continues generating neurons during adult life. And, to a certain extent, we can boost the neurogenesis process through more relaxing lifestyles, and active minds and bodies. These and other small modifications of our diet benefit the production of brain cells, improving our memory, mood, and mental health.