It has been known that adult brain does not produce new nerve cells. But this is not true. What factors affect new nerve cells production, why is it important for us and how can we improve our brain’s efficacy – read in our article below.
How do nerve cells renew?
Until the 1960s it has been believed that a man is born with a fully formed brain, and there are no new neurones appearing during the human’s life. However, in 1962, American scientists discovered that a rat’s brain can produce new neurones. Further research in 1968 proved that a human brain has the same ability as well.
A German neurobiologist Dr Harald Hutter discovered that nerve cells grow from its precursor cells as a part of the process called “neurogenesis”.
No matter how old a man is – the neurogenesis occurs both in a 20-year-old and 80-year-old human brain. It just goes faster in a younger man’s brain.
Neurones are being produced both in a hippocampus, which is a special brain zone responsible for human’s abilities to learn, express emotions, and memorise, and in a subventricular zone, which resides around the brain’s ventricles.
Dr Jonas Frizen from the Karolinska Institute has estimated that we produce 700 new neurones in the hippocampus per day. The newborn neurones then migrate to other parts of the brain where they incorporate into neural circuits.
So, by the time a man turns 50, all neurones he was born with will be exchanged to the new adult-born neurones.
Why is it important for us?
We know that the new neurones are important for learning and memory. And if we block the ability of the adult brain to produce new neurones in the hippocampus, then we block certain memory abilities like spatial recognition – we use it e.g. to navigate our way in the city.
Neurones are also in charge for memorising not only facts but also their timeline helping us distinguish between similar memories by the time they happened.
A slowdown in the neurogenesis may lead to depression, attention decrease, and mental disorders.
Therefore, if we want to have a good memory and good mood, and to alleviate aging-related problems, it is important to support the nerve cells renewal process – in our brain.
This process takes place during the whole life, and we can both speed it up and slow it down.
Which factors slow the neurogenesis down?
- Cancer therapies (ray based and chemotherapy), which affects cell reproduction. It takes time to restore the process of neurogenesis after such treatment.
- Severe stress, depression, and negative emotions also decrease the production of new neurones.
- Sleep deficit – a good sleep is very important for our health – please ensure you get enough sleep.
- Ageing – the neurogenesis in a hippocampus is known to slow down for elder people, and this is the reason for a decline in their ability to memorise.
- Alcohol – it slows down neurogenesis…all but the red wine. It contains resveratrol – a natural chemical substance, which affects the neurogenesis positively. So you can always have a glass of Pinot noir to benefit your mental health.
- Saturated fat-rich food – food containing a high dose of harmful saturated fat includes meat and dairy products, eggs, chocolate, and oil – both butter and vegetable (palm, coconut oil etc.).
- Any soft food, which does not require chewing or is not crunchy, slows neurogenesis – this is a discovery made by Japanese scientists.
What speeds up the renewal of neurones?
The more you train your brain, the better your neurogenesis is. And this is why it is important not to stop learning new things during all your life. A new foreign language? Playing guitar? Develop any new skills you want to.
- Good nutrition
Scientists think that influence of diet on mood and health is about the same positive role of the healthy food in a neurogenesis process.Calorie restriction of 20 to 30 percent, no meal days and intermittent fasting – spacing the time between your meals – will increase the neurogenesis.
Omega-3 fatty acids both facilitate the neurogenesis and decrease depression. You may find Omega-3 fats in fatty fish, e.g. salmon or consider taking Omega-3 pills as a food supplement.
Flavonoid-rich foods– green tea, cacao, apricots, peaches, strawberry, blueberry, and pomegranate are also good for your health and neurogenesis. Flavonoids are also known as a “Vitamin P”, which you can also consider taking.
- Physical activity
Nothing new here – the more you exercise, the better your brain works. Jogging or running, fitness, dancing classes, and sex – any activity, which stimulates blood provision of the brain is great.
- Good mood and positive thinking
If you suffer from depression, taking antidepressants increases the neurogenesis too. Funny, but taking cannabinoids does this as well.
- Socialising with friends and relatives
This is evident – the stronger your social ties are, the easier it’s for you to fight stress, bad mood, and any life problems you may have, and to regenerate your nerve cells.
How to slow down ageing and improve your brain function?
To sum it up, all copybook maxims you already know will help you stay healthy and productive.
Have healthy and good-quality food, sleep enough, make friends, move more, and don’t forget about sex – your neurones will renew faster then, which means you will maintain better memory, attention, and mood.