Neurogenesis is an ever evolving new field of science in the quest to unlocking the deepest secrets of that electromagnetic mystery; the little lump of grey-matter that dictates our whole reality, our brain. Neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret, asks the question in a new Ted Talk, “Can we as adults grow new brain cells?”
According to her, yes, we can.
Decrease in neurons can cause depression
She notes that the decrease of new neurons can have a negative effect our our moods. A colleague Oncologist of hers observed that when his patients were cured of cancer that they still suffered from depression, even though the cancer was gone. What he found was that the cancer drugs given to his patients actually stopped neuronal growth, which caused the depression.
We can grow at least 700 per day
The hippocampus, which is located in the center of our brains, and is important for learning and memory, also mood and emotion is the part of our brain that is responsible for the nearly 700 new neurons we can grow a day.
You might think that 700 neurons a day isn’t significant, but it is estimated by the time that we turn fifty, we will have exchanged the brain cells we had at birth with entirely new adult neurons, every single one.
And you can control all of it
What is most interesting is that scientists have found neurogenesis is also a choice, we can control the speed at which new neurons can be formed. We can improve our memory, moods, and ability to learn information, and here are some things you can do to increase your own neuronal growth rate.
The top three affectors
The top three things that have the most positive effect on increasing new neurons is, drum-roll please;
Learning, sex and aerobic activity.
When lab mice were examined in one of the first studies to link neurogenesis with aerobics by Rusty Gage of the Salk Institute, it was found that the control mice, the ones with no running wheels in their cage had much fewer new neurons than the mice that had running wheels. Keeping our minds active, and taking on activities like music, will have a positive effect. An active sex life as well is key to remaining at our neuronal peak.
It all slows as you grow older
Sleep deprivation, stress, and alcohol will decrease our neural growth rate. Also, as we get older neurongenesis will decrease, but we will still produce new cells, however, at a slower growth rate. Diet has also been found to have a significant effect on increasing the production of new cells.
How diet affects you
Specifically, Calorie restriction of 20 to 30 percent will increase neurogenesis, intermittent fasting (spacing the time between meals), intake of flavonoids: like dark chocolate and blueberries, and even eating soft foods as opposed to food we have to chew will increase our neurogenesis as well. Diets in high saturated fats will have a negative effect, and also ethanol and consuming alcohol will decrease neurogenesis. However, red wine used in moderation will promote the survival and growth of new cells.
Science ain’t done yet, folks
Scientists are looking how to understand better the function of these new neurons, and how we can control the survival and continuing production of our neuronal health. Neurogenesis will in time find the answers to these questions, and help us in discovering a better quality of life for you and I. Please watch the Ted Talk for a more comprehensive explanation.