Neurogenesis is how the brain renews and regenerates itself. New research indicates that the brain can not only repair itself but it can be done at any age.
This finding is great news as it may shed new light on how to not only slow down the aging of the brain but help in the aging of the whole person. Neurogenesis is associated with higher cognitive function, better and faster memory, emotional vitality and resilience, increased immune function, a buffer from stress and depression and enhancer of overall brain function.
With low rates of neurogenesis the brain ( specifaclly the hippocampus) shrinks. This increases the rate of memory loss, cognitive deficits, dementia, stress, depression and many other health problems.
The good news is there is plenty we can do to enhance neurogenesis and brain growth. The hippocampus is the key structure in the brain. It is centrally involved in all dimensions of human consciousness.
Neurotropins are chemical messengers that stimulate neurogenesis and neural growth. The most important one is BDNF ( brain derived neurotropic factor). It actually turns on the process.
What is is important to know is what turns it and and off !
The main down regulators: include chronic inflammation, chronic stress and inflammatory foods.
The main upregulators: healthy nutrition, exercise, restorative sleep and managing stress.
Foods and Nutrients that Stimulate Neurogenesis:
– Blueberries, omega 3 fats, curcumin, quercitin, green tea, grape seed extract, mulberry, vitamin E and 5-HTP.
Foods and Nutrients that Increase BDNF:
– Magnesium -L-threonate, Beta-alanine, Vitamin D, Alpha lipoid acid, ashawaghanda, milk thistle and cinnamon.
Neuro healthy Diet:
– Healthy fats that are anti-inflammatory, low glycemic, high fiber and antioxidant rich.
Healthy fats: monounsaturated ( olive and avocado ), saturated fats ( grass fed meat, pasture raised butter, eggs, yogurt and coconut oil) , unsaturated omega 3’s ( fish oil, flax oil, raw nuts)
Avoid Unhealthy Fats:
– trans fats (margarine and processsed foods), vegetable oils, conventional grain fed meats, eggs, dairy – which are higher in omega 6 fats and oxidize cholesterol which is the real culprit in atherosclerotic plaque and heart disease. Oxidized fatty acids and cholesterol also come from fried foods, burnt meat, over cooked eggs.
– Sugar and refined carbohydrates- which promote elevated glucose and insulin resistance are both real sources of inflammation. Also, when proteins and fats are exposed to high glucose levels they become glycated – creating AGE’s. AGE’s set off an inflammatory cascade that activate inflammatory genes which can damage the heart, brain and vascular systems.
Alzheimer’s is now being called Type 3 diabetes ( faulty glucose metabolism and insulin resistance). In addition it appears that brain shrinkage is also a component of this disease.
Cooking with most vegetable oils produces oxidized fats! Better options are butter and coconut oil.
BDNF – is also turned on by aerobic and interval training exercise. Low levels of BDNF has also been implicated with Alzheimer’s! So it would stand that exercise not only helps with neurogenesis but potentially slowing or preventing Alzheimer’s.
3. Restorative Sleep:
We need a full night’s sleep – ideally 7-8 hrs. Our health and well being is tied directly to our circadian rythms. Our body and brains repair themselves when we sleep – muscles and organs are repaired, memory consolidation occurs, immune system is strengthened, the brain cleans itself by removing waste and toxins (glymphatic system) and neurogenesis is elevated. Research indicates that brain health and function is directly impacted by our sleep.
4. Managing Stress
Stress comes in many forms. It can be emotional, physiological, social or environmental. Moreover it is how we handle and manage these stresses that determines how are brains are impacted. The brain is connected to the body in many ways and by many pathways. As such, what happens in one the other is affected. We are an integrated, fluid and complex system.
Poor sleep also impacts our stress hormones ( cortisol )
– Eat a Neuro healthy diet which means eating fresh vegetables, fruits ( low glycemic), fish, foods rich in omega 3’s like nuts, flax seeds , fiber, grass fed beef and dairy, healthy fats like coconut oil and avocados and anti inflammatory herbs and nutrients. In addition to curcumin, green tea, and blueberries try:
– Ginger, rosemary, basil , peppermint, oregano, tart cherry extract and black cumin seed oil.
– Exercise daily and add in interval training / cross training. Also walking and hiking in nature shows an interesting connection to brain growth.
– Reduce toxins ( GMO’s, metals, pesticides) and avoid alcohol which has been shown to reduce neurogenesis by 40%!
– Other key supplements include vitamin B 1, 5 , 9 and 12, zinc, vitamin A, and thiamine.
– Keep the brain stimulated by exploring new hobbies, new sports and try mind- building games. These all stimulate new brain growth by building new neural pathways.
– Research also indicates that both music and silence ( meditation) actually increases neurogenesis.