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DIY: How to Grow New Brain Cells 

Growing new brain cells may seem straight out of a science fiction novel, but current neuroscience research would beg to differ. The phenomena of growing new brain cells is known as neurogenesis in the scientific community. Until late 1998, neuroscientists believed that humans were born with a fixed number of neurons and that it was impossible to grow new ones as the brain continued to develop. Today, neural stem cell researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have approximated that the adult brain can produce up to 700 new neurons each day. Seven hundred may pale in comparison to the billions of neurons that are swimming around in the brain, but by the age of 50, the adult brain would have replaced each and every neuron it had started with at birth. The particular region of the brain where neurogenesis is most prominent is the hippocampal dentate gyrus. Memory retention, learning, spatial recognition, and mood are all regulated in the hippocampus. But why is neurogenesis so important and what role does it play during a human lifespan? 

The significance of a phenomena such as neurogenesis is that the human brain was designed to be a work in progress, and the most fascinating part is that a person has control of his or her own growth or deterioration of neurons for that matter. Research is also indicative that neurogenesis can be a critical component in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. As complex of a process neurogenesis may appear to be, there are simple steps that could be taken to enhance hippocampal neurogenesis.

Tip 1: Try Intermittent Fasting

Nutritionists have long been researching how calorie restrictions can not only promote longevity, but new findings also suggest it plays a part in bolstering neurogenesis. It is important to distinguish healthy calorie restrictions such as intermittent fasting to unhealthy restrictions like eating disorders. The recommendation in this case is a calorie reduction of 20-30%. Monitoring caloric intake by means of intermittent fasting can regulate enzymes which then become molecules which eventually synthesize to carbohydrates. Without carbohydrates humans would not have an effective metabolism and therefore would not have enough cellular respiration to fuel the generation of new neurons. Fasting intermittently is only one piece of the puzzle. Eating a nutrient-rich diet of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as flavonoids will stimulate myelin and aid neurogenesis. These ingredients can be found in foods like salmon, blueberries, oolong tea, turmeric spice, and flax seeds.

Tip 2: Sleep 

Science has well established both the physiological and psychological influence over one’s overall health. Not only can long-term sleep deprivation increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, but it can also have a role in hormonal dysfunction and the onset of neuropathological disorders similar to Dementia. Establishing consistent circadian rhythms and getting in those z’s at night is crucial to keeping the brain in its best shape. The average adult requires anywhere from 6-8 hours of rest per night, and anything less than that over an extended period of time can impair cognitive development and ergo decline neurogenesis. 

Sleepy girl in bed
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Tip 3: Aerobic Exercise 

Just as the lungs need oxygen to continue functioning, our neurons and oligodendrocytes need oxygen just as much. Running may come first to mind when aerobic exercise is mentioned; however, there are numerous aerobic activities that get the heart pumping and neurogenesis going. These can include swimming, hiking, skiing, cycling, or even something as simple as speed walking for thirty minutes. Without oxygen brain cells would have a hard time surviving let alone growing.  

Tip 4: Choose Wisely When Drinking Alcohol 

It is no question that alcohol can clearly alter cognition, perception, and most of all, dorsolateral prefrontal development. But what about its effect on neurogenesis? Oddly enough, a certain type of alcohol, specifically red wine, has been proven to promote hippocampal neurogenesis. This is because red wine is known to contain the ingredient resveratrol, which is responsible for the protection of the myelin sheath and layers of the epidermis. 

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