In one of the biggest neuroscience discoveries of the past 20 years, scientists recently revealed that our brain can generate around 700 newborn brain cells every day and especially at night throughout our entire life. What could this remarkable process called neurogenesis mean for you and your loved ones?
It turns out that the part of the brain associated with learning, memory, mood and emotions is the breeding ground for new brain cells. If the hippocampus can exchange the neurons we’re born with for new ones in adult life, there’s hope that it can be leveraged to:
- Help people recover from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Form the basis of innovative approaches to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
- Offer new insights into memory, learning, mental and emotional wellbeing.
In her recent TED talk, renowned neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret shared multiple benefits associated with adult neurogenesis. She advised that our neurogenesis rate decreases as we get older but there are ways that we can control it.
IMI’s Senior Naturopath and Founder Graeme Bradshaw shares easy-to-follow tips to boost your brain’s potential to grow and put the brakes on brain aging.
Feed your brain to give it a fighting chance
Munch on crunchy foods
Here’s an interesting fact for you to chew on: crunchy foods feed the brain whilst a soft-food diet starves the brain, according to Japanese studies. Chewing is believed to stimulate the brain, which explains why elderly people with fewer teeth are more likely to develop dementia and memory and learning dysfunction, So, don’t go all soft. Raw carrots. Celery sticks. Salads. Roasted nuts. Kale chips. Crispy chickpeas. These are just a handful of crunchies to add to your diet.
Lose calories with less carbs and intermittent fasting
Our brain depends on glucose, a form of sugar, as its primary source of energy. But excess sugar and glucose causes inflammation in the brain resulting in slowed cognitive function, and deficits in memory and attention. Neurogenesis slows or stops.
“In fact, Alzheimer’s is now being called Diabetes Type 3. We treat many people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease that has been accelerated by these diabetic type scenarios. Getting your brain back can involve a lower carb diet and a weight loss strategy, as body fat is also pro-inflammatory. What may surprise some people is that white potatoes, white bread, and crisps are high-glycemic foods – they are more sugary than sugar! High-glycemic foods stall neurogenesis.”
Intermittent fasting is an effective way to reduce overall calories. This would involve alternating cycles of fasting and eating and having alcohol-free days. Combined with a low GI diet (less refined carbohydrates and sugars), your brain will perform better for longer. A more extreme version is the Keto Diet, which can be done from time to time for a cognitive boost effect.
Of course, we are all different. What works for one person may not work for another. In fact, the wrong approach to weight loss can cause more harm than good. Our naturopaths put in place a personalised plan to help you lose calories and boost your brain, safely and effectively.
Fill up on flavonoids
Strawberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and, best of all, blueberries all contain flavonoid antioxidants that bolster your brain. Research indicates berries reduce inflammation throughout the body. They also increase plasticity that helps brain cells form new connections, promote learning and memory, and reduce or delay age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.
For an instant boost of flavonoids: blueberries. A bowl of blueberries before an examination, a presentation or a long day at work will help to supercharge your brainpower.
Dark chocolate also contains flavonoids. Cacao flavonoids are proven to encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in the hippocampus. But don’t reach for any type of dark chocolate. The chocolate content should be 80% and above and the sugar hit should be below 10 grams.
Reach for red wine (in moderation, of course!)
Dark chocolate AND red wine? That’s right. Red wine contains resveratrol – a powerful antioxidant that can protect cells in the hippocampus from damage and improve age-related mood and memory function. But moderation is key: more than two glasses of red wine prevents neurogenesis.
Other forms of alcohol accelerate brain ageing. In fact, four drinks of any alcohol kills brain cells.
Opt for Omega 3 fatty acids
Eating foods rich in Omega-3s like salmon, sardines, soybeans and other seeds are known to bolster brain health. Omega-3s help build membranes around brain cells to improve their structure. Researchers have found that people with high levels of Omega-3s have increased cognition and thinking abilities as well as better moods. Omega 3’s are neurogenic – you have more brain cells to help your cognitive performance.
Support your brainpower with supplements
Omega 3, zinc, Vitamin B12, folate, choline, B vitamins and vitamin D. These are the key well known foods for neurogenesis and are essential for healthy brain function. Often, when we measure vitamin B12 or zinc in older patients the levels are low. Simply correcting these deficiencies can cure so called “dementia”.
Low levels of Vitamin B12, B6, or folate can lead to elevated levels of a toxin in the blood called homocysteine, which contributes to degenerative brain disorders, researchers warn. Even mildly elevated homocysteine has significant effects. The next time you go for a blood test, have your homocysteine level measured. Ideally it should be around 6-7. A potent B complex can help you achieve this number. The average ‘normal’ levels are 12, which can increase heart disease and brain aging by around 300%!
B vitamins are recognised stress-reducers. Research indicates that office workers and executives on vitamin B perform more productively for longer and with better moods. Often B Vitamin deficiencies manifest as fatigue, low cognitive function and bad moods.
Necessary to release energy from our foods, the B vitamins – especially B1,B3 and B5 – feed the hungry brain. Graeme advises you look for a formula that has around 50mg of these B vitamins. It is also important to go for the most bio-active form available.
“An old-fashioned B-complex product will have folic acid and cyanocobalamine, whereas up-to-date formulas have folate (sometimes called 5-MTHF) and methylcobalamine for the B12. These improvements have made a huge different to the performance of the B vitamin complex,” says Graeme.
Lithium is also a neurogenic mineral, but it often gets a bad rap. It’s commonly overdosed to control manic depression and, at too high a dose, it causes a plethora of side effects. But micro-dosing of lithium preserves and protects brain growth. Research shows that areas with high levels of lithium in their water supply have measurably different brain outcomes especially for elderly people in populations lucky to be exposed to it.
Lead a balanced lifestyle
Stress, lack of sleep, recreational drugs, medication and toxins such as mercury and lead are all known to block neurogenesis and shrink the brain.
Exercise is a sure-fire way to boost the brain, according to a plethora of research. Your sleep habits should also be addressed to support neurogenesis. There are some great tools to measure your deep sleep – the Oura ring being one of them. Once you measure the problem, you can learn how to achieve higher levels every night. This helps neurogenesis – and more importantly, how well you feel and think the next day!