You Can Strengthen Memory and Form New Neurons

It's not only for the young
By Andrea Donsky
Andrea Donsky
Andrea Donsky
Andrea Donsky, who holds a bachelor of commerce, is an international TV health expert, best selling author, and founder of NaturallySavvy.com—a recipient of Healthline’s Best Healthy Living Blogs for 2019. This article was originally published on NaturallySavvy.com
November 16, 2016 Updated: December 8, 2016

Once upon a time, medical experts believed that the adult brain couldn’t make new brain cells, or more specifically, new nerve cells aka neurons. The process of manufacturing neurons, known as neurogenesis, seemed limited to the young.

Fortunately, we now know this is not the case. Although it’s true that neurogenesis surges during our early years of life and declines significantly as we age, new neurons do continue to be born.

In fact, the adult brain makes hundreds of new nerve cells every day, and they are being produced in an area of the brain that is intimately involved with memory, mood, learning, and emotion—the hippocampus. Therefore, it appears that we have a chance to help our memory as we get older—good news, indeed.

According to Jonas Frisen from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, the adult brain produces an estimated 700 new neurons daily in the hippocampus. Given that the human brain consists of billions of neurons, 700 new nerve cells doesn’t seem like much.

However, as Dr. Sandrine Thuret of Kings College London said during a TED talk, “By the time we turn 50, we will have all exchanged the neurons we were born with in that structure [hippocampus] with adult-born neurons.”

Since the adult brain has this ability to make new brain cells, two critical questions immediately come to mind:

  • Which of our activities or behaviors can disrupt neurogenesis?
  • How can we promote neurogenesis and thus help memory, learning, mood, and emotional health?

The answers to these two questions mostly involve lifestyle choices but include health issues as well. For example, Thuret explained how research has shown that depression is associated with lower production of neurons. However, treating depression with antidepressants can increase new nerve-cell production while contributing to a decline in depressive symptoms.

Similarly, cancer patients treated for their disease often report depression even after the cancer is cured, and that’s because the cancer treatment, including radiation, can have a significant negative effect on neurogenesis. Over time, however, new nerve cell production can begin again.

TOKYO, JAPAN:  An elderly Japanese lady, Miyoko Izumikawa (R), 69, learns the Internet stock trading from a young trainer during a free Internet and computer school for aged people in Tokyo,  (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
Continue to exercise your brain by learning new things (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

On a more practical level, Thuret offers some everyday lifestyle factors you can change or adopt that can facilitate the production of new brain cells and help with your memory.

Get Sufficient Sleep. Regularly sleeping seven to eight hours per night may support new brain-cell production, while too little may dampen neurogenesis.

Manage Stress. Unmanaged stress disrupts new nerve-cell production. Whether it’s deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, progressive relaxation, or another healthy stress-reducer, practice it regularly.

Keep Learning. Continue to exercise your brain by learning new things, whether it’s via hobbies, taking classes, learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, or the like. It all stimulates neuron production.

Enjoy Aerobic Exercise. Thuret used running as an example of exercise that’s been shown to promote neurogenesis, but any aerobic exercise will likely be beneficial.

Restrict Calorie Intake. It’s been shown that reducing caloric intake by 20 to 30 percent boosts new nerve-cell production. A 2013 review of the impact of calorie restriction on neurogenesis noted that “calorie restriction is the only non-genetic intervention that reliably increases life span and healthspan across multiple organisms.” It’s important to avoid malnutrition when reducing calories, however.

Try Intermittent Fasting. There are several approaches to intermittent fasting and a number of studies that have looked at various approaches. One method is to fast every other day, which is likely too severe for many people. Another is to fast one day per week or every 10 days.

Yet another method is to eat a normal number of calories on some days, and then on fasting days, reduce caloric intake significantly to about 500 to 600 calories. Intermittent fasting can go hand-in-hand with calorie restriction, although experts tend to believe the fasting approach is better for neurogenesis.

Focus on ‘Brainy’ Foods. Eating foods high in flavonoids (like blueberries and dark chocolate) and omega-3 fatty acids (for example, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna) promotes neurogenesis, while a diet rich in saturated fat or one that includes alcohol will decrease the production of new cells.

One exception in the latter category is red wine, which contains resveratrol and may be considered a “neurogenesis-neutral” drink by Thuret. Practice moderation, of course.

Choose to Chew. Japanese research has suggested foods that require chewing, such as crunchy foods, support neurogenesis, while following a diet of mostly soft foods can interfere with it.

It’s entirely possible to continue producing new brain cells as we get older. If you make some lifestyle modifications, you can effectively battle aging and memory loss and improve your quality of life.

This article was originally published on NaturallySavvy.com

Andrea Donsky, who holds a bachelor of commerce, is an international TV health expert, best selling author, and founder of NaturallySavvy.com—a recipient of Healthline’s Best Healthy Living Blogs for 2019. This article was originally published on NaturallySavvy.com