Growing New Brain Cells

hippo1In the 1970s, a young scientist named Michael Kaplan discovered neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons) in the brains of rats. Until then, it was believed that humans were born with all of the neurons they would ever have.

Kaplan’s work was met with enormous resistance, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that scientists accepted the idea of neurogenesis in mammalian brains when they discovered newborn neurons not just in the brains of rats but in the brains of people as well.

One of the key areas of the brain where neurogenesis occurs is the hippocampus, a pair of thumb-sized structures deep in the center of the human brain that are critical for our ability to learn and remember. Recent studies have shown that there are 700 new brain cells in the hippocampus every day. But most of these newborn neurons will not survive without a great deal of support.

The good news is that research shows that humans have the capacity to grow new neurons above and beyond what is generally produced in our hippocampus and make them become mature and strong within weeks and months.

Some things that help us grow new neurons:

Exercise—Numerous studies have shown that exercise is one of the best ways to generate new hippocampal neurons. People who exercise regularly and are physically fit have a much bigger hippocampus. The more you walk, the bigger your hippocampus will get and the less would be your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. One study showed that walking one mile a day lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 48 percent.

Eating a Mediterranean diet—Consuming foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, olive oil, nuts) can help mature and nourish hippocampal neurons. Higher blood levels of these important fatty acids, which are the building blocks of neurons, is associated with larger hippocampus size, better memory, and a much lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress reduction and meditation–Stress, anxiety and untreated depression have been associated with a smaller size hippocampus and a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future. In one recent study, people who’d never meditated before showed a thickening in the left hippocampus after participating in an eight-week mindfulness- based stress reduction program.

Learning–Challenging your brain by learning new facts, or a new language, is yet another way to grow the hippocampus. Even in our eighties, we will still grow new neurons but to harness their potential we need to keep challenging ourselves.

[Source: “Can you grow your hippocampus? Yes. Here’s how, and why it matters,” by Dr. Majid Fotuhi,
Sharp Brains, Nov 4, 2015]

Optiminds brain fitness programs are designed for people of all ages. They take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells, plus improving cognitive and concentration power. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at: optimindsct.com.

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