For those of you over the age of 25, have no fear when it comes to improving your brain: Evidence shows that neurogenesis, or the brain’s production of new neurons, continues well into adulthood. In a recent TED talk, neuroscientist Dr. Sandrine Thuret of King’s College London discusses how neurogenesis works — and how you can increase your own brain cells as you age.
While researchers are still learning about it, they do know that one of the brain regions that sees the rebirth and regeneration of neuron cells is the hippocampus, the grey structure in the center of the brain that’s associated with learning, memory, mood, and emotion. Thuret explains that neurons are important for learning and memory. If we block the ability of the adult brain to make new neurons in the hippocampus, then we block certain memory abilities — especially when it comes to special recognition as well as the quality of our memories.
But perhaps most interesting is Thuret’s research that involves the relationship of neurogenesis to depression and mental health. Research has shown that depressed patients have lower levels of newly generated neurons, while antidepressants increased their production. As a result, the ability of the brain to produce new neurons may be a protective feature against depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. This leaves us with is plenty of choices — and opportunities to boost our own neurogenesis, Thuret explains.
“Now we think we have enough evidence to say that neurogenesis is a target of choice if we want to improve memory formation, or mood, or even prevent the decline associated with aging or associated with stress,” she said in the video. “The next question is, can we control neurogenesis? The answer is yes.”
Shes goes on to explain that some of the ways to increase neurogenesis include learning new things, sex, and running (or any type of aerobic activity/movement). What you eat also has an impact on new neurons — specifically flavonoids (blueberries, dark chocolate) and omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon and other types of fish. The way you eat, when you eat, and the texture of what you eat all also play a role in how much your brain produces new neurons.
The things that decrease neurogenesis, meanwhile, include stress, sleep deprivation, alcohol, and a diet high in saturated fats and other unhealthy compounds.
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