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11 Proven Ways To Generate More Brain Cells, Improve Memory, and Boost Mood

By Dennis Buckley

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Neurogenesis is a relatively new term, but it’s pretty self-explanatory: it describes the creation (genesis) of new neurons, or the brain’s ability to generate new cells. Neurogenesis is a vital function for our mental health and it helps us retain our cognitive ability as we grow older.

For most of scientific history, we believed that brain cells could not be regenerated or created. Under that view, people who had damaged their brains with things like drugs and alcohol were unable to repair them to their prior state. We now know this isn’t true - the human brain has been shown to regenerate at least 700 neurons a day in the hippocampus alone.

What Can Neurogenesis Do?

As you can imagine, neurogenesis has remarkable potential. The fact that our brains can grow new cells suggests that we can repair cognitive damage that has been done through months or years of abuse.

We can also improve our mental health and cognitive processing by enhancing the rate at which we create neurons.

Here are a few critical benefits of increasing neurogenesis.

Improved memory

Memory is one of the basic functions of intelligence. As humans, if we want to remember, we need to be capable of building connections between neurons. If you imagine each memory as a node in our mind, and the number of neurons relational to the number of possible connections or paths we could take to get to that memory, it's easy to see how having more neurons could lead to enhanced memory recall. [1]

Not only that, but neurogenesis allows us to better store memories. Think of that like adding extra space to a computer's hard drive. The more gigabytes, the better - just like with humans, the more neurons, the better (to an extent).

Mood stability

Damaged neurons can negatively impact our mental health and lead to emotional problems like apathy or personality disorders.

Sometimes, these problems can be remedied by restoring function to the damaged areas of the brain by promoting neurogenesis.

Repairing damage from substance abuse

One of the most common schools of thought regarding drug users and ex-addicts was that the damage they have done to their brains is irreversible. 

Now, research is showing that recovering addicts and others are having success fixing damage done to their brains with neurogenesis. [2] Some report success with correcting emotional problems, others report cognitive deficits disappearing.

11 Neuroscience-Proven Ways to Grow More Brain Cells

The 700 neurons our brain creates in a day might not seem like much, and relatively speaking, it’s not. However, there are some things that you can do to speed up your brain’s ability to produce new brain cells.

1. Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is the best time for the body to heal and repair itself, right? It makes sense that it's the best time for your brain to repair itself, too.

Your brain might be occupied with projecting vivid dream images throughout your REM sleep phase, but it’s still focused enough to repair, build, and restructure neurons while you're sleeping. [3]

2. Reduce stress

It is well known that a stressful life can impede longevity. It turns out that stress actually prevents your brain from growing new cells, too.

This study looked at the relationship between neurogenesis and stress in rats. [4] Rats that were subjective to restraint stress over 4 weeks showed decrease in the mass of the hippocampus more significant than that of inhibited neurogenesis. This suggests that the impact of stress can prevent significant levels of neurogenesis.

BONUS: Low serotonin is a major contributor to chronic stress. Take this free quiz to find out if you're at risk.

3. Put down the booze (and drugs)

Ethanol - more commonly known as alcohol - is a seriously problematic substance for people trying to maintain good mental health. Not only is it toxic to our bodies, but it prevents the formation of new memories, the development of new connections in our neural network, and hinders the growth of new neurons. [5]

4. Have sex

That's right - yet another important benefit that stems from having sex. Sex helps to stimulate our natural production of endorphins - feel-good hormones that help to regulate our perception of pleasure, mood, and comfort.

Keeping your endorphin production in top shape helps to keep your brain working at its optimum level. [6] This helps by allowing it to focus more on producing new brain cells.

5. Eat your flavonols

Flavonols are a subgroup of antioxidants that are found in a lot of fresh foods, particularly bright, colourful fruits and vegetables like blueberries. Flavonols are also found in a remarkably high concentration in dark chocolate.

Flavonols, and other antioxidants, help protect the brain and body from oxidative damage [7] Oxidative damage is largely responsible for causing cognitive decline as we age, so putting a stop to it while you're young makes it easier for you to make good use of the neurons you have.

6. Eat your omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids play a huge role in cognitive function in general, so it’s no surprise that they’re important for improving neurogenesis.

This study points out a potential link between omega-3 deficiency and depression and other mood disorders, and continues to draw a conclusion that sufficient consumption of omega-3s improved neurogenesis and improved symptoms of depression and mental health problems. [8]

7. Get your resveratrol

Resveratrol has already been positively studied for its effects as an antioxidant and a tumor-fighting agent. Recently researchers have combed over studies done on resveratrol to find out its effects on neurogenesis. [9]

Resveratrol supplementation continually provided improvement to subjects’ brain function. This improvement seemed to be related to the substance's ability to regulate neuroplasticity in the hippocampus. Here, a particular function occurs in adults known as adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN).

Through its action in the AHN process, resveratrol is able to mitigate the negative symptoms of many cognitive deficits and mental health problems.

8. Cut your calories

Who would have thought that counting calories would have an impact on your brain comparable to the effect it has on fat loss? The way through which caloric restriction impacts neurogenesis is a bit complicated, but certainly effective.

A decrease in calories caused a relative increase in the neurogenic hormones in the hippocampus, which in turn, improved the number of newborn neurons thanks to the neurogenic transcription factor. [10]

Rats studied during this process also showed higher scores for contextual memory, solidifying the idea that neurogenesis enhances memory.

9. Eat less saturated fat

Eating a high fat ketogenic diet can have tremendous cognitive benefits, but in the context of the average Western diet, It may hinder your ability to think.

A study done on the effects of high-fat diets in neurogenesis in rats has shown that those fed a high-fat diet had a reduced instance of neural growth in the DG. [11] Seven weeks of a high-fat diet was enough to cause significant decreases in the amount of newly generated cells.

A diet high in saturated fats also increases the concentration of malondialdehyde (MDA) which is a compound that is toxic to neural progenitor cells. These cells are necessary for the formation of new neurons.

10. Try intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting often goes hand-in-hand with caloric restriction, but it has its own benefits as well. Intermittent fasting just involves spacing out your meals a lot.

One particular study explored the effects of intermittent fasting, which is already known to be neuroprotective, on neurogenesis in rats. [12] The study measured cellular proliferation, death, and neurogenesis after cerebral artery occlusion or sham surgery. The two groups of subjects were either fed at regular intervals or made to maintain a schedule of intermittent fasting.

Rats that intermittently fasted showed a 30% increase in the proliferation of cells in the hippocampus. Mice fed regular diets also displayed twice as many dying cells after induced strokes compared to those who intermittently fasted.

11. Keep on learning

Learning new things benefits your brain in a manner similar to a snowball effect. By learning something new, you force your brain to create a new connection by relating the new knowledge to something that you know already. This is a mental process known as assimilation. I you visualize it, you can imagine each new connection as a new thread in a spider’s web.

Knowing that, you can see why it’s important to continue learning new things. New knowledge strengthens the network of connections between neurons and makes it easier for them to communicate, stimulating growth and making it easier to use the brain cells that are already functioning. [13]

In conclusion

Recent years have completely flipped our understanding of the human brain around. New research has suggested that neurogenesis - the creation of new brain cells - not only occurs, naturally, but can be enhanced by making healthy lifestyle choices.

Where we once thought that brain damage caused by neural death was permanent, we now realize the potential of neurogenesis for repairing this damage. The implications of this are huge, and we can expect medical science to continue making fantastic developments in this regard.

References: 

1. Deng, W., Aimone, J. B., & Gage, F. H. (2010). New neurons and new memories: how does adult hippocampal neurogenesis affect learning and memory?. Nature Reviews Neuroscience11(5), 339-350.

2. Sun, D. (2014). The potential of endogenous neurogenesis for brain repair and regeneration following traumatic brain injury. Neural regeneration research9(7), 688.

3.Meerlo, P., Mistlberger, R. E., Jacobs, B. L., Heller, H. C., & McGinty, D. (2009). New neurons in the adult brain: the role of sleep and consequences of sleep loss. Sleep medicine reviews13(3), 187-194.

4. Schoenfeld, T. J., McCausland, H. C., Morris, H. D., Padmanaban, V., & Cameron, H. A. (2017). Stress and loss of adult neurogenesis differentially reduce hippocampal volume. Biological Psychiatry.

5. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm

6. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/18/how-physical-exercise-makes-your-brain-work-better

7.Uttara, B., Singh, A. V., Zamboni, P., & Mahajan, R. T. (2009). Oxidative stress and neurodegenerative diseases: a review of upstream and downstream antioxidant therapeutic options. Current neuropharmacology7(1), 65-74.

8.Kang, J. X., & Gleason, E. D. (2013). Omega-3 Fatty acids and hippocampal neurogenesis in depression. CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders)12(4), 460-465.

9.Dias, G. P., Cocks, G., do Nascimento Bevilaqua, M. C., Nardi, A. E., & Thuret, S. (2016). Resveratrol: A potential hippocampal plasticity enhancer. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity2016.

10.Hornsby, A. K., Redhead, Y. T., Rees, D. J., Ratcliff, M. S., Reichenbach, A., Wells, T., ... & Davies, J. S. (2016). Short-term calorie restriction enhances adult hippocampal neurogenesis and remote fear memory in a Ghsr-dependent manner. Psychoneuroendocrinology63, 198-207.

11.Park, H. R., Park, M., Choi, J., Park, K. Y., Chung, H. Y., & Lee, J. (2010). A high-fat diet impairs neurogenesis: involvement of lipid peroxidation and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Neuroscience letters482(3), 235-239.

12.Manzanero, S., Erion, J. R., Santro, T., Steyn, F. J., Chen, C., Arumugam, T. V., & Stranahan, A. M. (2014). Intermittent fasting attenuates increases in neurogenesis after ischemia and reperfusion and improves recovery. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism34(5), 897-905.

13. http://news.mit.edu/2015/brain-strengthen-connections-between-neurons-1118

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