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Learn how to stimulate the growth of new brain cells regardless of your age.

How To Grow New Brain Cells (At Any Age)

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How To Grow New Brain Cells (At Any Age)

It was long believed that brain growth could not occur later in life, due to expending our innate stock of pluripotent stem cells. However, this was mostly based on rodent studies.

Rodent studies are often used for brain research, because it’s difficult to find human volunteers willing to have their brains sliced thinly (so that the cells can be viewed under a microscope) at the end of the study.

However, neurobiologist Dr. Maura Boldrini led a team that did a lot of research by means of autopsies on the hippocampi of (previously) healthy individuals ranging in age from 14 to 79.

What she found is that while indeed the younger subjects did predictably have more young brain cells (neural progenitors and immature neurons), even the oldest subject, at the age of 79, had been producing new brain cells up until death.

Read her landmark study: Human Hippocampal Neurogenesis Persists throughout Aging

There was briefly a flurry of news articles about a study by Dr. Shawn Sorrels that refuted this, however, it later came to light that Dr. Sorrels had accidentally destroyed his own evidence during the cell-fixing process—these things happen; it’s just unfortunate the mistake was not picked up until after publication.

A later study by a Dr. Elena Moreno-Jiménez fixed this flaw by using a shorter fixation time for the cell samples they wanted to look at, and found that there were tens of thousands of newly-made brain cells in samples from adults ranging from 43 to 87.

Now, there was still a difference: the samples from the youngest adult had 30% more newly-made braincells than the 87-year-old, but given that previous science thought brain cell generation stopped in childhood, the fact that an 87-year-old was generating new brain cells 30% less quickly than a 43-year-old is hardly much of a criticism!

As an aside: samples from patients with Alzheimer’s also had a 30% reduction in new braincell generation, compared to samples from patients of the same age without Alzheimer’s. But again… Even patients with Alzheimer’s were still growing some new brain cells.

Read it for yourself: Adult hippocampal neurogenesis is abundant in neurologically healthy subjects and drops sharply in patients with Alzheimer’s disease

Practical advice based on this information

Since we can do neurogenesis at any age, but the rate does drop with age (and drops sharply in the case of Alzheimer’s disease), we need to:

Feed your brain. The brain is the most calorie-consuming organ we have, by far, and it’s also made mostly of fat* and water. So, get plenty of healthy fats, and get plenty of water.

*Fun fact: while depictions in fiction (and/or chemically preserved brains) may lead many to believe the brain has a rubbery consistency, the untreated brain being made of mostly fat and water gives it more of a blancmange-like consistency in reality. That thing is delicate and spatters easily. There’s a reason it’s kept cushioned inside the strongest structure of our body, far more protected than anything in our torso.

Exercise. Specifically, exercise that gets your blood pumping. This (as our earlier-featured video today referenced) is one of the biggest things we can do to boost Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF.

Here be science: Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Depression, and Physical Activity: Making the Neuroplastic Connection

However, that’s not the only way to increase BDNF; another is to enjoy a diet rich in polyphenols. These can be found in, for example, berries, tea, coffee, and chocolate. Technically those last two are also botanically berries, but given how we usually consume them, and given how rich they are in polyphenols, they merit a special mention.

See for example: Effects of nutritional interventions on BDNF concentrations in humans: a systematic review

Some supplements can help neuron (re)growth too, so if you haven’t already, you might want to check out our previous main feature on lion’s mane mushroom, a supplement which does exactly that.

For those who like videos, you may also enjoy this TED talk by neuroscientist Dr. Sandrine Thuret:


Prefer text? Click here to read the transcript

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