Neurogenesis or the growth of new brain cells has become a seemingly trending topic in the past few years – partly because I think, it just sounds healthy. Everyone is looking for some sort of hack/edge on the competition and growing new brain cells sounds pretty advantageous, right? The reality is that we don’t exactly know what the benefits of growing these new cells are, but generating new cells certainly sounds favorable over killing brain cells. Anyways, I’m not going to bore you to death with some long winded intro, below is a compilation of some interesting ways to grow new brain cells.
11 Ways to Grow New Brain Cells
Going for runs and aerobic activity in general has been linked to neurogenesis. Interestingly enough it is also a great way to reduce stress if done in moderation. Although it is most beneficial to run with other people (e.g. a group run) to maximize mood boosting affects, running alone will still help your brain give birth to some neurons. If you already run, your brain is probably in pretty good shape in regards to neurogenesis. Read more: “Psychological Benefits of Exercise on the Brain.”
Curcumin is found in the popular Indian spice Turmeric – part of the ginger family. It has been documented that curcuminoids have been shown to have brain boosting and cognition enhancing properties. Recently it has been shown that this substance now is linked to neurogenesis in animal models. In models of aging rats, supplementation with curcumin improved their memory and cell proliferation (birth of new neurons) in the dentate gyrate. Exact affects on humans aren’t well documented.
3. Sexual Experience
I think most people agree that sex is one of the best mood boosters and pleasurable activities of all. A study conducted by Leuner, Glasper, and Gould, discovered that sexual experience promotes adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus. If you are already having regular sex, your brain is likely growing some new neurons as a result. Although sex does produce an initial stress response, the final result is more neurons. Based on most studies, sex is a good thing for your brain.
Magic mushrooms. Funny thing is they have been linked to having a long lasting antidepressant affect too. Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos has conducted research supporting the claims that the (illegal) substance Psilocybin has been linked to the growth of new neurons. He and his research team also found that these shrooms were linked to a boost in overall cognition and mood. Further reading: Psilocybin for Depression.
5. Caloric Restriction
There is significant evidence linking caloric restriction in adult mice with the growth of new brain cells. In humans caloric restriction works a little bit differently, but in general it has been shown to increase lifespan and have healthy long term affects. Specifically it is linked to increased production of BDNF. Basically restricting your calories and not overeating produces somewhat of a stress response in the body. Following this stress response is the production of new neurons. Just because CR produces new neurons, does not mean it is physically healthy – keep this in mind if you were just about to starve yourself.
This is basically synthetic marijuana that scientists have found to be linked to the birth of new neurons. There aren’t any findings demonstrating that regular grade marijuana is linked to neurogenesis; keep this in mind. The study that was conducted in regards to cannabinoids was done at the University of Saskatchewan. Interestingly enough, they found that these cannabinoids also had an antidepressant-like effect on subjects.
7. Enrichment of Environment
Living in an enriched environment is beneficial to the development of the brain. Studies have been done comparing individuals that have grown up in an impoverished environment vs. those in an enriched one. The findings were able to clearly demonstrate that those growing up in the enriched environment were happier, healthier, and higher functioning than those in the impoverished one. According to findings, enriching the environment as much as possible can lead to the birth of new neurons.
8. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
It has been found that Omega-3 fatty acids can upregulate neurogenesis in adults. Omega 3’s are made up of two primary components: EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are both polyunsaturated fatty acids found in the body’s central nervous system. Supplementation has been linked to a whole heap of neuro-protective and cognitive benefits, in addition to the enhancement of neurogenesis. If you aren’t sure where to get these fatty acids, think fishy foods. Many people are turning to supplementation – I would personally recommend high grade Krill Oil if you are going the supplement route.
The reason antidepressants help some people has been thought to be by inhibiting the re-uptake of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin. I have been on basically the full heap of SSRIs on the market today and I feel like they killed more of my brain than anything. Anyways, when researchers looked at what affects these drugs were having on the brain, a discovery that they made was that SSRI’s like Prozac were generating new neurons in the hippocampal region. Interestingly enough though, neurogenesis isn’t necessarily linked to improvements in mood – you could be growing new brain cells and still feel depressed.
10. Green Tea
Green tea is known to contain a substance called “ECGC.” This substance has been confirmed to enhance neurogenesis in the brains of adult mice. Although there are no conclusive studies in humans regarding ECGC’s ability to promote growth of new cells, most evidence supports the fact that green tea has positive effects on mental performance. I would hypothesize that ECGC would be a catalyst to the growth of new cells in humans as well.
The blue coloring in blueberries is a result of the anthocyanin dye that they contain. This dye is what scientists have found to be directly linked to neurogenesis. This is a fruit that is well documented to have a lot of health benefits, and now you know that every time you snack on these, you’re growing some new neurons.
The above list is strictly for a reference and is not meant to be used as a guide to load your brain up with new neurons. Don’t think you should go for a run, eat mounds of blueberries, have some crazy sex, or do psilocybin in the next 5 hour period. You’ll probably wind up just looking like a total nut. Many of the studies involving neurogenesis were conducted using mice, but to make this article as accurate as possible, I tried including studies utilizing human subjects.
Is neurogenesis really that important?
At the moment, I’m not aware of any institute that is specifically honing in on neurogenesis as a primary research focus. As more studies are conducted and science advances, more breakthroughs in this area will come. I’m not sure if this is an area that should be an exclusive focus either, because as of now, there aren’t necessarily major cognitive benefits associated with growing new brain cells. What do you think? Should scientists directly focus on studying this trend in neuroscience? If so, why?