Can We Make New Brain Cells As An Adult?
The human brain is known to develop from conception until about the age of 21 years. During childhood, it goes through critical growth spurts and new neurons develop at a rapid pace. From our teenage years through our young adult years the most important region of development is the prefrontal cortex which modulates our impulse control, our abstract decision making processes, our behaviors, and our ability to read and understand social cues which can greatly influence how we interact with others. It has long been thought that we lose the ability for continued brain development with the formation of new brain cells, or neurons, and that, perhaps, we can only improve upon the connections between the ones we already have.
For some context, there are over 100 billion neurons in a mature brain. Each neuron can make connections with greater than 1000 neurons. The adult brain has approximately 60 trillion neuronal connections. Now, neurons do not necessarily self-renew as they are particularly vulnerable to bioenergetic fluctuations so they do not divide. But they do retain some ability to be repaired when in an optimal milieu.
But neurogenesis can and does persist into adulthood. Neurogenesis is the process by which neuro-progenitor cells, or neural stem cells (NSCs), differentiate into mature neurons and play an important role not only in neural plasticity but also in the repair and replacement of cells that are damaged by the normal aging process and in pathologic neurodegenerative disease. The differentiation processes begins when NSCs are triggered by signals sent by damaged cells and other cellular mediators that are found in high stress and disease states.
In adults, NSCs reside mostly in discrete areas of the brain – namely, the subventricular zone (SVZ) and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus which is why disruption of adult neurogenesis can lead to cognitive dysfunction as the hippocampus plays an essential role in our memory and recall. Indeed, active adult neurogenesis has been shown to be very much associated with higher cognitive function as we age.
The production of new neurons in these distinct regions of the brain allows them to be integrated into existing circuitries and is critical for the plasticity of the adult brain. This further promotes cellular and molecular remodeling in response to one’s interaction with their daily environment – be it at home, at work, or in social gathering. Importantly, neurogenesis is a multi-step process and very energy dependent and rely heavily on optimal functioning of the mitochondria.
So we have the ability of creating new brain cells as we age presuming we maintain optimal environment for favorable neurogenesis, a very metabolically active process with high energy demand.
Studies have demonstrated detrimental effects of diets high in fat and high in refined sugars on adult neurogenesis and neuroplasticity as they promote oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, a very poor environment for continued neurogenesis. Carotenoids, vitamins, polyphenols, fatty acids, and flavonoids, on the other hand, can play a crucial role in supporting the thousands of enzymatic reactions that are required for effective and functional neurogenesis.
To obtain the compounds necessary for continued neurogenesis and plasticity, please try to incorporate the following recommendations:
1. Eliminate saturated fat in your diet
2. Eliminate refined sugars in your diet
3. Include Vitamins E, C, B12, B2, and B9 in your diet
4. Eat a diet rich in dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, grapes, and berries
5. Eat a diet rich in poly-unsaturated fatty acids that are found in walnuts, Brazil nuts, flaxseed, and chia seed
6. Daily dose of grapeseed and holy basil extracts
7. Start each day with a morning juice of turmeric and ginger roots
8. Have a smoothie with berries, greens, banana, and Lion’s mane powder
9. A piece of dark chocolate each day
10. Practice intermittent fasting
11. Meditate daily
12. Exercise each day for 30 minutes
13. Sleep! Restorative sleep is critical for brain health.
If you are able to do the above at least most of your days, you are well on your way of allowing the brain to do what it wants to do best, maintain healthy neurons and healthy connections between the neurons for better cognitive protection.