What are the physical causes of mood disturbances and memory loss? What happens in the brain that alters its healthy functioning and leaves you feeling bad?
In a TED talk, neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret gives us one big answer to these questions.
You’ve probably heard of the role of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, in regulating mood. Some antidepressant medications target these neurotransmitters.
But there’s another very important process that happens in your brain that is crucial for good mood and youthful memory, according to Sandrine Thuret: neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis is the building of new brain cells (neurons). Decades ago, it was thought that our brains couldn’t create new cells, that we were set for life.
Now we know that our brains are continuously rebuilding themselves, adapting to our needs and the tasks we need to complete, and giving birth to new neurons.
Thuret says that neural stem cells give birth to around 700 new neurons every day of your life.
If there are not enough new neurons being birthed, the consequence could be depression and reduced memory.
So Why is Neurogenesis Reduced in Some People?
Unhealthy habits of modern life can decrease neurogenesis. Stress, anxiety, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much saturated fat, and overeating can reduce your brain’s ability to give birth to new neurons . But more importantly, let’s look at factors that can promote neurogenesis. These are factors that you have great control over and habits that you can practice every day.
Factors That Increase Neurogenesis
Many of these factors shouldn’t be surprising because they are standard healthy lifestyle practices. But there are a few surprising ones.
Basically, if you have healthy habits, you’ll be promoting neurogenesis on a continual basis!
Neuroscientist Sandrine Thuret lists some of these factors in her TED talk:
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1. Learning New Things
Think of your brain as a muscle. Just like your muscles get toned if you get regular physical exercise, your brain gets stronger with healthy stimulation and intellectual challenges.
Reading, playing music, doing math problems, and even playing video games can promote the building of new brain cells †. Researchers can actually see the increase of neurons in areas of the brain involved in memory, like the hippocampus, after young and old people play 3D platform video games †.
2. Reduce Stress
3. Calorie Restriction
Eating less can promote neurogenesis by increasing hormones that build neurons †. Intermittent fasting is one way to increase neurogenesis because when you go a long time without eating, these hormones kick in.
Simply eating less often and having smaller meals is another good way to promote neurogenesis.
Evidence suggests that sex can be good for your brain. It seems to promote neurogenesis †. In animals, sex causes the outgrowth of dendrites, the branches that come out of neurons and receive electrical and neurotransmitter signals .
5. Fish Fats (EPA and DHA)
6. Moderate Exercise
Exercise causes neuronal growth, and according to animal studies, moderate exercise is more effective than prolonged intense exercise . Too much exercise can put stress on the body, so it makes sense to not overdo it.
7. Flavonoids (Found in Chocolate and Blueberries)
Flavonoids are a group of antioxidants in plant foods. The amount of flavonoids you eat is correlated with cognitive function and mood. If you eat plenty, chances are you’ll be feeling good . Considering that, it’s little surprise that chocolate and blueberries can increase neurogenesis †.
8. Get Adequate Sleep
When you sleep, your brain clears out metabolic waste that can be toxic to your brain cells. Research also shows that sleep deprivation reduces neurogenesis . You need sleep to grow those brain cells!
Other Neurogenesis Boosters
Besides the neurogenesis enhancers mentioned in the TED talk, other natural compounds may promote neurogenesis. There’s evidence that ingredients like ashwagandha, niacin/niacinamide, and magnesium can also stimulate neurogenesis .
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You can help calm your body naturally by following some simple lifestyle changes, eating the right kinds of foods, and taking natural remedies.
What are they?
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