Improving Cognition Throughout Life
Until recently, it was generally assumed that humans had a set amount of brain cells at birth that depleted with age. However, modern research has shown humans can consistently generate new brain cells – even throughout adulthood.1
Adult Neurogenesis – What is it?
The process of growing new brain cells (neurons) is called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis has been found to occur in the hippocampus of adult human brains. The hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory, and may play a role in emotional regulation.3,4 It’s estimated that adults grow up to 1,400 new neurons in the hippocampus each day.2
What is the Purpose of Neurogenesis in the Brain?
Although there is still research needed to determine the exact functions of neurogenesis, studies have shown this process affects three tasks related to the hippocampus: learning, memory and mood.3
Learning New Information and Retaining Memories
Research indicates the hippocampus plays a critical role in spatial memory and pattern separation.3 Spatial memory involves navigation and memory of physical surroundings, for example, remembering where you parked your car in a large lot. Pattern separation helps process information to avoid interference between memories, for example, distinguishing your white sedan from other white sedans in the lot. Studies have shown that neurogenesis may improve both spatial memory and pattern separation, and potentially increase overall memory capacity.3
Substantial research has shown that antidepressants may increase neurogenesis, indicating its potential role in decreasing psychological stress.4 One study showed that exposure to stress reduced neurogenesis in rodents, whereas treatment with antidepressants revived the neuron-growing process.5 Although conducted primarily in animals, this research indicates neurogenesis may positively affect human mood as well.
Overall, existing research demonstrates a correlation between the growth of new neurons and enhanced cognitive performance.1-5
How Can We Grow New Neurons?
- Exercise. A growing body of evidence illustrates the importance of exercise not only for physical health but also for cognitive health and function. Studies in rodents have shown that sustained aerobic exercise, like running or swimming, can increase the rate of neurogenesis.6
- Learning. Research has shown that the act of learning itself can increase neurogenesis. One study analyzed the brains of humans with significant navigation experience, London taxi drivers, who must undergo extensive training to earn their license. The study concluded the taxi drivers had significantly larger posterior hippocampi than control subjects, indicating their professional dependence on navigational skills may have caused structural changes in the hippocampus.7
- Diet changes. Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting can increase neurogenesis. Studies on mice have shown that short-term calorie restriction can enhance neurogenesis and memory.8
- Avoid stress, alcohol and saturated fat.
- Supplementation. A recent in vitro study showed Neumentix can effectively increase neurogenesis. This finding suggests working memory improvements following administration of Neumentix in previous human clinical trials may be due to increasing rates of neurogenesis in the hippocampus. To learn more about Neumentix, click here.
Not everything gets worse with age. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and continuing education, existing science indicates adults can maintain and even improve their cognitive performance throughout life.
- Gage FH. (2000) Mammalian neural stem cells. Science; 287:1433–1438.
- Spalding KL, Bergmann O, Alkass K, Bernard S, Salehpour M, Huttner HB, Boström E, Westerlund I, Vial C, Buchholz BA, Possnert G, Mash DC, Druid H, Frisén J. (2013) Dynamics of hippocampal neurogenesis in adult humans. Cell, 6, 1219-1227.
- 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. Neuroscience, 11(5), 339–350.
- Eliwa H, Belzung C, Surget A. (2017) Adult hippocampal neurogenesis: Is it the alpha and omega of antidepressant action? Biochem Pharmacol. 1;141:86-99.
- Dranovsky A, Hen R. (2006) Hippocampal neurogenesis: regulation by stress and antidepressants. Biol Psychiatry, 59(12), 1136-43.
- Nokia, M. S., Lensu, S., Ahtiainen, J. P., Johansson, P. P., Koch, L. G., Britton, S. L., & Kainulainen, H. (2016). Physical exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats provided it is aerobic and sustained. The Journal of Physiology, 594(7), 1855–1873.
- Maguire, E. A., Gadian, D. G., Johnsrude, I. S., Good, C. D., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S. J., & Frith, C. D. (2000). Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(8), 4398-4403
- Hornsby, A. K. E., Redhead, Y. T., Rees, D. J., Ratcliff, M. S. G., 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. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 63, 198–207.