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
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.3,4It’s estimated that adults grow up to 1,400 new neurons in the hippocampus each day.2
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
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
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.