Supercharge Your Brain With Neurogenesis

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( — January 10, 2017) — Your brain is a powerful computer that processes incoming information at high speeds. You don’t have to tell your brain what to do—it just does it. Picking up signals in the form of frequency, your brain decodes information and processes it for you to experience in the form of sensory input. What you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell is all the result of your brain’s power.

Your brain also has the ability to reorganize and rewire itself due to changes in your environment as well as in response to your emotions and thoughts. This ability is referred to as neuroplasticity.

To illustrate the importance of neuroplasticity, a great example of this phenomenon is when people recover from strokes through special rehabilitation. This therapy creates a stronger myelin sheath, which speeds up the transmission of information, creates new neural connections, and stimulates neurogenesis—the birthing of new neurons.

Despite its obvious power, until recently, science believed the adult brain was incapable of regenerating its own nerve cells, known as neurons. It was once believed that new neurons could only be developed for the first few years of life. Today, we know neurogenesis is possible in the adult brain.

The brain has unlimited power

The existence of savant syndrome is further proof of the brain’s processing power. Savants are people who have superhuman brainpower like Kim Peek, who has read and memorized over 12,000 books and Daniel Tammet who can learn a language in a week. While savants have an extraordinary capacity for data processing, they exhibit severe developmental disabilities that impair their daily cognitive function.

What neurons do

Existing in the brain in quantities of roughly 100 billion, neurons are brain cells that transmit electrochemical signals throughout the brain and form what are called neural pathways as they fire. These pathways become the preferred communication super highways for the transmission of information. Once neural pathways are created, neurons will continue to fire along the same pathways, embedding the same information and habits deeper and deeper within a person’s brain. This is often referred to as being “hard-wired.”

Teaching an old brain new tricks with neurogenesis

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This phrase is used to reference the concept that once you’ve wired your brain to fire along a specific set of neural pathways, you can’t change those pathways or create new ones. Today we know that’s a false belief.

While it’s harder to change existing neural pathways, it is possible to create new ones that override the old ones. And when older neural pathways are not used, they will eventually dismantle.

The hippocampus is a neuron factory

A study performed by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden found that one-third of all neurons in the hippocampus are renewed throughout the life of an individual. This means that the hippocampus is producing up to 1,400 new neurons per day.

The daily production of new neurons in the hippocampus creates the promising potential for developing new habits and even breaking old ones. But it may not be as easy as it sounds.

Neurons are resilient

While many cells in the body have a mechanism for self-destruction, called apoptosis, mature neurons do not. This means that all the neurons you’ve wired to old, unwanted habits are not going to self-destruct just because you create a new habit.

Apoptosis is an important cellular function because the human body is producing billions of new cells every day, and an average of 10 billion cells die every day, just to maintain the balance. Neurons, however, have the ability to self-destruct only for a short period of time. This leads to two significant implications: it’s hard to remove old neural pathways, and you need to quickly hard-wire new neurons before they self-destruct.

In reference to the pathway of apoptosis activated by other cells, cell biologist Mohanish Deshmukh from the Chapel Hill School of Medicine says, “Once neurons are developed and are fully mature, then the pathway becomes completely shut down.” In other words, once a neuron is fully developed, it shuts down its mechanism for self-destruction and becomes a permanent part of the brain’s infrastructure. The almost indestructible nature of the neuron could be why some people have a hard time eliminating habits like smoking and alcohol abuse.

Neurogenesis and communication

Neurogenesis has more far-reaching implications than just helping you ditch your addiction to cigarettes. When it comes to the myriad functions of the brain, communication is one of the most important. We rely on our ability to communicate efficiently on a daily basis. And if a person born with impaired communication skills can tap into the power of neurogenesis, they may be able to improve their quality of life.

For example, children born with Fragile X Syndrome would benefit greatly from practical ways to stimulate neurogenesis. According to Dr. Elizabeth Berry-Kravis from Rush Medical University, “Fragile X impairs a child’s ability to communicate such as by use of gestures, eye contact, vocalizations, and word combinations.” These methods of communication are vital to a person’s ability to efficiently interact with their community. If science can find ways to stimulate neurogenesis in children with impaired communication early on, they can improve the quality of their lives. While males are more likely than females to experience severe FXS symptoms, knowledge of the disorder’s symptoms and how they affect females is crucial for early identification.  Fragile X Syndrome in females full mutation generally may not exhibit the full range of symptoms or severity of symptoms of males.

Simple ways to stimulate neurogenesis

If you want to stimulate neurogenesis in your brain, grow some new neurons, and develop some better habits, you can start by engaging in activities that stimulate your brain in new ways. Exercising vigorously for at least 30 minutes per day has been shown to stimulate the growth of new neurons. If you’re not up for intense exercise, going for a brisk walk as part of your daily routine is just as good.

If you’ve ever heard people say it takes about a month to develop a new habit, it’s because that’s how long it takes for new neural pathways to hard-wire in the brain. And if you take the time to create new habits and practice them long enough to hard-wire them into your brain, you might be surprised at what your brain is capable of.