This article covers how often brain cells are replaced. The article will also highlight what neurogenesis is, how it can be encouraged and will shed light on neuroplasticity. The article will also answer some frequently asked questions in the end.
How Often Are Brain Cells Replaced?
Research conducted in 2013 claimed that the adult hippocampus makes about 700 new neurons every day, and this occurs almost every day throughout its lifespan. In fact, by the time humans reach the age of 50, the hippocampus has all the old cells replaced by newer cells (Sahay & Hen, 2007).
In the past 20 years, we have started understanding the brain in a completely new light. It was believed, previously, that the adult human brain was not capable of creating new brain cells. This was, however, a grim position to take, because the brain kills many cells as it starts ageing. This is because the cells become old, unproductive, or unhealthy.
However, new research conducted with new technology and sophisticated tools has provided immense knowledge on the brain, it’s functioning, and unravelling its mysteries. The most exciting news is that the brain does continue to create new cells in adulthood (Gage, 2002). In fact, brain cells regenerate from birth to death.
This process of formation of new brain cells is called neurogenesis (Götz & Hunter, 2005). Neurogenesis takes place every day. This information can be used by us for stimulating and boosting cell regeneration actively.
What are Brain Cells
The brain consists of brain cells called neurons that are responsible for processing and transmitting information in the brain, and from the body to the brain and vice versa. In order to communicate with each other, neurons in the brain use electrical as well as chemicals known as ions. Ions are electrically charged particles that enable neurons to communicate with each other.
These neurons communicate with each other by producing brain chemicals. These brain chemicals are called neurotransmitters. There are several types of neurotransmitters such as; dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, etc.
Neurons are thus said to have electrochemical signs consisting of both electrical and chemical charges. These charges change on the basis of whether the neuron is on rest or is active. When the neuron is active, it sends or receives a message (Furber, 2012).
Neurons consist of fluids inside them that contain ions. These ions either have a positive or a negative charge. When at rest, the neuron consists of more negative ions on the inside and positive ions on the outside. This gives its membrane a negative charge.
Whenever there is a signal of brain activity, positive ions rush through the channels into the neuronal membrane. When the charge is strong enough, it starts sending signals to nearby neurons to communicate with them.
HOW TO BOOST NEUROGENESIS?
The brain is capable of making thousands of new brain cells every day and can maintain this capability until old age.
In the beginning, research suggested that neurogenesis in the adult brain could occur only in the hippocampus and the striatum.
However, newer evidence has suggested that neurogenesis is possible even in the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the olfactory bulb, as well as the cerebral cortex. As research continues, soon we will discover that neurogenesis is possible in all parts of the adult brain.
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate play an important role in adult neurogenesis. However, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF) chemicals seem to play the most critical role in the promotion, formation, and maintenance of neurogenesis.
In fact, BDNF is the most involved as well as the active substance in the creation of new brain cells. It has also been referred to as the “Miracle-Gro” for the brain.
This is because it assists the brain in growing and flourishing. It helps by enabling the growth of new neurons and keeps the existing neurons healthy by getting them engaged in various mechanisms.
NGF was discovered as the first growth factor of the brain. The role of NGF is in the protection of existing nerve cells as well as stimulating the growth of brain cells in the brain as well as the spinal cord.
New research has shown that our dietary choices can also affect the rate of neurogenesis in the brain. Not only does what you eat affect neurogenesis but also how much you eat and how often you eat matters too.
We have highlighted some tips that you can practice to improve brain cell regeneration:
Calorie restriction or eating less frequently has been associated with increased brain cell regeneration. It can help in neurogenesis. This is because calorie restriction, or not overeating helps in reducing inflammation, which in turn increases BDNF.
Another way you can boost neurogenesis is by intermittent fasting. This means you do not eat anything for 16 hours and eat only for 8 hours. You can choose to have dinner by 6 PM and have breakfast at 10 AM the next day, this makes intermittent fasting easier.
Foods that require more chewing are good for boosting neurogenesis. Eat more crunchy foods rather than drinking smoothies or juices. Healthy fats can increase brain efficiency, but saturated fats can reduce neurogenesis. So cut down on dairy foods like butter and cheese, and stock up on dry fruits.
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid which is mainly found in cold-water fatty fish. One can also get them from fish oil or other supplements. Omega-3 is essential for boosting neurogenesis.
Flavonoids are considered to be antioxidants which occur in plant foods naturally. They can be found in blueberries, green tea, and cocoa. They are extremely crucial and efficient in stimulating the growth of new brain cells.
Olive oil boosts neurogenesis by increasing the levels of both BDNF and NGF in the brain. Using extra virgin olive oil of good quality results in a maximum increase in brain cell regeneration.
Neurogenesis also depends upon our nutrition. Nutritional deficiencies can impair brain cell regeneration. It’s advised to keep your vitamin levels n check, especially vitamin A, B, and zinc.
WHY IS NEUROGENESIS IMPORTANT?
Each and every one of us can benefit from neurogenesis. But in some conditions, it can be critical for neurogenesis to occur or boost up. People who live in highly stressful conditions can have their BDNF levels decreased which can lead to cognitive impairment. In these cases, neurogenesis is very important, as an increase in brain cells can buffer cognitive decline.
Neurogenesis is also important in conditions of Alzheimer’s disease, tumours, depression, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cases of strokes, substance abuse, and brain injuries.
BDNF and NGF can be vulnerable to a decrease in cases of anxiety disorders, autism, bipolar disorder, burnout, neuro-cognitive disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sleep disorders, and schizophrenia.
Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term referring to the ability of the brain to modify, change, as well as to adapt to the structural and functional changes throughout life in response to experiences. It is said that there are individual differences in regard to the observed structures and functions of the brain (Gu & Kanai, 2014).
However, new literature suggests that the rules that govern cortical plasticity remain similar across individuals. Plasticity means that we are able to change our neural pathways. All that it really takes for this to happen is the repetition of actions in order to reinforce the new neural pathways.
This article covered how often brain cells are replaced. The article also highlighted what neurogenesis is, how it can be encouraged and will shed light on neuroplasticity. The article will also answer some frequently asked questions in the end.
Frequently Asked Questions: How Often Are Brain Cells Replaced?
Can you develop new neurons?
Yes, it is possible to develop new brain cells. This brain cell regeneration is called neurogenesis. This helps in improving memory and thinking skills.
At what age do neurons stop dividing?
After the age of 18 months, neurons stop dividing and thus no more new neurons are added. At this time, the aggregation of cells in different areas of the brain is almost complete.
Does GREY matter regenerate in the brain?
For now, there has been limited research on the ability of the brain to restore or regenerate lost grey matter. However, the study of neurogenesis is a hopeful area and advancing in research by the minute.
Furber, S. (2012). To build a brain. IEEE spectrum, 49(8), 44-49.
Gage, F. H. (2002). Neurogenesis in the adult brain. Journal of neuroscience, 22(3), 612-613.
Götz, M., & Huttner, W. B. (2005). The cell biology of neurogenesis. Nature reviews Molecular cell biology, 6(10), 777-788.
Sahay, A., & Hen, R. (2007). Adult hippocampal neurogenesis in depression. Nature neuroscience, 10(9), 1110-1115.