Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Can you grow your hippocampus? Yes. Here’s how, and why it matters


A pair of thumb-sized struc­tures deep in the cen­ter of the human brain are crit­i­cal for our abil­i­ty to learn and remem­ber. Thanks to their shape, each of them is called hip­pocam­pus — which means sea­horse in Greek. These brain areas have the unique capac­i­ty to gen­er­ate new neu­rons every day. In fact, recent human stud­ies have shown that there are 700 new brain cells in the hip­pocam­pus every day. Most of these neu­rons, how­ev­er, do not sur­vive. In their new-born (pre-mature) phase, they need a great deal of sup­port to sur­vive, grow, and become an active mem­ber of the hip­pocam­pal com­mu­ni­ty of neu­rons.

Research shows that we have the capac­i­ty to grow new neu­rons above and beyond what is gen­er­al­ly pro­duced in our hip­pocam­pus and to make them become mature and strong with­in weeks and months.

The best way to gen­er­ate new hip­pocam­pal neu­rons is to exer­cise. In one study com­par­ing brains of two groups of mice, the group that was assigned to run­ning (lived in a cage with a run­ning wheel in it) gen­er­at­ed far more new neu­rons in their hip­pocam­pus than the group that was assigned to a reg­u­lar cage with­out a run­ning refill. Oth­er stud­ies have shown that peo­ple who exer­cise reg­u­lar­ly and are phys­i­cal­ly fit have a much big­ger hip­pocam­pus. The more you walk, the big­ger your hip­pocam­pus will get and the less would be your risk for devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease. One study showed that walk­ing one mile a day low­ers the risk of Alzheimer’s dis­ease by 48%.

Recent research has also pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion about how hip­pocam­pus can grow even with­out gen­er­at­ing brand new neu­rons. The small pre­ma­ture neu­rons that are born every day have the capac­i­ty to grow taller, larg­er, and stronger by get­ting the right nutri­tion, plen­ty of oxy­gen, a mol­e­cule called BDNF (Brain Derived Neu­rotroph­ic Fac­tor) and stim­u­la­tion. Some of the ways we can mature and nour­ish hip­pocam­pal neu­rons include eat­ing a Mediter­ranean diet that includes olive oil, salmon and oth­er food that are high in omega‑3 fat­ty acids, and nuts. Omega‑3 fat­ty acids are also neuronforestavail­able as DHA and EPA sup­ple­ments. My recent research, pub­lished in Nature Reviews and ref­er­enced below, showed that high­er blood lev­els of these impor­tant fat­ty acids, which are the build­ing blocks of neu­rons, is asso­ci­at­ed with larg­er hip­pocam­pus size, bet­ter mem­o­ry, and a much low­er risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

The fas­ci­nat­ing new neu­ro­science dis­cov­er­ies have pro­vid­ed com­pelling evi­dence on how oth­er sim­ple lifestyle inter­ven­tions can also grow the hip­pocam­pus size. Stress reduc­tion and med­i­ta­tion, for exam­ple, have been shown to sub­stan­tial­ly expand the vol­ume of hip­pocam­pus. Treat­ment of sleep apnea, with using a CPAP machine, is anoth­er way you can grow your hip­pocam­pus.

Learn­ing a new lan­guage or chal­leng­ing one’s brain by learn­ing new facts is yet anoth­er way to grow the very part of your brain that is crit­i­cal for our abil­i­ty to keep your mem­o­ries alive for a life­time and stay sharp as we get old­er.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, hip­pocam­pus can shrink as eas­i­ly as it can grow. Some of the ways to quick­ly shriv­el it with­in months or years include stress, anx­i­ety, untreat­ed depres­sion, obe­si­ty, uncon­trolled dia­betes, seden­tary lifestyle, eat­ing junk food, and con­cus­sions. Each of these neg­a­tive risk fac­tors have been asso­ci­at­ed with a small­er size hip­pocam­pus and a high­er like­li­hood of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease in the future.

In sum­ma­ry, for the first time we have sol­id sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that we all have the capac­i­ty to grow the part of our brains that shrinks with aging and makes us prone to devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease. A big­ger hip­pocam­pus can pro­tect us against demen­tia symp­toms in our 70s and 80s. These excit­ing new dis­cov­er­ies should empow­er all of us to be proac­tive in keep­ing our brain healthy today and to ward off Alzheimer’s dis­ease decades lat­er.

Fotuhi-photo-8-1-239x300– A Har­vard and Johns Hop­kins-trained neu­rol­o­gist and neu­ro­sci­en­tist, Dr. Majid Fotuhi is chair­man of Mem­o­syn Neu­rol­ogy Insti­tute, Med­ical Direc­tor of Neu­roGrow Brain Fit­ness Cen­ter, and Affil­i­ate Staff at Johns Hop­kins Howard Coun­ty Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal.

To learn more, read the arti­cle Solv­ing the Brain Fit­ness Puz­zle Is the Key to Self-Empow­ered Aging.


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4 Responses

  1. Atakan says:

    Good to both study and do body­build­ing.
    Thanks for infor­ma­tion.

  2. Emily says:

    We have the capac­i­ty to grow new neu­rons above and beyond what is gen­er­al­ly pro­duced in our hip­pocam­pus

  3. osama saeed says:

    Thanks — real­ly help a lot to gain new infor­ma­tion and facts.

  4. Sylwia says:

    On our side — neu­ro­sci­en­tists inter­est­ed in neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis — we need to under­stand bet­ter the func­tion of these new neu­rons, and how we can con­trol their sur­vival and their pro­duc­tion. We also need to find a way to pro­tect the neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis of Robert s patients. And on your side — I leave you in charge of your neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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