Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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

hippocampus_brain.

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.

Ref­er­ences:

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. He’ll chair a fas­ci­nat­ing ses­sion at the upcom­ing 2015 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit (Novem­ber 17–19th).

 

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

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3 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.

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