Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #141.
In today's episode, you will learn:
✔︎ Tips for regrowing your brain cells (neurogenesis)
✔︎ A reminder of what prevents neurogenesis and hurts your brain
I'm Andrea Samadi, author and educator from Toronto, Canada, now living in Arizona, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, sports, and modern workplaces of the future. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain. And since most of us have not had a crash course in the basics of neuroscience, and how an understanding of our brain can impact learning, I launched this podcast in June 2019 with the goal of interviewing leaders and experts who have risen to the top of their field, using these success principles.
I’m writing this before recording episode #143 with Dr. Jon Lieff, whose book The Secret Language of Cells: What Biological Conversation Tells Us About the Brain-Body Connection, the Future of Medicine and Life Itself[i], and his book has really got me thinking.
We know that brain health is important, but could the cells in our body be important for our health, translating into our productivity, results and future well-being? Just like I had never thought about my brain as it related to my results prior to understanding how important our brain was for our future, I definitely have never thought about my health down to the level of my cells. Or even thought about how brain cells (neurons) are different from the other cells in my body (like organ lining cells, immune cells, or blood vessel cells). Have you?
This Leads us to This Week’s Brain Fact Friday:
Did you know that “we can regrow brain cells (a process called neurogenesis) that we retain throughout our entire lifetime”[ii] and that the best way to increase neurogenesis (regrow your brain cells) is “when your body produces more BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor.” (Dr. David Perlmutter).
We covered an introduction to BDNF on episode #114 “Building a Faster, Stronger, Resilient Brain, by Understanding Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor”[iii] and how important BDNF is for learning and memory, with some tips for increasing your BDNF levels.
What Helps Your Brain Cells?
Exercise releases BDNF:
Dr. Ratey, in his book Go Wild explained that researchers were looking at ways to prevent the aging brain and found that “seniors who exercised developed significantly larger hippocampal volumes (the part of the brain responsible for memory processing) improving their memory.”[iv] They found that exercise also “prevented a loss of grey matter overall (which is common in aging) and improved brain function.” (Page 107). Since we are all aging, it makes sense to me that this research is relevant to all of us, not just the aging brain, proving again, of the importance of exercise as one of the health staples we should all be aware of.
Nutrition also releases BDNF:
Taking Omega-3 DHA also increases your BDNF and helps to increase neurogenesis. “Omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to influence neurogenesis through at least two distinct mechanisms. First, omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated into neuronal membranes…A second potential pathway …(where) these diets may influence neurogenesis is via omega-3 fatty acid modulation of cytokine levels, which in turn regulates immune function.”[v]
What Hurts Your Brain Cells?
We know that diet and exercise help our brain to build new neurons, but what hurts your brain and kills your brain cells?
Chronic stress, lack of sleep, poor diet and chemical and pesticide exposure all prevent neurogenesis and our podcast episode with Dr. Lieff on The Secret Language of Cells (Coming next week) we touch on this, but contrary to popular belief, “moderate alcohol use doesn’t kill brain cells.”[vi] Not to say that alcohol does not damage the brain it just doesn’t kill brain cells. “It can damage the dendrites which are the branch-like ends of the brain cells. Dendrites are key for passing messages from one neuron to another, so dendrite degradation can cause cognitive problems.”[vii]
Can we control neurogenesis by increasing BDNF?
Sandrine Thuret thinks we can, and offers her ideas in her TED TALK[viii]
She shows the clear case for exercise with an image I have put in the show notes showing new brain cells (black dots) growing in rats who were runners, versus less brain cell growth in the no-running rats.
(Image showing new brain cells (black dots) growing in rats who were runners
Sandrine Thuret’s TED TALK lists many ways you can grow new brain cells (the highlighted words) with intermittent fasting, flavonoids (found in dark chocolate) and caffeine being a few evidence-based strategies. Conversely, she mentions a diet high in saturated fat, sugar or ethanol, will have a negative impact on neurogenesis.
This Brain Fact Friday was a reminder for me to take my OMEGA-3 fatty acids. I hope it’s opened up your mind for some new ideas.
Stay tuned next week for Dr. Jon Leiff’s fascinating interview on his book, The Secret Language of Cells, as well as a case study from Michal Ricca, the founder of the Now I Can Read Program, who has taught over 1,000 children to read with her program.